Rumor has it that there was a contestant named Monica Padilla on this season of Survivor – although it’s not surprising if you didn’t notice.
For whatever reason, the editors of Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance chose to hide her for much of the season, giving her hardly any airtime. When she finally did get some confessionals on Episode 5, she went home.
It was a surprising lack of character development for a smart contestant who could have been lethal. Before the season began, several of this season’s contestants told PEOPLE that they were afraid that Padilla would aggressively walk away with the game.
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But that didn’t happen and she lasted only 13 days. Padilla, a 31-year-old attorney, tells PEOPLE what audiences didn’t see – and why she thinks she went home.
You were blindsided this week. Did you have any indication you were going home?
There were two moments that I thought maybe it could be me. When we grabbed our torches and left for tribal, I saw Kelly Wiglesworth’s sports bra and shorts hanging off the bamboo of the shelter. I don’t know if she was clued in at all, or if she was reassured, or if she just didn’t care about her underwear at that point. We were on lockdown and strategy talk was done; I saw her sports bra and shorts and thought, “that’s not good. Is she expecting to come back tomorrow?” (Laughs) I always pack my stuff for tribal, every time. But I thought, “No, Monica, you’re just being paranoid.” Clearly I wasn’t being paranoid.
It seemed like a good chance to get rid of Spencer, who’s a threat to go far. Why didn’t that happen?
I wanted to go for Spencer from the minute we swapped. I thought this would be good for an all girl alliance down the road. Spencer is a highly strategic player, so I thought we should take him out while we can.
Meanwhile, Kelly Wiglesworth wasn’t even playing the game. She’s trying to cut open coconuts and help maintain camp life. She’s talking about how old school game doesn’t talk about strategy a ton, and how old school doesn’t really scramble. That’s someone I want to work with: someone who’s not going to get crazy with strategy and totally turn on you.
But you voted for Kelly.
People wanted to keep Spencer. Stephen was super gung ho about working with him. Jeremy was probably aligned with Tasha and wanted to work with Spencer. And then there was Kimmi who already can’t stand Kelly for whatever reason, maybe it’s a competitive thing because of her not doing well the first time she played. I don’t know. But everyone wanted to vote out Kelly. So it was easier to just go with the flow and not stir the pot, especially early on. So I was like, “all right. As long as it’s not me.” Little did I know.
Kimmi said some negative things about you. Did you know that she didn’t like you?
I had no idea! The funny thing is that from Day Two, people were targeting Kimmi. And I was like, “Hey, how about Kass? Kass is crazy. Kass is like, psycho, too. Go after her.” I aligned with Kimmi on Day One, and I wanted to stay loyal to that. It sucks when the one person you actually trust is the one person who dug your grave.
You argued with her about harvesting clams. Was that overblown on television?
Oh, totally. It was like, “Monica’s going home, so what do we have that shows conflict?” (Laughs) It’s funny. There were these giant, beautiful, gorgeous clams, and I was like, we’re going to be here for the next 30 days, let’s conserve them. They don’t grow over night. I thought I was cool with Kimmi. I just thought it was a simple little argument, but apparently it ran deeper with her. Maybe it had a drawback to her chicken days on the first days. It was so stupid.
We didn’t see much of you this season. Maybe it’s because you didn’t go to tribal council much.
Yeah, but that’s kinda bulls— at the same time. At least show me trying to align, and later on, that will fail. There was no character arc. It looked like I went clamming one day and, oops, we went to tribal. Watching the show, I’m like, “Okay. So are you saying in the 13 days I was there, I never aligned with anyone? Thanks guys.”
So what did we miss?
I tried to align with Kimmi, Jeremy, Keith and Stephen. Those were the people who I thought I could really trust. Other people just kind of like won my heart over, like Savage and Joe, and I figured I would just figure that out as the game went on. But from Day One, I aligned with Kimmi as a New Yorker, Jeremy and Keith. I felt like they were people I could trust and people I could go far into the game with. I was like “Final Four, let’s do this.”
So why didn’t that work out?
Look, you have people like Spencer playing again, and Kelly Wiglesworth, and I think that the “Survivor Gods” give them some protection. It’s like, “Who’s more expendable out of the three? Who do the fans want to see go home, and who do they want to stay?” So I think there’s some of that influence. It’s just funny to me how Spencer was on the chopping block and we swapped. And it’s funny to me how I’m not on the chopping block when we go to tribal, and I end up going home. And I don’t think that Kimmi’s that smart of a player that she came up with that idea all by herself over clams. As much as you can read between the lines, that’s my take on it. Call me bitter or in denial or whatever. That’s just my take on it.
Wow. So do you regret playing again?
(Long pause) I wish that I was playing under the same rules and circumstances as the first time I played. I think a lot of the infrastructure of the game has changed, and I went in really na ve to that. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have gone into the game. I think there were just so many outside interferences that really just pissed me off. So I’m pretty bitter about the whole thing, and that sucks.
Want to hear more from Monica Padilla? Check out the audio interview below to hear her exit interview with two-time Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino!