Survivor's Abi-Maria Gomes: I 'Absolutely' Could Have Won the Game
The season's spitfire talks about what went wrong – and why she wouldn't change a thing
Voted out on day 35, she barely missed being in the show’s final episode.
It’s a familiar spot for Gomes, who placed fifth on Survivor: Philippines – barely missing the finale of that season.
On paper, Gomes seems like a perfect “goat” – a contestant who rubs people the wrong way and is easy to beat at the final tribal council. But for some reason, her tribes get rid of her before the finale.
Gomes, 36, tells PEOPLE why she was voted off – and how she had planned to win the game.
Hey, Abi! How are you today
[ Laughs] Oh, I’m bitter. I really didn’t expect to be voted out last week.
True honesty: I really didn’t expect you to go very far this season.
I don’t think anyone did. I think I was underestimated.
So how did you manage to make it 35 days this season?
You know, I played the game moment by moment. I was trying to go with my gut. I was trying to have a view of what was going on. Not everything makes it into the edit, but I was playing really hard. It was a huge season with such strategic players. And for me to make it as far as I did with such a target on my back, it’s definitely remarkable.
You almost were voted out first.
Oh my gosh, yes. After that, I just decided to go with the people who would work with me. I decided to go with the people who weren’t so fixated on what they had seen on Survivor: Philippines. I honestly felt like Peih Gee and Vytas were trying to plant that bracelet against me.
Yes, braceletgate! One of your first moments of the season.
[Laughs] It wasn’t a big deal; I was just wondering what the heck had happened. I was just curious. [Sighs] Oh, God. [Laughs] I was just trying to survive, man.
Did you feel constantly in jeopardy this season? Because every tribal council, your name came up.
It’s like an extreme sport – so much adrenaline. You feel like you’re about to jump out of a plane at any moment. I was on edge the entire time. But that’s what makes Survivor such a great game!
You have a reputation of being difficult, and …
[Laughs] As far as Survivor goes? Yes!
So are you a difficult person to live with?
You know, I think that anyone who’s on that island can be difficult to live with. You’re there 24/7. I think it’s just easy to use me as a scapegoat. People are going to point their finger at the weakest person, and when it comes to being that person, I am definitely the one. I come with that reputation.
Do you think some of your struggles in this game are cultural?
I guess. It might be. Being an immigrant and coming here for the American dream, I learned not to beat around the bush. I’m honest. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will.
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Way back in the game, you aligned with Tasha and Savage.
I was very active in trying to make that alliance work. I didn’t really have good relationships with my tribe. There was a lot going through my mind. Tasha and Woo were on Cagayan together, and she was the only person who voted for him to win. So that worried me.
How much did previous seasons come into play?
People had history with each other. You have to take that into account as you play a game with returnees.
And you came into this game without anyone else from your season.
You get it! [Laughs] So I had to overcome that.
When Andrew Savage was voted out, you made a comment about making the jury. You were sticking it to him, right?
[Laughs] Well, that was one of our bonding moments. He told us he wanted to make the jury. When we were stuck in the shelter, he said that his wife had told him that she wanted him to at least make the jury. So that’s why I said it.
But you said a lot of things like that! When Stephen was sick, you called him ‘poopy pants.’
I’m sorry! [Laughs] I’m so sorry, Stephen. It was just a joke. I am the first one to laugh out loud at the things I said.
What was your plan to get to the end?
I wanted to go to the end with Kimmi and Tasha. I think that’d have been the best way for me to win. I would have had a case to win.
What would you have told the jury?
That I survived the first two votes when it looked like I was going to go home. I got swapped onto a tribe that didn’t win, and I built an alliance to keep myself from the bottom. From there on, I managed to keep myself in the game.
Were people trying to take you to the end as a goat?
Maybe, but that was a huge strategic move for me. I would have owned it at the end and said that I did what I had to do to stay in the game.
So if you were at the end with Kimmi and Tasha, could you have won?
Oh, absolutely. I would have had Kass and Ciera and Kelley Wentworth, I think. And Kass was queen of Ponderosa, so I absolutely had a chance!
You have played this game for 72 days. Would you play it again for a third time? Maybe in a couple of years?
Well, three years from now I hope to be married with babies! [Laughs] I don’t know. I need some time to think about that one. Maybe if they call me and sweet talk me, maybe!
The season finale of Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.