The outspoken contestant talks about the ups and downs of competing on the show

By Steve Helling
Updated November 15, 2015 01:40 PM
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Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

It looked like the next few episodes of Survivor were going to be very predictable. Kelley Wentworth would be voted out next, followed by Ciera Eastin and Abi Maria Gomes.

That is, until Kelley Wentworth perfectly played her hidden immunity idol and invalidated 9 (yes, nine) votes against her.

Her victim? Andrew Savage.

Savage didn’t take it well. The 51-year-old California lawyer hid his head in his hands and muttered “unbelievable” after seeing the first vote.

As his torch was snuffed, Abi-Maria Gomes couldn’t resist one last dig. “At least you made the jury,” she said brightly. He flipped her off.

Savage tells PEOPLE how Wentworth knew to play her idol, why they didn’t split the votes, and what moments made him cringe as he watched them back on television.

You didn’t know you were going. Walk me through your emotions.
It was unbelievably frustrating, but at the same time, it was the most exhilarating experiences of my life. One of the best things about Survivor are the twists, the unexpected, the blindsides.

You were in a good position at first, and then things began to fall apart with the first tribal swap.
I go on Survivor to test myself mentally and physically, and one of the best ways to do that is with a tribe swap. I’m the type of guy, when Probst asks me a question, I tell the truth. He asked how I feel, and I’m not going to say, ‘oh, I love this tribe, and I’m so excited to put in three more days of hard labor.’ Why would I say that? I tell the truth, and the truth was that I was devastated. It felt like someone punched me in the stomach. It was horrible.

But you did say a few things that seemed harsh. Regrets?
Yes. There were a couple of things where I crossed the lines. During one of my first interviews about Fishbach looking for idols, I said he doesn’t have ethics and morals. That’s a stretch. I said that in the heat of moment; I overstepped and I wouldn’t say that normally. Stephen’s a friend of mine. He’s a good guy.

Also, after the second tribe swap, when Woo was blindsided. I gave an interview where there were f-bombs. I wouldn’t do that normally. I was a little embarrassed by that. I’ve watched that scene closely, and I was just venting. And when I was done, I just smiled cheek to cheek. I was thinking, ‘this will never make the episode.’ I just needed to vent. I couldn’t do it in the shelter. But I regret it. I shouldn’t have done it.

Okay. Now holding your feet to the fire: many times during the season, it felt like you were taking people’s gameplay and conflating it with people’s goodness and morals.That was frustration; it was a total double standard on my part. I was saying that people’s gameplay was disgusting and despicable, but I did the same thing. I blindsided Peih Gee and didn’t say anything to her. Being on Survivor and being sleep deprived and hungry, and uncomfortable and frustrated, it led to a double standard on my part. It was very raw. It’s not disgusting; it’s part of Survivor.

Now you complained that the twists screwed you over, and that’s Survivor: twists benefit some people and screw others. But the early merge benefited you, right?
(Laughs) Yeah, it was a huge help to me. But here’s the thing. I’ve been going over this in my head. If we hadn’t merged and lost another challenge, would I be able to wrangle my way out of that mess? I may have been able to. I had Wiglesworth on my side. Abi wouldn’t have written my name down. I might have been able to get Spencer, because he hated Kass.

But you had written Spencer’s name down the previous tribal council.
My pitch to him would have been, ‘check it out. We’re merging very soon. I got Jeremy, Joe, Tasha, Keith, Kimmi over there. Come with me.’ I don’t know if that would’ve worked.”

Hmm. But that’s a tough sell for Spencer, because you’re saying, ‘I have five other people over there, come with us.’ His answer could be – and probably should be – ‘If you’re that connected, I should take you out now.’
My pitch would be, ‘if you take me out now, my guys are going to come after you. They’re gonna know. They’re gonna take you out.’ That’s what I’d do.

So you’d play the Godfather role?
Absolutely. (Laughs) It’s all I got.

So let’s go back to the night you left. Why didn’t you split the vote?
We thought about that, but here’s the deal on that. When we split the vote between Ciera and Kass, it literally took us about 2 hours to work through that strategy. It’s risky strategy, because if a couple of people vote wrong, it can go the wrong way. It’s absolutely exhausting to do.

What you didn’t see was that my toe was ravaged by a poisonous spider; it was horribly infected and I was very sick. I didn’t have the mental energy to strategize. Everyone said that there was no way that Wentworth had an idol, so let’s take her out now, and take out Stephen the next tribal council.

So we decided to load her up with votes, make a statement, and save ourselves the mental energy and the risk. It was a colossal blunder. It would’ve been perfect if she hadn’t been tipped off that she was going home.

Why do you think she was tipped off?
(Sighs) I know it was just an error. It was just a mistake. I’ve spoken to him, and he feels bad.

I know who did it, too. It was Joe.
Yes, Joe. And he feels horribly about it. It wasn’t a strategic play, it was just a mistake. He’s friends with Wentworth, and he said, ‘here’s a heads up. You’re going home.’ He had no inclination that she had an idol. It really sucks that I was the collateral damage, but it is what it is.

So if you had survived this vote, what was your plan to the end?
It’s a boring plan; I’m the first to admit it. I would have done old school Survivor. We had a majority. We would pick off Wentworth and then we’d blindside Fishbach. Then we’d take out Ciera, Abi, and then the real game would begin.

The problem with all of that is that you made promises to people that you wouldn’t write their name down. So you’d have had to backstab someone, right?
I shook hands with 3 or 4 people: Spencer, Joe, and maybe Tasha or Jeremy. I wouldn’t have turned on Joe, Tasha or Jeremy. Spencer, I had a more shallow relationship with him, so if I had to turn on him on day 30, I could. I’m not so loyal that I’m an idiot. (Laughs)

Before you went out to compete, I talked to a lot of people who were worried that you and Jeff Probst are personal friends. Did that come into play?
I think that faded away as soon as we were out there. I didn’t get any questions, any sentiments that it was an issue. Maybe they were talking behind my back, so I’d be curious whether people felt that way. And for the record, Probst never compromised any morals or ethics by helping me. He’s a consummate professional.

Before the game, six people told PEOPLE that they were worried about your friendship with Probst.
(Laughs) That is fascinating! I love that you shared that. They clearly didn’t have anything to worry about!

Last question: Looking back now, do you have hard feelings?
I can honestly say that I have no ill will towards anybody. There’s a big difference between being good with everyone, and whether I want to have them in my life. I work very hard. My time outside of work, I spend my time with people who I truly love: family and close friends. Let me tell you who I want in my life: Joe, Jeremy, Terry Dietz, Tasha, Keith and Kimmi.

The folks who will not be in my life, because we’re very different people: Kass. Ciera. Monica, I don’t even know her; I spent six days with her and don’t know who she is. Wentworth, I don’t know her very well and didn’t get a deep genuine vibe with her. She’s a nice young lady, but she’s not going to be in my life.

But that being said, I wish everybody the best, and I’m glad that I got to have this adventure once again. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.