When she found herself on the chopping block, McQuillen unleashed the chaos – but it didn't work

Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

This season of Survivor was always going to be an uphill battle for Kass McQuillen.

When she competed on Survivor: Cagayan, the 43-year-old attorney fully earned her nickname of “Chaos Kass” when she flipped on alliance-mate Sarah Lacina. (It remains one of the most dramatic tribal councils in Survivor’s 31-season history.)

Going into Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance, McQuillen, who ended her previous season in third place, had a huge target on her back. (During PEOPLE’s pregame interviews with all the contestants, a majority of them vowed to target her first.)

Her chances of doing well were so bleak that host Jeff Probst expected her to be one of the first boots. “Her obstacle is her first few days,” Probst told PEOPLE before the season. “If she can make it past them, then she’ll show that she’s a much better player than everyone thinks.”

As it turned out, McQuillen made it 19 days – further than anyone expected.

McQuillen tells PEOPLE about her time in Cambodia: the gameplay, the interpersonal relationships, and, yes, the chaos.

So, day 19. Did you know that you were going home?
I knew it was going to be me or maybe Tasha if people did what I hoped that they would do, but obviously I didn’t have a lot of faith in that happening.

How much did you scramble? Were you placing all of your hope in Spencer, or were there others who you hoped would help you?
In the hours before tribal council, Ciera, Abi and I were being left out of the conversations and were being treated like the bastard stepchildren of the tribe, so no one was really going to talk to us, and no one wanted to be seen talking to us. There was such a fear of the alpha male alliance.

But I did scramble. I tried to go to Kimmi. You saw me to Spencer. I went to Stephen Fishbach and lobbied hard.

What did you say to Stephen?
I told him that Savage had promised four people that he would never write their names down, so I went to Fish and said, ‘you’re number 6, at best. I don’t know what you’re thinking because Savage has promised on his life that he won’t vote out Spencer, Joe, Tasha or Jeremy. That puts 5 people ahead of you.’ I almost had him!

Stephen lost last time because he was with an alpha male – a fact that he knows all too well. Did you remind him of that?
I was trying to play a more subtle game, so telling people about the stupid mistakes they had made in the past was off the table for me this time. (Laughs) But certainly, I noticed that a lot of people had not corrected their problems. Stephen going with Jeremy and Joe, yeah. The person who wins this season needs to be someone who embraced their second chance, saw the problems in their game, and corrected them genuinely.

I really tried to change my game and took a hard look at my behavior during Cagayan. I will vote for the person who ups their game and makes the most of their second chance.

Did you do anything else to try to save yourself?
I lobbied to get Abi out before everything blew up, to offer her as an easy vote. So I definitely was scrambling, but the writing was on the wall. I wasn’t shocked; nobody was.

It was surprising that Kelley Wentworth voted for you, and Ciera voted for Andrew Savage. What was that about?
Wentworth was going with Joe and Keith and hoping to pull something together with them. And if Wentworth wasn’t going with us, it made no sense for Spencer to go with us. Ciera knew that Wentworth wasn’t going with us. She knew if she voted for Tasha, it might alienate Tasha, who she hadn’t entirely burned a bridge with. Savage knew she didn’t like him, so she wasn’t burning any new bridges with him.

Did you know that you were going to go straight to the jury?
I didn’t know; the jury has never had 10 people. I think part of Tasha’s targeting me and wanting me out was to make sure that I didn’t make the jury. She went after me very hard there and decide to throw all her cards on the table by getting me out in such a fashion.

The first member of the jury is heavily influential; they set the tone for Ponderosa. Trust me, I know. I did it to Queen Sarah! (Laughs) Before the season, I knew that if I made it far enough, that I should make sure that the first person i put on the jury was not mad at me. I’m an attorney; I know jury management. You don’t put the angry person on the jury, and you certainly don’t put the angry lawyer on the jury!

But if you had put Tasha on the jury, you would have made the same mistake.
The difference being that nobody likes Tasha. I don’t think she has the sway on the jury. Her behavior out there was really turning sour. She was pure bitterness and hatred.

So tell me a little bit about the tribal council when you went home.
It was excruciating to sit through it and be berated by someone who has an unnatural hatred of me. So I was mostly just sitting there waiting to have my torch snuffed while I was being maligned for an hour.

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You’re not the first person to mention having troubles with Tasha…and I know that your tribal council got very heated. Is there anything that we didn’t see that you think we should know about?
(Sighs) No. I think the producers make a great show and they tell the story they want to tell to the viewers. Everyone knows that on Survivor, a lot of stuff happens that isn’t shown. I think it compromises the show when contestants run around and say ‘you didn’t see this. I blame the edit.’ It’s their show; it’s a successful show.

Tasha and I know what happened; everybody out there knows what happened. And she has to live with that, and I don’t need it to be all over the press.

Want to hear more from Kass McQuillen? Check out the audio interview below to hear her exit interview with two-time Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino!

What is your take on Andrew Savage?
He’s so funny when he gets frazzled and doesn’t get his way. He’s like a toddler when you take away his toy. It’s hilarious.

He had a lot to say when you all flipped on him. Was it surprising to see him cuss you out during a confessional?
(Laughs) No, not at all! Savage was very moody, very controlling. He definitely has a high image of himself, and I love that they showed him having a little tantrum. He was really mad; he was fuming. He yelled at us; he called us names. That was a mild version of how he behaved after tribal. I’m glad they showed a little bit of it. People get so petty out there.

At this point, who did you think was playing a good game?
Honestly before I was voted out, i went to Jeremy and I said, ‘you are going to win this game.’ I said it in front of people and he really pissed at me. But he has a silent control and a solid alliance.

When I went to Ponderosa, I was thinking a lot about Kimmi. I’ve often criticized the “older lady mom type” who is put into a role of nurturing. But that’s the game that works for Kimmi; I give her credit for understanding her role and using it. At this point on the jury, I had it in my mind that I wanted a Kimmi win. She really is doing a lot to stay in the game.

What did you think of the other players?
Spencer and I had history, but I love the kid. I really do. I think he’s learning about himself. I have no hard feelings against him at all. I don’t think Kelly Wiglesworth is really playing hard. She’s just sitting back and doing her thing She was not active in strategy.

Stephen wants to make a move, but he can’t pull the trigger. He’ll never be the sniper out there. It’s sad because he’s so smart and he’s such a cool guy. This game is about having some confidence, and he’s too hesitant to step on the gas pedal.

When you were sent to Ponderosa last time, the other contestants gave you the silent treatment. (Video here). How did it differ this time?
This was a game, and I really didn’t have any problems with most people out there. Everybody was great until the end, even Tasha. So when people come to Ponderosa, I want to welcome them and give them a great experience.

Survivor: Second Chance airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.