Monty Brinton/CBS
March 05, 2014 09:30 AM

On paper, Garrett Adelstein should have won Survivor: Cagayan. A professional poker player with a high IQ, he was young and buff.

But after overplaying – and neglecting to play an immunity idol – Adelstein, 27, was the second person voted off of the show.

Adelstein has a lot of regrets, which he shares with PEOPLE.

You say you trained 2,000 hours to compete in Survivor. What did you do?
(Laughs) I did everything. I spent three hours a day running, swimming, lifting weights or doing yoga.

All that is physical training, but Survivor is very mental.
I read all these Survivor columns online. I listened to [former contestant] Rob Cesternino’s podcast, because he was such a good player. I practiced puzzles. I watched every single episode of every single season – twice! There are apparently a lot of episodes of Survivor!

And then you’re the second person voted off.
That was tough. Putting in a lot of work, really loving something like that, and then not meeting your goal. It was devastating. It’s never fun to fail.

What did you neglect to prepare for?
The elements. When I prepped, everything I did was strategy, social or physical. You don’t realize how truly awful it is to starve and not get water for four full days. I regret having not more weight on me. I should have gained a few pounds before I went out. My body and my mind to some small extent turned on me a little bit.

You are on a tribe with J’Tia, who seems to be doing everything wrong. She even dumped out your rice.
I saw a lot of negative things about J’Tia. She doesn’t thrive under pressure. She said she was a puzzle expert, and she panicked. I had given her a huge lead, and she couldn’t do the puzzle. So after I was voted off, I thought, ‘she’s bad and they kept her. How bad must I have played?’

The tribe didn’t seem to like J’Tia at all.
She and Kass got into a huge fight; Kass threw all J’Tia’s clothes all over the place; she hated everything about J’Tia, yet they voted together to get me out. So I thought I was safe. I thought there was absolutely no chance I would be voted off.

You didn’t even bring your immunity idol to tribal council. Where was it?
I had buried it near our treemail. I never had an opportunity to run off and get it; we had all decided to stick together before tribal council, so there was no way I could go off and get it. I guess the idea of ‘everyone sticking together and not going off to strategize’ sort of bit me.

But Survivor 101 says that you bring your immunity idol to tribal council.
I know, I know. (Laughs) If I had thought there was a remote possibility that I was going anywhere, I would have brought it.

Survivor 102 says that anything can happen, so be prepared to be blindsided.
I know! That’s one of the first things you learn about Survivor! How embarrassing.

It’s surprising to the casual viewer, because you’re a poker player who reads people for a living. Did your skill not work on Survivor?
I don’t know how to approach that question. It’s hard to know exactly what happened. If I make a mistake in poker, I can sometimes recover from that. But you make a mistake in Survivor and you’re done. So I’m frustrated.

At Survivor?
My frustration isn’t with Survivor. It’s with myself. But at the end, it’s okay. I got to do something really cool, and I’m glad that I got that opportunity.

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