"I'm lucky to be alive," the evacuated contestant tells PEOPLE

By Steve Helling
Updated March 16, 2016 04:50 PM
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Credit: Courtesy CBS/Monty Brinton

Over the years, Survivor has had its share of medical evacuations.

Sometimes, it was the contestant’s own fault, like when Mike Skupin fell into a fire during 2001’s Australian Outback. Sometimes, it was due to illness, like when Panama’s Bruce Kanegai found himself severely constipated.

Other times, the blame falls on the producers. In 2012, contestant Kourtney Moon broke her wrist during an ill-conceived challenge that had contestants jumping from a 25-ft. tower into a net.

But no Survivor has been quite as brutal and chaotic as last week’s episode, where contestants spent nearly an hour digging in hot sand for bags of balls.

Three contestants had to be treated for some sort of heatstroke or heat exhaustion. While two of them recovered, Army vet Caleb Reynolds was evacuated from the game.

Reynolds, 28, tells PEOPLE about his horrifying experience – and how he’s preparing to play the game again.

Okay, tell me exactly what happened

Throughout the entire challenge, I was feeling great. I was giving it 110 percent. I was full force. I was in this beast mode mentality. Halfway through the digging which was roughly an hour, I started to realize that I was getting hot. I wasn’t sweating that much, so obviously I knew I was close to dehydration.

Obviously, I couldn’t stop in the middle of the challenge to get water, so I kept pushing and pushing. My adrenaline was kicking. I was feeling great.

But then I noticed that I was breathing really hard and that my body was getting really hot. I wanted to push through it and take a break afterwards. As soon as the challenge was over, I fell to the ground. When I fell on my back, my eyes got fuzzy and blurry, and I got dizzy.

Wow. What happened next?
I walked over to the shade, and I collapsed. I couldn’t hold my body up anymore. I had no control.

Were you scared?
At that moment, I was sort of out of it. The heatstroke had hit me once my adrenaline went away, and that was it. I don’t remember much else.

Why did they pull you from the game and not the other contestants who fell down?
They were responsive; I wasn’t. Cydney’s heart rate went down; mine didn’t. My heart was beating about 108 beats per minute, and then it went up to 118.

What was your temperature during that time?
My body temperature hit 107 at the worst. It was really dangerous. I’m lucky to be alive.

So that’s why they pulled you.
Also, I was non-responsive. I only responded one time during 20 minutes. They lifted my eyelids up and my eyes were rolled in to back of my head. It just seemed like I was only getting worse, so they pulled me from the game.

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Do you remember Jeff Probst pulling you from the game?

He was like, “Caleb, can you hear me?” I didn’t respond, and I remember opening my eyes a little bit. He said, “I have to remove you from the game. Do you understand that?” I know I shook my head no. I didn’t want to go.

Did you really understand? When did it hit you that you were out of the game?
I woke up once in the helicopter during a two-hour ride. But later, when I was in an ambulance, I regained consciousness and I saw a bus full of Cambodians. I had IVs in both arms, and I thought, “Wait. Why am I not with my tribe?” Then I knew I wasn’t in the game anymore.

How long was your recovery?
I was in the ICU for five days. Then they said I was okay to leave the hospital. Full recovery? Five months. I started feeling better then.

So what were those five months like?
If I walked outside in the sun, my skin felt like it was melting. I would get hot really easily. I’d sweat really easy. If I was inside without air conditioning, I’d be sweating. It really did affect me. My eyes hurt in the sun. I had five months of that.

Any lingering effects?
No! The doctors say I’m really healthy. My numbers are all good, and I feel 110 percent.

They hinted that you are going to play the game again. What can you tell me about that?
Um, I would definitely say that if I were given the chance to play again, I’d pack my bags and go for round two. That’s all I can say about that. If the chance is there, I’m going to take it.

Sounds promising. So how would you change your game?
I was prepping for a bodybuilding show when I competed, and my body didn’t have much fat on it. If I play again, I’ll have more fat on my body, which is the condition to play the game. I’m trying to get a gallon of water down a day. I’ll make sure I’ll be hydrated, so my body will be in better shape to play that game again.

Survivor: Kaoh Rong airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.