The ousted contestant explains why she created an alliance with Russell – and why she didn't jump ship when he was going down
Credit: CBS/Landov

The last pillar of “Team Russell” fell this week on Survivor as spitfire Stephanie Valencia was sent home from Redemption Island.

The 25-year-old waitress had been deemed “Little Parvati” by super-villain Russell Hantz, but unlike Parvati, Valencia did not make it to the finals with her mentor. Instead was sent packing after losing a match-game duel against “golden boy” Matt.

Now home in Long Beach, Calif., Valencia tells PEOPLE why she chose to align with a known target, what if felt like to burn her buff, and how she wishes the conditions in Nicaragua had been tougher!

Did you know aligning with Russell would put you on the wrong side of the numbers?
I had no idea the sheer panic that his presence brought to the other tribe mates. I didn’t understand it. I mean, I know he had this reputation, but if we had kept winning we wouldn’t have had to worry about it. Then we get to the merge and you can get rid of him if you really can’t stand him.

So why align with such a threat?
I thought, “How can this person benefit me? No one likes him so I ll get the votes.” That’s a positive to having him as an ally – he can get to the top but no one will vote for him.

But why not try to get more people on your side?
We tried everything under the sun to align with everyone. We had David in the beginning – it was me, Russell, David, and Krista – and a couple hours later something went wrong with him and he backed out.

You could have jumped ship when you knew Russell was going down.
I didn’t want to come off fake. I didn t want to be like, “Everything s fine.” My feelings were hurt. He was part of my alliance and now I have to try and be two-faced with these people and say, “I’m glad we got rid of Russell! Things are better around camp.” I just couldn’t do that. I thought maybe they would respect my loyalty.

Did the physical aspects of the game get to you?
I was actually hoping for worse conditions. I was hoping for more rain, less crab, less rice. I was hoping for the fire to go out because I felt that there were people on my tribe that – if things got worse – would just quit on their own. I would love that because then you don’t have to work for them to leave; nature will just handle their business.

You got pretty emotional when you had to burn your buff.
It’s heartbreaking. You put your sweat, blood, tears into that thing. I’m just so sad because such a huge part of being on Survivor is our buff, and I felt so awful burning it. As much as I don’t like Zapatera and can’t stand purple, I was like, “That s my buff! I love it!”

You definitely made all your feelings known when leaving Redemption Island.
I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to cry. But I couldn’t hold it back, and I was like, “Well, I’m already crying, let me say everything that’s on my mind.” I felt so much better after letting Rob know that [Zapatera] can’t be trusted. I don’t want them to succeed. When I take losses in real life, I feel like I’m a lot more graceful. But this isn’t real life – it’s a game.