December 18, 2015 05:00 PM

Let’s face it: Survivor doesn’t always have a feel-good ending.

We’ve seen villains win the game and likable players get voted out right before the finals.

Not this season.

Jeremy Collins, a 37-year-old Massachusetts firefighter, played a game of quiet control. In additional to being a physical threat, he also understood the game’s strategy. Oh, and he was also a likable dad with a pregnant wife at home.

And things have even gotten better for Collins: on Thursday afternoon, he and this season’s heartthrob Joe Anglim taped a guest spot on The Young and the Restless. (They play coffeehouse patrons in scenes with Joshua Morrow, who happens to be a big Survivor fan.)

Just minutes after being awarded the prize, a visibly stunned Collins talked with PEOPLE backstage – and shared what he’ll do with his newfound wealth.

CBS

Congratulations, Jeremy! Did you think you had won the game?
I thought I had a strong shot at it. Spencer and Tasha are strong competitors, so I didn’t want to go in and say, “Oh, I’ve got this.” I needed to wait and see.

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You made the decision to take out Kelley instead of Spencer. Clearly, that was the right move.
With Kelley, she played such a strong game. I looked at the jury and you could tell that half of the jurors were with her – and my alliance had been the one that put them there. So I think it would have been close if I had brought her to the end.

Let’s compare your two seasons. What went right this time that went wrong last time?
You know, my last season, I was really emotional when my wife went home. I went after John Rocker, telling everyone his secret. That was wrong of me; I needed to keep my emotions in check. This season, I tried to keep physical threats around me so I could have three more days to work.

What was the best decision you made in the game?
I think aligning with Stephen was a good decision, especially when I used an immunity idol to save him. I think when you play an idol correctly, everybody flocks to you. When Kelley played her idol, people just flocked to her. Everybody wanted to work with her. When I played the idol, everybody wanted to work with me. I think that flipped the game around a little bit. I got some wind beneath my wings after I played the idol for Stephen.

See, that’s interesting, because I assumed that you’d become a bigger target, because people would think it’s unlikely that you’d have another idol.
Yeah. I can see that. Maybe that was a thought with some people, but it didn’t really come into play.

You actually did have another idol so you would’ve been okay, but were you worried that you’d be the next target?
No, not really. I thought I had a good rapport with everybody. I had gone into the game and went to everybody and told them that I had their back. I wanted them to be loyal. I said, “If your name comes up, I’ll let you know, if you’ll do the same for me.” I never heard my name come up, so I felt pretty good.

So were you ever in danger at all?
I don’t think I was, but maybe something happened that I didn’t know about. I felt like I had my finger on the pulse of this game. The one time that I went to tribal council that I didn’t know who was going to go home was when Spencer flipped and got Stephen out. But even then, I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know what it was. But my name hadn’t come up, so I knew I was safe. But I told Stephen, “Something’s wrong. You’d better get your head in the game. Something’s going crazy.”

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Now, did you have any votes against you this season, other than the ones that you canceled with your idol?
No, that was the only time, but those votes didn’t count.

So no valid votes against you, and a clean sweep of the jury votes. Perfect game?
(Laughs.) I don’t know about a perfect game, but I won! I’ll take the win.

So which was harder: having Val playing Survivor on the other tribe like you did during San Juan Del Sur, or having her pregnant, thousands of miles away?
Oh, that’s a good question. (Laughs.) Both were really hard, in different ways. Knowing that she was pregnant, especially in the first trimester, that’s a crucial time of the baby’s development. That was so hard for me. All I did was think about her. It was horrible.

So when you decided to play Survivor again, how far along was Val?
I don’t know exactly how far along she was. We had just found out, and then I left. We knew while I was gone, she would find out the sex of the baby.

A lot of parents have played Survivor. Some of them have told me that it gives you an advantage, because they were playing to better the lives of their children. Others have told me that it’s a liability, because it’s just so painful to think of being separated from them. Which was it for you?
Well, obviously, it was really hard to be apart from them, but they also gave me a reason to be playing. I was playing for Val, my daughters and my son, who isn’t even here yet. I had to play hard for them, otherwise I’d have been wasting this second chance.

So what are you going to do with the money?
Well, now I’ll have three kids, so the first thing I’ll do is put money away for their college. That’s the top priority. After that, I want to take Val on vacation. She really deserves it. There are a lot of things that I’ll do with the money, but it will be all about helping my family.

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