"I was not team Savaii at all," the first contestant to go says. "I was more than happy to burn their buff"

By Patrick Gomez
Updated September 30, 2011 11:00 AM
Credit: CBS/Monty Brinton /Landov

Three weeks into Survivor: South Pacific – and the first contestant has been sent home. After being voted out of her tribe by a unanimous vote, spoken-word artist Semhar Tadesse, 24, was sent to Redemption Island, where she was forced to brave the elements alone before eventually losing to Christine this week in the season’s first duel.

Now back at home in Los Angeles, Tadese spoke to PEOPLE about being punished for stepping up in the season’s first challenge, her spoken-word poetry and how she was “happy” to burn her buff.

Did you like watching yourself?
It was hilarious. I thought it was really funny how they put up people’s faces to react to [the poem I performed before the duel], but none of those people could hear that poem.

Why did you recite the poem?
There was no chance in hell that I was going to win because my hands would just not stop shaking, so they suggested, “Maybe you should do a poem to calm yourself down.”

It seemed to work.
We both put up a pretty good fight. It was a difficult challenge. Even the slightest bit of wind could set you off. It’s a balance thing and I wasn’t as calm and collected as needed to be. I wasn’t eating. I was pretty dehydrated. I think if I had been in better condition it would have given me the strength that I needed to succeed.

Did you hate burning your buff?
I was totally happy to do it. Every single person on my tribe voted me off. I was not team Savaii at all. I was more than happy to burn their buff, as I think most people would probably feel after being voted off. No one wants to stay where they are not welcome.

You mentioned that being voted off brought back memories of abandonment.
There was a lot more going on than was shown. I don’t really want to talk about it but I will just say that experience triggered some things for me. I don’t really want to go deeper in to the abandonment thing.

You caught a lot of flack for stepping up in the first challenge and then not being able to perform.
You have about 30 seconds to figure out who is going to do what. Immediately, Ozzy and Keith volunteered and they both turned to Jim, who put up his hands like he didn’t want to do it. No one was stepping up so I said, “If nobody’s great then I can do it.” It sucks that I was voted out because I was the only person who had the balls to step up. If we had won I would have been a hero and if we lost then I was truly blame. That was a risk you shouldn’t take that soon.

Have you enjoyed the exposure of your spoken-word poetry?
I feel like my craft was made fun of a little bit. I am happy that it is out there and it can inspire people to look up more spoken-word artists and maybe get in to that craft but at the same time seeing it chopped up in certain ways was a little disturbing.

What most surprised you about yourself on the island?
My ability. I had never camped a day in my life before this. I hadn’t even spent a night outdoors. I never thought for a million years that I would be able to start a fire. There is a lot that surprises you that you wouldn’t know about yourself until you are thrown in to those situations.