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By People Staff
Updated April 13, 2009 12:00 AM
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Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS

Nine players got one step closer to a million dollars thanks to Joe Dowdle, whose bum leg forced him from the competition on Survivor: Tocantins. The 26-year-old Austin, Texas, real estate agent talked to PEOPLE.com about the tough decision to quit, his feelings for Sydney and how the game convinced him to change careers. – Carrie Bell

The obvious first question is did you make it out of Brazil with both legs?Well, tell me the prosthetic looks and feels very real. Nah, I’m all here. I got them both. I lived to tell the tale.

What was the diagnosis and treatment? The diagnosis was a staph infection. We helicoptered out to a hospital and they did surgery very shortly after arriving. They went in and drained it all out and I got five stitches. Then I was in there for a couple more days resting. Playing Survivor made hospital food taste better.

How does it feel to get all the way to the merge and be sent home due to a medical issue? Absolutely it is the worst way to go for a competitor. I was disappointed because I wanted to keep going. I thought I had a shot at winning. But it was also hard to stay focused with my damn knee hurting. I tried to downplay it but I didn’t have the focus or energy to scheme the way I would need to. At the same time I was relieved to know that I was going to get healthy.

Last week Sydney told us she felt that your attraction was played up to create a showmance and you were really more like best friends. We know she has a boyfriend, but it seemed to be real on your end.I respected their relationship, but I don’t mind saying that if she hadn’t been in one, it would have been a different story. She’s cool and we got along. She handled herself so well out there and that left an impression.

You started to look more and more like the lost Dillon brother as the show went on. I get called Drama Kevin’s character on Entourage all the time. The only place I didn’t grow hair was on my forehead. It was like I was evolving backwards.

You left before you could use the fake idol that Stephen made. Did you believe you had the real thing?I was never fully sold on that idol. When I first found it, the adrenaline was pumping and I was excited. But on closer inspection, it looked pretty weak and that’s part of the reason I didn’t give it to Sydney to use. That would have been hugely embarrassing for her and I would have felt so bad. This way I carried the weight of the embarrassment of carrying around a fake idol alone.

Did Survivor change you?I walked away from the game with a new, pure sense of confidence. I have played music for a long time while having a regular job but while I was out there, I realized I wanted to give music the old college try when I got home. I am going to try and leverage the show into a music career. I just recorded an EP and I am going to play some venues in Austin starting next weekend. It is Dave Matthews- and Jack Johnson-inspired acoustic rock-type stuff. People should check it out at MySpace.com/joedowdle.

Monty Brinton/CBS