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Elevator salesman Cody Assenmacher was the latest castaway voted off of Survivor 43 in what fans are already calling one of the greatest blindsides the game has ever seen. The move, helmed by Cody’s closest ally and political science Ph.D. candidate Jesse Lopez, involved using Cody’s own immunity bracelet on Owen so that Karla, in fear, would flush her own, leaving her vulnerable at next week’s pivotal final five vote.

Cody’s biggest flaw was surely his devout loyalty to Jesse, and the decision to let him hold onto his immunity bracelet for as long as he did. Still, Cody left the game as one of this season’s top players, which was a pleasant surprise to viewers after being introduced as a carefree male archetype seen plenty of times in season’s past. Even after being forced to learn the game at a faster rate due to his “escalated” application process, Cody managed to be a driving force by steering votes on Vesi and Gaia, and voting correctly in each of the eight tribal councils he went to before his exit. If anyone from Survivor 43 were to have another shot at the million, Cody would definitely be among those at the top of our list.

Pop Crave spoke with Cody about his blindside, why he decided to give Jesse his idol back, how he managed to stay under the radar for so long, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!

You’re officially juror #6! How do you feel about your entire Survivor journey now that your elimination has aired?

It was the adventure of a lifetime. It ended abruptly and sourly, but it went that way for the other 12 contestants, you know? That’s the way it goes.

Alright, so obviously, everyone is wanting to know your thought process behind giving Jesse your idol back after showing it to Karla. What happened there?

Yeah, man, it’s a perfect storm. Karla wanted to see the idol because she wanted to walk into tribal council with hers to flex it. And by the same token, Jesse, unknowingly, says, “Hey, I think she has the Knowledge is Power [advantage].” That hadn’t been played yet in the season, so I thought maybe they put it back out there. And it was potentially true, because she kept asking me to have this thing at tribal council. Jesse never asked for the idol back, and that was telling me, “Listen. I trust Jesse. I’ve played with him for 21 days. I don’t necessarily trust Karla.” That [the idol] was also a token of our trust. So, him not saying anything, I felt like, “Well, he’s not really digging for this… I should give it back and show him that I’m still in this game with him.”

Jesse has had your immunity bracelet since the Dwight vote and we know you gave it to him to potentially combat James’ Knowledge is Power advantage from being used against you. Why did you decide to leave it in Jesse’s hands, even after James left?

After that, I only needed it one time, and I had it a couple of times throughout there. But I won individual immunity, and then the Noelle vote was very obvious, and then I won the advantage. So there’s a lot of times I didn’t even need it. And that was part of my strategy in a way of, “Hey, bro. This is a token of trust.” Those idols are tricky because they’re a target and a shield, right? People won’t vote for you because they don’t want to catch a stray bullet, but it’s also like, people will vote for you because they want to flush it out. So it’s weird. It’s a weird feeling to have one in your possession, and I guess I didn’t like holding onto it, so I gave it to Jesse [laughs].

Courtesy of CBS

How much of the idea for you and Karla to flex your idols and then vote her out would you attribute to having all of that caffeine and sugar in you from the reward?

I’ve said it previously… that coffee and those danishes were worth a million dollars. I didn’t sleep a damn wink that night and I was up and groggy the whole next day. I’ll never forget when we got back from the challenge. In hindsight, I always came back and just listened… [I] wasn’t going to be the guy coming in there guns blazing. And on that particular one, I came in guns blazing like, “This is what we should do!” Million dollar coffee, bro!

You looked stunned when Jesse raised his hand to give Jeff that immunity bracelet. What were your thoughts as it was happening?

You know, I’ve never had that feeling before. Never had that emotion go over my body before; I’ve never felt like that. Everything ran through my mind. Do I roundhouse kick him into the jury? Do I just push him into the fire? Punch him in the face? But I took the high road, and in watching this game now, I respected the play that he made. He had no choice, you know, sitting there in the position he was in. I miscalculated it and good on him. Nobody to blame but myself.

From what we’ve seen on the show, you’re clearly someone who values loyalty. With that being said, we know you respect the move in a game sense, but how did it affect you personally?

After this next episode I definitely did not have a lot of respect for it because it was the right move. I told myself if I made the jury that I wasn’t going to hold grudges against anybody. That’s the game of Survivor. Now in the game of life, it’d be a little different. You know, that person is dead to me. I don’t talk to them anymore. But, it’s the game of Survivor.

Courtesy of CBS

You and Jesse have essentially been running the game since the merge began. Was he really in your end game plans, or were you worried that the jury may have viewed your games similarly?

Jesse was in my end game plans from day one. We had that challenge together, I helped him grab that box, and we looked at each other… We had a relationship out there, man. We had a tight bond. I was fine going to the end with him because at the end of the day, one of the two of us got to win a million dollars. Unfortunately for me, this whole experience was escalated. I applied in October of last year and was fast-tracked to where I am today, so I had to study the game really quickly and cram it in. One of the last seasons I watched was the one with Wendell and Dom. So in my mind I was like, “Hey, this is possible and people do go to the end together.” Didn’t watch the other 42 [seasons] I guess [laughs].

Jesse has pushed back on a few targets you had in mind throughout the game, like him wanting to target Sami instead of Cassidy last week, for example. Did any of those conversations raise red flags to you?

The idea was pitched that “Hey, we can get Sami out and we’ll get Karla and Cassidy pinned against each other.” The idea was to get them to split up and then we would vote one of them out. So if we could get Sami out, and then pin them two against each other, hell, that’s even better. In hindsight, yeah, that should’ve drawn a red flag. And then after she won and beat me by seconds in the puzzle, why didn’t my frickin’ anger kick in and go, “To hell with this shit, bro!? I’m tired. It’s time for me to play my own individual game.” I had an all night bender on coffee.

Gabler seemed like your guy out there, but he still voted you out. Do you think had roles been reversed, you would have been able to get votes on Jesse, or were you simply perceived as the bigger threat among the two of you?

Gabler was my insurance policy in the move that I tried to make. I didn’t even tell him what was going on. I just said, “Hey, man, I’m going for Karla.” I thought that had anything gone haywire and somebody tried to do something differently, he would have come and said, “Bro, things are going sour.” He didn’t. I think me getting second in that puzzle didn’t do me any good. It just created even more of a target, like not only is he a physical threat, but this guy’s not a knucklehead and an idiot… he can do a puzzle, too! 

Courtesy of CBS

Week after week we were told by the eliminated players that you and Jesse weren’t targeted because they didn’t view you as threats until it was too late. What was it about your gameplay that allowed you to fly so far under the radar?

After voting out Nneka, everybody thought that she was my number one. And she was, but Jesse and I didn’t talk a lot on the beach, or during the day. We had a very strict conversation and timing of those conversations; not only the length of the time, but also the time during the day. And we’re also two quite different personalities, so people didn’t really see us bonding that tight. So I think just the shortness of the timing of our conversations prevented anybody from picking up on what we were doing.

What was the jury’s reaction to your elimination once you arrived at Ponderosa?

Nothing but love and support. They obviously saw what you saw in that gut-wrenching, heartbreaking blindside. They were there. They were supporting me. When I first had a fight with myself, pretending like I was fighting off a gang kicking and screaming, those guys gave me nothing but love. We got to talk about the game. I had a good cry and kind of stared at the ceiling, and then the sun came up the next day.

I know you just had that reward meal at The Sanctuary the day before, but… What was the first thing you ate at Ponderosa?
My eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach [laughs]. I ordered a pizza, cheese burger, tacos… I also had a milkshake. I had it all ready, and then like four bites into it, I’m like, “I’m full. I just wanna get back in the game.”

New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.