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The merge, or, ‘Mergatory’ as dubbed in recent seasons, is finally here on CBS’s Survivor 43, and just as we saw in Seasons 41 and 42, things were a chaotic mess in the best way possible.

After coming together on the Baka beach, the castaways were soon split into teams of two as they competed for their spot in the merge. Fans knew the drill: one team would win and earn their safety, while the other would be vulnerable for elimination. In Survivor 43, though, the Hourglass twist would be absent, and the results of the challenge would be set in stone. Despite maintaining a considerable lead, the red team, consisting of Elie, Owen, Sami, Cassidy, James, and Cody, were unable to solve their puzzle fast enough, losing them the challenge.

Several plans were discussed at camp, with Baka and Vesi seemingly set on working together to destabilize the already-dwindling Coco tribe, that is, if Gabler had anything to say about it. After Gabler threw Elie under the bus at the merge feast, toppled with typical Survivor scrambling before tribal council, Elie found herself blindsided by a vote of 7-2-1-1.

Pop Crave got on a video call with Elie to discuss the events leading up to her elimination, why Jeanine chose not to play her idol, respecting Gabler’s gameplay, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!

First off, how are you feeling about your experience overall now that the episode has aired?

I had a great time. I feel relieved today, honestly. Obviously, I’ve known that this was coming for five months or so. Having to talk with friends and family and they’re all like, “Oh, we think you’re gonna do great,” and I’m like, “I guess we’ll see,” knowing that I have a five-episode crash and burn, was maybe the hardest part of watching it back. But I had such a great experience out there. I had fun every day and I played hard every day, which is really what I went there to do, so I have no regrets.

You had a confessional where you mentioned that your social game was way stronger than you thought it was going to be. Then after being eliminated, you admitted that you probably started off the game too hard. How was it for you to play the game hard while still trying to maintain a level of self-awareness?

Yeah, I think that’s a good question. My baseline for self-confidence, honestly, is usually pretty low. And, so, something that I was pretty aware of when I was out there was that I kind of wanted to grow in confidence, which is maybe not the environment to do it in since playing an under the radar game is often way better for people than a confident game. But I think a lot of those comments and confessionals came from me reflecting on that I was really nervous about one aspect or another coming into the game, and that things felt more natural to me than I thought that they would. And to be honest, I think at the time I said that comment, that my social game was better than I thought it would be, or that I felt like I had good footing, I think it was probably pre-Sami telling Gabler about the bag search. And so, I think at that point, it was more like just genuine social relationships versus strategic relationships were going well. And, you know, obviously that was horrible placement, and I cringed so hard watching that back. I was trying to experience my own personal growth out there, and part of that was learning to be confident and learning to be proud of myself. I think that’s where those genuine comments came from, that I was doing better than I thought I would.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

You found out that Cody had Vesi’s immunity idol after Noelle inadvertently revealed that information to you, which was hilarious by the way. Was there any chatter around camp with members of the Coco tribe about who was asking around for beads?

Yeah, I actually had a conversation with Ryan about it and he told me that Karla got the beads from everybody. And I was like, “Oh, okay, so she has the idol,” and he was pretty surprised by that. I don’t think I had the chance to tell anybody about it because it was really late in the day when I found that out. I was hoping that there would be a next day for me where I could figure out what to do with that information. That might be like the one secret that I kept the entire time I was out there. So yeah, I asked Ryan because it seemed like he was on the outs, and he either would have been the one to find it or would be the least likely to know that that was the idol that was being found.

Owen voted for James and Noelle voted for Cassidy, which was part of your plan to split the votes going into tribal council. Do you believe they were truly on your side there, and I guess going off that, whose votes were you confident you had going into tribal council?

Um, so yeah, first part of the question: I think that Owen was truly on my side. I don’t think that was a thrown vote. I think that he either misunderstood the plan to get me out or wasn’t informed of the plan. But I honestly don’t know for sure. I think that he was left out and was truly voting with me. For Noelle, I honestly don’t know, either. You know, it’s kind of like, the fact of the matter was that I was voted out, so I didn’t do a ton of digging of like, “Who did this to me?!” afterwards. I dug my own grave. I get the feeling that Noelle wasn’t left out of the vote. I think that was potentially in case I played an idol or shot in the dark situation, to have more than just one backup. That was the way I expected them to vote anyway. So, if I came back to camp, then she would be able to be like, “I voted with you.” That’s my guess, but I’m not totally sure.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

Jeanine didn’t use her idol on you despite you voicing to her that you felt unsafe. What were the conversations like leading up to tribal council that you’d say made her feel that you were safe?

Yeah, so I think we both were on the same page after we had that conversation, and I’m like, “I’ll never trust Gabler again!” Flash forward 15 minutes and he’s like, “Elie, it’s water under the bridge. We’re good. Let’s keep us tight.” I was like, “Yeah! That sounds great. Let’s continue to come together.” And I thought that potentially we were going to be able to keep the five of us strong past the merge. I felt like we could help each other get some of the big threats from Coco and Vesi out, and I didn’t at all envision us being the final five people. Certainly, I thought that we could work together to get through this vote and get us all to the merge. Obviously, that’s not what happened, but that on top of some of the stuff that was said during tribal council, like, “Hey, if you’re trying to have trusting relationships with people and then you play an idol when you are told not to,” that could rupture trust. I think that was honestly pretty dissuading to me, that if I’m already on the bottom of this alliance, or trying to get back into this alliance, and I tell Jeanine to play the idol at tribal council, that could make me in a worse position and I’d just get voted out next time.

You are now the FIFTH woman to be eliminated from the game, and the merge technically didn’t even begin yet. Was this ever pointed out while in the game and was there any conversation among the remaining women about potentially sticking together?

Yeah, when we first all got together on the Baka beach with everybody there, the women talked to each other, and we’re like, “Hey, we don’t want to see another woman go.” I mean, that’s partly why James seemed like a good option to me instead of Cassidy; I wanted to try to keep all of the women there. I also think that in the game, you have to go beyond voting on gender lines. Even though that’s something that I would have liked to do, if Cassidy had gone home, I’m not going to fall on my sword so that she doesn’t go home in a game of Survivor. You know, it’s a cutthroat game. And so, I think that there’s other things at play as to why women are voted out early in the game in terms of not having swaps, having very small tribes, and having very physical challenges where you need tall people and strong people to pull you up walls, to prop you up, and all of that. I think that there are elements that set it up to maybe make women more vulnerable at the beginning of the game. But, once we got to the merge, I think that my vote wasn’t so much based on gender as it was that I was just getting really messy.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

We saw a bit of Owen’s reasoning for wanting James out, but you doubled down on that by saying you wanted him as the target. What was it about his gameplay that made you want to vote him out over Cassidy?

I met James, like, right when they got off the boat. We all kind of sat on the beach after just a little bit of getting to know everybody, and he and I got into a long conversation. I felt super drawn to him. Like, I could have followed this guy to the edge of the earth kind of drawn to him, and I was like, “Oh, geez, he is a really strong player.” And I kind of figured that if in the first few minutes that I’m ever meeting this person who’s not my ally, who’s not on a tribe with me, if I want to follow him to the ends of the earth, that the rest of his tribe is probably falling into that too. My hope with a James vote is that it might destabilize Coco, fracture them a little bit if he really was kind of at the hub of things. I thought Karla was as well at the time, but she was not vulnerable and I did prefer to have a guy go over a girl. Also, Cody played a really under the radar game. I mean, I don’t know that in terms of how he was at Vesi, but when we all got together, he seemed like he was just chillin’, there to have a good time. To me, he didn’t seem like a threat strategically and James did, so that was the reason.

You confronted Owen and Sami after Gabler threw them under the bus to you regarding the bag searching. Did you believe their story?

I believed Owen that he didn’t tell Gabler. I mean, he looked really shocked. I think that Owen was aware that Gabler knew and probably, you know, could have told me I guess, or warned me a little bit; I wouldn’t have made a fool out of myself. But in terms of Sami, he denied it initially, and then was like, “Okay. He [Gabler] kind of backed me into a corner. I didn’t come to him willingly with the information. He noticed something was weird with his bag, and he was like, ‘I know, someone went through my bag, was it you?’,” and he felt pressured to tell Gabler. That is obviously not what happened. We saw it and Sami was like, “This is what happened.” But he pulled it off really well. I was overly trusting throughout the entirety of the game. I think that was honestly my biggest downfall, that I just believed people very, very easily, and forgave things very easily. And so instantly, I’m like, “Okay, well, then just like, help me clear this up.” And so that’s what I thought was happening, but I think Sami was still going around being like, “Let’s get her out.”

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

We saw you mention wanting to use Cody’s name as a decoy vote, but the edit never showed you telling him this, which seemingly led to most of Vesi voting you out. Were you ever able to discuss your plan with him or were you just too involved in other conversations? 

I did have the conversation with him ahead of time and actually had the conversation with him twice. I tried to really let him know that I was wanting to work with Vesi. I think that my game had just gotten really out of control, you know, so I would understand that nobody wants to be a decoy vote. That’s kind of insulting too, in my opinion, for him to just be like, “Oh, yeah, no problem, like me getting four votes or three votes, like no big deal.” I didn’t really expect that of him, but his name had already been thrown out by the time I talked to him, and so I tried to play it like, “Cassidy already threw your name out. I’m just gonna go along with it,” and I hoped that the communication would get back to Vesi, but I think what happened was that potentially he was rubbed the wrong way by that conversation, and I don’t blame him for it.

Do you think you had a shot at surviving the vote had the Earn the Merge twist not been in place?

I do think that I could have had a chance to survive the vote. I don’t think it’s guaranteed. I think that I would have felt more comfortable not trying to come up with a plan, with only a few of us vulnerable to be voted out. It felt more imminent to have a plan that didn’t involve my name. I think that if everybody was vulnerable to be voted out, I hope that I wouldn’t have wanted to be as central in deciding who went, and I could just kind of sit back and let it be. But then again, if Gabler would have decided to unleash his information at that time and expose some stuff about that bag search and whatnot, that easily could have flipped towards me and I still might not have had a chance to write that wrong.

Now that you’ve seen the full episode, would you attribute your elimination to anyone besides Gabler?

Oh, me. 100% percent. I mean, I think I dug my grave early on, by overthinking a lot of decisions when we were just a Baka camp, and being overly visible and not being able to hold myself back, not being able to hold my tongue when I got information, being overly trusting and then getting to the merge and, you know, saying to myself, like, “Okay, I’m just gonna play it easy. I’m going to keep it cool.” Literally not being able to just sit and let things happen, but instead being like, “Okay, like, let’s make a plan, and let’s let it be this.” I fully think that I dug my own grave and held my own funeral. I personally think that Gabler did the right thing by exposing that information. He’d been sitting on that for a long time. To have held that in until the moment that I was vulnerable, and he wasn’t… I feel like that was the right thing to do. I was frustrated with Gabler because he had talked a lot with me before the merge about keeping the five of us together and that he was really strongly promoting it. I get that that was just kind of a social move, to make me feel really comfortable until the very last second. I was frustrated in the moment, but at the same time, I don’t blame him for wanting me out based on the information that he got.

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