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Following last week’s blindside of graduate student Dwight Moore, Jeanine, Owen, Gabler, and Noelle were determined to maneuver a plan that would take a shot at the newly formed group of seven. But, even with Sami and Cassidy willing to flip, and Noelle’s Steal-A-Vote in play, the move — a plan to take out Ryan — was unsuccessful, leaving UX designer Jeanine Zheng as this week’s target, and the eighth player eliminated from Survivor 43.

Pop Crave caught up with Jeanine to discuss how she went home despite having the votes to stay, her reaction to finding out that her idol was still in the game, the remaining women agreeing to have each other’s backs (which did not entirely end up happening), and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!

You’re officially the first member of the jury! How are you feeling about your whole experience now that the episode has aired?

I have nothing but gratitude for this whole experience. Looking back, of course, it’s hard to kind of relive and watch the hurt of being voted out. Now, you know, being on the other side of it, it’s never fun to relive that. But at the same time, it’s been the most amazing experience, so I have nothing to complain about.

The vote was 9-2 with you and Cassidy voting out Ryan. It seems like you could have stayed had the rest of Baka and Noelle voted that way as well. What happened there?

Yeah, so that was exactly my thought process. It was, “Okay, we are in the minority but not by a big margin. Like, if we want to have the numbers and move forward, this is our chance. This is our time to kind of overturn this seven majority. All we need is one other person and then Noelle’s Steal-A-Vote, and we have something going here, right?” So, that was kind of my pitch at the point where I was voted out. I was really interested in having a majority alliance or having the numbers to work with moving forward. For me, it was always about long term game, and I wasn’t looking to just fix this situation for the next day. Again, I wanted to find a way to really turn the game in that direction.

You just mentioned Noelle’s Steal-A-Vote. Were there any discussions about her possibly playing it to ensure you guys could form a majority for this vote?

Yes, and again, that’s something that I suggested and pitched. It wasn’t shown in this episode, but my ideal was that the people that I had just listed plus Noelle’s Steal-A-Vote would vote on James and take out a member of the seven strong, so that was definitely a conversation.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

We saw plenty of players outside of the minority alliance agree to the idea of voting out Ryan, and at one point it looked like that’s what was happening. What do you think made the vote flip back onto you? 

I think that what it was is this reign of terror that was like, if you weren’t in the seven strong, it was terrifying to be in the minority. I think that at the end of the day, that was what got to people, and having had so much chaos and tumultuousness in the last two votes, I think people were really ready to just hinge upon a vote that was like… People just wanted to be with the numbers, honestly. I think that’s why it was, “Let’s vote out someone who is in the minority and who we see as a strategic threat, versus someone who’s on our side, which would complicate things and only create more chaos.”

What was your expectation going into tribal council?

I had… I mean, I had managed expectations. I definitely knew it was going to be either Ryan or myself, and I knew that there was a high likelihood that I was going home. There was no part of me that was like, “It’s definitely going to be someone else,” you know? So, I think because of that, I definitely considered alternatives like playing my shot, but weighing that against, again, this idea of, “How is that going to set me up after this?” Even if I successfully play a one-in-six shot at immunity, I give up my vote, and I get it, I’m signaling to my allies – or who I thought would be my allies – that I don’t trust them. Again, going back to that idea of a long-term game, it just wasn’t something that I was willing or wanting to do.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

Last week, you gave your idol to Dwight in an attempt to combat the Knowledge is Power advantage from being played against you. Can you talk me through your strategy of lending it to him as opposed to someone else you felt closer with?

Yeah, I mean, I think those things are related. I actually felt really, really, really close with Dwight, and that’s something that’s kind of hard to understand based off of the episode and how fast things go. We had had this Vesi/Baka rapport since, honestly, Noelle and Dwight had said, “Since we saw you digging under the log, we were like, ‘she’s a badass, we want to work with her,’” and I felt similarly about them. I just felt like they were people that I kind of felt this connection with, and that came to light when Dwight told us to send Noelle on the journey. He did that, Owen solidified that relationship there, and then when they sent me on the journey, I kind of was like, “Okay, that’s another olive branch of they want me to bond with Jesse and create this relationship, and our tribes are working together in challenges.” All to say, that’s all context and build up that you don’t see as a viewer, but that made me really trust him and feel like he was the most trustworthy person to give my idol to. On top of that, we wanted to make sure it was cross tribes so that it wasn’t as obvious if someone wanted to use Knowledge is Power. We felt like it would be too obvious if I gave it to someone like Owen.

Speaking of Dwight, he told us that he was aware he was getting votes last week, which we can now assume was the reason he lent your idol to Jesse. Were you completely in the dark about his vote out, or were you clued in on him leaving being a possibility?

I mean, there had been multiple names floating out that day. Obviously, it was never to a point where I thought this could be a reality. If he was actually catching votes and I knew about that, I would not have him hold onto my idol [laughs].

Going off that, what was your reaction to finding out Jesse was in possession of your idol?

Um, my reaction was shock! My reaction was, “That’s my baby! I can’t believe that my firstborn has gone to you!” But I think at the same time, I was really, really, really – as a fan – excited to see that it didn’t just go home and be wasted.

You were blindsided for the first two tribal councils since the merge started. How hard was it for you to continue working with people like Sami for example, who had consistently lied to your face about how they were voting?

100%, it was so difficult. I mean, that’s why when you see this episode of Sami approaching Owen and I about still wanting to work together, I ironically was like, “This is it.” I don’t think I can trust what you’re saying because you’ve just burned me so many times in the past, so yeah, it was incredibly difficult.

You scraped your chin in the early days of the game. Can you talk a bit about that and what it was like having to keep up with the wound on a daily basis?

So, it’s interesting because the actual chin scrape, I don’t know if you guys know, I got it from the log digging challenge. I had to free my face from suffocating under it by pulling my face from up under it and scraping my chin as a result. Honestly, I feel like the wound care was such an afterthought for me. Everything about my physical health and well-being… as you probably see, I’m so banged up. I wasn’t bothered by it. I didn’t really think about it, because to me, I cared so much more about the strategic aspects of the game and was constantly in that, that it was just like… I didn’t really give it the time of day even though the doctors were like, “You need to give it the time of day” [laughs].

You were an undyingly loyal ally to Elie, which put a target on your back in the sense that you were both viewed as a duo. After she left, was there anyone who tried taking her place as your #1? Or maybe that you considered making your new #1?

To answer “Did I consider anyone else my number one?,” No… Absolutely not. I definitely didn’t have anyone that was at that level of closeness. I also didn’t really want that because of what had happened and seeing how we were targeted because we were so close. That was something that I realized wasn’t actually a benefit to be seen as or to have someone so closely tied to you. I think the closest people that I had to that was, again, Noelle and Dwight. After she had left, I felt like we still had a connection.

Courtesy of CBS

For last week’s vote, we now know that the cast pretty much unspokenly agreed to not vote out another woman due to what the boot order looked like at the time. Did that mindset of not voting for a woman change after Dwight left?

That was a conversation that all of us women had post merge and post Elie’s vote out, too, where we kind of had this outside of game sentiment that we want to offer some sort of protection, at least amidst the four of us, to not vote each other or not write each other’s name down. That’s why we decided to vote on Ryan and James on Coco and not Karla and Cass, and then that’s why you see Cass in this episode saying, “I don’t want to vote another woman out. Why are we targeting Jeanine?”

As you just mentioned, Cassidy had a confessional about wanting to see the women have numbers moving forward in the game. We also saw that she voted with you. What was your relationship with her like in the game?

I was very close with Cass from the merge on. We bonded on a personal level. I think we have a lot of similarities, overlap, and interest. Yeah, I think it’s a shame that we didn’t get to work together because we were never, you know, on the same side. Despite that, we’re kind of at that blurred line of wanting to work with each other, and I definitely take responsibility for kind of cutting off that as a potential strategic avenue, because I had aligned with Baka/Vesi and not with Coco.

Courtesy of CBS

Did anything surprise you while watching the season back?

So much! Nothing is groundbreaking shocking because we all talk after the season and have a pretty good understanding of what happens, but I just think it’s so surprising to me to even see the conversations that I’m just not a part of, right? It’s crazy to watch that back. I’m definitely very surprised about all the things that Sami relayed to Gabler, but it’s all part of the game, and it’s incredible that he was able to do that for so long.

We haven’t had the typical Ponderosa videos since Season 41, so I was wondering… What was the first thing you ate after being eliminated?

Oh my God, we talked about this all the time out there! “What’s our first meal gonna be?” I weirdly really craved alfredo. I don’t know why, because I actually don’t like cheese in my day-to-day here, but for some reason that was calling my name. It wasn’t even on the menu, but I custom ordered alfredo at Ponderosa [laughs].

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