Survivor 43 has come to an end, and Pop Crave had the chance to speak with the final 5 castaways about their time on the season.
Keep reading for our full exit interview with 4th place finisher, Jesse Lopez!
Congratulations on your EPIC run. How are you grappling with everything now that the finale has aired?
I’m good, man. Honestly, it is bittersweet to watch back, right? It’s a whole season of seeing my game, seeing how I played out there, and just having all my thoughts about things, like, “Wow, I did play a good game,” being confirmed with the episodes. It was amazing. But then at the same time, I know how it’s gonna end, so knowing where it’s headed… it was bittersweet. That is sort of the word that encapsulates it. But, you know, my family is proud. And that’s all that matters.
You really have cemented yourself as a Survivor legend. Your loss, to me, was so reminiscent of seeing Kelley Wentworth get so close to the end in Survivor: Cambodia. Does any of this feel real to you?
It’s incredible. Honestly, just the last week has been absolutely wild! Since the Cody episode, it’s just been incredible getting all these messages of support. And it’s just all so surreal, honestly, because I’m a super fan. I’ve watched all of the seasons, like multiple times. Then you have Jeff Probst in the interview say something about me like, making a Hall of Fame move. My mind is blown.
So, I am a bit curious. As you were planning to make the move against Cody at final 6, what was your game plan going into final 5 knowing not only that a number in Cody would be gone, but that Karla was going to be your next target. What did you view as your path to win?
My general plan was, if I somehow slip into the final three, if I somehow make it in, I wanted no questions asked. Like, I wanted to just hands down sort of sweep it. And I think I played that sort of game where like, as you saw, I think the jury was pulling for me. I wanted to sort of just sweep the jury, and that’s how I played. At five, I think there were some questions — in my head for sure — the whole day. I was like, “Man, should I play this idol for Karla?” Because the heat wasn’t on me and I was surprised by it. It was more on Karla. I was feeling that I had my best shot at maybe beating her in fire, or you know, she’s got a busted ankle, so she’s not a challenge threat and I suck at challenges [laughs]. So she’s probably the best person to take with me to four. I think at the end of the day, I made the right call because you know, as you saw, she wrote my name down [laughs].
That final 5 tribal council was clearly insane. At one point you mentioned wanting to use your immunity idol on Karla, but you were afraid of it blowing up in your face. Considering that Karla still ended up voting for you, how much did you actually consider making that move?
It did end abruptly. But I think one thing that didn’t make the cut was Karla turned around and started talking to Cass and Gabler while I was talking to Owen. She said to Cass and Gabler, “I think his idol is fake.” And she’s like, “I think we put the votes on Jessie. I think his idol is fake.” And Cass and Gabler immediately looked at me and they’re like, “She’s saying your idol is fake. She’s trying to put the votes on you.” I looked at her and I said, “Really?” After that I was like, all right. It’s done. We’re over [laughs].
So now going into the final four, what was your anxiety level going into that immunity challenge knowing that you had such a target on your back?
Oh, I was crushed when I lost. I mean, I hadn’t won one yet. But at the end of the day, you see so many seasons where someone just randomly pulls it through. And so I was thinking, “Man, maybe this is it. Maybe this is the one where I can pull it through,” and you know, then it’s over. A lot was riding on that, and I was crushed when I just sat down and had to take that in.
We actually saw Gabler mention at the final tribal council that he had intended on going to the end with you and Cody. How much did you believe that? Did he voice any plan to you on what he would do had he won immunity at 4?
Um, so I don’t know. I think Gabler would have probably rode to the end with me and Cody. But at the same time, as soon as I brought up the Cody vote to him, I told Gabler, “Look, I know you love the ride or die alliance, but Cody’s a huge threat and he might sweep the jury from us. We have to take him out now.” And Gabler was on board. Gabler was like, “You know what? You’re right. I’m not here playing for a second. I’m not here playing for third. I’m here to win this game and I’m down to take out Cody.” So I don’t know how that would have panned out. But what I do know is in my conversations with Gabler, his idea was that if he won the final four immunity, he would have taken off the necklace, according to him, and gone to fire against Owen [laughs]. Me and him had a heart to heart. We were like, “You know what? We’re trying to get to the end together.” Around final four, we had this conversation. I think he was genuine at that point, but it’s hard to say.
Some fans feel that you were giving Cassidy a bit of a hard time at the final tribal council. Can you just elaborate on your decision not to vote for her, and what about her game you maybe had some qualms about?
So for me, I wanted to vote for somebody who had some level of agency in the game. You know, I asked the final three and said, “Name a time that you persuaded people to vote a certain way.” Gabler gave me the Elie vote, and that’s 100% true. He spearheaded that. He was like, “We’re all doing Elie, I don’t care!” And Cass brought up the Ryan vote, which honestly didn’t really sit well with me or Cody, because at the Ryan vote, our decision and strategy was that if James goes, then Ryan goes. That was the only scenario in which Cass makes it through. She brought that up as a time that she persuaded people, which wasn’t the case, and I think that really didn’t sit well with the jury.
How were you feeling going into the fire making challenge against Gabler? Did you have a preference between going against him or Owen?
You know what? Gabler did not show his fire making skills. I mean, he set a freakin’ record. He did not show his fire making skills out there. And I think my best option was going against Cass. My second best option was going against Owen. My least preferred option was going against Gabler because of the fact that he had talked about being an outdoorsy person, but I still did not realize how good he would be at fire. I had asked Owen… I was like, “Hey, how’s Gabler in fire?” This is early in the game, probably around the merge or something. I was like, “How’s Gabler in fire?” and he’s like, “Gabler is not that great.” He freakin’ clotheslined me [laughs]!
What were those initial conversations like with Cody during your short stay at Ponderosa? Where do things stand with him?
He beat me up… threw me into a wall, punched me in the head. No, no, we’re good [laughs]. As soon as I saw him, he gave me a hug and a handshake. And I think what he said is that as soon as I pulled out Jeanine’s idol, it all sort of made sense to him. He was like “I would have made the exact same move.” So it’s all good. We’re good.
Now being out of the game, do you know how a final three including you and Cody would have played out?
A final three with Cody? Hm. I’ve heard that it would have been a battle, which I did not want. And that’s exactly why I made the moves that I made [laughs].
How did it feel to see the entire jury rooting for you, even while you were still in the game?
So one thing I didn’t do the entire game was that I did not look at the jury. It was a conscious decision that I made. I did not want anybody in the game to see me looking at the jury smiling, winking, any of that. I did not want people to think I was playing for the jury. That helped. I honestly think it helped, because I was flying under the radar for a long time. But you know, watching it back and talking to the jury, it’s incredible. To have that respect from the jury and to have that sort of love was great. If I can’t win the million, that’s up there.
Final question, how do you hope your story inspires future players?
I hope that my story inspires people to just go for it and to swing for it. I mean, I didn’t win, right? But I came close and I think you just gotta go for it in the game. I was not playing for second. I was not playing for third. I was playing to like, if I got to the end, I wanted to win the game. So I hope that everybody who plays has that sort of mindset.
Survivor 44 premieres on March 1st at 8/7c on CBS and Paramount+.