If just one word could describe what we all witnessed at the inaugural tribal council of Survivor 44, it would be chaotic. An idol was played, the new Bank Your Vote advantage was used, and for the first time in Survivor history, the Shot in the Dark granted one lucky castaway (Jamie Lynn Ruiz) safety. To top it all off, a sole vote decided the fate of the Ratu tribe, leaving 28-year-old charity projects manager Maddy Pomilla as the first castaway to be voted off of Survivor 44.
Pop Crave had a thorough chat with Maddy to discuss what fans didn’t see at tribal council, why Matthew played his Shot in the Dark, her friendly rivalry with Brandon, and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!
Hey Maddy! First off, congratulations on making it onto the season! What was it like watching the episode back? That tribal council was absolutely chaotic in so many ways [laughs].
Yeah, it actually was even more chaotic in person. That’s a pretty simplified version of everything that was happening; all the dynamics, all the different alliances. I’m so excited to get into it a bit more. Watching it back, I think people are so confused because there’s just not a lot of context for what happened. You don’t have a lot of my confessionals about my long-standing rivalry with Brandon, or my weariness of Matthew. And all of those things are true; Brandon’s an alpha, I’m an alpha. We were facing off every single day, like, he’s whacking the bamboo, I’m whacking it better. I mean, it’s just hilarious. He’s six-foot-four, I’m five-foot-two. He’s a professional athlete, I’m delusional; In my brain I’m a professional athlete [laughs]. We’re just both very intense, competitive people. And I really like him as a person. We’re friends. We slept together out there. I really enjoy Brandon, but in the game of Survivor, we were butting heads.
We saw a lot of chatter before tribal, which included you campaigning to get Brandon out. What was your expectation going into it?
I knew that it was risky. But, I have a unique philosophy about Survivor and I’m like, what’s the point of doing it? We’ve had 44 seasons of people playing quiet until the merge and then revving it up. And in a 26-day game, you don’t really get rewarded even for that now. So I’ve seen other people do it, I know how to lay low and shut up and work around people. I did not want to use my one opportunity at playing Survivor to do what I’ve seen done a million times; I was going to do something different. Every vote I had, it was going to be to benefit me. And what benefits me more than flushing an idol, getting someone out that does not want to work with me as much as I try, and that gives the girls the numbers on the tribe while still keeping the tribe strong? Because you have Kane, who is this huge Canadian man, who’s extremely strong and actually wants to work with me. So yeah, a lot going on.
Your mention of Kane actually just sparked a thought I had. It feels like his relationship with you and Lauren was almost under-edited. Can you tell me more about your relationship with him?
So Kane, on day one… There’s a sacred time when you hit the beach, where it’s like, if someone comes and talks to you, you know they haven’t talked to anyone else yet. And Kane came straight to me and was like, “I feel good about you.” And I knew that was genuine because there just hadn’t been enough time for that not to be true. Luckily, I really wanted to work with him, too. He’s a nerd, I’m a nerd. We’re both very into Survivor. We’re strategically in sync, and I thought that we could work in different social circles; him with the guys, me with the girls, to protect each other and share information. And that’s exactly what we did. We were in a really, really good position on Ratu and such a weird, funny alliance. I wish that we got to see more of it because one of my favorite things about playing Survivor was playing with Kane.
You had mentioned being threatened by Brandon because of his idol and the fact that you felt he had connections with everyone on Ratu. Did you ever consider trying to strengthen your bond with him because he had an idol, and maybe use it to your own advantage down the line?
Yes, I tried. He wanted nothing to do with me. We had a lot of time to talk out there, Brandon and I. And one thing I know about Brandon, is that he’s a smart guy, he’s astute, and also, he has a lot of strong women in his life. So when he met me, he knew what was up. He knew I was working, and good for him. He could have used me to his advantage because I wanted to work with him. And actually, the person I really wanted out was Matthew because that dude’s a wild card. He’s gonna play some crazy game. Guess who else is a wild card? Me. I didn’t mind playing with Brandon because he’s an old school player. He wants to keep the tribe strong. I can understand his strategic line of thought. Matthew, he’s more like me. You never know what he’s gonna do, and that scares me because I know what I’m capable of, and I know what he’s capable of. So I originally wanted Matthew out and I was trying to work with Brandon. I was at the mercy of him not wanting to work with me.
How much did you vocalize wanting Matthew out? That Shot in the Dark play seemed to come out of nowhere!
I had vocalized a lot to Kane that I wanted Matthew out. Actually, when Matthew was climbing the rock and fell, Kane said, “I like Matt.” He was trying to get me to want to bring Matthew into our alliance. And it’s so funny, they didn’t show this, but when Matthew fell, I go, “You want to work with the guy that fell off the rock? He’s a wildcard dude.” So I had definitely vocalized it. Until Brandon found the idol, all I wanted was Matthew out. Brandon finding the idol and being so weird about it and not wanting to trust me with anything, I was like, “You’re with me or you’re against me.” And then he was against me. So then he became my new target. I had to get him out or he was gonna get me out.
You were initially sketched out at Brandon attempting to hide the fact that he found the key to the caged idol. Did you include that in your pitch against him, and if so, how did your tribemates react to it?
They were pissed. I actually spun it even more. I said he didn’t want to tell the tribe that he had found the idol. I just said the opposite. The girls were like, “Agh!” So furious. I love that moment where I’m telling Lauren like, “He’s the godfather. He’s the king pin. We can’t trust him.” Everybody’s like, “Nothing’s happened.” I’m like, yeah! I was trying to scare her. Who was the godfather? Who was the kingpin? Who was playing everyone? Me? I was. It’s projection. I was trying to scare them to get them to do what I wanted them to do. I wasn’t scared of Brandon at all. Going into that vote, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it almost worked.
Earlier on at the immunity challenge, we saw Claire reveal to Matthew that Matt had shown the Soka tribe his parchment paper as proof that he had lost his vote at the journey. Did Matthew reveal that conversation to you at any point as a pitch to take Lauren out?
Yes, that was his campaign. That’s why her name got thrown out there. Jamie’s name was definitely out there, my name… haha, I was like the only one not out there. Irony! So yes, that definitely put Lauren in an uncomfortable spot. I had known that Lauren had an advantage. She told me. Part of the reason I wanted Brandon out was there were only two people she told, me and Brandon. So if I could get Brandon out, then I would be Lauren’s number one instead of sharing her with Brandon. So yeah, that definitely came into play in the strategy for sure.
Speaking of Lauren, I thought the way that she played her trip to the journey was interesting. If you were in her shoes, how would you have approached that situation?
So funny! When Lauren put the rocks out and then she got chosen for the journey, I knew that she had rigged it. It was all just a bit transparent. She came back and she was like, very excited, but then sat down and somberly told us that she lost her vote. I didn’t care though because we’re friends and I knew we were working together. So I was like, she’ll come and tell me later when she’s ready, and she did. So had I got on the journey, I probably would have rigged the rock draw too. I mean, I tried. I was looking for the right rock. It’s not a fun position to be in. I don’t envy it… coming back from the journey and having to tell people what’s up. I probably would have told the truth, frankly. I’m a bit of a straight-shooter even if I’m sneaky.
I have to say, it must have been incredibly scary to see the medical team come out in front of the cast on multiple occasions, just two days into the season. Did this spook you at all in terms of making sure to be more careful with what you did physically on the island?
Yeah, it was scary. I’m not a huge fan of the “Survivor is a monster” thing, or I wasn’t as a viewer. And then out there, I was like, “Yeah, it is a monster and we’re the monster,” right? Matthew climbing the rock, that was his own doing. The game got him all amped up and it hurt him. Bruce going full throttle at the first challenge, like, that’s the monster. We all become our worst enemies in the game. Even me, I was not on the chopping block but I wanted more. I wanted to make a good move. I wanted to prove my position in the game. I wanted to have fun and I wasn’t having fun with these guys trying to tell me what to do. And so I became the monster too. It all felt so real to me, actually playing the game. Like, that’s what they’re talking about. The monster, the monster, the monster. It’s like this poetic thing of we are the monster. We get wrapped up in the game and the game is what we make it, so a lot of the time, we’re what mess ourselves up.
At the top of our interview, you mentioned that we missed a lot of what went down at tribal council. Can you elaborate on that, or share a particular moment you felt should have been shown?
Yeah, and honestly, I should be a little grateful it wasn’t shown. But also, there’s more context if it is shown. Well, first of all, I wish there was more context around the vote. It seems so random, but it’s not. There’s a very clear, linear story of how we got to where we were. I was head to head with Brandon every single day we were there. I never trusted Matthew. I mean, it just all came together at that tribal. One moment I wish they had shown was when Jeff was hounding me like, “Maddy, should Jamie play her Shot in the Dark?” So much was happening and I had spent all my brainpower flipping everyone to get the numbers, that I was fried. I knew what was happening, but I couldn’t process quick enough how to salvage it. And now, what I know I could have done, is I could have said, “Jamie, if you play your Shot in the Dark, then you’re leaving yourself exposed for the rest of the game. Everybody will know that you don’t have your Shot in the Dark.” And in saying that, I could get into Brandon’s head in the sense that, “If I don’t play the idol, then I’m protecting myself for the rest of the game. Maybe Matthew is trying to get me to flush my idol.” So I think that I could have sneakily sent a message to Brandon to not play his idol. Because if he hadn’t, I’m still there.
I know we’re running out of time, but one last question! Another thing I’m curious about was where Jamie expected the vote to go, considering she was left crying after your elimination. Do you know where her head was at?
Jamie thought that Brandon was going home. She thought either she or Brandon was going home. It looks a lot like Lauren’s on the chopping block. Really both Lauren and Jamie were, and I wasn’t [laughs]. So I think she thought that if Brandon played his idol, the name, when Jeff turned the parchment, would be Jamie. But then she would have been protected because her Shot in the Dark worked, so good for her. Had Brandon not been tipped off, and he does play his idol, and Jamie doesn’t play her Shot in the Dark, Jamie goes home.
New episodes of Survivor air Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS.