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Not one eye in America was left dry following Wednesday night’s episode of ‘Survivor,’ after yet another new twist was introduced to the game, leaving players in their most vulnerable state yet and making for what was surely this season’s most emotional tribal council.

The twist was simple: Players would be randomly split into two groups, and then forced to compete against each other for immunity. The last remaining player earns safety for their entire group, sending the opposing contestants to a dreaded date with Jeff at tribal council. But, there was a catch— the winning players would not be able to vote. Instead, they were to watch this week’s elimination go down from the jury bench, with no say in who goes home.

After a tear-filled conversation, failed advantage play and an offering of papaya, the group of five headed to the voting booth. Ousted, was San Francisco native and resident sweetheart Matt Blankinship, who became the first juror of the season after being eliminated by a vote of 3-2.

Pop Crave spoke with Matt following his elimination to discuss conquering his fears on ‘Survivor,’ his endgame plans with Frannie — who he reveals that he’s now dating — and what qualities he’s looking for in the winner of ‘Survivor 44.’ Keep reading for the full exit interview!

What an emotional episode you had last night. What was your experience watching it back?

It really brings you back into that moment, and especially for me, tribal was hard to watch. I cried a lot, and you can see it. I’m a smiley dude, I’m always trying to bring positivity, but you see at tribal that I am at my lowest, and you can see it on my face. So that was genuinely really, really tough to watch. But, you know, I knew it was coming, so I mentally prepared myself and let myself feel those feelings. Honestly, I’m really happy with the episode. I think it’s a beautiful Matt swan song.

You spoke about coming into the game with some fears that you were eventually able to conquer by the end of it. Is there anything you learned about yourself out there that you were able to take into the outside world?

Yeah, this is a massive growth experience for me. I think the whole time leading up to the game, I was so in my head about everything. Every little detail, every word that comes out of my mouth, I’m like, “Is that the right word? Is it entertaining? Will people like me?” All this stuff. And honestly, I was just so inspired by the cast. You see people like Danny who are just so, so Danny in every situation. Like, they just bring themselves, and they’re exactly themselves and have such a big personality. So I felt like, “Wow, if these people can do this, so can I.” You know what I mean? And also, in making these connections, I think the first few days were really rough for me. But then I found Frannie, and I found someone who I could trust. And then from there, I had a launching point to start kind of making the game my own. And I feel like I did, actually. I was genuinely feeling really good about my social situation at that point in the game.

It was interesting to see you flat out ask Jeff if you could retrieve your bag from the players not participating in tribal council, and he even entertained the question for a second there. Do you know if you would have been able to take your bag back in the event they did bring it with them?

I think that they for sure would have let that happen. It makes for good TV. And also, I think everyone wants to give players all the options that they should have, right? At that point, I was 1,000% playing the Shot in the Dark. Like, there’s no world in which I do not play the Shot in the Dark in that moment because I know that’s my only [chance]. Oh, and I would play the fake [idol] too. I know it’s a fake idol. I don’t care, whatever! I’m throwing it all on the wall [laughs]. So I think he probably would have let that slide. I was also, and this is maybe sort of stupid, but I had this idea of like, “What if Matt never votes?” Like, in the whole game, he makes it to the jury and never throws any name on a piece of parchment. I thought that was like, hilarious, and I kind of wanted that to be true. That was the other reason I wanted to play the Shot in the Dark, but it didn’t work out that way. I gave Yam Yam a heart [laughs].

Courtesy of CBS

What was going through your mind when Heidi said that she would not only be stealing Lauren’s vote, but also placing it on Yam Yam? Did you expect some sort of twist to be in play before heading to tribal?

No, I had no idea. At that point, I was so convinced I was going home. I was literally at tribal processing elimination in front of everyone, so I had no idea there would be an advantage. I had no idea. And then Heidi stands up and she says, “I can control the vote,” and immediately I’m like, “I’m saved! Heidi probably wants to save me.” Any Ratu on any other Ratu, me and Yam Yam would take the cue easily. And my understanding is that she controls the vote for the whole tribal, so even if Lauren plays her extra vote and it’s a tie in the runoff vote, we still come out on top, and me and Yam Yam are both safe. So in that moment, I had all of those thoughts of, “I’m safe,” then she goes, “Lauren on Yam Yam,” and it all comes crashing down. I’m like, “Oh, that’s useless!” If they have three votes, they’re gonna split it regardless. They just need to shuffle them around! So I hated it. It was like, so up and down for me. The whiplash was off the charts in that moment.

What were your conversations with Jaime like? I was surprised that we didn’t get to see you campaigning to her, especially considering her time with you on Soka.

Yeah, I tried. On Soka, I was really trying to start to work with Jaime. Thinking about the next stage of the game, I really was interested in making these cross-tribe connections. But on Soka beach, it was really clear to me, and abundantly so, that Jaime was Ratu strong. She was never, ever, going to be more loyal to Soka, or really even entertain that thought. And again, at the beach, I tried. I actually pitched myself really, really hard to all of the Ratu people. I was flailing. I was grasping at anything. It was honestly… the edit was kind because I was a desperate man, and they really could have made me look like a kooky lunatic. But even in that moment, my read was that there was no chance with Jaime, and I think that was true. Like, I think that was a really strong read. They were never ever going to break the Ratu strong.

Courtesy of CBS

We saw you and Yam Yam consider voting together, but that didn’t end up happening. What made you ultimately decide against doing so?

So we ran all the numbers, [and] with just the two of us, there’s no way for us to control the vote, even if they split it. And in a tie, they still control the vote. Lauren also has an extra vote and we all know that. So literally running all the numbers, there’s no way for me and Yam Yam to sway it just by ourselves. That conversation essentially ended with, “I love you Yam Yam, but I’m gonna spend the rest of the afternoon telling them to vote for you,” and vice versa. And we both understood that.

Your relationship with Frannie felt so wholesome and fun to watch, but ultimately this is a game. Did you both plan on working together until the end? What were those discussions about the endgame like?

So for me, it’s a game of stages. I think it’s really important early on, and in the mid-game as well, to have people who you really, really trust and you feel very locked in with. And then there’s a moment where you all turn and stab each other in the back. So I was kind of thinking of this as, “You know, early-middle stage, I love Frannie. I’m gonna work with Frannie. At some point, we’re gonna have to stab each other in the back, but that’s like a Day 21 kind of decision. Not so much a Day 11 decision.” So yeah, I wasn’t close to turning on her, and I don’t think she was close to turning on me either. Although, you know… [laughs].

Courtesy of CBS

Can you talk a little about the other loyalties you had outside of Soka? Specifically with the Tika three and Kane, how much of a priority was keeping them in the game for you?

I was fully committed to a “every player for themselves, no more tribal lines” style game, for the rest of the game. I love that. For me, that’s where ‘Survivor’ thrives: where everyone is making individual decisions. And so I was pushing hard for this cross-tribal alliance situation with Kane, Carson, rope Brandon in… I had already made something with Yam Yam. Like, we were making it work. But the way that the rock draw ended up hashing out, it was pretty clear from the jump that Ratu were gonna stay Ratu. And you know, about this narrative that Carson laid out of a Ratu/Soka war with Tika playing in the middle, I don’t think that that had to be the narrative if we were one unified tribe. It’s just the way that the split happened; it couldn’t help but feed that narrative.

A few episodes back, we saw an agreement made between yourself, Frannie, Danny and Heidi, to stick together. How deep in the game did you and Frannie plan on going with them?

If I’m being honest, I was kind of cooking a Danny blindside. I was trying to sort of subtly — in ways that wouldn’t come back to Danny — plant the seeds of a Danny blindside. And like I said, I loved the idea of “tribes are no more, every player for themselves.” I think navigating that scene worked way better for me. So I was honestly not really planning on taking that much further. We’ll see; maybe one or two votes, or not. For the Danny blindside, I felt like my clock was ticking because I knew he had an idol, but he doesn’t know that I know. And if he finds out that I know, then everything’s kind of in the open and the blindside potential is way less. So I was kind of thinking that I had to get that done before he figures out that I know, which is why I was leaning towards the Danny blindside.

Courtesy of CBS

Are there any moments from your game in its entirety that we didn’t see that you wish were shown?

Yeah, there’s a couple things that come to mind. We had a little in-joke on Soka of like, “What’s the wackest analogy that you could make at tribal to Jeff,” and we arrived at “bidet” as a silly thing that you could work into tribal somehow. They didn’t show it in this tribal, but I knew I was going home, so I was like, “I gotta do it for my Soka homies! I gotta do the bidet analogy.” So I threw that in there and that was really fun. Actually, I have another one as well. I didn’t know how to swim at all, like, six months before the game started, so I worked a lot at kind of working through that by getting private lessons and all that stuff. They didn’t really show it, but the water challenge in the ocean where you have to jump to get the keys and stuff was a really pivotal moment for me overcoming that fear as well.

You’re officially the first member of the jury! What are you looking for in the winner of ‘Survivor 44’?

What I want to see from people is basically, like, accurate perception—an accurate read of the game and their place in it. I think it’s okay to play a game where you’re not the center of attention all the time and making huge moves or whatever, as long as you know the whole time how everyone perceives you and perceives each other. And then kind of finagle your way to get to the end. If you’re very aware of that, like self-perception, that’s what I respect in a winning game, and that’s what I want to see from players and what I want them to demonstrate.

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