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Pop Crave caught up with Survivor 44 third-place finisher Carolyn Wiger after Wednesday night’s finale to discuss her reaction to becoming a new face of the franchise, how being a part of the online community prepared her for the game, considering ‘The Three Stooges’ allies Carson and Yam Yam as “family,” and more. Keep reading for the full exit interview!

The icon. The legend. Seriously, congratulations, Carolyn. I saw that you celebrated the finale last night at Wendell and Brice’s watch party in NYC alongside the cast and Survivor alums. How was it?

It was so cool. He’s actually right next door to me right now, and I didn’t even know it. So I’m like screaming and the other night, he said, “I think I heard you in your room in the morning,” and I go, “What room are you?” So it’s fucking hilarious, and I can hear him. Oh my god, I love it. Okay, what was the question? What was it like? I usually watch these episodes, and okay, yeah, I’ve been to like two other watch parties before this. But this is insane, and just, oh my gosh, the fans and all that and the energy were so much, but I loved it. I was terrified watching because I knew the outcome, and I was like, “Oh, how am I gonna handle it?” and I was crying the whole time. But it was amazing to be able to be with everyone and be with people who love Survivor and have so much love and understanding. Ugh, it was amazing. There were times I wanted to run away and just compose myself because, you know, you need a minute. It was amazing. I’m so glad, because I’m not kidding. I was like, “Okay, once we get to final tribal, I’m going to run out of here because I needed to watch,” but I didn’t, and I was like, “You can do it, you can do it.” I’m okay with people seeing me cry, but it was hard. I loved it, though. Does that make sense? It was every emotion, but it was so beautiful to just… Oh, God. Yeah, it was fun.

I’ve been waiting to ask you this all season. You were an ORG (online reality game) player prior to coming on the show. Do you think playing Discord games or Outlaster on Roblox prepared you in any way for the real thing?

Okay, I almost wanted to be like, “No…” Yes, it did! Is it the same? People are like, “You can’t be…” Yes, it did. Do you know how many times out there where I would think, “Oh my gosh, this is really similar to a situation?” I would think about previous games and things that would happen. It happened all the time. And I’m not kidding you; I was so emotional out there, duh. But I was the same way in my online games! And it’s funny watching back and talking to that community, and they’re like, “You literally played the exact same that you played in the online [games] that you did out there!” because that was my thing too. When I would play these, it’s like I would share myself and people would… And it’s the same thing! [They] would underestimate me. Seriously, they’re like, “Wow, Carolyn’s actually playing.” Yes, it did, and I’ve played a ton of them. The Roblox ones, not so much; those are quick and whatever. But the Discord [games], the longer-term ones, absolutely, there were so many experiences where I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is, like, spot on.” And it just helped prepare me. It did. Absolutely. Is it the same? No. But the emotions that I invested into it, absolutely. It helps.

The very first shot of the season was a moment of you preparing for a confessional. From there, it was clear that the birth of a new Survivor icon was among us. Were you prepared to see yourself become one of the new faces of the franchise? What does it feel like to know that you will be remembered in this way?

First of all, I did a premiere party, and I was like, “What is on the screen? Why am I up there?” I was so confused. I was like, “What are they doing? What is this?” and I thought it was a mistake. Here’s the deal: I went on the show fully expecting to… I didn’t care. I just wanted to be myself. It’s like when you have a goal and a mission and say, “I don’t care. I’m gonna be myself. I’m not gonna think about it. I’m just gonna do it.” I went in with not a whole lot of expectations. I did not expect the overwhelming fan [reception]. I did not. I thought if anything I might be looked at as like, “Okay, you’re the crazy one,” and I just get this one-dimensional crazy person edit. I’m not gonna lie. That’s what I thought. So I’m grateful that other layers of me were shown. You know what I’m saying? But I did not expect it. I knew that I would have people that loved me, but not this response. No. And it’s like, I’m just being me, which is beautiful. I just wanted to show that you can play this game, and there is no one way of playing. There is no like; you have to hold all of your emotions in. You have to hide parts of yourself. Because I think historically, people who show emotions are “weak,” or it’s like, “You’re not really playing the game.” And it was like, “Screw that! No, you can!” Ugh, I had a mission. So yeah, I love it. Did I answer your question?

Courtesy of CBS

Week after week, the jurors would tell me how impressed they were by your game as the season aired. What do you think you could have done better to articulate your case to win?

I hate this, and I just was doing an interview, and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this,” because I have been taking notes all season for these interviews, specifically where I’m like, “Okay, this is what I want to be able to say.” Just because it has been so hard watching this back. I’m sick of beating myself up, to be honest. It was really hard. And I knew how I felt in that moment out there. I felt like I was proud of myself, but I felt so defeated. I felt like I let myself down a little bit, you know? I looked too much at the jury’s responses and reactions to me, and it got to me. So I do wish that I would have been able to, like, just look at the jury. And I think, just like with Danny or Brandon, I can’t be emotional. That’s not their appeal, being emotional. They’re not going to get that. So it’s like, I wish I was better able to explain things instead of just being emotional. But at the same time, that’s me, and maybe I’m just not able to! I don’t know. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I don’t know if I would have been able to do it any other way. But I’m trying to look back at this and just be proud of it; that’s where I was at that time. Do I wish I would have said this, that, or the other? I don’t know, probably. I don’t. It takes me to a dark place when I do that. It was really, really hard to even watch some of it back, and I don’t want to be that person who’s like, “I wish I was doing that throughout the season. God, I should have said this, or I should have done that.” It’s just… It is what it is. I wasn’t able to, sorry. But I’m still proud of myself. I didn’t even answer… What was the question?

Courtesy of CBS

I have to ask about Carson hyping you up at the final tribal council. What was going through your mind there? [laughs]

Here’s the deal: It’s so cute. In the moment, I was like, “Oh my gosh, what are you doing? This is horrible.” But looking back, he knew, and we had this moment. I don’t know if they showed this on the show; it was too loud. But we had this… Ah! Did they show this? We had this moment where he was really struggling with the fire, and I’m like, just as Heidi said, “He’s an Eagle Scout. He knows how to make fire.” So in my head, when he was saying he was struggling, I was like, “No, he’s not! He knows how to make fire. He’s lying to me.” So when I realized, like, no, he actually was struggling, he told me, “Carolyn, I think I’m gonna go to fire.” And we just start crying, and he says, “Carolyn, I’m just worried. I want to help you because I feel like you are so broken that you don’t believe in the game that you’ve played.” And I did get to a point where it was like, “Oh my gosh,” where I felt so beaten down. So he had said, “I just feel like I want to help you right now,” because he saw how I was crumbling a little, you know? I had so much fight in me. And then it was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t get through to these people.” The person that I am and how I speak—they’re not getting it. It’s almost like something could come out of my mouth, and they’re just not going to understand it the way they would if somebody else were to say it. Does that make sense? So yeah, we have that moment where he really wanted to help me because he saw that I just wasn’t believing in myself the way that I was earlier on.

I wanted to congratulate you on reaching 14 years of sobriety. I saw your tweet earlier in the week, which genuinely warmed my heart! How do you hope to use the platform Survivor has given you to continue being a voice for those who are currently on their journey with sobriety?

I honestly do want to do something. That was my main thing; I want to inspire people. I want to show that you can do this show, be yourself, be different, have gone through struggles, and be open about them. Do I know what I want to do with it yet? I have no idea. I’m trying to take stuff one day at a time, truly, because I’m still processing this. But yes, I would love to do something. And I mean that because I do feel like I can use that [platform]. I just don’t know how yet because I can’t even process, like, the day. You know what I’m saying? But yeah, call me. I don’t know.

There was a moment in the finale where Lauren told you that Yam Yam threw out your name for the final six vote. Did you put any real consideration into voting him out at five?

Oh, my gosh. This is my answer. In reality, no. At that point, it was like—and I know this isn’t the response I should give—no, I was way too emotional. I love Yam Yam. But I also felt like, seriously, I could beat Yam Yam. It was Lauren I was scared of. I thought the jury respected her. We have Brandon and Danny who look at the whole strength thing, and she had two immunity wins. I knew that they respected her because, like, she’s a strong single woman, an independent beast. So I was scared to go up against her. I looked at Lauren as a bigger threat than Yam, and I love Yam, so it would have been hard for me to vote him out anyway. But again, I was afraid of Lauren. I thought, “I don’t want to go up against her.” I was pissed at him and annoyed at him, but no.

Courtesy of CBS

Your relationship with both Carson and Yam Yam is absolutely precious and will be remembered as one of the most memorable alliances the game has ever seen. How has that bond strengthened since filming wrapped?

They’re my family. If I could live… oh my God. And we talk every day. You know, there’s people you talk to, [but] we are talking nonstop, and it’s not just like Survivor crap. Carson is, oh my gosh. And Yam, he’s that person that can lift me up and piss me off, but, like, I love them. I was messed up after this game. I’m like, “Was it real, Carson? Were you just plotting and scheming? Do you really love me?” Like, whatever, it messes you up. But I love them, and our relationship is so real. They’ve come to Minnesota; I visited them. I love them. It’s real. I love them with all my heart. They’re family. I’m literally on the phone with them nonstop. They are family. Oh my gosh. I miss them right now. Oh my God. I love them.

Lots of fans are already saying that you were “robbed” and undermined a bit by the jury. Do you feel that way at all?

See, this is my problem. I’m too human for this shit, man. Like, put me in prison. I’m so proud of Yam and even Heidi. That was an awesome move. But yeah, it’s been waves, okay? It’s been ups and downs with this. There’s times where I’m like, “I don’t want to talk to you because you disrespected me.” I felt that out there sometimes, man. It sucked. I cried so much. Oh my God. But then I had those moments too out there where I’m like, “I’m gonna fight for this!” and, “No, you won’t!” and, “I will make the merge!” Like, that type of stuff where I had those moments of, “No, you won’t talk to me like this.” But I’m not gonna lie; it gets to you. It got to me to the point where I’m having those feelings of, “What is wrong with me? Why are they looking at me like I’m an alien?” But then I realized, “Well, I kind of am in a good way.” But yes, it has been hard, and there’s part of me where I don’t want to be like, “Oh, I was robbed,” because I had a great experience. I am proud of myself regardless. Yeah, boohoo, I didn’t get a vote. Do I think I deserve… Yeah, I do. But I don’t want to look back at this and be like, “Ugh, I wish!” because that’s gonna have bitterness and hatred in my heart, and I don’t want to live that way. So I am proud of myself. I had a great experience. This whole thing is amazing. And that’s real. That’s not me just trying to be cute!

Survivor returns for its 45th season this fall on CBS.