Pop Crave spoke with the second eliminated castaway of Survivor 45, Brandon Donlon, who was voted off on Wednesday night’s episode.
Check out the full exit interview below!
What were conversations like right before tribal council, and how did you feel your odds of staying were?
I thought at that point, it was probably about 60/40—me leaving as opposed to Emily. I was doing my best to go talk to people, like you see me talking in the shelter with Sabiyah. I knew Sabiyah didn’t have a vote; I felt the best about Sabiyah at that point. So we talked for quite a bit. And I was like, ‘I don’t know how you think this is going to shake out.’ And she was like, ‘We’re still not sure; we’re still deciding.’ At that point, she told me it was going to split [between] the three of them, Emily obviously being me, and then I wasn’t sure where the other ones were going to fall. You know, and I love Kaleb. I had a good game relationship with Kaleb. Sean, a little bit less so. But Kaleb and I talked, and I wasn’t really sure where Kaleb was going. I couldn’t tell if he was lying to me or not. And then, once tribal council progressed, by the time that Jeff is asking me about what this experience means for me to be there, I kind of knew at that point. So at that point, it was 95% me. So I was just like, yeah, full send with a nice exit speech.
So, you get the call that you’re going to be on Survivor 45. Knowing how brutal the conditions of the new era have shown themselves to be, how did you prepare?
That’s the question in the last couple of weeks. Um, you know, it’s so funny. I just said, like, I prepared so much. It’s comical how much you can’t tell that I prepared. I prepared so much. I was in the gym every day. 4 AM. Again, it doesn’t look like it. I promise you, I was there. I can get my little that shows when I was there. I made fire a ton; I didn’t get to do that. I swam… And, you know, in that first challenge, you go back and watch… Sean and I did really well at the swimming part of that challenge. No doubt. I did prepare. Maybe lifting five to 10 more pounds in addition to what I was lifting would have been helpful. But again. Totally prepared. But again, [it’s] comical how much it looks like they just told me I was leaving in LAX. Like, I was flying to Omaha, and they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to fly to Fiji?’ It comes off as that, but I assure you it was a lot more preparation than that.
While on the journey, Drew had a confessional where he seemed slighted at Bruce’s decision to withhold information about Belo’s tribe dynamics, compared to you, who was open about Lulu’s. How did he describe life at Reba? We didn’t get to see how he approached that conversation.
You know, it’s interesting; I can’t remember. I don’t think it was anything insightful. I think it was a middling Bruce answer. Bruce gave nothing. And you hear me, who’s giving a specific example of what’s happening. And I wanted to tell Bruce… I wanted to make it clear that the Emily thing that happened with him—we noticed it. You know, to extend that hand toward Bruce. Bruce gave nothing. And then I think Drew’s answer was, like, middling. It was like, ‘Hey, we’re all having fun; there’s some tension.’ It was one of those. And I didn’t think really anything of it. I didn’t notice Drew do that, but I did notice Bruce.
Speaking of Belo, Kendra was able to visit Lulu Beach in last week’s episode, which didn’t make the edit. What was it like connecting with her as well?
For sure. When she came over, she kind of talked to every single person; she chatted. We had a very nice personal conversation, which was super nice. But she was, I think, strategically focused on different folks. And they had talked about whatever, and then she had a vote. She voted for me. But that was super fun. It was cool to be a part of, you know, a Survivor thing like that—an unorthodox Survivor event. But yeah, she was just wheeling and dealing and walking around and hoping to, you know, once a swap happens, once a merge happens, you know, make some inroads with some folks.
I’m curious to know how aware you were of Kaleb and Emily’s relationship because it seems that the bond we thought you built with him in the season premiere is now established with her. Did you ever feel a shift in your relationship with him?
I did not feel a shift. Kaleb is the best. Kaleb and I had a really good personal relationship [and] a really good in-game relationship; I trusted him. In the first immunity challenge, coming off of the panic attack situation, I look at him on the mat when we’re about to run up the thing, and I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m nervous.’ And he was like, very comforting, put his hand on my shoulder, and he’s like, ‘You’re good.’ And that’s like the energy that I needed. Sometimes I have a hard time connecting with guys, for whatever reason. I don’t have a ton of guy friends, and Kaleb and Sean both were like the guy friends that I really needed at that point. Sean, a little bit less so in this regard, but Kaleb’s constant encouragement of me, I think, was great. And then you know what? Kaleb’s strategy was [that] he just wanted to scoop who was at the bottom, and that was Emily. And then he really did a great job with the Emily relationship because it was like I noticed it, but it was so subconscious. I thought Emily was maybe just scared because she almost left the first day, but it was a lot of Kaleb’s influence kind of massaging what she needed to be to ingratiate the rest of the tribe. So Kaleb and I had a really, really great relationship. It ultimately didn’t work out, but he’s the best.
Sabiyah had a confessional where she mentioned that it was essentially her choice who went home this week. Do you know if she made that final call to send you home over Emily?
From what the episode showed last night, it did seem like she was leaning Emily, but I believe there had to have been some conversation where… Sabiyah was running everything that was going on there. She is so good. I mean, that’s why I gave her the Beware Advantage, because my number one is Hannah, day one through three. You know, Hannah leaves, [and] my number one becomes Sabiyah. It was Sabiyah through and through, and she made me feel like she was my number one. And all the credit to her for that. So that that decision about me does not get made without Sabiyah. So Sabiyah had to have had her hand in it.
Sabiyah also described you as a player she felt would be undyingly loyal in comparison to Emily. Do you think you would have been Lulu strong in the event you made the merge?
There was no situation where I wouldn’t have been with them. I have, in my entire life, yearned for that Survivor tribe—the team. I would lay down for them at the end. I wanted that more than anything in the world. The me and Sabiyah team-up, nobody would have seen it coming. You know, it’s just not people that you, on paper, are like, ‘Oh, they’re going to work together.’ But she’s like friends that I have at home. We felt so immediately comfortable with each other. I’m so glad that that confessional made it in there. She’s the absolute best, and literally, like leaving there, I’m like, ‘I just played Survivor with a Survivor great.’ I mean, she’s really, really good.
How confident were you in the relationships you had built at Lulu despite not being the best competitor out there?
I came into Survivor knowing the challenges were going to be an obstacle. I prepared a shit ton. I knew going there, there were going to be challenges that I was going to struggle in. I didn’t expect to struggle in 100% of them, but I knew that was going to be an option or a possibility. But I am very good socially. I know that I’m good socially. I’m good at being vulnerable, and I’m good at having other people feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable back. That I could do. I think in a different tribe breakdown, that works, and that gets you farther in a situation where you’re on a tribe that wins a ton. The focus is on me because I’m a bad challenge competitor on the tribe that is bad at challenges. Kaleb and Sabiyah are really good at challenges – and not to discredit Sean, Emily, and Hannah; we’re all okay. I think I’m a little bit less for sure. Even on paper, we’re not a strong challenge tribe. The focus is on the bad challenge person on the bad challenge tribe. But I think in a different breakdown, the skills that I’ve learned to survive definitely work. I’m very beyond fortunate, and I have zero regrets or zero anything. This is the way it shook out. It’s perfect, but I do think that the social [ability] that I bring, it can work in a certain situation.
How did you perceive Sean’s position on the tribe? He appears to be a silent but deadly player out there, so I’m curious about that and what your relationship with him was like.
I love Sean to death, and we had very good conversations out there. My game conversations with Sean, he was the only person where I felt like it was more politician-y. It didn’t come off super genuine. Sean and I talked about our families also, but Sabiyah and I talked long about our families. Kaleb and I talked long about life, love, and these things. I didn’t have a level [with Sean] that I had with everybody else. Sean was the only person that I didn’t feel like I had that with, and I believe he made that connection that I’m describing with other folks. Him and I just didn’t have that at the time.
You chose not to use your Shot in the Dark, and it was made known at tribal council that Emily gave hers to Sabiyah as a sign of trust. Were you afraid a move like that would score more points with Lulu and possibly save her?
For sure. You know, I had no idea until I had heard that there. Once I heard that, I’m like, “Damn, that’s good!” Sabiyah is like a mob boss. That’s such a cool move to have somebody present you with it. She got two things from two different people in the same episode, which is a credit to how good she is. Once I heard that – again, I walked in 60% sure I was leaving… and then 65%… then 70%… then 75% [laughs]. Once I heard that, I’m like, “I’m having a burger in a couple hours! This isn’t going the way I’m thinking.”
What do you think changed in the days since that first tribal council regarding how Lulu felt about Emily? Was there a moment you realized the tides were turning on their perception of her?
I mean, Kaleb did a fantastic job at giving a PR training situation. That’s what it felt like, and it’s so funny watching it back because there, it felt subconscious to me. It felt like, “Oh, Emily’s just acting super chill and fun because she almost just went home!” And it is definitely a percentage of that, but a lot of it is also Kaleb. It’s Kaleb wanting to work with the person who’s on the bottom, using Emily as his number, making sure that they have that tight thing that they need in Survivor. He did a fantastic job, as did she. I mean, he laid out the blueprint of what she should do, and she executed it perfectly.
Kaleb also had a confessional talking about molding her into a better player, and essentially his ideal ally. How smart of a move do you think keeping Emily in the game is for him?
She has both sides where she’s looking for somebody to be loyal to for sure… You have to remember. The first three days, that is Emily’s personality, you know? PR training, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s one of those situations where you kind of have to… it’s a gamble. You kind of have to see what happens.
Going back to the challenge, what went into your decision about being honest with Lulu after losing the journey puzzle?
I would be honest with my alliance, and Emily was there also. Leaving there, I had no qualms about lying. I was more embarrassed than anything else. The way that I’m describing the puzzle, it’s like, “Oh, how did he fail this?” But that’s a story for another day.
What was it like reconnecting with Hannah at Ponderosa?
You gotta go! You gotta apply. You gotta make sure you can do this. I’m telling you. Worst case scenario kind of happened to me. Like, clearly wasn’t good at a lot of it. But I’m telling you, it’s the best five days of my life. It’s the best five days I’ve ever had. All of this, the after part of it, you need to do it. Do it, send in the video, tell them why you want to do it, cite me and say you’re going to do it better than me, and then maybe they’ll let you do it. You make it past two rounds, you do better. It’s fantastic. But you have to buy me dinner if you do better. If you saw this and you apply because of this, I would like dinner. Do it and prepare. Prepare 1,000 times more than you think you need to prepare.
What advice do you have for longtime fans of the show, like yourself, who are itching to get on the show?
Hannah is the best person in the world! She’s the absolute best person in the world. There is not a single person apart of this experience that means more to me than Hannah. I mean, she’s the best. You know, I understand the situation. People get angry about a quit for sure. Get to know Hannah, and you would regret every mean or bad take that you had about her. She’s the best person in the world.
Check out the video format of our interview with Brandon here.
Survivor airs Wednesday nights at 8/7c on CBS and Paramount+.