Another week, another “Survivor” exit interview with another member of Russell’s ill-fated alliance.
This week’s disappointed Russellite is perhaps his fiercest defender, 25-year-old Stephanie Valencia, whose “Survivor: Redemption Island” highlights included a slew of aggressive assaults on the poor gameplay of her tribal comrades, plus a brazen attempt to tell a member of the rival tribe that she’d happily flip at the Merge.
Unfortunately for her, and unfortunately for Boston Rob, Stephanie’s time on “Survivor” fell just short of that Merge.
Stephanie became the latest castaway to fall victim to indomitable Matt’s Redemption Island Duel winning streak, failing to best Matt in a game of Memory.
I chatted with Stephanie about her ties to Russell, her fights with Dave and why the social aspect of “Survivor” was so much harder for her than the physical side.
HitFix: Each week, I keep talking to people who have lost to Matt at Redemption Island and they all keep saying he’s like the greatest guy in the world. Surely I can count on you to be honest. Tell me something bad about the guy…
Stephanie Valencia: Well, he called me “annoying” last night, so he’s annoying me now. That’s about it. Other than that, literally I got on the island, I fell asleep, woke up, got tree-mail and and then we did the Duel. So that’s basically everything that happened. Matt and I didn’t really have any time to get along or get to know each other.
HitFix: But you’re also not coming back talking about how he’s the greatest guy in the world?
SV: No, I don’t know him that well. I think he’s a nice guy. He welcomed me to his little Redemption Island thing, his turf at the time, so I don’t have anything negative to say about him. Except don’t call me “annoying,” because I said you’re nice. So yeah, that’s about it. I don’t have anything much to say about him, because we didn’t have a lot of time to get along with each other. He’s on a roll, though.
HitFix: Yes he is. But when you saw the Duel challenge, surely you had to feel like this was a pretty good one for you? Was it just fatigue that did you in?
SV: No, I saw the challenge and I was like, “God! I don’t want to do this memory challenge!” I wanted something physical. I wanted something strenuous. I wanted something with a lot of movement. I feel like I work better at challenges like that than standing there and waiting to pick a card. Just mentally, for me, I’d rather do something so much more physical, just because I can put all of my energy into it and then collapse later. Whereas with this, I was like, “OK! Focus! Focus! Focus! Focus! ADD! ADD! ADD! Focus! Focus!” My mind thinks a million things a minute, so I would rather have done a different challenge.
HitFix: It was almost deceptively simple?
SV: Yes. Yeah. It was too… You know. I thought, I was like, “Goddamn. OK. Just get your s*** together. Focus.” And then I’d get distracted by something. Watching it was awful. I was just thinking, “Oh my God! Why couldn’t I remember where the Pyramid was?” I remember in that moment, I just saw it. “You just saw it, Stephanie! Think!” Ugh. Awful.
HitFix: How has it been watching the entire season back? Have you been yelling at yourself non-stop for a month-and-a-half?
SV: No… Well… It’s so weird, this entire process. Playing the game and actually being in the game was the best part of this entire thing. Waiting to see what’s going to be shown is weird. I’ve always known that my personality has been a little bit out-there, so I was worrying about the things I was saying, but then I’d watch it and I’d be like, “You know what? As long as you were true to yourself, it’s fine. Be yourself. You’re OK.” It sucks watching stuff. I knew I wasn’t going to make it through Redemption Island. I was like, “Oooh. What if I did?” And I had to keep saying to myself, “Stephanie, you know the outcome. Let it go.” It’s fun watching what’s going on on the other tribe, so I love it. It’s great to watch. It’s a little stressful, but it’s cool.
HitFix: Did it add any extra sting seeing the scenes from next week’s show and seeing how close you came to making it to certain milestones?
SV: Since they voted for Sarita to go to Redemption Island, I’ve actually been pretty happy. I’m like, “Oh good. They got rid of her.” My goal wasn’t to just make it to the Merge, it was to make it to win the million dollars, so I felt an instant sting just not winning on Redemption Island. I don’t have to watch it to know that I didn’t make it as far as I could have. I didn’t win. So that’s the sting.
HitFix: Let’s go back to the very beginning. The second that Russell stepped off the helicopter, you decided you wanted to align with him and you did. With time to think back on it, was that a mistake, or was that still what you wanted to do?
SV: No, I don’t think it was a mistake. I stand by it. Watching the shows before, I was a huge fan of Russell’s, because I feel like he took advantage of every situation that he possibly could. He thought of different ways to play the game. So when I saw him, I was like, “Awesome, I hope he’s on our tribe, because no one likes him and he takes people to the top. That’s how I’m gonna win the million dollars, is get someone to take me to the top. I can play with someone and hopefully at the end, people dislike whoever I get to the top with and they vote for me and give me the million dollars.” So I saw him as a positive and I thought, “This is going to be so much fun.” I don’t regret picking him. There are just so many thing we could have done different, but ultimately I think if Zapatera, as a tribe, knew or understood the game a little bit more — making it to the Merge with numbers — things would have been better, but they couldn’t deal with Russell’s energy and intensity, so they decided to get rid of him and that’s dumb. That’s giving up numbers before you have to. I’d worry about backstabbing him later, once you make it to the Merge, once you wipe out the other competitors, which would be the other tribe.
HitFix: Is there somebody specific you blame for the lack of foresight in that particular respect?
SV: I don’t know. I try to think like, “Whose fault is it that these people don’t care about winning the million dollars. They care about making it as far as they can get.” To me, you need to play the game to win the million dollars and these people were just happy to be getting by every day. You shouldn’t want to just get by. You should want to win. It’s just that altogether, they were just happy with being in the game and hopefully making it another day, just as long as their head wasn’t on the chopping block. So I don’t know who is to blame, but I just felt like they didn’t have that urge to make it to the end. They made it further than I did, but that doesn’t mean that they’re going to make it far in the game. The goal for being in the game is to win a million dollars, not to just be the first person on the jury.
HitFix: One person who was a bit more strategic, obviously, was Dave. When I talked to Russell, he mentioned that in the beginning, you and Dave had some very aggressive arguments. What was that about and how did he become your defender in the end?
SV: It’s so true! Dave and I had had the craziest ups and downs, which I’m really bad a lot of people didn’t get to see, because things got really ugly between him and I. It’s just that I think we needed to be on the same level. As long as we were honest with each other, things would be great. So we tried getting him onto our alliance and he agreed. A couple hours later, things felt sketchy, so I asked him about it. I was like, “Dude, what are you doing? I don’t feel like you’re really in our alliance.” He blew up on me. I blew up on him. I called him, like, “chickens***” or something. I just felt like he was a bad judge of character, if he felt like these people were being sincere with him. I’m like, “These people don’t care about getting really, really far in the game. They just care about getting along right now and acting like this is summer camp.” He, instantly, after they got rid of Russell and he saw the way the team was working and still they weren’t talking about strategy, they were still just talking about getting along, I think he realized that he made a big f***ing mistake.
HitFix: Would you say that you guys were friends by the end, or was it just a bond of convenience?
SV: No, we were definitely friends by the end. I just think about all of the hard times we had together, but I think that brought us closer. At least we were honest with each other. He can get intense as well, so we were both intense and crazy mad at each other and then we would let it go and be honest with each other and speak like, “OK, what’s going on?” “This and this.” And he found out that I’m not just some dumb girl. I think he was like, “No, she’s a great competitor. I have respect for her. She does a lot around camp. I should try to get people to be with her instead of against her.” So we were definitely friends towards the end.
HitFix: Which was a harder part of “Survivor” for you: The physical aspect or the social aspect of having to pretend to make nice with people you obviously hated?
SV: Social! Social’s so tough for me. But it’s been like that for my entire life. My personality is kinda out-there, so I knew I was going to have some trouble with it, but I feel like at the end of the day, I’m a good person and I tried to get along with them on that level, but I dunno… When we had a couple bad apples out there, so I was praying for awful conditions. It was raining, pouring, thundering every night, but I was hoping that it would pour, rain, tornado, anything, during the day, night, all the time. I wanted less rice. I didn’t want anybody to catch crabs. I was mentally prepared to starve. I wanted people to just quit. Physically I wanted to deal with harder conditions just so other people could back out.
HitFix: OK. Time to put on your hypothetical hat. Say that Russell doesn’t show up and it’s just you and the rest of your Tribe. Talk me through what your strategy would have been or could have been that would have gotten you through the Merge…
SV: I would say me, Julie, Krista, Dave and… ummm… maybe even Sarita, because she is really unlikable and she doesn’t do anything, so for me that’s a positive for keeping her to the end, because then people won’t vote for her.
HitFix: Do you think you could have gotten along with Sarita and Julie well enough for that to happen?
SV: Julie, yes. Sarita, no. She’s on a different level of high maintenance that I can’t stand and I would have… I did make it obvious that I can’t stand her. But just because you can’t stand someone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t align with them. I think that’s even better, because if you can’t stand them, there’s probably a lot of other people who can’t. You don’t want any votes towards them. You want all of the votes going towards you when you’re at the end. That’s weird to even consider, but that’s what I was thinking. I thought that’s what her alliance was thinking as well, keeping around, like, “Because she sucks at challenges and we can’t stand her, so if I make the Top 3 with her, they won’t vote for her.” But then they got rid of her and went back on their word. So I’m like, “OK. I guess not. I don’t know what your strategy is. This is weird.”