Interview: Jefra Bland talks ‘Survivor: Cagayan’

And then the Beauty Tribe was gone. 

Had the Beauty Tribe been functional, perhaps they could have made a go of things after the Merge. They made the Merge with four players, same as the Brawn tribe, one more than the Brain tribe. And when Sarah was blindsided post-Merge, Beauty had a plurality and theoretically could have bonded with anybody to take power. 

With no particular unity, though, the Beauty tribe failed to mount any sort of strategy. First, Morgan went out without a whimper. Then L.J. was blindsided. Then Jeremiah knew he was doomed.

Finally, on this week's “Survivor: Cagayan,” Jefra Band became the last Beauty castaway sent packing, blindsided by Tony, who feared that a gender-based alliance might be the only thing that could halt his paranoid scurry to the million.

Jefra, who previously expected elimination and then was spared after Kass flipped, faced her torch-snuffing with a smile.

In her exit interview, the two-time Miss Kentucky runner-up discusses her tribe's early demise and what it says about “beauty” as a “Survivor” attribute. She explains her end-game strategy and why she stuck with Tony, rather than trying to blindside him. And she remembers the flood of emotions on the night Kass' flip spared her.

Click through for the full Q&A…

HitFix: First off, congratulations on being the last member of the Beauty Tribe standing.

Jefra Bland: Thanks! Thanks so much. I was glad to be the last member standing, but I hated to be eliminated, because there's now no Team Beauty left!

HitFix: I want to talk about both of those things. First off, tell me why it was you who was the last Beauty standing? Why were you able to outlast the rest of that tribe?

Jefra: I think the beginning, a lot of the Beauty tribe kinda got themselves eliminated, so to speak, whether it be speaking at the wrong time or trying to make a move at the wrong time, that kinda thing. But when it got down to the end — like LJ, Jeremiah and myself — we were more or less just in the wrong place at the wrong time, so to speak, as far as LJ and I being blindsided, Jeremiah being basically just out of options, that kind of thing.

HitFix: OK, why do you think we've reached this point in the game and the other two original tribes have multiple members apiece, but there are no more beauties left?

Jefra: One would think, from the outside looking in, that it would mean that it doesn't take a whole lot of beauty to survive out there. I know that Jeff said in one of his pre-season interviews, “What will it take to be The Ultimate Survivor – Beauty, Brawn or Brains?” and I guess it didn't take Beauty.

HitFix: Do you think that's actually true? Or do you think there's something else behind it?

Jefra: I don't. I just think it's the luck of the draw and the way that the cards fell and the way that the scenario ended. There are a lot of people from each tribe gone at this point in the game.

HitFix: Do you feel like you actually had the chance to use your quote-unquote “beauty” out there this season?

Jefra: No, I don't. But I'm not the kind of person who would use my beauty, so to speak, to get ahead in any way normally, in like my everyday life. Yes, I've competed in pageants and they deemed me as the Pageant Girl, but I don't let that usually define me or affect me in my everyday life. So that was never really a part of my strategy or my gameplay, to go out there and use my beauty to get ahead.

HitFix: Being a Pageant Girl is always seen as being a negative for some reason, but we all know how competitive those things can get. Did you feel like there was a similar competitive side you used in one to what you used in the other?

Jefra: Yeah, hand's down. Definitely, everybody thinks you just show up at the pageant and put on a pretty dress and walk out there and smile, but they don't see the hours and weeks and months of preparation that go into the competition, the hours of practicing your talent, the self-discipline, the endurance it takes for the workouts, for the physical fitness and the swimsuit portion. And in the interview process, you have to basically kinda manipulate the judges, so it's a lot like “Survivor,” because you have to get them to believe what you want so they'll pick you as the winner.

HitFix: Let's talk a bit about the last couple episodes. When you learned that Tony had that Super-Idol, did you feel any relief in knowing that even if you *had* flipped on him, it wouldn't actually have worked?

Jefra: Yeah, I did. I don't how, at this point, how Tony's gonna go, with having two Idols, including the Special Power Idol. I mean, it'll be really hard to get him out next week. And I didn't know that Spencer had the Idol either and had Spencer told me up-front, “Hey, I've got the Idol. I'm willing to play it towards you if we think that you're gonna be the one to go because there's a 4-4 tie,” that kind of thing, I definitely probably would have flipped with them. But he never once let me know that he had the Idol.

HitFix: That was a “definitely probably,” so which would it really have been?

Jefra: [Long pause] Ummm… Yes.

HitFix: What was so persuasive about the argument that Trish and Kass made to you in the water? Or what was so weak about the argument the Spencer/Tasha/Jeremiah alliance made?

Jefra: OK, the argument with Spencer and Tash, they needed me to guarantee them that I could bring someone with me and I was very close with Trish and she was very upset about the LJ blindside as well and I thought that I could convince Trish to flip with me. Well, while we were going on the Reward that day, I guess Tony was blowing smoke to all of them again and getting them back on his side and believing that him blindsiding LJ was OK, so when I got back to camp and I spoke to both Kass and Trish, convincing one of them to flip with me so that we would have the numbers, neither of them would go. Know what I mean? I realized real quick that neither of them were gonna flip, so I was kinda stuck at that point because I couldn't flip at 4-4 and risk drawing rocks and potentially going home when by staying with them, I was guaranteed to be safe.

HitFix: We've all been watching and from our point of view on TV, where we've seen everything that Tony's done, we're all watching going, “Why is anyone trusting him? Why is anyone sticking with him?” Give me that other side of Tony that you saw that made him seem like someone who you could stick with out there?

Jefra: Yeah, a lot of what you all see, we weren't getting to see. You know, the confessional interviews, the things that he's saying about his own alliance, we didn't get to see that. And another thing, we only would see the blindside that he had made toward LJ. He kept telling us all that he was with us, you know, “Top 5, Final 5.” And he would swear to us on his wife, his kids, his baby — You saw that on last night's episode, multiple times — his father, who's deceased, just anything he could swear on, he would swear to make us believe that he was with us. And our alliance, we were all very family-oriented and it was our goal to make it to the Loved Ones Visit together and then we would just pick each other off, one-by-one, after that and may-the-best-man-win, but that we were gonna stick together to get to the Final 5. Even right before we went to Tribal last night, Tony had told me, “You know, Jefra. One more vote and you'll get to see your mom. She'll make it out for the Family Visit. We've just gotta stick together one more vote,” knowing he was going in to write my name down. So I think just putting it as far as the family aspect of it really made me trust him more, thinking that he was being sincere.

HitFix: So what has it been like for you watching the season unfold and seeing this other side of Tony?

Jefra: Yeah, you know, it's frustrating. I'm like, “Why didn't I catch onto that at the time?” or “Why didn't I realize that at the time?” He was very antsy, so-to-speak, around camp — Always on-the-go, always on-the-move, very paranoid — but he wasn't necessarily targeting people like what they're showing on TV, so I didn't really necessarily see how he was really out for blood.

HitFix: Knowing what you know now and know that you did, as you said after you were voted out, wait too long to jump ship on the alliance, when do you think the right time would have been? What would the right big move have been for you that would have gotten you to the end?

Jefra: Probably when LJ was still in the game. LJ and I together probably could have come up with another co-alliance or formed a new alliance to kinda get ourselves out of the Trish/Tony/Woo situation, because they are three-strong right now and they're tight. They started together as Brawn and they're still really strong together. So I'm thinking while I still had an ally to work with, possibly LJ when he was still there, maybe the two of us together could have made a move while we still had numbers in our favor, versus when it was just me last week and I didn't have numbers to work with.

HitFix:  What was your own connection to Woo like and what was it like watching how easily Tony swayed him to turn on LJ and then how easily he swayed him to turn on you as well?

Jefra: I thought Woo and I had a good bond and I actually asked Woo, we had a conversation on the beach right before Tribal Council, because Tony was trying to say that he didn't really trust me and they were pitching that and I'm like, “Woo, do you trust me?” He's like, “100 percent. I know you're with us.” And he knew he was going to Tribal to write my name down. It's all part of the strategy. I get it. That's how you play “Survivor.” But I think that Woo and I, I was too trusting of Woo and I just thought he was gonna eventually play his own game, not necessarily just be kinda in Tony's pocket and do everything that Tony says the entire time.

HitFix: Speaking of playing your own game, when you get as far as you did, you have to start thinking about the end-game. As things were going post-Merge, did you have any strategy that you felt was going to let you WIN this season?

Jefra: I was playing a very big social game and that was my strategy from the beginning. I'm obviously not the biggest physical threat, but I tried my best in the physical challenges and I was definitely competitive in some of them, like the one where I had to hold the block up on my head, I was right there to the finals. But I could never seem to pull it out. So I was just trying to play a very a good social game and I was trying to play to the Jury. I was trying not to really make a whole lot of enemies so that when I got to the Final 2 or 3, that I could get Jury votes, Where Tony, everybody was hating him, I was trying to do the opposite.

HitFix: Who do you think you would have beaten?

Jefra: I think I definitely could have beaten Kass and I feel like I could have beaten Woo, because Woo, what has he done that's been strategical? He was not a part of our blindside with Cliff. He wasn't really a part of a whole lot. He just kinda does whatever Tony says, so I feel like I would have had the best shot against those two.

HitFix: One of my favorite moments this season was the Sarah blindside and seeing your sadness as it looked like you were going home and then your shock at being spared. What was it like reliving that?

Jefra: Yeah! Reliving it sitting at home watching on the couch was just as terrifying as being there in the moment and it brought back a whole whirlwind of emotions. I was not ready to quit the game, I wasn't ready to be eliminated and I was frustrated. I came to win. Everybody did. That's why we're there, putting ourselves through the torture. So to think that I was gonna be the first one out after the Merge was heartbreaking and I know a lot of people think Kass' move was stupid and not a good move, but I'm grateful for it. It saved my butt.

HitFix: The rush you had to have gotten at that Tribal, the adrenaline… How long did it take you to stop shaking after that?

Jefra: Oh my gosh! It was ridiculous. I went back to camp and I literally sat by the fire all night long. I could not go to sleep that night. I couldn't close my eyes. All I could do was just focus on how I could prevent that from happening again. It was almost like fuel to my fire, because I went back to camp and then from then on, I was like, “OK. This is serious here. What can I do to prevent this from happening, because I don't want to see my name again.”

HitFix: But then we came to the moment this week where you saw your name for the last time and you knew you were out. You were able to smile and you were able to be gracious. Was that hard in that moment?

Jefra: Yeah, it was very hard, but I'm a huge fan of the game and I would rather go out being blindsided than just like not having a gameplan, not having really like an answer. Blindsides are what this show's all about. That's why it continues to be one of the best shows on right now. That's how “Survivor” is played. So being a fan of the game, I respect the move, I respect the blindside. Did it make it easy? No. Not at all. But it is what it is and I tried to just be appreciative of the time that I did get to spend there.

More “Survivor: Cagayan” exit interviews:
Jeremiah Wood
L.J. McKanas
Morgan McLeod
Sarah Lacina
Alexis Maxwell
Lindsey Ogle
Cliff Robinson
J'Tia Taylor
Brice Johnston
Garrett Adelstein
David Samson