Interview: Jeremiah Wood talks ‘Survivor: Cagayan’

It's hard out there for a “Survivor: Cagayan” Beauty.

For the third straight week, my “Survivor” exit interview is with a castaway who began the season as part of the Beauty tribe.

Following in the footsteps of Morgan and LJ is Jeremiah Wood, who only revealed to his core alliance in this week's episode that he makes his living as a model. 

It wasn't like there was a Beauty alliance that is being picked off. Jeremiah wasn't especially close with either LJ or Morgan. Instead, he grew tight with former Brain Spencer and if you saw the combination of down-home Southern charmer and sometimes awkward mastermind and remembered the partnership with J.T. and Stephen? You're not the only one.

Of course, this budding dynamic duo was thwarted after Kass flipped and then when Tony began his reign of terror, though they had brief hope this week when Jefra, the lone remaining Beauty, decided to join them… only to reconsider.

In this week's exit chat, Jeremiah discusses why he didn't admit to being a model, his JT/Stephen bond with Spencer and why Jefra reversed course when she could have changed the game.

Click through for the full Q&A.

HitFix: So how close do you think Spencer came to using his Idol on you there? 

Jeremiah Wood: He was super-close. It was one of them things me and him talked about in the ocean. We didn't know which way to go with it. If we'd had any kind of inside scoop on who they were targeting, it would have been an easier decision for us, but at the time of the game, that alliance is a strong alliance and it seems like there's no cracks in it. Tasha won the Immunity Challenge, so it was either gonna be me or Spencer and if you really think about it, he's a strong threat as far as Immunity, but he swore up and down I was the biggest social threat out there, because everybody loved me to death. We just didn't know who they were targeting, who they wanted out at this time of the game. He was really close to playing it for me. When he got up and he was handing it to Jeff, it was just one of those things that he turned and he looked and he hesitated. He didn't know what to do. And I had told him before in the water, I said, “Spencer, go with your gut.” I said, “If you don't play for me, I understand.” I said, “If you do play it for me, I'll never be able to thank you in a million years.” You know? He was really close. He didn't know what to do, but I think he went on his gut, because we had nothing, there was no inside scoops or all. It was either me or him.

HitFix: Tony made that twitch where he brought out what was or wasn't an Idol. Do you think that played any role in Spencer's decision?

Jeremiah: You know, I don't think it played a role at all, because we knew he didn't have an Idol. Until the episode, I didn't know he had the Special Idol. I tore that jungle apart trying to find it. But at the time, we knew he had some kind of fake Idol made, because he had actually told us a while back that he had made one because of Sarah, so we kinda knew it was a fake Idol, because when he brought it out, it was a square and every Idol that has been played this year has been the big circle face, so we knew it was a fake Idol. So naw, it didn't have nothing to do with his decision, because we didn't know who they were voting for. We knew it was either gonna me or him and at that time, it's a 50-50 shot and if he played it for me and he got voted out, he would never be able to live that down, so it just is what it is. I wish he would have played it for me, but at the time we just did not know who they were targeting.

HitFix: What is the feeling when you're at that Tribal, then, and Probst goes to tally the votes and the first sheet comes up with your name on it? Because you had to know instantly from that one name that you were done.

Jeremiah: Yeah, it just takes all the wind out of your lungs. It's so hard to explain, because you're sitting there and you're tensed up and your heart's beating like 150-mile-an-hour. I knew I was sitting there and my legs, I couldn't even sit still. I seen Woo's name come up three times and I just knew, I said, “This is gonna be the dealbreaker.” But when Spencer played the Idol for himself and then Tony spat it out that he's inexperienced, I knew right then. I said, “If Tony's saying that, then they wrote my name down.” Look, it does, man. When your name pops up, all the wind just leaves you. It was just like when Alexis got voted out and my name popped up first. I knew she voted for me, but it's so hard to explain. It's heartbreaking. You can't breathe. Your heart is beating out of your chest. You're gonna pass out. And then it just is what it is. I went into it, I was already prepared that it was either gonna be me or him and if my name popped up, I wasn't gonna freak out. But it is, man, it's hard, because you're putting your life into this game, you're putting your whole heart into this game. And I had such a strong strategy of winning. It's just hard to explain. It's heartbreaking. When Jeff snuffs your torch, reality just sets in and you're like, “I'm leaving this island. This game that I love, I just got voted out and I'm leaving this island.”

HitFix: Going back to the original Beauty tribe, you and Jefra had some trust issues that came out last night. Do you think that played any role in her deciding to stick with her old alliance? Or was she just gonna do it anyway?

Jeremiah: No, I don't think… There were some things I probably could have done different in the Beauty tribe, but I had numbers at the time. And the first part of “Survivor,” honestly, you've gotta play together as a team. You've gotta feel like you've gotta pick who you think is gonna help you help to that final Merge as far as winning challenges. It's one of them thangs, I don't know if it hurt me or not, but when we went on that Reward Challenge… Well, I actually apologized to her when we went to the Outback Steak Shack. When we won that Reward Challenge, I was able to apologize to her and talk to her and I knew that I had patched things up and then I got to patch things up even more during last night's Reward. I really thought she was going with us. And she was going with us! It's just one of things that as soon as we got back to camp, we didn't plan to talk to her until the third day. We wasn't gonna say a word to Jefra. We didn't want nobody to know that she had flipped. The one of our alliance members pulled her to the side and talked to her 30 minutes after we got back to the island and I knew right then. I said, “Oh gosh. We're in trouble.” And Tony saw it, everybody saw it and they went and talked to her. They just scared her back over, I think. She's kinda like me. Jefra is sweetheart country girl. She's kinda like me, she don't want to hurt nobody's feelings. But I think she was thinking that she had numbers and she needed to stick with 'em. But where her downfall was, she told 'em that she had flipped over to us and then she was flipping back to them. That was her downfall there, to what I thought was a bad decision on her part.

But no. I think I really patched things up, because we really sunk it in her mind that this was her Million Dollar Decision. Nobody could take this away from her. If she flips over with me and Spencer and Tash, this was her Million Dollar Decision and she got something where if she makes it to the Final 2 or 3, that she has something to go on, she has something to present to the Jury. I think Tony and them scared her back in to going back with them.

HitFix: Going back to that idea of the Million Dollar Decision. When you get to the Merge, it's time to start thinking about your resume to actually win. Had you begun to think of what your argument was going to be and what you needed to do in the home stretch to make that argument?

Jeremiah: Oh yeah, most definitely. Most definitely. I had a strategy going. I already had everything planned out, how to get to the end. I brought Spencer in. Spencer was on the bottom of this tribe. I went after him. I pulled him into me. Me and him, he told me he wanted to be the next J.T. and Stephen, that he would sit with me at Finals all day long and he would take the second position to me all day long and I said,  I was just trying to explain to Spencer, I said, “I'll take you a long ways, but I don't wanna be with you.” It would have been hard for me to beat Spencer in the end, but some of the strategic moves that I was making, the new alliance that I got up with, the decisions I was making, I know you don't see a lot of it on television, some of the decisions that I made and I was explaining to people how to vote. But what I brought to the game was common sense. I wasn't a born player, but before I made a decision, I thought about it. “Is this the right decision? Is this the right move?” And I tried to explain to people to take a deep breath before you make a move and have common sense. You've gotta have common sense in this game. You can be an Albert Einstein in the world, but it doesn't mean nothing in “Survivor.” You've got to have common sense and you gotta have a strategy behind it. So yeah, I knew exactly what I could talk about. I think I could have won a lot votes at the end through the Jury, because I had made myself to be so likable to everybody.

HitFix: I've always thought that Stephen/JT vote was a very interesting vote, because that's a choice that could go either way entirely depending on the composition of the Jury, that some Juries would value what Stephen contributed to that dynamic and that others would value what JT did more. What feeling were you getting about this Jury as it was beginning to form regarding which kind of “Survivor” they would favor?

Jeremiah: Yeah, at the time of the game already, a lot of people just cannot stand Kass and Tony, so I knew somebody like that, being at the end with them, would be no problem. It looked like the Jury… It's hard not to hold grudges with people. It's hard not to have feelings towards people. So the Jury as it is already, I can already tell you, they look like they're holding a grudge against certain people. If I would have made it to the end and I could have brought Spencer with me, it would have been hard, in a Final 3 or Final 4, to keep Spencer. I love the boy to death. He's like my little brother. But you've gotta play the game at the end and most seasons in the past, sometimes you've gotta take a couple goats with you to get there and there's plenty of goats left in this game. But then again, you want to reward the person who you really think has played the game. I've seen people win this game before in past seasons that you sit there and you look at and you say, “How do they deserve that?” So with me being on the Jury now, it's just gonna be one of the things, who I think really, really played the game, even if they're a villain, even if they're a hero. In my eyes, you've got to reward to that person and it's gonna be hard. This is a hard Jury so far, cuz you've got grudges and you've got likable people. So it's gonna be an interesting vote.

HitFix: Talk to me a bit about the “model” lie. What were you telling people you did and why were you not telling people what you actually do?

Jeremiah: [Laughs.] You know, one of my strategies coming onto the game, I've seen models on seasons before and sometimes they get targeted that all they're there for is TV time, all they're there for is to promote modeling and acting. I didn't want nobody in this world to know that. I wanted to play it up to where I want people to understand that I'm a true fan of this show. I auditioned to get on this show and I landed it, so I kept it a big secret because I didn't want to be a target first or sometime in the game, I didn't want to be a target where people just get together and say, “OK. You've had enough TV time. It's time for him to leave.” So I kinda grew my hair out. I let it get wind-blown. I gained a little weight. I let me beard get scruffy-looking. So I was telling people… Now, I do have another job back home in-between photo shoots. I try to make a double salary. I was raised working and I was raised to work hard, so it's hard for me to just sit around, so any days that I have off, I work at this little place where I bought my house and we do a lot of work for Gatorade and Tropicana. So I was telling people that's what I do for a living. I wasn't about to be all, “Hey, I'm a model. I do this and that.” I just wanted people to believe that I'm just a country boy, just a hard-working country boy. That's what I wanted people to believe. And that's what I pushed.

HitFix: So *has* this had a positive impact on your modeling career, all of the exposure that you've gotten?

Jeremiah: [He chuckles.] It's starting to pick up for me now. I've started to get super-busy. For probably about the first month, it was kinda slow. It was still normal, doing a few photo shoots here and there. But now, word has got out a little bit more and I'm starting to post a whole like more pictures on my social media, which is always good. A lot of my modeling agencies, I'm sending them a lot of pictures and they're taking a lot of my pictures. So it's kinda like in the last month, a lot of stuff has taken off now. And I hope it does, but if I really was wanting to promote modeling really hard, I would have came on the show hair all jacked-up, clean-shaved. I'd have been completely defined. I'd look like Garrett from the neck down. [He laughs.] But I love this game and I wanted to play it hard and I didn't want people to get the wrong feeling about me. I didn't want people and fans of this game to say, “He was just there for TV time.” I did not want to promote that. But if modeling picks up and takes off, if anything else picks up and takes off from it, I'll go through every open door, but if don't, I know for a fact that I went out there and I played this game and I didn't really promote it and that's because I wasn't trying to promote a lot of it.

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