Interview: Missy Payne talks ‘Survivor: San Juan del Sur’

For only the third time since “Survivor” switched over to a Final 3, all three remaining castaways received votes at the Final Tribal Council.

So kudos to Missy Payne, even if her lone vote came from her daughter Baylor. 

In retrospect, it's pretty impressive that Missy was even able to stand at the Final 3 at all. The owner of a Dallas-based cheerleading gym hurt her ankle in a late-season Reward Challenge and resisted Jeff Probst's insinuations that she might want to leave the game. Told by the “Survivor” medic that she could stick around if she could stand the pain, Missy refused to quit, even if it meant sitting out several of the season's most important challenges.

Perhaps that injury explains why the Jury took Missy so lightly, even though she tried to emphasize her importance in many key early votes. 

In her exit interview, the season's third place finisher discusses her post-game diagnosis and the problems the injury caused for her.

Missy is also very frank about the challenges of playing the game with Baylor.

“[I]f I ever got to play again I would not play with Baylor,” she says.

Click through to find out why and to read the full Q&A…

HitFix: Let's start by talking about your foot. Tell me about the final diagnosis and what you had to actually do to rehab.

Missy Payne: Well, actually unfortunately I'm still rehabbing it. It turns out that it was a Level III sprain, which apparently on the level of sprains is the worst one you can possibly have. And I have the little tears on the front of my ankle. I still have to wear a little ankle brace and I'm doing acupuncture… physical therapy, everything I can possibly do to strengthen it again to get back to running, because that is my exercise of choice. So you don't really tell a runner they can't run. It's been really difficult for me and I don't have the right patience so it's been hard. But I'm doing everything properly just because I don't want the long-term effects.

HitFix: I thought it was interesting that in your mind out there, you sort of started off with an indeterminate diagnosis, then you decided it was fracture, and then by the end It sounded like you decided it was a clean break. What was going through your mind regarding what was happening with your foot as you were out there?

Missy Payne: Well, I mean the pain level for me was so bad. And when you're sitting out in the middle of nowhere and you don't have a real diagnosis it's like, “Okay we can just make stuff up all day long.” I knew the swelling was bad; I've been around enough injuries to know that that's a bad deal. And it was so swollen and I couldn't press, there was no pressing forward or flexing or pointing in my foot at that point, so I really didn't know. I thought that if there was a fracture it was on the top of my foot because the way my foot got caught in the challenge it went straight down and then my body catapulted forward and my foot stayed there and it popped. So I thought, “Oh shoot man I broke my foot.” So it was hard to tell because it was sort of all over the entire ankle area and the top of my foot.

HitFix: And here's the thing I can't fathom, you have to do all of this without painkillers right?

Missy Payne: Yes. YES! There are no pain meds whatsoever. It completely becomes mind over matter. It hurts so bad right when I hurt it, but there was no way that I was going to ask for medical. For one, I'm pretty tough and I've learned to take hits and then you just stand there and move forward. And I mean that in a physical realm and an emotional realm and it hurts so daggum bad. And even after they immobilized it, it's in there just hurting and prodding but no pain meds. Somebody said, “Oh bull, I bet you were sitting around with a little IV getting some pain medication” and I was like, “Yeah really? No.”

HitFix: Yeah. That's the thing I can't fathom because I can't imagine being out on “Survivor” and not having Advil for a headache. Like how do you process thoughts as you're wandering around on a seriously sprained ankle and there's nothing you can do about it?

Missy Payne: Yeah. It was really hard. I mean at that point my gameplay – I feel like the injury was the demise of my game. It really was. I mean I think I've already said this today a couple of times but when you're dragging around about a seven or eight pound cast on your foot, because it's a hard plaster of Paris cast on me, that in itself is just… And Jeff said it's just exhausting for you to even get to a challenge, much less think about doing the challenge. So physically you're trying to just survive. Then you have to have brain power in this game. So you're already being stripped of all your elements. By that point in the game you're literally starving to death. It was such a bad deal. It was so hard for me, but I did not want a sympathy vote and I didn't want people to go, “Awww, it makes you feel sorry for Missy.” I did not want that and I never even wanted it to come across that I was even trying for that. So there was really no way I was going to show it. But I have to be honest, there were sort of days where I was 50 percent in the game mentally, mostly just because people were coming at me and I was like, “Can I just have five minutes just to sort of prop my foot up?” But you can't to do that. You just have to keep going.

HitFix: Well, be honest with me, is there a teeny tiny part of you that wished that the doctor had said you need to come out? Because once the choice was sort of on you then it becomes all about your decision and whether you want to quit. But if the doctor says, “You got to come out,” it's not on you anymore. Was there any part of you that wanted that?

Missy Payne: No. No. No way. No way. There was no way. I mean if he had said “I need to pull you,” I probably would have begged and tried to change his mind otherwise and maybe got up and had a miracle and walked for him or something. But golly, you've come this far and with the finish line in sight there was just no way that you want to be pulled from this game. There's just absolutely no way. And I think anybody that can tell you who has been medically evacuated from this game, even at the time of total helplessness, it's a bummer. That's just the worst way to finish.

HitFix: So you get to Final Jury there, did you at that point think that you stood chance?

Missy Payne: No. Absolutely not. About a week before I hurt my ankle, I have to go back and calculate the exact day, but I still thought I was going to win. And I thought Natalie and I were pretty neck and neck. And it was like we were on a race track and I was pretty much driving in the lead because I carried Natalie for a long time too. They didn't show the amount of decisions that I actually got to make and I was the center of so many of my players and directed so many things. But after the injury and maybe a little bit pre, she saw an opportunity to drive her race car right around that curve and get in front of me. And man, she wasn't going to stop. At that point it wasn't balls-to-the-wall and it was awesome. It was awesome to watch. But then again it's hard for me to be carried to the finish line, which I was for sure.

HitFix: You did just say something that you also mentioned in your Tribal Council speech about the different votes that you controlled. And as you say we didn't necessarily see all that much on TV. Tell me a thing or two that you really wished that people had seen from your game on TV.

Missy Payne: Oh man. They didn't show out of the gate the second we landed on Hunahpu you get your tub of rice and your basket of tools and things, I should have gone through that left and right looking for a clue, looking for an Idol. And then as the tribe was getting the fire started I'm running around camp looking around for Idols and they never showed that. They didn't showed any of that aggression and really,” Let's go. Game on.” And then I think they missed a couple of opportunities to show me in the deciding factor. I mean kudos to CBS because they do the best they can in such a limited amount of time to show edit. But they showed this very strong woman and on the one hand it's great. I feel like the nation and all around the world has seen a very strong woman come through yet another hardship in her life. But on the game side of it, I don't think they really showed a very aggressive player in having my hand in so many of the votes that I had my hand in.

HitFix: Well, give me an example of sort of a key thing of a vote that you had your hand in that you wish we had seen. I want to get it out there!

Missy Payne: Well, for instance let's start with Drew. Everybody was on hold because at that point Drew was going kind of crazy and he wanted us all to vote for Kelley. And so I was aligned, which I thought at that point with Drew, Jon, Jeremy and Natalie, but when Drew went cuckoo, Natalie came to me and said, “Hey, here's the deal. He doesn't trust you.” And I was like, “What? What do you mean he doesn't trust me?” And so the minute somebody would say that, we voted them off. And so it was kind of like everybody was on hold so everybody – Natalie said, “People have sent me over to ask you can we vote him off now?” And I'm like, “Yeah. Absolutely. Let's do it. Let's vote him off.” So the decision was made; there was no more talk; we go to Tribal. The next one was Kelley. So when we got to the tripe swap it was super awkward that it was Kelley, Dale, Missy, Baylor, Jon, Jaclyn. Well, Jaclyn and Baylor out of the gate had hadn't had a great game so that was kind of weird, but Jon and I were super bonded. And so they were in the middle and they somewhat got to be the middle men, I went to Jon and said, “Hey here's the deal. I'm going to tell you the honest to God truth about Kelley that she's playing you like a drum right now. I mean you have no idea. She wanted you off for days and weeks.” And so even though I think the edit showed them as to being the swing vote, Jon had already assured me, “Yeah she's got to go then.” So that was the Kelley vote. Then the next vote the Dale vote. I mean I knew for a fact Jon was going to vote him off. I mean Jon was a very good actor to everyone and it was even quoted, you know, “Jon you're a great actor,” because he did. So I was also in that vote. The Jeremy vote that was hard for me. I wasn't ready to do that but I had to stick with my alliance and go along with Jon on that one without telling Natalie. But it was hard. Let's see, what's next? Oh wait, we'll back up to Josh. So that was also my decision. Did you ask me another question?

HitFix: No. No. No. I'm just sort of wondering if there was any way you could have made that speech you just made to me at the Jury?

Missy Payne: Yeah. I mean here's the bummer about being in the Final Three and not really knowing what to expect: If you have to go first it's not a really good pole position. And I know enough about competing that second or third in my speech, it would have been better for me, to be honest. I think I would have been set up a little better. I don't know honestly that going into that Final Tribal that I had a shot because I feel like Ponderosa is a tribe within itself and all those guys were so in this sort of bro bonded boy power mode, they weren't going to listen to anything except for what they already had made up their mind. And I don't know, I feel like that most everybody had already tried who they were gonna vote before they even got there.

HitFix: And then of course there was the awkward Reed moment. Leaving aside sort of the “wicked stepmother” side of it, did you hear any truth at all in anything he said or did it just come completely out of left field, totally foreign to you?

Missy Payne: I felt like it was completely inappropriate. I felt like if Reed wanted to say something to me he could've said, “I felt left out. I felt like you mothered everybody but I didn't get that mother feel and dang I sure wish I could have had that.” Because even Alec would say, “Man I sure wish I had my real mom here now. I want it for comfort.” And I was comfort to so many people and played mom so many times. I feel like Reed just he didn't have a place in there. And he didn't. I mean I did give him food as much as I could in our first tribe, but it took a left turn and it was hard to regroup with Reed, especially after he called my kid a brat. So it was hard to fake that at that point.

HitFix: Having to be sort of the mama bear, the protective mama bear out there specifically to your actual daughter, not just sort of everybody's mom, do you think that helped you or do you think it hurt you to some degree?

Missy Payne: Hmmm… I think it would have been better if my own child hadn't been there, to be honest. It's tough, because Baylor grew up underneath the front desk of my cheerleading gym where I have, and still do, have multiple children, daughters I would call them. They are people who call and confide in me. So I think that played out a little more here too like, “Hey mom, wait a minute I'm your real daughter. Can I have a little bit of your attention?” And then everybody else was going, “Hey mom, hey mama Missy what do you think about this?” And so it was hard because I was carrying a lot of weight. So if I ever got to play again I would not play with Baylor.

HitFix: But given your expectations for Baylor, going into the game, what impressed you most about the fact that she did make it 36, 37 days out of there?

Missy Payne: Yeah. I mean I'm super-impressed. I'm not shocked. If you give Baylor a little nudge, she can really go pretty far. She's sort of that robot kid that if she has the desire to get somewhere and do something she's going to get it, no matter what that looks like. So I certainly feel like that when we got to the tribe swap, I carried her pretty far. And she'll admit that I kept patting her on the ass and going, “Okay get back in the game honey. You got this. Take a nap and now get up let's go.” God, I'm super proud of her and I think I've said that multiple times. I mean we've seen the season where the two 20-year-old-girls quit at the same time. I think people forget how young she really is. She's still a kid. I think that even when Reed calling her a brat I wanted to say, “Hey guys, she's 20 remember,” because I do this all the time with kids who have younger siblings and they act bratty. You're like, “Alright, remember her age. Just remember she is young and this is a huge feat for her to say she accomplished this.” It will be something she'll remember for the rest of her life.

Other “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” exit interviews:
Keith Nale
Baylor Wilson
Jon Misch
Alec Christy
Reed Kelly
Wes Nale
Jeremy Collins
Josh Canfield
Julie McGee
Dale Wentworth
Kelley Wentworth
Drew Christy
John Rocker
Val Collins
Nadiya Anderson