‘Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X’ exclusive: Rachel Ako on early exit, immunity idols, and that terrible storm

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What happened with Rachel Ako during the “Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X” premiere? Going into our exit interview Thursday morning, it was certainly something we wanted to talk to her about. Much of the premiere episode was a testament as to why David Wright should have been voted off, whether it be his neuroses or his immunity-idol hunting. Rachel did struggle along with him in the immunity challenge, but we didn’t see as much of her as we do some other first boots over the years.

Below, you can take a look at what Rachel had to say about her exit, dealing with that terrible storm that led to an evacuation, and also what she especially liked about spending time with David.

CarterMatt – First of all, how are you feeling? I know being the first person voted out can be tough.

Rachel Ako – It’s not easy being first boot, but the ‘Survivor’ family has been really supportive and the fans have been great. They call me ‘robbed queen’ (laughs); everyone’s come together [to support me].

Over the past several months since filming, have you been able to figure out why it was you? Watching the episode, I was so sure it’d be David!

I think I had a disadvantage from the moment I stepped onto the Gen X mat. I think I could have fared well if I had some younger people on the tribe. They all just naturally came together — they all had families and kids.

When you saw it was Millennials vs. Gen X, did you have a change to your strategy?

I was shocked. I know there were some people who expected it, but I was thrown off. I was like ‘what’s a Gen X,’ I didn’t even have all of this hatred towards Millennials. What they edited out was that the Millennials were going after the Gen X, and the Gen X were going after the Millennials. They all had these harsh opinions about each other. I was the only one who was like ‘Jeff, I think I’m going through an identity crisis. I appreciate what both generations bring to the table,’ and I think that probably put a target on my back automatically.

Did you receive any participation trophies? I know that’s a big theme this season.

No, I won my own trophies! (Laughs.)

You voted for Sunday. Was there any particular reason why?

They edited it out, but Ken had talked to me about wanting to really tighten up the tribe, because he knew the Millennials were going to come strong with a lot of youth, a lot of energy. It was vital that we win the challenges, and the best thing to do was to go [after] Sunday. So I kept my word, but he didn’t.

Why did CeCe receive so many votes? That was another thing that surprised me; I assumed there’d be a vote-split, but that David would be more involved.

They were trying to blindside me, but I wasn’t surprised because I knew I was going home. I was surprised there were votes for other people. Has there ever been another tribal where there were four people voted for?

I’m not sure off the top of my head. 

(Note: Looked this up after the interview — ironically, it happened in the last season of “Survivor” set in Fiji, where Jessica DeBen was voted off first in a 6-1-1-1 vote.)

How much paranoia was there out there in terms of somebody having an idol?

I think what I’d heard was that they thought I had an idol, and split the votes with CeCe just in case I played it. I think there was a lot of idol paranoia, and I think for the majority of it they thought I had an idol.

Were you spending a lot of time saying things like ‘I’m going to go get palm fronds,’ only to be looking for the idol instead?

No, I was working really hard to get a shelter done, since I knew there was a storm and it was going to be really bad. So I was working like a typical Gen X to get that done. However, when we had gotten that shelter done and everyone was starting to rest, that’s when I went looking. I wish I would’ve looked more! I needed it.

You bring up the storm, so let’s get into that. Before Jeff showed up to evacuate you, what was the mood of the Gen X camp? How much fear was there?

The storm was really bad before they even evacuated us. There was so much rain and it was awful. Then when Jeff came all perfectly-groom and he tells us we are evacuating, and then he leaves all perfectly-groomed. Immediately when he leaves it increased tenfold with rain that felt like bullets. I literally thought that Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst had control of the weather.

You never know. Mark Burnett’s a powerful man.

Yeah, he has some sort of divine power over the thunderstorms because it was too surreal with the timing.

What was it like to camp when you saw some of the destruction on the shelter? Did that make it even more of a relief that you were evacuated?

I think to the viewer it may have just looked like the shelter fell down, but one of the logs that was supporting that entire roof was hundreds and hundreds of pounds. So we wouldn’t have just gotten smashed, we would have gotten killed. It was not able to be moved by our hands.

What was it like living with David and what seems to be an ever-increasing amount of fears and phobias?

David’s a great guy. I respect that he’s self-deprecating and he points out the things that are his weaknesses. I as a human being found it endearing, and I hope that it’s endearing to others. I hope they show that humility and self-deprecation and that people can relate to it, actually.

Oh, I certainly can. I’d be even worse out there (laughs). In terms of your own game, do you spend a lot of time doing the ‘coulda shoulda woulda’ of it all? Is there a single move you could have made to alter the course of everything for you?

I don’t think anyone who is ever voted out of ‘Survivor’ is at peace with what happened. You relive it every single day. I was watching TV and like the former contestants say, I [relived] it in my brain. I realize now that after being [angry] at my tribe for voting me off I went back to my usual positive self, and thought ‘time to get back to normality. Things are going to be okay. It’s all right.’

How much do you think the immunity challenge factored into the decision to vote you off? Was it a convenient excuse, or a huge factor?

I think it was just another thing to throw in there. I was targeted from the beginning and I could see alliances forming, and a natural bond was there. I’m single, I don’t have kids, and I’m on a Gen X tribe. We were very different from the beginning. I think I’m one of the few who doesn’t have kids.

A couple of last quick things. First of all, I always talk about ‘Survivor: First Boots.’ If it happens, are you game to do this again?

I don’t know if they’re really bringing back first boots, but I would have to think about it! My first question would be to Jeff, and it’d be ‘are you going to put me on the Gen X tribe?’ (laughs).

Finally, was there anything that you did learn about yourself through three days of the game?

‘Survivor’ is the wilderness, and being able to be out in the elements and surviving that, I was proud of myself. There’s nothing that isn’t scary about ‘Survivor,’ and the fact that I was able to put myself out there in that position, I’m happy about it. [Also, you have] the connections and the family that you make, even with prior contestants. There’s a lot of love.

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