Being voted out first on Survivor is hard. It’s even harder when you are someone who had everything you needed to go the distance. Stephanie Gonzalez was athletic, capable, and there was seemingly very little reason to get rid of her. Yet, here we are. Sometimes luck is a major component in what causes someone to go home in this game. She was victim of a number of different things, whether it be not being around for a conversation at camp to Jacob Derwin being on Ghost Island and a last-second push by Donathan to save himself after looking like he was the obvious target.
Below, Gonzalez broke down for us everything that happened within the game, what hurt her the most, and how she handled watching herself be voted off last night.
CarterMatt – After everything that you did to get out into the game this season, how devastating was it to go out when you did?
Gonzalez – It was gut-wrenching. It’s like you’re drinking poison — you drank it before, and then you are watching yourself on TV drinking the poison all over again.
When you walked around Tribal Council whispering to everyone, did they all straight-up lie to your face?
I already knew that I was going home — I just wanted to comfirm it, and that’s what I did when I got up to whisper. I was just like ‘I need to confirm this,’ and then I needed to shift things around and say whatever I needed to say to turn things around. I spoke to Brendan first and then to Michael second; after speaking to Brendan and Michael I knew that everyone was watching me so I went to Libby and told her a story that was completely a lie. I told Libby that Brendan had changed the vote to Donathan and that it was no longer going to be me, and she was like ‘oh ok, so we’re not voting for you anymore.’
I knew, at least for Libby, that I had switched her vote because of ‘Brendan.’ She was just going to do whatever was happening with Brendan and tribe overall. Then, I spoke to Michael and was like ‘who’s orchestrating this vote?’ and he was like ‘Brendan is. Should we take him out?’. I was like ‘no, we need to keep him on board and take Donathan out.’ Come on. Donathan is an amazing person and he deserves to be out there, but in order to keep the tribe strong and win challenges we have to get rid of one person. For me, that person was Donathan.
During [Tribal Council] I said ‘Jeff, I’m a strong swimmer, I’m good in puzzles, I felt like was strong in challenges. If they get rid of me, they’re going to come back to Tribal Council.’ I’m sad that didn’t air because that is exactly what happened.
That was that. I tried to stir things up as much as I could. Once I went to get my torch to have Jeff put out the flame, I knew I wanted to stir s–t up. My last line before I left was ‘one lion, seven lambs.’ Then I said ‘that’s so sad.’ But, you only saw ‘sad.’
How much of your elimination is due in part to bad luck with Jacob being on Ghost Island?
I would say 95% of it. I was already establishing relationships and potential alliance partners. It was just a matter of solidifying. I had already spoke with Stephanie about an all-girl alliance, but it wasn’t [finalized] yet because I wanted to feel out the whole tribe and figure out just what is best for me.
I also spoke to Brendan and we were supposedly super-tight; I also spoke to Michael and I even spoke to James and Donathan. Everything was already in the works.
Was there a sense of everyone just flying by the seat of their pants, desperate to take out someone so long as it wasn’t them?
That’s exactly what happened. They wanted to keep camp happy and with good vibes, but we’re on Survivor. We’re here to play. We can keep the camp happy and dandy, but we’re going to Tribal Council. We need to keep our tribe strong.
Brendan didn’t want to get rid of Jenna because he didn’t want to piss off Stephanie and Donathan really got to everyone with his emotional moment on the beach. Brendan took Donathan under his wing — I don’t really blame him for it, I probably would’ve done the same thing. It was just that somebody had to go. One of the reasons why it was eight votes against me was just because I was not a part of just one conversation they all had right before Tribal.
Donathan had a very emotional moment out there that may have helped sway them — do you almost wish you did as well in retrospect?
Donathan and I have very different stories and backgrounds, but there have been very similar things that have happened to us. I just think my way of coping with it is different than Donathan’s. I had to grow a thick skin, persevere, not let anything get to me and have a different mindset towards it all. Donathan is still on that [path to] growth and having more self-confidence than he does now.
I don’t think I would have been that emotional person — I just have a lot more self-confidence and growth/belief in myself. I think Donathan just approaches things differently — I don’t know if that’s going to change, but I hope it does. He should have a lot more confidence.
Brendan saw that [emotional moment] and Brendan has kids. I’m sure he is an amazing father, and to see a young man go through that — Donathan appears to be very young even though he’s not — you want to take him under your wing. I don’t blame Brendan for doing that. I just think he is using his heart more than using his brain. Voting Donathan out would have killed Donathan emotionally — voting me out, you could see that I was a lot tougher cookie and that I’ll be okay.
That’s how it all played out. I couldn’t be like Donathan and say ‘boo hoo for me, don’t vote me off.’
The overall experience
What was the best part about playing Survivor?
Being out there and testing yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. You’re away from anybody you know and you have this goal in your mind. You get so hungry and so focused on how bad you want to make it to that goal. You get so consumed by it. Being able to digest that you’re living in the now and making decisions and being eager — those emotions are exhilarating. That was the best part of taking it all in — being able to appreciate all of that.
Conversely, what was the worst part?
Probably that I only played three days. It was such a long process to go through all the casting and game preparation. One of the things that I did was gain 17 pounds before going out on Survivor just because I wanted to have a reservoir to live off of.
The worst feeling was being insanely disappointed in myself that I didn’t make it past three days. I had really high goals for myself. After going through such a long process and realizing that you have a one in twenty chance of winning, I became absolutely committed to playing the best game that I could potentially ever play. I’m human at the end of the day. I know that there are some people go out there and play a very honorable or villainous game. I just wanted to be the person everybody would say ‘I really like her. Not that she’s this super-aggressive game-player but she’s human. She’s got a good heart and her intentions are pure.’ That’s the most disappointing part — I wanted to be the person who people can really admire and relate to. I just felt like I disappointed myself and a lot of people. I missed my mom’s wedding for this and that really hurt me. That was the worst part of it all.
How hard was it watching yourself get voted off? Was that ripping off the Band-Aid after having all this time to recover? Or, were you kind of at peace at that point?
I don’t know that I will ever be at peace. I think I’m 93% okay. I’m not like bitter or holding any kind of grudges. I think watching it just gives me a different perspective, so it was cool to see it that way. It hurt a lot, but it’s cool to see conversations and what happened when you weren’t around. From a viewer point of view it’s great.
Of course, when my torch was snuffed I was bawling my eyes out. There were kids crying and people screaming at the screen — then there was me in a corner crying. Being excited and emotional and crying.
I feel like there are enough really memorable first and second boots at this point that you can make a season all around them. Would you want to come back for a season like that?
Hell yeah! If I come back it could be the craziest Survivor theme, it could be Mr. Rogers themed, and I would be like ‘hell yeah, I’m in that.’ If anything happens where I get an invitation back, I’m just stoked to be coming back. How many players come back? It’s not that often so I would be beyond happy! I would definitely play a hundred times better of a game.
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