Mike, a 43-year-old urologist from Parkland, FL, was sent packing -- although Ben was the tribe's main target at the time -- because Ben found his third hidden Immunity Idol of the game and played it to save himself.
Devon cast his vote for Mike just in case Ben had an idol, but Ben cast his vote for Devon. So on the re-vote, Mike was voted out of the game. Mike's obvious mistake was not voting for Devon instead of Ben in order to ensure his name wouldn't be on the chopping block.
During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Mike talked about his Survivor experience, which was a dream come true for him. Below is what he had to say.
Reality TV World: Could you tell me whom you voted for and why you made that decision?
Mike Zahalsky: Sure. I voted for Chrissy and I made this decision because if you look at finding Immunity Idols and winning Individual Immunities, Chrissy had four vs. Ben had three. At the same time, Chrissy went from the top with Ben to the bottom, and then she worked her way back up to the top.
Ben went from the top to the bottom, and he never worked his way back up. And then third, because Chrissy gave me an unbelievable experience with my wife in Fiji. I don't know if anyone else would have done that, and it was amazing. And so, I was rewarding her for that.
In retrospect, maybe I would have voted for Ben, but I think both of them represent our season very well, because they were both great competitors out there. But that was my vote at the time, and I'm happy Ben won, but I also would've been happy if Chrissy won.
Reality TV World: Would anything have changed in your mind had Devon made it to the Final 3 instead of Ben? Would you still have voted for Chrissy to win?
Mike Zahalsky: If Devon made the Final 3 instead of Ben, yeah, I think I would have voted for Devon. Devon and I were in an alliance for a while, and before my "Statue of Liberty" speech, you guys don't see the edit, but Devon and I had a really tight bond and connection. And so, I would've voted for Devon, I think, if he made the Final 3.
Reality TV World: If Ben and Devon made it to Final 3 together, do you think Ben would've still won hands-down?
Mike Zahalsky: I think Devon might have very possibly beaten Ben if they both went to Final 3. I think it was about earning the jury's respect, and Devon earned their respect... He was a great player out there. Kudos to Devon. He was awesome and everybody loved him.
Reality TV World: You kept saying you would have won Survivor had you made the Final 3. Did you really mean that? If so, can you explain why you felt the jury would vote for you to win? And did you believe you could have defeated everyone, or just particular individuals?
Mike Zahalsky: Are you telling me you don't believe that?! (Laughs) So here's the thing, is that I think people underestimated the bond I had with the three Healers out there. And so, I felt pretty comfortable in saying that I would have gotten the Healers' votes if I had made the Final Tribal.
I think I needed to beat Ben. If we could've sent Ben home, then I think I would've taken [the money], but at the same time, my other competition was Devon. Devon had a fantastic game out there.
And so it's like, you know, I saw this path -- especially when I got to five: "Send Ben home, then send Devon home, and then we're good!" And I just couldn't get it [done].
Devon was shown in his interviews talking all about trust, and so [I thought], "If I vote Devon out, the three of them are going to turn on me," you know? If I wrote Devon's name down and Devon went back to the tribe at camp, the three of them would turn on me and I would be toast. So I hedged my bets, I wrote Ben's name down, and it was a mistake. And because of that, yeah, do I think I lost Survivor? Yes.
Reality TV World: You said you had told Ryan your initial plan to write Devon's name down, so what had Ryan's reaction been at the time? Did Ryan's reaction play a role in you choosing to just write Ben's name down?
Mike Zahalsky: No, Ryan's reaction was like, "Okay, you should do that!" (Laughs) It was not the same reaction when we saw that Devon told Ryan he was going to vote for me. Devon told Ryan after I told Ryan, which is interesting, because again, everyone is trying to stack the votes and see whom they could beat.
And I think Ryan at that point thought he could beat me and not Devon in a Final 3. I mean, I'm just speculating, I don't know the answer on that. And I don't think Ryan could have beaten Devon. Ryan was underestimating my connection with the jury with the Healers, and that was what was saving my game. You know, I think they were underestimating my jury connection.
Reality TV World: Devon was a little nervous to write your name down at the Tribal when you went home. Say Ben didn't have an idol to play and went home, how would you have behaved towards Devon back at camp? And what would your ideal Final 3 have been at that point?
Mike Zahalsky: I think, hopefully yes, Devon would have gotten the boot. I think I could have made an argument in taking Devon with me, but I felt pretty strongly that either Chrissy or I would win that last Immunity Challenge -- as long as it wasn't a balance thing, and there have been so many balance things!
But I was betting that it wasn't going to be one, but I think in my mind, if I admitted -- and you can ask Devon this -- if I was in the Final 4, and Devon won, would he have taken me to the Final 3 with him? And I think he probably was.
I could be wrong... but I think Ryan was taking me to the Final 3 and Chrissy was taking me to the Final 3, or at least I thought they were. And then unfortunately, I don't know.
They just at some point, you know, it was like a tie, and I feel like they had this, like, dawning of, "Wait, Mike has the Healers on the jury." And I don't think they realized that... I know it sounds crazy (laughs) but I almost had them fooled! And then they figured it out at Tribal, at the last Tribal.
Reality TV World: A moment from the season that got fans talking was when you had half of Lauren Rimmer's shell idol and threw it into the fire. Why not hold onto it for negotiation purposes or a future bribe? Because it seemed at the time that all throwing it away would do is make an enemy for yourself.
Mike Zahalsky: Yeah, you know what? Lauren and I were good friends out there, and we had a connection that you don't see. Yes, I threw away the idol, but was I ever going to give it back to her? No way. Would she have ever given me back the other piece? No.
And so, in my mind, instead of having a fight about me not giving it back to her, I just got rid of it. Plus, it was all about the jury posture, right? I had been on the wrong side of the vote a lot of times, and I had to make sure the jury knew that I was still playing this game!
And this was my way of saying, "Look, I'm doing my thing out here and people aren't telling me really what to do." Plus, what you don't see is, you know, Lauren had the extra vote. She goes home with an extra vote in her pocket. Like, she wasn't mad. All I'm saying is like, Lauren was not mad at me for doing it, and I don't know, we were just playing the game.
Reality TV World: Do you think hidden Immunity Idols have gotten out of hand? I mean it almost seemsSurvivor is at the point where strategy doesn't matter anymore and luck is becoming a huge factor in people advancing or even winning.
Mike Zahalsky: I think there's a role for the idols, I think there's a role for Immunity Challenges, and I was also playing the strategic game ofSurvivor.
To read Reality TV World's exclusive Survivor interviews with the rest of Season 35's Final 5 castaways, click here to view our show page.