Stephanie, a 34-year-old yoga instructor from Boise, ID, was voted out of the game on Night 14 at Tribal Council through a unanimous vote. Stephanie had cast her sole vote for Desiree Afuye, a 21-year-old student from Brooklyn, NY.
Stephanie and her two allies Jenna Bowman, a 23-year-old account executive from Detroit, MI, and Michael Yerger, an 18-year-old real estate agent from Knoxville, TN, were on the outs of their tribe since they were the only original Malolo players left, standing against five-strong original Naviti members.
"I've been waiting 36 seasons to play this game, and to go out fifth and not be able to have the full experience breaks my heart," Stephanie said following her ouster.
During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Stephanie talked about her Survivor experience. Below is the concluding portion of what she had to say.
Reality TV World: We saw Bradley Kleihege's alliance reasoning that you were a more strategic player than Jenna, but Michael was going to be more useful to them in physical challenges. Do you think that pretty much sums up why you were the target?
Stephanie Johnson: I felt like Jenna was never going to be the target. I mean, she's not -- she wasn't as strategic and definitely not as social. I had way more social connections with people than her. But between Michael and I, I think we both showed strength.
I'm just as strong as a lot of the guys out there, and I definitely showed my strategy and I was playing the game and I was social, so I think it just came down to Michael and Jenna had that opportunity to really plot and kind of twist the game in their favor while I was gone [to Ghost Island]. What better time to do it?
Reality TV World: Do you think Jenna's flirtation with Sebastian Noel played a big role in your vote-off? Do you think Sebastian campaigned to keep Jenna around after that?
Stephanie Johnson: Oh absolutely! I mean, they definitely had eyes for each other the second he was there. And Jenna and I had a lot of girl-talk; she was definitely into Sebastian. As soon as they got there, they started sleeping next to each other.
And I was very aware that that was happening. I just didn't think Jenna would flip on me like that. I was really shocked that Jenna didn't choose me to flip and that she chose Michael.
Reality TV World: Okay so there really was a romance between Jenna and Sebastian. While watching the episode, I was wondering if she was flirting with him to save herself or if there was genuine interest.
Reality TV World: Survivor fans have noticed the cast this season have been wearing their underwear this whole time, (laughs) not their bathing suits. Was that some kind of rule change? It's odd for the castaways to not be wearing swimsuits at this point in the season.
Stephanie Johnson: It was horrible! And I lost 10 pounds in 14 days, which I don't have 10 pounds to lose! If you noticed, I had my underwear up high because I can't even count how many times they fell off! I outgrew them after, like, three days. It was horrible!
It was kind of disgusting, like, people would get holes in their underwear, you know? It was just as raw as it could get. People walking around in their underwear for that long, it was gross. But it's Survivorand you've got to roll with the grossness!
Reality TV World: So it sounds like there was a rule change. I know producers drastically cut the tribes' portions of rice, so I figured this underwear twist was part of the show's attempt to have the castaways rough-it more out there. (Laughs)
Stephanie Johnson: Yeah, I think it was! I mean, we were only eating maybe two tablespoons of rice a day and, like, a handful of coconut. And we were all in this paper-thin underwear. It was very raw; we were very vulnerable. It's funny seeing yourself on national TV walking around in your bra and underwear like I'd be walking down the street in that. It's like no big deal!
Reality TV World: When you arrived at Ghost Island, did instructions specifically state castaways had to break those cylinders from left to right, proceeding one after the other? I'm wondering if you could choose whichever one you wanted but opted to stick with the pattern.
Stephanie Johnson: You had to go in order. You definitely had to go in order, and it's crazy because for me, I didn't know there was not a chance to play a game. Because [Jacob Derwin] and Kellyn told me that, [in terms of] being able to play, Jacob did and Kellyn didn't.
But I didn't see [Donathan Hurley] and Chris' experience of them not being able to. So when I got that "no game today," I was shocked -- and I was pissed!
Because that's the first I knew you weren't allowed to play a game at Ghost Island. In my mind, I was so excited to go because I knew it was a 50/50 shot I was going to get something good! [I thought], "Could I go down in flames and lose my vote or could I go out swinging with an advantage?"
Reality TV World: The turning point in your game was when Michael played his idol for you and Brendan went home. Tell me a little bit about what transpired at that Tribal. Did you flat out ask Michael to play his idol for you? Were you at least made aware he wanted to play it for you beforehand?
Stephanie Johnson: Well, I had told Michael that day that I was positive it was me. So Michael had chirping in his ear, me saying that it was 100 percent me and Brendan saying it was 100 percent him. We both thought it was going to be us.
So when Michael got up there -- first of all, when he orchestrated it was for two people, that caught us all off-guard, and that was beautiful! He impressed me so much with that, and it was such a fun moment to see Bradley's face turn white as a ghost and his eyes bug out.
And then we he got a chance to play it and he said it was for two, I was like, "Okay, who's he going to pick? Because he has to pick one of the two of us." I knew that, and Brendan and Jenna and Michael knew that, but then he flipped it to me.
And it happened so fast that in my mind, I was like, "Oh my gosh, I'm safe! Yes!" You know, I'm not going to turn down somebody giving me an idol, and I had told him that I thought it was going to be me. So, I was like, "Great! I'll live to see another day regardless."
I do wish we could have had a better read. Like I said, it happened so fast, but I think if he had 10 more seconds to sit and analyze, I would've spoke up and said, "No, look at him! He's freaking out. Give it to Brendan," or something.
I think one of us would've caught on and spoke up and said something -- could've, would've, should've. But it was heart-wrenching to see Brendan go, especially for him to go out when we were trying to make this big, awesome move.
Reality TV World: When did you find out Michael was only 18 when playing the game? The castaways I've spoken to before you were all surprised by that.
Stephanie Johnson: Oh my God. It was definitely shocking. You could've told me he was 28. He definitely carries himself and has an emotional intelligence and a self-awareness and an ability to connect with people like I've never seen from an 18 year old. He has more maturity than most 30 years olds. That's what I know!
Reality TV World: It seemed like everyone got really emotional by your vote-off, especially Kellyn. You don't think she ever came close to changing her mind, especially since you said she was really playing the game?
Stephanie Johnson: No, there was no way anybody was flipping. That five were not going to budge. Bradley and Kellyn have those three under such tight rein, that they say, "Jump," and the rest say, "How high?"
Reality TV World: You clearly wanted to play Survivor for a very long time. So how many times did you actually apply and did you come close to getting on a previous season?
Stephanie Johnson: I had probably applied 12-15ish times. I actually don't even know because I started 16 years ago, or 17 years ago, when we were still making VHS tapes.
So I don't even know how many times. Now you can apply online, but it only lets you do it from one email address, so there was a point when I was making up email addresses to send in different videos. I bugged the hell out of them, but this is the first time I made it to finals and that I got that far.