Stephanie Valencia thought she'd made a good move when she allied herself with two-time Survivor runner-up Russell Hantz on Survivor: Redemption Island's first day.
However, unfortunately for Stephanie, most of the rest of her Zapatera tribemates weren't happy about Russell's Survivor return and made she and ally Krista Klumpp their next targets after they intentionally threw a challenge and voted the former Survivor: Samoa and Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains castaway out of the game.
On Thursday, the 25-year-old waitress from Long Beach, CA talked to Reality TV World about her Survivor: Redemption Island experience -- including whether she was surprised her tribe opted to keep Sarita White over her, why she felt it was important to keep attempting to convince Ralph Kiser to vote Sarita off next even after she was eliminated from the game, and whether she really hadn't seemed to anticipate that allying with Survivor's most infamous villain might not work out.
Reality TV World: Had you gone into the Tribal Council session where you were voted off believing [David Murphy] and yourself had managed to secure enough votes to save you or had you been expecting to be the one voted out?
Stephanie Valencia: Well going into any Tribal Council -- even the first one where we were pretty sure that [Ralph Kiser] was going to go if we could get [Julie Wolfe] to side with us -- I always think, 'Okay, there's a chance that I might be the one going home.'
I didn't want to be too confident in any Tribal, so even though this was kind of -- David was rooting for me -- I already had my mind set like, 'Okay, I'm going to probably end up at Redemption Island and I just need to be ready to just go.'
So, I was hoping a little bit, little bit, but that would have been way too much to ask for Zapatera at that point to be like that. It's better to be a strong tribe than it is to have the trust right now. So, I was like, 'Nope, they don't realize how important it is to have the numbers before the merge to keep around.'
Reality TV World: Why did you feel it was important to keep trying to convince Ralph to side with David over Sarita White even after you lost the duel? Was that some newfound loyalty to David, or a desire to get some revenge on Sarita, or something else?
Stephanie Valencia: Both. I felt it was -- I mean, Dave put his neck out there for me -- because once he realized he had nothing in common with these people -- they're not thinking about the future, they're not thinking about having the strongest tribemates during the merge and how important that is -- I just wanted to make sure he's going to take care of me a little bit, I'm going to take care of him a little bit.
I don't think Sarita should have made it that far in the game. If things would be different if people were focused on having more numbers in the merge, Sarita should be the first one to go because she was the weakest competitor. So, I kind of put that out there as much as I possible could.
Reality TV World: Things seemed to change once Krista Klumpp was gone, but the two of you had seemed to initially continue to clash with the rest of your tribe instead of trying to make some in-roads with them once Russell Hantz was voted out of the game and lost his duel. Was that accurate, and if so why was that? Because it came across as a bit of an odd strategy.
Stephanie Valencia: Well, I did try. I had consistently been working in camp, I went crab hunting, I'd always watch the fire at night -- that means putting in new wood -- make a new bed and everything, so I was consistently pulling my own weight at camp and pulling my own weight in challenges.
So, I didn't want to be too dramatic. I didn't want to be different, you know, come back after Russell's gone and pretend to be fricking nice to everyone. It would come off fake and then I'd get voted off and I wouldn't be proud of myself and my actions of having to change who I am just to make these people get along with me.
I was like, 'I'm just going to do what I've done and be consistent. I'll clean up around here, make the food, tend to the fire, doing things that I was doing already.'
And then hopefully, naturally opening up to these people and hoping that they would take me in and realize that I'm not being fake, that I'm naturally trying to make real connections here and making an effort too. So, they don't show most me trying to [make] an effort and still being consistent in what I've done from day one.
Reality TV World: Before Krista was eliminated, Julie was shown telling Sarita that she still had hopes for swaying you, but she didn't even want to "waste [her] breath" on Krista anymore. Were you aware she felt that way while you were out there, and do you have any explanation for why? Because based on what got shown on TV, you seemed to be the much more outspoken "Russell disciple" compared to Krista.
Stephanie Valencia: Well, Krista's a very sweet girl, so I think if they couldn't get along with Krista, then there's something wrong with them. That alone, I'm like, 'How could you not get along with Krista? She's so sweet. Something's wrong with you guys.'
When Julie was saying that about Krista or any tribe member, it just again reminds me that these people are not thinking of the future of this game. They're thinking about what's making them comfortable now.
I think when Julie said, 'Oh, we lost but it's really a win-win because we get to get rid of someone,' I'm like, 'How is that a win-win that someone on your tribe is going home? That is not a win-win.
That means that you might get into the merge, but you're not going to make it to the top three and your priority of getting into this game should have been to win a million dollars. Not to see how far you can get without getting your head on the chopping block and being afraid of that.'
I just didn't understand why she thought that was a win-win situation. You're never winning when you're losing and going into the merge without the numbers.
Reality TV World: That's what was a little bit confusing about when Russell was gone. Your big strategy with Krista seemed to be to let the other tribe know you two were planning on flipping if the merge came, but we didn't see a lot of you strategizing about how you were actually going to get to the merge to be able to do that. Were you hoping for a tribal swap or winning challenges or was there something else going on that we didn't see?
Stephanie Valencia: I wasn't hoping for a tribal swap any time soon, because I wanted to really -- I did want to go into the merge with some kind of loyalty with my tribemates. I really did -- but I can only try so hard and get shot down, because then I'm like, 'Is there something wrong with me? Does nobody get along with me?'
I just think it's personality clashes, like I tried to just be myself and I just felt they weren't sincere half of the time, so it's just tough having to deal with big personalities and they didn't want to deal with you anyway because they're like, 'Oh, if we lose, we can just get rid of them.'
So, they were only thinking short term and when I would say, 'Well when we get to the merge, we want to have numbers, and no one thinks that's important, and I don't understand how we can't at least have that in common.'
Reality TV World: What made you decide to align with Russell -- because you obviously still didn't have the numbers when you aligned with him, and you were certainly aware of his history of how he seems to ally with young women he doesn't appear to hold in very high regard and considers somewhat "disposable" if he has to get rid of them along the way. Can you talk about what made you decide to jump onboard with him?
Stephanie Valencia: Well, it's funny that he finds some of his people disposable, because I don't think -- to me, I didn't see it that way -- I had that opportunity where it was like, 'Oh, he likes going to the top and he never wins a million dollars and no one will ever vote for him. That's awesome! I think I need someone like that.
If I'm creating a perfect top three, I don't want to be the most hated one out of the top three because I'm here to win a million dollars and I want them to vote for me at the end, and since Russell already has the reputation of taking his alliances up to the top three and never getting a single vote, that's awesome for me! That's in my favor.'
So, I saw him and as a fan of Survivor, I remember thinking, 'Oh my God. I love watching him play the game, because he's so entertaining, because he comes up with all these different ways and tries to -- any bad situation, he can squirm his way out of -- he looks bad if people don't vote for him, and that's why I wanted him on my tribe.
Reality TV World: Since you're a fan of Survivor, I'm sure you're aware that Russell's critics have always argued the only reason he was able to get as far as he did during his second Survivor season was because no one had gotten to see his first Survivor season yet [since they were filmed back-to-back], and if anyone had seen his first season, he would've been voted out of the game right away the second time around -- which was how it played out this time. But you obviously never felt that way?
Stephanie Valencia: No, I didn't feel that way. Of course I was like, 'Okay, if we can get to the merge with numbers, but to also have him on our side -- I was still watching my back the entire time -- they don't show me, but when he did come up to me and was like, 'Oh, do you want to be in my alliance? You can be that one top girl?'
I was excited in the moment, but of course I'm worried, because I'm just like, 'Okay, what if we do get to the top and he starts playing things differently and he backstabs me? Do I want to get rid of him just because he's intense to deal with in the game?'
So it's like, 'Would I be able to deal with the alliance I've formed in the beginning all the way to the end or is it going to be easier for me to get rid of him?' It's just initially, I felt it was good to have him because he does do incredibly well in challenges and my priority was to get into the merge with numbers so that we can wipe out the opposing team and then turn on each other.
That's to me, a huge game in Survivor instead of having to throw a challenge and then watch everything go downhill from there.
Reality TV World: How were you cast on Survivor? How did you end up on the show?
Stephanie Valencia: I got a phone call from [formerSurvivor: Gabon castaway Paloma Soto-Castillo] and she heard a couple of stories about me and she was interested to get to know me and she asked me if that was something I wanted to do and I was like, 'Abso-f***ing-lutely! I would love to!' It seemed amazing. It's one of the best opportunities I've ever had in my life.
It was such a great experience. I mean, all of this right now, even watching it, doesn't compare to being in the actual moment, being on the island, going through starving, going through weather, and you wake up everyday and think, 'Okay! Things could be worse!'
So, nothing will ever top that experience and I feel so honored and grateful, and I feel very lucky.