Laurel, a 29-year-old financial consultant who currently resides in Minneapolis, MN, finished in third place after Wendell beat the runner-up, Domenick Abbate, by a single jury vote. Laurel was actually the person to cast the deciding vote for whom should win Survivor, and she chose to reward Wendell with the money.
This season marked the first time in Survivor's 36-season history a jury had a tie vote. Laurel received zero votes, which both Wendell and Dom each earned five from the jury.
During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Laurel talked about her Survivor: Ghost Island experience. Below is what she had to say.
Reality TV World: Laurel, walking into Final Tribal, how did you anticipate the jury voting would shake out? And how did your confidence level change after hearing the jury speak their minds?
Laurel Johnson: I walked in a lot more confident that I was by the end of Tribal Council. Going into Tribal, I thought I would have had Donathan's vote, I thought I would've had Angela's vote and I thought I would have scooped up a couple more Malolo votes in Libby and Jenna.
But as Final Tribal went on, it became clear to me that nothing I was going to say mattered. I thought I was pleading a pretty strong case, but everything I said was shot down by someone. Even if I was speaking the truth, it was shot down as a lie.
I think at one point, Chris Noble said, "Honestly, my vote is between Dom or Wendell." Michael said the same thing to me, like, "I'm voting for Dom or Wendell, and it doesn't matter what you say."
So it became pretty clear to me during Tribal Council it wasn't going to go my way, so yeah, as Tribal Council went on, that became more and more frustrating, that no matter what I said, it sounded like the jury's mind was already made up.
Reality TV World: Now that you know the results of the jury vote, is it safe to say you do you regret not flipping on Dom and Wendell when you had the chance?
Laurel Johnson: Yes! Now that I lost, I wish I had done something differently. I think you saw me wrestle throughout the game with thinking, "If I flip on the guys, I get one of them out, but I'm probably next to go.
Now, looking back, I wish I would have taken the shot because who knows! Maybe I wouldn't have been next to go. Maybe I would've ended up going on an Immunity [Challenge] run. Who knows how it would have turned out! I just thought in the moment I was making the better decision, but obviously given how it turned out, I guess I was not.
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Reality TV World: Many Survivor fans thought you had resigned yourself to thinking, "Well, third place is better than nothing," because you stuck with Dom and Wendell even though you told the cameras multiple times you couldn't beat them in the end. But now it sounds like you really thought you had a chance win once in the Final 3 with them?
Laurel Johnson: Yeah, I thought I did have a shot! Walking into Tribal Council, I thought Donathan and Angela's votes were a given, and you really only need four votes to win if the votes split a certain way. I didn't go in thinking, "If I get third place it's better than nothing."
But I thought, "This is my best chance of actually getting to the end and having a chance to win." I know America was dying for me to flip on the guys and take one of them out, but I think that would've just ended up screwing me.
And those guys were people who I looked at and knew they weren't going to turn on me. I didn't have that relationship with the other side. When you saw my try to work with Kellyn and then the next vote she burned me at the double Tribal with her two votes.
And that was the critical vote at eight when it was Angela, Chelsea and Kellyn who wanted to work with me, and I went to Angela and I went to Chelsea and I said, "I trust you guys both; I just don't trust Kellyn. And that's what I'm struggling with right now. She burned me and I don't trust her." And I just couldn't get past it.
Reality TV World: So was that vote the closest you came to actually betraying Dom and Wendell? Or maybe it was after Wendell chose Sebastian and Angela for the steak Reward? Because you seemed pretty pissed off about that. (Laughs)
Laurel Johnson: I think that vote with the girls was probably the closest because I thought that was a really big turning point in the game. The steak Reward, I forgot how upset I was! Watching it back I was cringing a little bit. (Laughs) I was really upset! I guess I was just really hungry and really wanted food, but no, it was probably at eight.
Reality TV World: Sebastian had also concocted a plan to take out Dom with his extra vote. Why not join him on that vote? Did you consider it? And did you decide not to go through with it because you thought Dom's fake idol was real?
Laurel Johnson: No. I actually knew Dom's fake idol was fake. I had actually seen the paper and I had seen whatever it said about this not being a real idol and you can only use it to bluff the jury. So I knew it was fake.
I got told about the plot to vote out Dom at the last second. And then I found out from Dom that he already knew about the plan. So I was actually considered Sebastian was going to target his double votes at me, knowing that I didn't have an idol for protection.
And that was another missed opportunity I wish we had taken advantage of. I actually don't think I realized in the moment that Sebastian flipped his vote and ended up voting for Donathan. I was very confused by that whole vote. But yeah, it fell through once we didn't have the extra vote.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction to the tie vote at the Final Tribal? And when Jeff Probst said you were going to be the tie-breaker vote, was that something you had already known from the rule book or did it come as a surprise to you?
Laurel Johnson: I was not expecting the tie at all! Because I thought if the guys would split the votes -- because they played a very similar game and they played the game together -- so I knew the jury would be split, some would go Dom, some would go Wendell.
I never thought it would be a tie. I did not walk into Tribal expecting to have to vote between Dom and Wendell. I think that's why I was in such shock.
And yes, I knew the rule. I think for me, it took me some time to realize it was actually a tie. I was confused at why he was reading the votes and what was going on. But once I knew it was a tie, I knew it was me. I knew the rule, so I knew it was going to come down to me.
Reality TV World: You mentioned in the finale you had deceived Wendell and Dom multiple times, that you didn't just go along with their decisions and plans the whole time. Would you mind sharing how you had deceived them? And which moves would you like to take ownership of?
Laurel Johnson: I was a bit frustrated with that, I mean, going back to the early days on Naviti when we took out [Morgan Ricke] to really solidify the split going forward, Dom and Wendell thought we were voting with them again -- Angela, actually, they were ready to turn on Angela.
They assumed the Malolo four were voting on Ang. We spent the entire day [plotting] and decided to take out Morgan instead. And blowing up the Desiree vote, I did it to save Kellyn. I don't think they knew that either. I played both sides the entire game.
I don't know if it just went unnoticed, but I thought that was my strength in there, that while Dom and Wendell thought I was with them, there were plenty of times where I was playing a double agent to the Malolo side also. I guess it didn't come across or the jury just didn't respect it. I'm not sure which it was, but it didn't work out.
Reality TV World: If you had flipped on Dom and Wendell during the game, what do you think your best course of action would have been? And is there anything else you wish you had done differently to hopefully change the outcome of the game?
Laurel Johnson: Flipping on them at a certain point, whether it was at eight or seven, getting one of them out of the game and then working to find idols to bring back into the game or going on an immunity run. I think it came across from the jury they were clearly looking for a bigger resume.
They were looking for a flashy move, they were looking for an idol play, they were looking for immunity wins. And I didn't have the flash they were looking for. I think that was a miscalculation on my part.
I think I put too much faith in votes I thought I had and respect I thought the jury would have for my game and bitterness they might have towards Dom and Wendell. I think I miscalculated that. So I think looking back, I've got to seek out the flash so you can impress the jury and come to Final Tribal and brag about it.
Reality TV World: The show made it look like you didn't practice making fire at all ahead of the fire-starting challenge. Is that accurate?
Laurel Johnson: Yes, we were all practicing, but if you know me, I was not a good fire maker. I could light fire -- or I could spark a fire -- but I was not going to beat Wendell or Dom or Angela at fire.
They were the three best fire makers at camp. And Wendell was actually the one who coached me on how to make fire throughout the season. We built a fire pit and would practice in it in the morning before everyone woke up. So while I could make a basic fire, I couldn't beat any of those three at fire.
Reality TV World: If you had won the final Immunity Challenge, whom would you have picked to make fire?
Laurel Johnson: I would've sent Dom and Wendell to make fire, but I think given the way that it went, whoever won the fire challenge probably would have beaten me or Angela in the end, so I don't think it would have made a difference at that point. I think it was just too late.
Reality TV World: Your edit made you look indecisive, and you've been criticized for riding Wendell and Dom's coattails. What are your thoughts on how you were portrayed this season?
Laurel Johnson: It was frustrating for me. Obviously I liked the game I was playing and I thought I was making the right move. It was really frustrating to hear people say, "Oh, she was just riding their coattails. She just wants to get to the end and lose; she's playing the game for them."
It was super frustrating, but I think we all knew what we were signing up for. We've all seen the show. We've seen how the edit goes. A couple of people end up as the hero, a couple of people are invisible, a couple of people end up with an edit they don't want. So, yeah, I was disappointed in it, but we signed up for it.
To begin reading Reality TV World's exclusive Survivor interviews with Wendell and Dom, click here to check out our Ghost Island page.