Ryan Ulrich finished Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers in third place during the live portion of Wednesday night's finale broadcast on CBS.

Ryan, a 23-year-old bellhop from North Arlington, NJ, lost out on the $1 million grand prize when the Season 35 jury voted for Ben Driebergen to win and Chrissy Hofbeck to finish as the runner-up.

Ben was shown receiving four jury votes, while Chrissy received two. Ryan was only shown receiving one vote from his pal Devon, who placed fourth in the game this season. (One jury vote was not unveiled by Survivor host Jeff Probst during the reunion show). As for Mike "Dr. Mike" Zahalsky, he claimed fifth place. 

Ben was Public Enemy No. 1 for days, if not weeks, but he kept finding hidden Immunity Idols to save himself. He also beat Devon in a final fire-making challenge.

During an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Ryan talked about his Survivor experience and coming so close to victory, but falling short. Below is what he had to say.

Reality TV World: Could you confirm that Devon was the only person who voted for you to win? If so, did it surprise you that you didn't receive votes from anyone else?

Ryan Ulrich: Yeah, for the first part, Devon did vote for me. I wasn't really surprised by that. Me and Devon had a really good relationship. Even though we didn't work together the entire game, Devon and I were always kind of looking out for each other. So yeah, Devon was the only one that voted for me.

Reality TV World: Joe Mena said he realized you were a "puppetmaster" at the final jury questioning, but as time went on, things didn't seem to be going your way. Did you get that sense while you were out there and do you wish you had said anything else or made any other points to help your case?

Ryan Ulrich: No. Joe did say I was a puppetmaster I think, but I don't think Joe was ever going to vote for anybody else but Ben if Ben was in that Final 3. And no, I don't think there was anything else any of us could have said. That Tribal Council was three-and-a-half hours, and everybody made every sentence of every case that they thought could have swayed the jury.

And I think I underestimated how locked the jury was going to be going into Final Tribal. I think the new format gives players a better chance to voice their opinions, but I don't think anybody -- any juror -- really changes their mind at Tribal.

Reality TV World: Whom do you think would have won if Devon won the fire-making challenge and went to the Final 3 instead of Ben? So it would've been Devon, Chrissy and yourself sitting together.

Ryan Ulrich: Yeah, so if there's no fire challenge, I think -- I know Chrissy would get Mike, probably [JP Hilsabeck], and maybe [Ashley Nolan], who would be in between [Chrissy] and Devon. And then Devon would get [Lauren Rimmer] and maybe Ashley, and then either [Desi Williams] or [Cole Medders].

And then I would probably have a good shot at [Joe Mena] and Ben. I have no idea, you know? Unfortunately we have no idea because that was going to be the Final 3 with the twist, and the twist didn't really benefit myself, Chrissy or Devon.
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So, I don't know. The theme was just, "Don't go to the end with Ben!" And (laughs) unfortunately for me and Chrissy, that's what ended up happening to us.

You know, if Mike and Devon were sitting with Ben, or if Ashley was sitting with Ben, I don't think they would have beaten Ben. Because that was the theme -- just don't go to the end with Ben, and that ended up happening, so it was unfortunate for us.

Reality TV World: How confident were you that Devon was going to defeat Ben in the fire-starting challenge? And how many fires did you personally start throughout the season? I know you said providing for the tribe and building the shelter weren't exactly your strengths in the game.

Ryan Ulrich: To the first part, I thought they both had a pretty good chance. I knew they were both capable. I remember I think I said to Chrissy at Tribal, "I think it's going to go fast," because I think they both built fires a lot.

But at the challenge, you're working with a knife and not a machete that usually makes the fire, so it was a little bit of a different mechanism than at camp. And I had never made a fire at camp, no. (Laughs)

I really don't think I would've lasted -- no chance. But I mean, flints are funny, you know, because sometimes they just don't take. And Devon is very capable of making fire. He made one pretty much every day, if not every other day, and it just didn't take. So you never know with those flints.

Reality TV World: You started off the game really strong, as a big strategic and social threat. But from a viewer's perspective, you seemed to become relaxed or go with the flow as time progressed. Was that just because you felt safe within your alliance, or were you more concerned about surviving votes than you were about your Survivor resume at that point?

Ryan Ulrich: No, no, I don't think I became relaxed. I did come in really hot pre-merge when I voted off [Ali Elliott], who was on my tribe and one of the Hustlers. So, I really wanted the Heroes and Hustlers to work together, and I wanted to continue working with Chrissy and Devon.

So, I don't think I became relaxed. It's just I felt my best path was not working with Mike or Joe, because I felt like the longer they were in the game, the more dangerous they were going to become.

So my path, and I thought the best thing for me, was to try to dupe Ben and get to the seven and take him right out at the knees and then work from there. So I thought I had a lot of avenues.

But when I got pre-empted and my bigger plan didn't work, it kind of was perceived that I wasn't doing anything, you know, and me and Chrissy were on the bottom and then Chrissy starts winning immunities, and then it was like, "What did Ryan do?"

So it was a tough spot to be in, but that's how the cards fell. So I don't think I was relaxed though. I think they just moved before I did, and in hindsight, I would definitely go back to Final 9 and do something different.

Reality TV World: When Mike went home, he said in his final words that Chrissy and yourself probably voted him off because you felt you needed to keep Devon around to increase your chances of Ben not making the Final 4 or 3. Was that actually the case? Why did you opt to keep Devon?

Ryan Ulrich: Yeah, you know, a couple of reasons: I always had Devon's back and honestly, it was the challenge performance in my mind. I don't know if Chrissy would have a different answer, but I think Mike asked that at Final Tribal Council and I said, "You were a jury threat with the Healers and you had a good relationship with Lauren and Ashley."

At that point, it was just, "Okay, everybody has to beat Ben and then Ben can go home and be on the jury." But yeah, I think that would have something to do with it. Mike's a very perceptive guy and he's a good player, so I think he sees every angle of why somebody would vote somebody out.

Reality TV World: Did Mike really tell you that he was going to vote for Devon before the Tribal Council when he went home? If so, what was your reaction, and did you tell Chrissy or Devon about it?

Ryan Ulrich: Yeah! Yeah. I told nobody. I told nobody. I was like, "Have at it." Because what do three votes on Ben do? Because if it's two votes on Ben and either two votes on Devon or Mike, we would just go to a re-vote and we would've voted out Ben if he didn't have the idol.

So yeah, I think it was a great move by Devon ultimately to put down Mike's name, but yeah, I knew pretty much that they were going to be voting for each other and Mike just didn't vote for Devon. He voted for Ben at that Tribal. And I don't know [why].

It's Night 37 and I can't explain how hungry and paranoid everybody is, you know? And you try to think one move ahead, so I think Mike was thinking, "Okay, let me not make Devon mad. If Devon wins immunity tomorrow, I don't want him gunning for me."

So I get it. I get that may be a regret of his, but I wouldn't really knock him over it. It's a tough decision and I think he played great.

Reality TV World: Do you think hidden Immunity Idols have gotten out of hand in the game? It almost seems Survivor is at the point where strategy doesn't matter anymore and luck, like stumbling across a clue or advantage, is becoming a huge factor in people advancing.

Ryan Ulrich: I think there has to be a round where we can get you, you know? Without relying on an idol or twist, because I don't know, I have always viewed Survivor as a social and strategic game, and there's not much social gameplay within playing an idol or making a fire.

So, I don't know. That's a tough question. Survivor always has twists and advantages and votes changing, but for me, I just think there should be a round where we can get -- have the opportunity to vote someone out if they don't win immunity.

Reality TV World: How would you respond to criticism that your alliance made a big mistake in choosing to not follow Ben around when he went looking for idols at camp?

Ryan Ulrich: Ben looked for idols with the same ferocity when I was watching him as he did when nobody was watching him. So he just wanted the idol and it didn't matter who saw. It didn't matter.

To begin reading Reality TV World's exclusive Survivor interview with Ben, click here. And to find out what Chrissy had to say, click here.

About The Author: Elizabeth Kwiatkowski
Elizabeth Kwiatkowski is Associate Editor of Reality TV World and has been covering the reality TV genre for more than a decade.