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 first half of what she had to say.
Reality TV World: Going into Tribal Council, did you believe Michael and Jenna were voting for Desiree with you? Were you surprised they actually wrote your name down?
Stephanie Johnson: I didn't think they were necessarily voting for Des. That was just a shot in the dark for me, and I knew they had plotted something.
Yeah, so, I knew that something was going to happen when they were going to flip, I guess. It was hard to watch them flip, but I knew going into [Tribal] they weren't working with them anymore.
Reality TV World: So how long before Tribal Council do you think the whole group made the decision to vote you out? The editing made it seem like the original Naviti alliance members had trouble making up their minds about whether to vote for Michael, Jenna or yourself.
Stephanie Johnson: I believe it all happened when I was on Ghost Island. I was away from the game for 24 hours, and that's a really long time inSurvivor time. Considering there's 39 days, 24 hours is a huge chunk of time in this.
And the amount of bonding they were able to do with the Naviti Five while I was gone was incredible.
You know, we all walked back from the Immunity Challenge and got back to camp and it was a different camp. I tried to talk to Jenna and Michael, and they were so aloof.
Jenna wouldn't look me in the eyes and Michael didn't want to strategize with me. And Michael is a player! For him to not want to strategize [was telling].
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Jenna could not be, you know, my bubbly best friend, and so I knew immediately they had taken the time to work something out so that they would be safe. Kudos to them! Like, they should have! It sucks for me, but had Jenna or Michael gone to Ghost Island, I would have done the same thing.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when you found out Desiree had searched through your bag? And why did you decide to vote Desiree instead of someone else -- either on your side or the other side?
Stephanie Johnson: I did not know that on the island. I did not know that she had searched through my bag on the island. Des and I just never really connected. She called me out after[Brendan Shapiro]'s Tribal for being really aggressive, and I had called her out for being the weakest player on our team.
And so, I threw my vote at her because if I had stayed, if by chance the votes had gone to Michael, I wanted [Bradley Kleihege] to know I was honoring [our deal] that I wouldn't vote for him again or throw him under the bus.
[Kellyn Bechtold] and I had a great relationship, so I wasn't going to vote for her. And [Chelsea Townsend] and I had a great relationship, so I didn't want her to see her name. And Seabass [Sebastian Noel] and I had, like, I mean, I was the original hair-braider! Just so we all know.
So I didn't want him to see me [write down] his name either. So that made Des the easy person, and I just didn't want Jenna or Michael to see that I voted for them if it ended up being one of them who left. So for me, it was just a toss-up, a throw-away vote.
Reality TV World: I'm assuming no one expected another tribal swap could be coming so soon -- as seems to be shown in the preview for next week's episode -- or else Bradley's alliance probably would have gotten rid of Michael when they had the chance. Did you pitch the idea of a tribal swap to save yourself?
Stephanie Johnson: Absolutely! I mean, I am a huge Super Fan and I was very aware a swap was most likely. Plus, our team was getting our asses kicked! So, I feel like I pitched that idea to Bradley and Kellyn, who were the two people out of the Naviti Five that were actually playing the game and strategizing.
I totally pitched that to them, especially at the end when I was talking to Bradley and Kellyn about how they could use me later on and they might need me at a vote later on and if they extended this branch to me and didn't vote me out, I really did owe them. I truly -- especially Kellyn -- I would've stayed loyal to Kellyn.
Reality TV World: So, putting yourself in their shoes, do you think all of the Naviti Five made the smartest choice possible in sticking together and taking you out?
Stephanie Johnson: Yeah, I mean, had the roles been reversed, I probably would've done the same thing depending on whom I was with. Like had it been me, Brendan, Jenna, Michael and [Libby Vincek] we would've completely stayed five strong, depending on the numbers.
But those five were -- they weren't budging. There was no way. There were cracks in the other Naviti.
Seeing [Morgan Ricke] get voted off gave us hope, but... Bradley and Kellyn were this massive power couple and the other three were just their mignons. They weren't there to play. They were just, I don't know, there. They weren't playing; they were following.
Reality TV World: When you returned from Ghost Island, did you tell everyone the truth that you had received no advantage or idol? If so, looking back, do you wish you had lied?! Because then maybe Bradley's alliance would've went after Michael or Jenna to avoid any surprises or complications.
Stephanie Johnson: Yeah, I told Michael and Jenna immediately, "Nothing happened. I don't have anything. What should we do?" I was pitching a few ideas I had thought of. I thought of big, strategic things we could try to pull off, but I needed their help!
I needed their votes, and as I said, they were so aloof. They were just like, "Yeah, we'll think it over," you know? So I didn't have their votes, and at that point, it was an individual game for me, as it was for all three of us.
But they were definitely a duo at that point. For me, it was individual, and I needed some extra votes. I could have bluffed, but Kellyn knows you can't find idols on Ghost Island, so for me to -- and then Jenna and Michael already knew the truth that I didn't have anything.
So at that point, I knew my best option was an idol hunt. I searched everywhere until the last, like, minute before Tribal for an idol.
And then I worked my personal relationships with Bradley, Chelsea and Kellyn in hopes that, you know -- especially Kellyn and Chelsea -- would want to keep a female over a strong male, because there are so many strong guys on this season.
Reality TV World: After we saw you trying to work some magic with Bradley, batting your eyelashes and what not, he told his alliance you were untrustworthy. How or why do you think he came to that conclusion?
Stephanie Johnson: It's because Bradley and I, well, we had a complicated relationship. It's complicated. We had kind of a love/hate, where we had a very good personal relationship and we had a lot of really great, intimate talks. We were really good friends out there.
But at Brendan's Tribal, I really spoke up, and I called Kellyn and him "a power couple" and said they were running the show. We were very forceful, and Michael was forceful as well.
So I definitely spoke up and called him out, and I think it hurt his feelings and he was like, "Ehh, I can't handle this. I'm going to get her out because I can't trust her now because she called me out for being a good player and having control all over you guys."