One day before Thanksgiving, 24-year-old wilderness therapy guide Cole Medders‘ elimination episode was shown to “Survivor” audiences on CBS. Did his unfortunate ouster ruin his family’s Thanksgiving? We recently spoke with the Little Rock, AR resident about why he thinks he was eliminated over fellow Healers Joe Mena and Mike Zahalsky, what his current relationship with “friend zone” partner Jessica Johnston is like today, and whether he ever considered throwing challenges to make himself look like less of a threat.
Listen to Cole Medders’ “Survivor” 35 exit interview podcast above, or read the transcript version below.
Gold Derby: Hey Cole, you know, your elimination episode of “Survivor” aired the day before Thanksgiving. So I’m just wondering, did that bad timing ruin the holidays for you guys – for you and your family?
Cole Medders: Oh, not at all. I had a great time watching my boot episode with my entire extended family, so they all got to see my get voted off, which wasn’t probably the best episode to have them all watch but it was still a really good time. I got a good hard time from all my aunts and uncles and grandparents.
GD: Well, I think we all kind of knew that one of the Healers was going home, but why do you think they chose you over Joe and Mike?
CM: Mike’s a really likable guy. I think they all really liked Mike, having him around. I think I’m a likable guy too, but I had had a lot of things pinned on me at this point that made it difficult, plus being a physical threat. Joe they saw as a person they could send home whenever they wanted to. I think the majority didn’t see him as being likable to be able to work with anyone down the road so they could choose whenever they wanted to to send him home.
GD: Do you think they made the right decision in voting you out? Because you were a huge physical threat out there – you won Immunities, you won rewards.
CM: Yeah, in some aspects I guess they were correct. Personally, and I’m not just saying this because I wanted to stay, but I would have voted for someone like Joe. You can’t win every Immunity Challenge. I was going to lose at some point just like I did that day and Joe is a very strategic and thoughtful player. I just wasn’t. I think we all knew that from watching the show but I think Joe was probably the more dangerous target.
GD: Some reality shows like “Big Brother,” the people always are throwing challenges to make themselves look like less of a threat. Is that something you ever considered, throwing challenges, or is that just not who Cole is?
CM: For the most part that’s just not who I am. I’m very competitive and I just wanted to win all the time but in our middle tribe on Yawa, me, Jess and Mike did discuss throwing a challenge to get rid of Ben and Lauren and in the process that would’ve saved Roark and Ali, who were with us.
GD: At your final Tribal you ended up voting for Ben. What was behind that decision?
CM: It had just been me vs. Ben for a while at that point. We were kind of almost rivals so I was just sticking to what I wanted to and just prove my point. I knew it wasn’t going to mean anything but I thought I’d just not vote against my alliance members from the whole show and vote against someone who was against me.
GD: Did you know you were going home or did you have an inkling that maybe you would stay?
CM: I knew almost 100% that I was going home. There wasn’t much of a doubt in my mind, especially once Mike pulled out his idol I knew 100% I was going home.
GD: Let’s switch gears and talk about Jessica. She told me a few weeks ago that you guys are in the “friend zone” now, so what’s your take on the whole showmance from the season?
CM: Yeah, it probably was not advisable getting involved in any degree of showmance but I won’t say that I regret it. I loved getting to know her on a more personal level and it definitely made my time on “Survivor” easier, because it can be a very lonely game when you don’t have anyone to trust or fall back onto and me and Jessica had that in each other for a little bit. Well maybe not me for her, after I spilled all of her secrets, but I could definitely trust her. But we’ve been able to hang out outside the show a few times. We have future plans to hang out. We talk on a regular basis. And who knows, the best relationships, I think, are built off of friendships so anything can happen.
GD: You’ll see each other at the finale, right, the reunion show on December 20th, too?
CM: Right, and then we have a ski trip planned shortly after that.
GD: You did get in hot water for spilling some of secrets, like when she found that secret advantage. Did you have any regrets about that?
CM: I did, especially watching back I had some regrets, watching how it hurt her emotionally. That was really tough to watch ‘cause in no way… nothing I did out there I ever wanted to hurt anyone with and for me, that’s how I played the game. I detached my emotions and myself personally from when it was gameplay. Like if I was talking strategy or telling secrets or in a challenge, that was the game, but outside of that I didn’t feel like I was even playing, which was a mistake on my part. The game never stops. I just stopped playing it sometimes.
GD: After the merge, why do you think the Heroes and Hustlers decided to team up against you Healers? Was it just bad numbers? I didn’t really understand why they kind of came together against you guys.
CM: I think it was honestly because we never lost a challenge and they just saw us as a threat, but at that point it doesn’t really matter anymore ‘cause we’re not playing as teams, but for the most part I think it was just they felt threatened and maybe they wanted revenge for losing to us so many times.
GD: Of those seven people, they’re all voting together, to vote out Desi and then you. Who do you think from that seven should have flipped and joined you? Who do you think’s at the bottom of that group?
CM: I think JP was without him really knowing it, and me and JP did have conversations before. He was willing to throw an Immunity Challenge, the one I got voted off of after. He was willing to throw that challenge if it came down to just me and him to keep me safe, so me and him could make the move together at the next Tribal Council. However, that never made it ‘cause it wasn’t really relevant.
GD: And Lauren came out of nowhere to win that, that was great for her.
CM: Yeah, she did an amazing job. She was rock solid in that challenge. I thought I felt really good too. I was really surprised when my urn dropped off the platform. I had no idea, I thought I was good to go.
GD: Of all the rewards that you won, can you pinpoint what one was your favorite reward? And along the same lines, what does the reward do to you, physically and mentally?
CM: My favorite reward was by far and away the sandwich feast on the yacht. There was so much food. There was probably more food than there was on the merge feast. It was crazy and plus we’re on a yacht, there’s dolphins jumping in the water and all of us actually decided not to talk any strategy on that reward which is a little odd, but we all really needed it. It was great to step outside of the game bubble and have our own space and just enjoy each other’s company and the people that we really were and not have to interact with the lying, manipulative, mean people that we had been experiencing for a while.
GD: And mentally, what does a reward do when you finally get sustenance and are able to eat and enjoy yourself?
CM: Mentally it gives you new life. While you’re out there just eating rice, not just hungry-wise but mentally, eating the same thing over and over again for days on end takes a toll on you. Meals that have something so flavorful and being in a positive environment, it really did give me new life and recharged me and gave me more motivation.
GD: We have a great fan question from G Ma Bonnie. She wants to know, “Did you get enough food to eat at Ponderosa?” I think that’s in reference to the fact that you actually fainted a few episodes ago from lack of food.
CM: Yeah, I did. I passed out because I had not eaten enough at all for a person my size and metabolism. So when I got back to Ponderosa that night after Tribal Council, I ate two large Meat Lovers pizzas, two cheeseburgers, bacon cheeseburgers, an entire box of Oreos, two chocolate shakes, and a few candy bars, and I actually threw up.
GD: Wow, that’s insane. What was it like after the initial gorge? Were you able to eat normally after that?
CM: Oh, my entire experience at Ponderosa was me stuffing my face. On my Ponderosa video I know it says I lost 13.5 pounds, but once I took all my dirty, heavy clothes off, that went up to almost 20 pounds that I had lost. So I put all of that weight back on, plus five pounds in my short stay at Ponderosa. That’s how much I ate.
GD: And Ben really got on your case about eating too much and he had that sit-down with you on the beach. What was your thoughts on Ben because he seems to be a fan favorite this season and you actually worked with him a lot at the Yawa camp.
CM: Yeah, I think Ben was playing a really good game. He got really upset with my eating habits, although they weren’t as bad as he made them out to be. I only stole, I think, two bites of peanut butter and then I ate the fish for myself because I had been fishing for everyone on a regular basis and using a lot of energy, so I used the fish for myself to replenish that energy but Ben once we hit the merge, told everyone about my eating habits and exaggerated them and then I was trying to cook for everyone to be helpful and useful, but Ben told everyone that while I was cooking I would add extra rice to my portions and it just made me look even worse, so Ben was being a really good player and using what I had given him as ammunition.
GD: Well last question, Cole, now that you’re a jury member, what are you looking for in terms of who you will vote for in the end to win the million dollars?
CM: I’m looking for whoever played “Survivor” the best, and not just on the social level or not just the physical level, but an equal blend of everything, and right now I think leaving the game, I think Ben was playing the strongest. He could make a fire, he could open a coconut, he knew how to actually survive, plus he was in the top of a major alliance and had also won a lot of challenges as well, so I think leaving the game at that point, he was probably who I would’ve voted for.
GD: Awesome, well great to talk to you. Have a great ski trip with Jessica, we wanna know all about it.
CM: Oh, I will definitely let you know. It’s gonna be fun.
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