Desi Williams (‘Survivor’ 35) exit interview: They saw me as a ‘bigger threat’ than Joe Mena [PODCAST]

Wednesday night on CBS, 27-year-old physical therapist Desi Williams was voted out of “Survivor” after a tie vote with fellow Healer Joe Mena. (Read our “Survivor” 35 Episode 8 recap.) While most people thought that either Joe or Cole Medders would be eliminated, Cole ended up winning the immunity challenge while Joe somehow, someway escaped the re-vote.

We recently spoke with the Newport News, VA resident about why her tribe mates saw her as a “bigger threat” than Joe, what she thought of the physical altercation at camp as people searched for a hidden idol, and what it was like winning the first individual immunity challenge of “Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.” Listen to Desi Williams’s exit interview podcast above, or read the transcript version below.

Gold Derby: Okay Desi, so I have to say, I am a little confused about why they voted you out last night on “Survivor.” I mean, I get they wanted to split the votes between you and Joe — that makes sense in case one of you had an Idol. But during the tiebreaker, why did they unanimously keep him over you?

Desi Williams: Yeah, so my only insight in what I’ve conceptualized in my head is that they felt like long-term I was the bigger threat for a couple of reasons. One, Joe had sort of proven himself two immunity challenges back to back that he wasn’t necessarily a challenge threat. He had not performed well in back to back challenges, whereas of course I won the first one and then was final 3 in the second so I think in that regard they felt like later on, “Joe’s definitely gonna lose, Desi could possibly keep winning and then we can’t get rid of her.” Secondly, I think they look way down the line, and that’s what you have to do in “Survivor,” at the Final Tribal Council. I think they felt that Joe had pissed off enough people that they could maybe sit next to him at the Final 3 and people dislike him so much that they just would not vote for him, whereas I think at this point in the game I hadn’t pissed off enough people and enough people liked me that if by chance I made it to Final 3 as well, that I might possibly get votes. So that’s kind of what I’ve conceptualized as the reason why they were gunning for me last night as opposed to Joe.

GD: How bummed were you, between 1 and 10?

DW: (Laughs) Okay, so here’s also the thing is I sort of had a feeling I was going home. We had speculated about the fact that they… maybe they had already told Mike, I can’t really remember the sequence of events but they were splitting votes between me and Joe. And so really the harder thing I was dealing with was in my head, and I have had some confessionals, too, that weren’t aired, I knew or at least had a feeling that I could vote for Joe and secure that I was safe this vote. I had a very good sense of that. The harder issue I was having was that, I for one, am a very loyal person and not deceitful at all in my everyday life and thought I could turn that off for the game of “Survivor” but we had gotten to a point in “Survivor” where I had had so many conversations with so many people that then it turned out that they were lying to my face.

Joe was literally the only person left on the island who I felt like was telling me the truth. I felt like he was loyal to me, he wasn’t gonna write my name down, and even outside the world of “Survivor” I knew that I’d have to reintegrate into a life where I need to trust that people aren’t lying to me all the time and I felt like had I turned my back on him, I might never be able to trust people again. And I know that seems like so big and so over the top but that’s really the moral dilemma I was having. So I was bummed, but I expected it, and I also was very aware that I could have prevented it, which I think was the tougher thing was that I couldn’t make myself do the one thing that would’ve kept me safe in the game, and that’s writing Joe’s name down.

GD: Joe is really rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, especially Ben and Chrissy. They’re kind of vocal, especially in last night’s episode. At the end of the day do you think Joe’s gameplay and attitude is kind of the reason the Healers are dwindling in numbers?

DW: No, I think they would’ve been gunning for the Healers regardless because they felt that our bond was too strong or whatever. I think if they were that pissed off about Joe, they would’ve gotten Joe gone this episode, right? He’s an easy target to go. So, they’re annoyed by Joe but the other thing about Joe is that Joe is open. You don’t have to try to figure out what he’s thinking ‘cause he’s gonna tell you what he’s thinking. So I think there’s also a little bit of like, “We can’t stand him, he’s getting on my nerves but he’s not a wildcard. You know exactly where he’s going ‘cause he’s telling us who he’s gonna vote for and he’s voting for that person,” so they found him annoying but you can’t help but respect or at least appreciate the fact that he’s usually being pretty damn honest.

GD: Lauren found a special advantage that earned her the right to not vote this time and get two votes at a future date. Was anything fishy to you about the fact that there were 11 people but only 10 votes cast?

DW: No, admittedly and embarrassingly I did not even realize it in that moment. I think it would’ve been easier to predict had it been five votes Desi, five votes Joe, no votes left. That’s very clear like, “That adds up 10, that doesn’t make sense.” But because the votes were so all over the place, one, I was still very confused as to why the Healers didn’t vote together the way we had discussed voting together. I was under the understanding that we were all voting for Lauren and then nobody but me voted for Lauren, so I was even too shocked by that and also too tired and sleep deprived to even count the votes and realize that only 10 votes had been cast.

GD: And speaking of Lauren, we have a fan question from Mindee in Winlock. She wants to know, what was the reason behind the Lauren vote?

DW: I think we felt like she long-term could be a threat in the game. I wanted Ben out. I wanted Ben or Chrissy out, and Mike didn’t want Ben or Chrissy out, so Lauren was really the next available person. I feel like Lauren is not getting enough airtime for how, one, good of a player she is and also how charming of a person she is. Lauren is fun to be around. Can’t help but like her ‘cause she’s funny as hell and I was also a little bit annoyed or at least upset by Lauren ‘cause we had had a conversation about working together last vote and I felt like she betrayed me last vote so I think that sort of explained the Lauren vote.

GD: You won the very first individual Immunity Challenge of Season 35, huge congratulations. I imagine that one of the best moments for you personally out there on the island, is that right?

DW: Oh my gosh, it was so exciting, yeah. I wish it would have come with a meal as well, that would’ve been even better (laughs). But no, it’s certainly cool to be able to say, like, “Hey, I won the first individual…” like no matter what happens from this day forward, first, I know I’m not the first post-merge vote-out and we had sort of calculated who will be on jury who won’t be on jury so we had a inkling that the first person voted out post-merge would not be on jury. So it was kind of my security like, “Hey, I think I might be on the jury but also these are pretty sweet bragging rights for the rest of my life.”

GD: There was a interesting physical altercation at camp as people were wrestling each other to try to dig up this hidden Idol. What was going through your mind as you were watching that scene?

DW: Like, “these freaking idiots.” It went on so much longer than was even shown on TV and eventually it was just like “why is this still happening?” So initially it made sense, like obviously there’s an idol everybody’s digging for an Idol, “let’s all just pile on top of each other and dig for this Idol.” But then it got the point where it’s like, “Why are you guys still digging?” They dug the flag up, there’s obviously nothing still down there at this point and there’s a point where like Chrissy’s on top of Cole like he’s a little toy horse, and it just got to be too much where I was just like, “This is ridiculous and somebody needs to stop this foolishness.” But initially it was exciting, some excitement to camp life for sure, but then it got to a point where it was like, “Okay, let’s move on and figure out the next steps after this instead of you all continuing.”

GD: And it’s so fun to watch on TV knowing that Ryan had it the whole time. So the fight was really… there was no point.

DW: Exactly. Which makes it even more ridiculous how far Chrissy took it trying to keep Cole from digging, when she knew all along that Ryan already had the idol.

GD: Back on Day 1 when you first heard the season would be split between Heroes and Healers and Hustlers, what was your initial reaction? And were you proud to be named a Healer?

DW: I was proud to be named a Healer. I think that was only further glorified by how well we got along as a Healer tribe initially. It didn’t hurt that we were winning everything. In that regard it was great to be a healer, but also we really did just get along. We worked well as a team together on all challenges and back at camp we were having a great time back at camp. That’s what the world doesn’t see is the fun moments we had together. But honestly for the first nine days, I felt like I was at summer camp with some friends and we were just camping outside and having a good time. So I think it certainly set a good tone for the game that I wasn’t miserable early on in the game that it set a tone like, “Okay, I can live outside and I’m not gonna die.” That was all super unfamiliar territory for me.

GD: Right, and you guys won a lot of challenges early on, you didn’t go to Tribal until week four or something.

DW: Yeah until that first swap, first time I went to Tribal.

GD: So final question, Desi, now that you’re a member of the jury, what specifically are you looking for in terms of what type of person you’ll vote for in the end?

DW: So for me I think gameplay is most important. It’s really easy to get very… even at Final Tribal people got very personal in their questions, so it’s really easy to make this personal but for me it’s more important to make it about the game and gameplay so I’m looking for someone who played a good game, but secondly, can articulate their moves in-game and own up to their gameplay and say exactly what happened and exactly why they should be the Sole Survivor instead of the other two people that they chose to take with them to the Final 3, or 2.

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