The following contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Survivor.
The return of the Survivor auction brought about some bold new twists, one of which indirectly served as the “nail in the coffin” for original Belo member Kellie Nalbandian.
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After the players scrambled through the jungle to collect cash to bid with, the players learned from Jeff that one castaway would be losing his or her vote in the process. That person wound up to be Bruce. And while Jake was heavily considered to be the primary target at Tribal Council, Bruce’s inability to vote prevented him from helping his No. 1 ally, and Kellie was absolutely blindsided by a 5-3 vote. (Read our full recap here.)
Below, Kellie talks to TVLine about her shocking downfall, relationships with Bruce and Belo, the women’s alliance that never was and so much more.
TVLINE | When Jeff was reading off votes with your name, you looked like you were in serious distress. Have you recovered at all from that insane blindside?
KELLIE NALBANDIAN | It’s not fun to relive your trauma by watching it again, but I’ve had a couple months to process the blindside, and I said in a lot of pregame stuff that if I was gonna go out, I wanted to go out with a bang and I did that, I think.
TVLINE | You even forgot to bring your torch up to Jeff!
The way I approached Survivor, I came with everything. I had all this tenacity and scrappiness, and I was sad to leave the game. Obviously I wish I didn’t forget my torch, but that’s actually how badly I wanted to be there. That’s how badly I wanted to play the game. That’s how much things just sort of slipped through my fingers. I went from a very good position to a very bad position fairly quickly. It’s hard to see the whole thing crash down in front of you in such a dramatic fashion. That’s what all that emotion was. I really cared about the game. I wanted to win. I was having fun. I feel like I had more to do, but that’s the game of Survivor. I feel honored to be blindsided even though it sucks. Honestly, I don’t even remember all of it. When I got to Ponderosa, Kaleb told me I said, “What the hell, guys?” I didn’t even remember saying that. I was a little bit blacked out for that process.
TVLINE | In your final words, you said you had a gut feeling that you didn’t listen to. What was that feeling and what would you have done had you listened to it?
I knew that the second someone realized what was going on in the Belo alliance — where I was sort of the glue of the group because there was so much animosity between them — that removing me would be a pretty logical move. That was sort of where that nervousness came from. I was concerned about getting this split vote or the backup vote for Jake, and I tried very hard to not have Jake be the vote. But he spent most of the day looking for idols and being erratic and hard to get through to, so basically by that time, it was very obvious he was going to play his Shot in the Dark.
Bruce had lost his vote. So now I’m working with three votes on a final 10, really a final nine situation. So I’m counting on someone like Emily who is very logical and is the financial analyst of the group. She’s looking at the numbers like, “It’s not gonna work. There’s just not enough.” I think I got a little off pace from your question, but I definitely didn’t want Jake to leave the game. I knew I needed to try and keep him. Unfortunately, I kept Bruce around to have his vote and then when I needed him the most he wasn’t there. It’s a bummer.
TVLINE | You could have worked with Sifu to vote Bruce out last week. Looking back, do you regret not pulling that trigger?
I don’t really regret not voting out Bruce. It would have been pretty crazy foresight for me to see that Bruce would lose his vote and screw me over in that way. Bruce was so loyal to me, almost inexplicably, so it would’ve been silly for me to cut him. I do think if he knew I was in danger, there was a good possibility he would’ve played his idol on me, so I didn’t want to lose Bruce at that moment.
My biggest concern at that split was Kendra leaving because Bruce played his idol. Obviously, Kendra was very loyal to me. She literally cried for me like such a good ally. I really didn’t want to lose her and I was definitely nervous that if we were going to vote on Bruce, that Emily or Drew would throw a vote on Kendra just in case and then she would go home. That was pretty much my worst-case scenario. So, I don’t really regret that. I more so regret not trying to get Drew out that time. I floated his name just a little and got a ton of pushback. For me, it was about keeping someone who was loyal to me, who was always going to be loyal to me, versus someone who is potentially working more with the red side at the time.
TVLINE | You said that Bruce was dragging your game down by telling people how close he was to you. From your perspective, how close were you guys?
On a personal standpoint, Bruce is a very nice man. He’s a good guy. He has a great heart. He’s just a bit of an inflexible Survivor player, and it was a detriment to us how much Katurah and Bruce did not get along. There was even a little bit of animosity between Kendra and Bruce. There was a complete lack of cohesion in the group compared to Reba, literally like night and day. That’s what made it difficult for me, the inflexibility part of it. Bruce had ideas about what he wanted to do and it always included keeping me safe, but it’s very hard to change his mind. He told Julie how close we were and Julie came up to me one day and was like, “Wow, Bruce really likes you.” I was like, “What are you doing, man?
TVLINE | Were you confident that a women’s alliance could potentially get you to the Final 6, and what was your relationship with Emily like, since she was ultimately the one who spilled the beans on that?
I think pretty much everyone who was in that women’s alliance conversation didn’t believe that it would go the distance. But at this point in the game, I was pretty aware that my Belo alliance was falling apart to a degree and I knew I needed to move somewhere. Whoever was going to give me that inch, I needed to take it because there was so much disagreement within my group. You could see me and Jake going into that split trying to keep us all together. Losing Brando and Kaleb, both at Tribal Councils I wasn’t at, really hurt my game. But I don’t think anyone really thought the women’s alliance would work long term. But I love options, so I was like, “If this can help me potentially make a move against Bruce, I really want to take his idol from him and blindside him.” That was my ultimate goal. I was willing to work with the women to do that.
As for Emily, there are two relationships that really weren’t shown on the show. Me and Dee, and me and Emily. Emily and I worked really hard to try to save Kaleb on the day of the Shot in the Dark. So I felt like we had built a bridge there over wanting to save Kaleb at the split vote. She still was seen as in the middle of these two groups, so I was like, “This is the person that I need, for better or worse.” I had to place some trust and hope in Emily, and when we got back from the immunity challenge, Emily did tell me that she wanted to potentially target Dee, so that would’ve been the other plan if I could have gotten Jake to not play his Shot in the Dark. I was like, “If that’s how I can get Emily, then that’s what I’m gonna do.”
TVLINE | You and Austin were still sharing pieces of the amulet. What was your relationship like with him? Did you feel like you could trust him or were you two low-key gunning for each other?
People were calling Austin and me threats and we both knew that. I think Austin in the last episode was like, “If we take out Kellie now and I have more idols, people are going to be looking at me even more.” J goes out and that wasn’t even the original plan. It sort of just happens and we kind of had to [pull an] audible on the spot there. But Austin and I, we weren’t really going to take that shot this early, is how I perceived it. And taking the amulet? I feel like people have been very controversial about this and mad at me. But when I went on this journey, J and Austin were clearly not working together. So looking at how my group (which hasn’t gone to Tribal and has all this discord), it’s not inconceivable that these Rebas have a similar situation going on. I felt like it would be pretty normal for a big guy with big muscles to get targeted early on in the merge.
Obviously, I didn’t know how well-insulated Austin was. I don’t know he had another idol. I didn’t have any of that information. So I thought that people would want to target Austin and I wouldn’t even have to ask for it. I felt like I could maybe have the agency in the game to get J. Maya out when I needed to. So that was my motivation for taking the amulet. I knew I had been labeled a threat. Actually, Austin told me that Kendra had told them (over on New Belo) that I was a big social threat, so I was like, “Oh damn, I’m being clocked here. I’m going to need something to move me through this game if I’m being already labeled a threat. Without any additional firepower, I’m screwed.”
TVLINE | So tell me: How does a margarita and a PB&J taste after two weeks of starvation?
I’ve got to say, that’s a weird combination, right?
TVLINE | Yeah, why not tacos or something?
I really wanted tacos! I was so salty about not getting tacos for the pole challenge. So the margarita was very sweet. But I think you could see on my face. It was such a good moment. I was so relieved to not lose my vote.
TVLINE | What’s your take on all of the new auction rules?
Obviously, I wish that Bruce didn’t lose his vote at the auction. That was definitely the nail in the coffin for me, but I loved the experience. I love the auction. I was hoping I would get my Parvati bath moment. That’s actually what I wanted, but I was starving. Emily and I hadn’t eaten anything at all. We had won no rewards. So going into that, she and I were talking about burgers and fries, and I saw the French fries and I was like, “I need these.”
TVLINE | Hit me with your instant reaction to Jeff stabbing the bag of rice with a knife before the challenge.
All of us were stunned. It took us all a couple of seconds. Like, “Wait, what is he even doing?” He gave no warning. It wasn’t like, “You’re going to lose all this rice.” He just stabs it and it’s flowing out and we’re like, “What’s going on?” It was just total panic. I was almost in a state of shock for it. And I’m grateful that people stepped out obviously… actually, no, I wish we lost all the rice and then they were hungry the rest of the game. [Laughs] But it was crazy! That was such a fun twist to the rice negotiation. I could do without the lost vote because it didn’t help me out, but I loved the dagger.
TVLINE | What was something that was impactful to your game that wasn’t shown on TV?
I think seeing me have a little bit of control with that last vote made Drew a little bit nervous about me, but he did tell me that it made him very worried to see Dee and I becoming close. We were really just friends. I just like her. We were vibing on the island and definitely had this sort of agreement of like, “Oh, we’re both being seen as the female threats.” We didn’t want to take each other out. I think you can see a little bit of hesitation from Dee on my vote because of that. And Drew said to me that the potential of that relationship was very threatening and it was another reason added onto the dogpile of reasons to take me out. I was trying to find some crack in Reba, someone who would really want to work with me and I was hoping it would be Dee, but they clocked me. It was a great move. If I’m going to go out, I would like to go out that way.
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