Jessica "Jess" Chong Felt Immediately "Overlooked and Dismissed" on 'Survivor 46'

Survivor 46 is here! Every week,'s Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.

When Jessica "Jess" Chong spoke with me two days before the start of Survivor 46, her first plan was to make a hat. The software engineer fancied herself a crafty queen, even making the outfit she wore in her cast photo. It's only fitting, then, that one of the things to end her Survivor journey be a handmade fake idol. Though Jess doubted its validity, she didn't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, as she knew she was in danger. But this "gift" ended up being a parting one, as her playing it unsuccessfully served as an endpoint of five days of struggles that culminated in a messy vote-out.

Jess also told me in the preseason that she felt everything in her life had prepared her for Survivor, a life of navigating industries and countries. But the self-proclaimed "alien" felt in a different galaxy entirely when her feet hit the beach. Her difficulties sleeping caused her to withdraw socially and strategically, putting her in the back of the pack. Going to the first Tribal Council, Jess knew she wasn't the social butterfly, so she resolved herself to being a (delectable) ant, proving herself a hard worker and a willing member of the collective. And it certainly helped that all eyes were on David Jelinsky, who proved to be the exact opposite with the number of times he struck out to make his own decisions, only for said decisions to backfire at every turn.

While Jess knew she won the first boot battle, the war was far from over. She tried to make up for lost time in her gameplay, trying to turn the tribe against Kenzie Petty, who she deemed the biggest endgame threat. Jess was trying to build her game like an arch: Shaky and segmented at first, but solid and strong at the end. Unfortunately, that arch, much like Yanu's, failed to finalize. With Jess seen as the weak link in challenges, Kenzie, Tiffany Nicole Ervin, and Q Burdette gave a fake idol to Jess to avoid her playing her Shot in the Dark. But that was one beat of a day of chaos, which included Jess continuing to push a Kenzie blindside, while Bhanu Gopal freaked out at Tribal Council, fearful it was him who would go. But it was all for naught. Jess discovered the forgery before she was voted out unanimously. And though she wasn't able to make an island hat like she wanted, she tipped her cap to her competitors.

Now out of the game, Jess talks with about her reaction to being given the fake idol, why she felt "overlooked and dismissed" by her tribe, and her reaction to support across the fandom.

Related: Read our Survivor 46 pre-game interview with Jessica "Jess" Chong

How are you doing, Jess? I know that yesterday was your birthday. What was it like to celebrate it by watching yourself get voted out of Survivor almost a year ago?
This is all I have to say about it. [Holds up a shirt that reads, "Smile Because It's Over. Spring Break S46, Yanu Beach, Fji.] I have one more, because I'm really glad they showed my ant eating. [Holds up a shirt of Jess eating ants that reads, "Eat more protein."]

[Laughs.] That is absolutely incredible. 
The ants were all I had! 

Well let's start digging into your game like a line of ants. And you're showing off merch, we have to talk about the crafty piece that you ended up getting in the form of the fake idol. You had some suspicions earlier in the day that Q had given you a fake. But what was your reaction when you found out that was actually true?
Oh, well, I looked at it. And I was like, "This is fake." And you saw me go up to Q and Q's like, "Do you want me to take it back?" And actually what happened then was  Kenzie was walking towards us. And I was like, "I'm a goner. And I don't care. I'm gonna play this idol because I don't have an ego and I cannot deceive people." I was already 240 hours without sleep. This is pregame plus the five days. And I was like, "If I spend another day here, I will probably die."

I was walking into things. I think a lot of my wounds are from just walking into my shelter. And I was losing my stuff. I would go out to the bathroom, which was the ocean. And I would take off my shorts and my shoes and put them somewhere to dry. Come back to the shelter in my underwear. I'd be like, "Guys, where are my clothes? I had my clothes a second go. Where was I just now? Oh, oh, I was I was in the water. Okay." I was just losing my mind there. And I was so taken aback because, in the first half of the game, you're supposed to be working as a team and working together to win the challenges and win fire. And all I wanted was to win a challenge so we can get flint so we could fire so I can finally get a full night's sleep. And so everything that I was doing was optimizing for team strength and team morale. But that was not the case for my tribe. 

Now, what I do find interesting is you seem complimentary of your tribe on the way out, calling them "masterminds."
Can you not hear that I was dripping with sarcasm and contempt?! "I had an amazing time." No, I did not!

[Laughs.] Well talk to me about that. What was actually going through your head once you were voted out after all the events of the past five days?
I was like, "What did I do to these people?" They didn't show how much I tried to talk to the girls. The very first person I talked to when we got off the boat was Kenzie, my pregame crush. I ran up to her, grabbed her hand, and I was like, "I'm so glad we're on the same tribe." And I meant that with lmy entire heart. And while Jelinsky and Q were doing the Sweat challenge, me and Tiff and Kenzie talked for a really long time and I learned so much stuff about them.

But then it became very clear to me that they were kind of running around talking to everyone but me. And I was like, "Well, I can't force something. You can't contrive affection. I'm just gonna go to Q." I already knew after the Sweat task that Jelinsky was toast because Q was so pissed off and doesn't like quitting and has such a strong work ethic. And I went up to him, and I made an alliance with him. I was like, "I really admire your work ethic. You're helping us build the shelter after doing this crazy task and Jelinsky's lazy." I wish they had shown a little bit of that.

We see you push hard last episode to blindside Kenzie. But you ultimately write down Bhanu's name. What caused you to do that?
I just knew that Tiff and Kenzie, and Q were just a very tight trio. And there was not a shot that they would go over. They had flooded Bhanu's name multiple times to me. I love him so so so much. But I was like, "They don't care what I think. They're not gonna vote for Kenzie." But I could tell that they were getting a little bit annoyed. So I was like, "I guess I'll put Bhanu's name down."

We've seen your tribemates certainly say a lot of things about you as a player over the past couple of episodes. Did it surprise you at all to see what they were saying in confessional?
No. Actions speak louder than words. I could tell. Even if they weren't saying stuff to me, I already knew all that stuff. I knew that they did not love me and did not respect me because they were just shouting at me through every single challenge. So I was like, "Okay, well, what can I do about it? I'm not gonna lose my temper on TV. I'm not gonna shout at them on TV and cry on TV. Goodbye."

To that point, let's talk about the most recent challenge we saw. Tempers were flaring everywhere and emotions were high. What was your reaction to seemingly shouldering the blame for not being able to shoulder those blocks?
I feel like that happened to me after every challenge. I don't really hold that against anyone. Because at the end of the day, I did what I could. And I know how much I did. And people can just look at the footage and decide for themselves who's to blame.

I want to go back to your sleep issues. 240 hours without sleep is absolutely wild.
I might be exaggerating. It might be just a bit north of 200.

Regardless, how much do you feel that affected the way you approached the game, considering you started it in a sleep deficit?
When I think about it, for a really long time, I blamed myself. I was like, "God dammit, I should have learned how to sleep in terrible conditions, blah, blah blah." Because I was prepared in every other aspect. But even had I had good sleep, I'm not convinced that it would have done anything. Because that alliance was so strong and impenetrable. And the first day I don't think I disclosed that I had gotten so many days without sleep already. So the fact that people were already putting my name out there, I was livid that they wanted to keep Jelinsky over me. That was really hard to watch. I was like, "I feel so misunderstood. I'm putting in so much in the challenges. I am strong." And I just felt like I was just constantly getting thrown under the bus for what, eating ants? What did I do? What did I do to you guys? I don't know.

Well, you had mentioned in the premiere that you were starting a bit slow out of the gate when it comes to strategizing. Was it due to the sleeplessness, or just getting used to Survivor in general?
I think it was a combination of the lack of sleep and also just feeling totally overlooked and dismissed by the people with whom I tried to make a human connection. The first day I was talking to Tiff and Kenzie for two or three hours about everything. I know their dog's names. Tiff has a dog called Juju and Kenzie has a dog called Salad. I know about their hometowns and about their families and their partners and stuff like that. And I was just like, "Well, it takes two to tango, It takes two to be in a relationship." And you can't contrive affection. You can't contrive a relationship if people don't want to have one.

And so I don't really know how much of it was a me problem, honestly. I really was open and forthcoming and sweet. I'm very shocked by how sweet and funny I come off on TV. [Laughs.] But I was exactly who I am. And so I was a little bit taken aback that it wasn't reciprocated. Well, not taken aback. I'm not entitled to anybody's like affection. Not everyone has to like me. But I was a little taken aback. And I was like, "I am not long for this world if they'd rather keep Jelinsky around who's just not doing anything and lying around doing nothing. What can I do? I'm not going to lose my temper on TV and cry about it."

I wanted to talk about the Jelinsky round. Because it did seem, as dead in the water as he was, he tried to throw the target on you and put you in the same boat. You even both lost your water bottles. [Laughs.] What was your reaction to everything that was happening there?
[Laughs.] The difference is that I wasn't asking everyone if I could drink their water because I would eventually find mine. And I always went to the challenge with my own water bottle instead of drinking everyone else's. [Laughs.] I was so messed up at that Tribal Council. I think the edit might have been more charitable to me. [Laughs.] I was so messed up. At some point. I was like, "Jeff, I have no idea what's going on." [Laughs.] I was just like, "I'm just gonna keep quiet and let everyone else talk." Because I did everything I could. I think that first Tribal Council was probably the most challenging of my two Tribal Councils. Because I actually could not follow it. I don't remember it, except for telling Jeff I couldn't follow it.

When you ended up getting voted out, how good was the sleep? Or was your brain still addled from recovering from the first five days?
Both. I wrote in my diary, and I just like, tried to sleep. And I would just lie there. And it was like going through every single thing that I did and didn't do. And I was like, "Oh, my God, here's the things I could have done here that didn't really come to then." But, honestly, I wonder how much agency I really had in the game. Because I think that the six person tribe format makes it very, very difficult if you have anything that marks you as different o not part of the dominant culture on a tribe. I mean, you can see that happening to me and Bhanu. You're kind of screwed. I don't know what you can do. You can't fabricate an extra person for yourself to help you with the numbers. It just makes it really hard. It's a numbers game.

When we talked in the preseason, you spoke about having a marked reaction to how Scot and Jason treated Alecia in Kaoh Rong. I don't know if you've been seeing, but there certainly have been a lot of fans online that have been supporting you and feeling a certain way about the way your tribe was reacting to you. How does it feel to now be in that position?
To be the people's hero? It feels good. I'm very thankful that I've touched people because it was really important to me to humanize. I was really upset by a lot of the COVID era and even now, violence against elderly Asian people. And I was like, "I really want to humanize Asian people." I didn't really talk about this. And I also had no intention of talking about my ADHD on there, but it just kind of spoke for itself. [Laughs.]

But I really wanted to humanize Asian people and like show that we're messy and crazy and funny and sad and all those things. I wanted to show kind of the full spectrum of all the things that we can experience. And so I'm really glad. I've had so many people, not just Asian people, reach out to me and say they felt like really seen and represented and like, and that they really related to me. I remind them of their mom. [Laughs.] Someone was like, "You're exactly like my mom!" 

So it's been really nice to have people from all walks of life. I have all these Gen Z TkTokers making these fancams of me looking sad. Those give me life. But then I also have these boomers on Survivor Facebook that are like, "She's so strong." So it's just really nice to have had this. I feel like universally people are kind of seeing maybe this Survivor sorting hat algorithm could have given just a better shot at this. Because people look at this game like it's a meritocracy. But it's a middle school cafeteria.

Next, check out our interview with David Jelinsky, who was voted out in the Survivor 46 premiere.