Returning player Brenda Lowe, a 30-year-old paddleboard company owner from Miami, decided to forsake her time with her loved ones after winning the reward challenge so that most of her other teammates could spend time with theirs.
But the plan backfired: She was seen as a huge threat to win the game and was blindsided by her alliance mates John Cochran, Dawn Meehan and Sherri Biethman at tribal council, leading to one of the most emotional and heartbreaking exits from a castaway ever.
On Thursday, Brenda talked to The Hollywood Reporter about her "painful" elimination, whether she wishes she'd lost the reward challenge and if she's spoken to Dawn or Cochran since the vote.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your win in the reward challenge really turned out to be a lose-lose situation, no matter what you decided to do. Do you wish you'd lost or thrown the challenge?
Brenda Lowe: Not at all. I've had people tell me that -- you're never supposed to win the reward with the families. But no way, I loved every second of that. We're a very competitive family, and I've always dreamed of having my family visit me in Survivor. … For me, it was a dream come true. I didn't see any part of it as something negative, and I wouldn't have changed it.
THR: But you were really in a spot where whatever you decided would have likely gotten you voted out.
Brenda: I think that's assuming people are mean. I think that's assuming that people out there are vengeful. I probably wouldn't do that or think, "Let's vote this person out who just gave me this reward." I wouldn't want to vote them off, so I never in a million years thought it would bite me like that and get me voted off.
THR: It wasn't clear if you jumped off the log during the immunity challenge to let Dawn take the win. What happened there?
Brenda: She made a big plea for me that day for her to win it. She had not won immunity and wanted her kids to be proud of her. And a happy Dawn makes camp a happy place. I didn't want her to be paranoid of me, and I felt like, you know what? It's a straight Eddie vote. I don't need to win this thing. She wants it so badly. It wasn’t as scary as letting Andrea win it. I didn't want her paranoid, and I didn't want to be out there for hours. Let's just say, I don't know how much longer I could have held on, but I definitely could have held on a little bit longer.
THR: You were especially close with Dawn, even diving into the water to find her lost retainer.
Brenda: That moment and that whole thing made me so close to her. I thought there was no way she'd turn on me or that I'd turn on her. That's what made it so painful, after we went through that.
THR: After you were voted out, did you know it was Dawn, Cochran and Sherri who had cast the votes for you?
Brenda: I knew, I felt something in my gut. I could feel it around camp, right before going to tribal, I was looking at Cochran and at Sherri, and she'd look at me and then look down. Little things like that, it was like, something doesn't feel right. Eric and I didn't talk the whole time, but we were solid, I thought, and I knew Eddie didn't come up with the whole plan. If anybody was going to take me down, it was Dawn, Sherri and Cochran.
THR: Have you been in contact with Dawn or Cochran since filming ended?
Brenda: I've had no contact with Dawn and would not actively seek out a friendship with her. It if wasn't for the finale [airing live Sunday on CBS], I wouldn't talk to her. It's not out of bitterness, but more out of, "I don't want someone like you in my life." Cochran, I've talked to, I have no problem with him.
THR: You were obviously really emotional after being voted out. Was it hard for you to keep an open mind as you were voting for the winner?
Brenda: I was on the jury before, and being on the jury a second time, I just wanted to [vote based on] strictly strategy. Who had the best strategy? And that's what I voted for.
THR: How did your strategy compare with the first time you were on Survivor?
Brenda: I played completely differently. The first time around, I didn't want anybody to see me as vulnerable. I wanted them to be intimidated of me. I didn't want them to see any weak side at all, like I was a force to be reckoned with. This time around, I didn't want that. I didn't mind looking vulnerable or weak. I wanted them to think i was weak. I wanted them to think I was in la-la land, in the water by myself, all day long. Nobody knew me. They only knew me from Nicaragua and wanted me to be like that girl. [But once they got to know me], they were like, "That's Brenda? She's not scary at all." It really worked because my name wasn't brought up.
THR: How do your two seasons compare?
Brenda: This was 10 times better. Even though I wasn't necessarily in the driver's seat like in Nicaragua, it was so much more gratifying. I obviously got farther in the game, and got to see my dad and win a challenge together. I didn't cringe when I watched the TV. The first time, "Oh my god, I can't believe I said that." This time, I was proud of myself. I didn't feel like I deserved to get voted out, like in Nicaragua. This time, I honestly did my best.
THR: Would you play a third time if asked?
Brenda: Yeah, I don't know if that would ever happen [being asked], but I could never say no to an opportunity like this. With the second time around being so amazing, what would a third time be like? I love this game and am grateful to be asked back a second time.