'Survivor' Season 35: Ashley Nolan Explains That Big Tribal Council Moment

The Heroes tribe veteran reveals what viewers missed in the penultimate episode of 'Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.'
Courtesy of CBS

[Warning: this story contains spoilers through Survivor season 35, episode 13.]

According to Jeff Probst, Survivor fans are one week away from watching one of the best finales in the show's 35-season history — but lifeguard Ashley Nolan won't be around to see it, at least not as a player.

Ashley, one of three Heroes still standing heading into this week's final six episode, wound up on the wrong end of the vote after fellow Hero (and current self-proclaimed lone wolf) Ben Driebergen played his second hidden immunity idol in a row at Tribal Council. What's more, Ben's decision to protect himself was made publicly before the votes were even cast, a first in Survivor history, the first-ever hidden idol in Survivor lore notwithstanding. Despite Ben working to compel Ashley toward voting out Dr. Mike Zahalsky, the rest of the tribe (Ben included, ultimately) decided to turn the tables on Ashley, making her the sixth person to sit on the Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers jury.

Earlier in the episode, Chrissy Hofbeck and others spoke about plans to potentially get rid of Ashley at some point in the near future. Was Ashley aware of the target on her back? Was there more to that Tribal Council that we didn't see? And the number one burning question on the board, at least for everyone who watched Ashley's very fun Ponderosa video: Did she ever find her thing?

Read on for Ashley's take on all of those questions, and more.

Not that this is the top story of the season or even the episode, but inquiring minds want to know: Have you found your thing?

You know, I'm still on the search. The quest continues. (Laughs.) I do think I have a lot of things! I think Joe nailed it. If there's one enlightening thing Joe ever said to me, it's this: "Just be you." I'm just going with that!

Another week, another insane Tribal Council. First of all, is there anything that happened that we missed?

From my point of view, I think so. I think there's a lot of conversation they didn't show. They showed me giving the dagger eyes to Devon and trying to get him to vote Mike out, but in that, there was some begging. I'm not sure if it's good or bad they didn't show it. (Laughs.) At one point, Jeff asked everyone if they were ready to vote, and I said no. I knew everyone was going to write my name down, and I wanted to put it off as long as possible. Ben and I talked a little bit more. He told me that if I wanted to come home to camp with him, we needed to vote out Mike. There was verbal communication about that: "Is nobody going to vote out Mike with me? You guys need to realize at this point that you need me at the final three." No one budged. 

What was the case you were making?

I was trying to diminish any sort of game moves of mine, in their eyes — that I was a better person to bring to the final three. With Mike, we haven't seen him make too many moves either, so I would have been happy to bring him to the final three. But I remember trying to say that Mike's made it this far so he's definitely going to win. Look at Ryan and Chrissy, they're big threats. I tried to make everyone look like a bigger threat than me. That's why when they voted me out, I told them they're crazy. I didn't see myself as a threat. Maybe physically, but every confessional I had over the past few episodes was how I wanted to make a big move. But did I? So, come on guys!

By the time everyone started casting votes, did you know your number was up?

I knew it was coming when I saw the look in Devon's eyes. And he couldn't even look me in the eyes. That's when I knew it was going to be me. If they had shown me while the votes were being cast, my body language would have told you I knew it was coming. (Laughs.) I was curled up in a ball.

You and Devon were very close out there. It was a shock that he was willing to vote for you in that moment. You were clearly upset with him at the end of Tribal Council, but then in your Ponderosa video, moments after Tribal, you seemed like you forgave him. Did you come to understand why Devon voted for you, and if so, can you help us understand, too?

I was trying to be optimistic when Devon and Chrissy picked Ryan for that last reward challenge — that he was going to do this for us, he was going to make something happen, and the four of us are going to the final four together and Devon's going to save the day. Then there was another part of me: "I think I just lost him." Realistically, after Lauren was voted out, I should have done the same thing. We didn't have Lauren's extra vote anymore. Ben was running around like mad. Our plan had crumbled. It was just me and Devon. I think back to the loved ones reward, when Chrissy tried to get me on their side. I should have gone, right then and there. It would have been the smarter move. At the time, I had Devon and Lauren with her second vote. I was living in this fantasy land where nothing could break us. Fast forward: Lauren's gone. Her extra vote is gone. There's only me and Devon. He did what he had to do. And Mike was in Devon's ear, telling him I was going to flip. Mike was telling me the same thing. Mike was wiggling his way in between us. So Devon went off on that reward and found himself a new alliance. As we were sitting at Tribal, my heart's crushed and my best ally has just turned on me. I gave Ben a hug because I expected it from Ben. I knew he was doing whatever he could do to save himself. Our alliance had been long gone and over with. Devon was still a little bit of a shock. But walking away, as soon as your torch is snuffed? It's a game. He's still in it and I'm not. He did what he had to do. Maybe I'm too forgiving, but I forgave him as soon as I got to the end of the dock.

Ben played his idol in an unprecedented way, before the votes were even cast. What do you remember about that moment? Was there any debate about whether it was even allowable?

No. It totally felt like it was allowed. We were all just a little shocked, I think. But it was Ben. It was almost to be expected at that point. If he had an idol at that point in the game with how desperate he was, he was going to play it no matter what. Might as well get it out in the open. No reason to keep it as a surprise. But it was shocking. It made for a more interesting Tribal for me, because as soon as he pulled it out, I knew the rest of the Tribal was going to be me trying to plead not to go home. I figure with Survivor, everything is allowed.

I am a fan of all of you. I hope you know this. But I'm furious with all of you for allowing Ben to run off on his own, giving him time to look for idols. What were you thinking? From the outside looking in, it seems so ridiculous.

I completely agree with you. (Laughs.) Those things kept popping up for him. What can you do? The man's gotta go to the bathroom alone sometimes! I'm not taking that shift! (Laughs.) 

But he would also go off to find wood and get water… were people keeping tabs on him then, because the show makes it look like he was allowed to wander alone all the time?

One thing they didn't show is after the Lauren Tribal. He was going off to get water and there was a pow-wow about getting him voted out next. Interesting how it was edited, because I did go off with him to try to mend a little bit of what I called our "Survivor divorce," because I had considered him my "Survivor husband" until that Tribal. I wanted to make sure he wasn't alone, and I wasn't part of that conversation. So that's me putting in my two cents: I was watching him that time! I know everyone was thinking the same thing at home: "Why aren't you guys watching him?" I was with him sometimes, I swear! But he's a tricky one. He's a marine. He's all stealth mode. He wakes up when everyone's sleeping and goes and does his thing. It's tough!

Digging further into Ben, there was this attitude of nobody wanting to work with him. Why? Did it really feel like his case was too strong if he made it to the final three?

At that point in the game with only six people left, everyone's thinking the same thing: do I want to make it to the final three, or do I want to win? In Ben's case, do you want to work with him at six when you see how strong a game he's playing? You know if you sit next to him in the end, you're going to lose. That's the thing. If I work with him, I'm accepting defeat. I might make it to the final three, but I won't win. This is the time in the game when you want to make the moves that will allow you to win. Sitting with him in the end was something clearly nobody wanted to do, but in hindsight, I got sixth place. I'm watching that scene where I'm rejecting him, and I'm like, "Gosh, Ashley. Just give the guy a hug and work with him." (Laughs.) I just needed to humor him and make him think it at least. But it's hard for me to not be honest sometimes. I'm not a great liar. In hindsight, watching it back, not only did I not want to work with him, but I was getting a little sassy towards him! What am I thinking? (Laughs.) I should have been like, "Yes, Ben! Let's work together. Whatever you say!" But hindsight is 20-20. That's Survivor.

I want to get a few more takes from you on the people you played against, starting with Chrissy. You were both on Heroes together. There are a lot of different takes on Chrissy from the people who have come off of the show. What's yours?

Everyone's take is so interesting to me. Maybe it's me being naive, but I've heard so many negative things about her as a person, but I thoroughly enjoy her. We got along great. After Katrina was gone from the Heroes tribe, Chrissy was the only other female on the tribe. She was like the mom. We had fun. I really like her as a person. We laugh about it now. Why didn't we play together? I don't know. After the merge, she had Ryan and I had Devon, and it never worked. But as a person, I thought she was playing a great game, and I was naive to the fact that other people didn't like her. In my head, I was thinking if she gets to the end, she's going to win. I kept thinking that Chrissy was the best! She did well in challenges! I thought she was cool. I just got a Christmas card from her yesterday, ironically enough. This crazy game. I got a text from her yesterday: "Hey, I know tonight's the night I vote you out. Hope you're good." As I'm opening up her Christmas card! I have no hard feelings about anyone, though. That's just how I am, I guess.

We didn't see much between you and Ryan. What did we miss? What did you think of how he was playing?

In my eyes, for the longest time, Ryan was just Chrissy's sidekick. We had some good conversations about our personal lives here and there. Some good moments. But as far as game play, and this is a regret I had, I had an opportunity to make a connection with him, and neither one of us did. I just didn't see anything from Ryan. I think he was a good person in a lot of people's minds to take to the final three, just based on how he was under the shadow of Chrissy and wasn't helpful around camp, wasn't a physical threat whatsoever. But he could talk. We would go to Tribal Council and he could talk like we haven't been starving for 36 days. He was sharp as a nail. I think that's when people started fearing him for a final three. He stayed sharp. He could talk. 

How about playing with Doctor Mike? Must have been entertaining at the very least, right?

Oh, he was the most entertaining person. Definitely good comedic relief at all times. (Laughs.) We would have a lot of great life talks on our sand mound of a bed. It was entertaining. You saw him and Coco Joe. They got to a certain point in the game where they were just happy to be here! You saw the peak of their craziness when they were together, and he didn't calm down much once Joe left. He was in it to fight. He was just running around and talking to anyone who would talk to him about anything, game or not. As a person, he was wonderful to live with. As a player? I was just amazed he had made it this far! (Laughs.)

Let's go back to Devon, who you first linked up with at the tribe swap. What was it about him that appealed to you as an ally? Did you really want to make it to the final three together?

I absolutely did. There was something in Devon that I saw in myself. I don't know if it's our lifestyles, as surf and yoga beach kids. We're the same age. I didn't think he was holding anything back. With everyone else, I could see there were surface level things they wanted you to see, but there were game play things they didn't want you to see. When I met Devon, there was none of that. It was that he was playing the game the same way I was — going with the flow and seeing what happens. We had an immediate bond and an immediate trust. We had the same ideas and connections and views of how the game was going to go.We just clicked. I trusted him obviously a little too much, but I really think he did what he felt he needed to do at the time. He's a really good guy. He meant well the whole game. I really think we did well together.

People walk away from Survivor talking about how much the experience changed them. But I remember speaking with you on the beach, and you felt extremely confident in your ability to do well in this game, in terms of the environment and the challenges — and you certainly lived up in those regards. Was Survivor less of a revealing experience, then, and more of a verifying experience? Did it confirm to you who you are?

A little bit of both. All of the things I went in feeling confident about, I felt like I proved to myself. The challenges, the physical aspect. I feel like I did well in those areas. But in a much more internal way, there's no way of knowing what's to come before the game. It did reveal a lot about myself. We all do come out of the game sounding so insightful about everything we learned about ourselves out there, but really, it's true. Every once in a while, I have to bring myself back to what that feeling was right out of the game, trying to get back to that mindset, because it's so easily lost. You can't play that game for 36 days without a new outlook on who you are and what you're capable of.

Check back with THR.com/Survivor all season long for more from Probst, weekly exit interviews with the eliminated castaways, and weekly recaps from THR's very own Dan Fienberg.

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