'Survivor' Players Michael and Jenna on the "Discouraging" Malolo Curse

The 'Ghost Island' castaways talk about everything that went wrong with the orange-buffed tribe, and much more.
CBS

[This story contains spoilers through the latest episode of CBS' Survivor Ghost Island.]

It turns out a burned flag can only take a cursed tribe so far.

After the latest week of Survivor Ghost Island, two more members of the original Malolo tribe lost their lives in the game: Jenna Bowman and Michael Yerger, cast out at two separate Tribal Councils held on the same evening. As two of the sturdiest members of Malolo, both Jenna and Michael know all too well what it was like to watch the orange-buffed castaways lose out time and time again, crushed under the collective heel of Naviti. Many fans were hoping for, and some even expecting, a comeback for the underdogs of the Ghost Island narrative — especially in the case of Michael, the top secret 18-year-old model who stands out as one of the biggest audience favorites in recent memory. 

Alas, such a Malolo comeback is not to be, at least not as steered forth by Michael and Jenna. As it stands, only two original Malolo players remain in the game: Laurel Johnson and Donathan Hurley, members of a secret alliance with the power couple of Domenick Abbate and Wendell Holland.

For now, before we look forward at the rest of the game, let's take one last look back. Presented here are our exit interviews with the latest eliminated players, starting first with Michael and his final gambit (and his multiple idol plays), and then turning toward Jenna.

How are you doing, Michael?

Michael Yerger: (Prolonged groaning.)

The odds were against you. As soon as we saw the breakdown of the two tribes — you with Domenick, Kellyn, Laurel and Wendell — it was clear you were toast. You must have felt it immediately at the challenge.

Like, how does that happen? (Laughs.) Every single swap, switch, whatever it was — it was never in my favor. So I was just like, "Oh, great! Another one! This is the group I'm stuck with?" Of course, I have to make lemonade out of lemons where I can. But I wasn't happy to be sitting on that bench with those guys. It was discouraging from the get go.

Tell me about the lemonade you were trying to sell these people. You lose the challenge, you know you have no idols, but you have to come up with a new trick. Walk me through the process?

Basically, every day, I had to think about which relationships I had and what leverage I had. What information did I have that other people didn't? In this case, it was Donathan's idol. Laurel knew about it, but none of the other Naviti did. I wanted to use that against them. I lied to Kellyn about the idol. I knew the whole backstory about the idol since I helped him find it. I knew it was the super idol from Kaoh Rong. I was able to make a strong pitch with a detailed lie, because of course I had seen the season a couple of times, and I read the note Donathan had. I had everything I needed as ammunition for that lie. She really bought into it, pretty instantly. I knew I had my work cut out for me with Dom. He wanted proof. He wanted to see more. That tied my hands. I tried reaching out to Donathan to see if he would let me leverage the idol, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why he wouldn't. It wasn't putting a target on his back. If anything, it's a target on my own back. It saves him any suspicion that he has the idol. I really don't understand that thought process.

Well, if he gives you the idol, it's technically yours. Isn't he concerned that you're just going to run away with it?

Of course, that's the worry. I don't blame him for doing what he did. I mean, I guess I am. (Laughs.) Of course I could have screwed him over, but my intention was really to bluff with it and save myself that night. I had no intention of taking it and screwing him over and playing it. But of course, he couldn't know that. It's a double-edged sword. It sucked to see that fall through my hands, because he had told me previously he was willing to play it for me and make a move with it. He said the same to Jenna, too, and didn't feel right about it; we all know how that went. But I went out fighting. I went out swinging, both hands. I went into Tribal feeling confident with Laurel and Kellyn. I thought maybe we had Wendell on a blindside. 

Which is probably my biggest question of the day: why did you vote for Wendell? Kellyn puts two against Laurel, Laurel votes for Kellyn, you vote for Wendell … it's all a bit tangled. What did you think was happening?

I thought Kellyn and Laurel were both voting for Wendell. When I sat down with Kellyn, I told her I had the idol and that I wasn't going to tell anybody, that it was between the two of us and we could figure out who we wanted to blindside. Originally, working with her, I thought we should take out one of the big guys — but if you're working with them and you want to go for Laurel, I don't care. I'm just trying to make it here another day. But you need to think about the end game and we need to get one of the big threats out now. That's what we originally decided. But she didn't think the guys would work with us to take out Laurel. She wanted to rope one of them in. It went to shit pretty quickly. I reached out to Laurel to see if she wanted to make a move, and she said yes, acting like she was on the bottom with me. I didn't know what to believe, but I felt like they wised up and were willing to take that shot at Wendell. That's the reason why I didn't put a vote on Laurel. I didn't know about Kellyn's extra vote, either. It sucks now, watching it back, realizing just how close I was to staying in.

You didn't have all of the facts, not knowing Kellyn had an extra vote. Does that help you in terms of having too many regrets over how you left?

It does. If I had had a feeling about any of that and didn't go with it, I would really regret it. I would feel so much more guilty. But I really had no idea. I didn't know it was going down like that. I felt confident that they were with me and were finally ready to make a big move. I simply was blinded by the fact that I thought they were smarter than keeping [Dom and Wendell] in this long, at the risk of sounding rude. They knew they had idols. They knew they were a power couple. I was really sold on the fact that they were ready to take the shot.

Was it well known that Domenick and Wendell had idols?

It was. Everything was out in the open. Everything was known. People knew the power they had and the moves they were making, and the control they had over the group. For the life of me, I can't understand why no one was willing to take the risk. Obviously Des was, and obviously Chris was, and look what happened to them. Dom and Wendell are playing a great game, blocking off the people who are working against them, and using these other people as chess pieces. Credit to them for that; they're playing a fantastic game so far. But it's frustrating because I knew it wouldn't go well if they kept staying in.

During your time in the merge, was it pretty clear you were a dead man walking, given your reputation from earlier in the game?

Yeah. Obviously, it was sad. I knew I was on the bottom and always needed to work my ass off to get something going, to partner up with someone and really try to get some momentum for a blindside or a move other than me. I could slip by for a few votes, but I never was comfortable. I was never in a power position and was never able to pull off a power move the way I wanted. At the same time, that urgency helped me live in the moment. I enjoyed my time out there with everybody. I was always playing the game. I was always playing hard. 

Have you done the "woulda coulda shoulda" game with any of the idols you found, especially the Survivor China idol?

One hundred percent. There's a hundred different things I could have done differently with that idol. I could have gone to one of the Naviti and showed it to them. I could have not disclosed who we were voting for. We could have split our votes in so many different ways. I've thought through them all. I've discussed it with a lot of people. Any way you look at it, it's obviously a huge risk. I did what I thought was best and what I thought would work in order to pull over Chelsea and Sebastian. I'm not beating myself up over it, but I regret my judgment. I wish I had gauged the reaction of Bradley better when I went up to play the idol. That would be my big regret: the way I played it, not how I bluffed with it.

I wish I was able to rally more with my "effing stick" from Micronesia. But at that point, I knew Libby was working with Dom and wasn't with me anymore in the game. I knew Jenna was going to have to go with the flow. I understood that. I felt there was too much risk and room for error, telling anybody about that idol before Tribal. It would have been a negative for my game.

One of the biggest things for me is not taking more of a charge in the challenges. Most of my lack of success in the game was losing all of these immunity challenges and having to go to Tribal time after time after time, and having to turn on people, and having to lose allies and all of that. It came down to the challenges. I wanted to let everybody capitalize on their strengths however they could. I didn't want to be bossy and be the one strategizing. It's hard looking back; I had a lot more to offer in the challenges and I could have pulled out more wins. Maybe it's bad to think that way, but I do have some regret there, from the competitive aspects of the game.

After the game, who had the best reaction to learning your real age?

The reactions were priceless. (Laughs.) I was both flattered and shocked by some of the reactions. I didn't think some of them would be so big. Kellyn's reaction really sticks out. She was hysterical. You know how she is: she's so energetic and lively and outspoken. When she found out, she was baffled and maybe a little bit mortified. (Laughs.) We really connected out in the game. On another level, she was the person I really had to sell my whole lie about alcohol to, because she was really digging into it. I didn't want to have to keep lying about it, but it was hard. She was trying to be so sweet and sympathetic and caring, learning about my family problems and this and that. I was like, "Oh, god! I wish you would stop talking about it, because you're making me lie about it!"

What was your cover story in that regard, and was it a complete fabrication?

A complete fabrication that I have a history of family alcoholism, which I do not take lightly whatsoever. I do not want it to come off that way. But I needed something real [to hide my age], and that's a real thing, so it's what I went with. She believed it. When she saw me not drinking rum at the merge feast or wine at the beach, she took it as me processing some hard things and going through a hard time with everyone else. It's so sweet of her. It shows how connected and socially adept she really is. She's amazing. But it definitely made me have to work harder to maintain that lie and fool her, which I really didn't feel great about doing.

You have a no-questions-asked ticket back to Survivor if you want it. Do you want it?

Wigler, you don't need to ask me this, dude. You know I want to go back. I have unfinished business out there. I still want to be the youngest winner ever. I don't want them to ask me back when I'm 30. I want to play soon. I want to get this done. I would definitely do a lot of things differently. So much of it is about the group of people you're with. With this group, we were really able to connect. Who knows how it could be next time? But I've learned a whole lot about the game, having played it now, versus being a longtime fan. There's a lot I would do differently and approach differently and try harder on next time. 

That's all from Michael. Here's Jenna weighing in on her time in the game, what it was like to immediately join the jury, her relationship with Sebastian outside of the show, and more.

What was your experience, watching the elimination again? Were you surprised by how it was portrayed?

Jenna Bowman: I was a little frustrated. I didn't want it to look like I was giving up. That was in no way, shape or form what I thought I was doing. I'm sad that's how it came across. That's my biggest regret from last night.

Tell me, then. What went into your final day of the game?

Going into it, I knew I was still on the bottom, but at least I was there with the three Navitis who were most on the bottom and were the least strategic. I felt I could definitely do something. I approached Sebastian first, since he was the closest person I had on Naviti. I asked him if he was willing to split the votes so he could save me. I thought our relationship was closer than others. But again, no. I was shut down: "Naviti strong," whatever. But he approached me and said he was willing to vote out Donathan: "I want to keep you here, I want you to see your dad tomorrow!" Hearing those words, trusting somebody … I thought I was locked in. Then, when Donathan approached and said he wanted to play his idol on me, I was surprised, because we had no relationship. In fact, there had been conflict in our relationship. To me, it felt like a trap. I didn't think he was ever willing to play an idol on me. But when he said he was, I went, "OK, I have people voting for Donathan, and he's going to play his idol on me. If I play it up in Tribal that I'm for sure going home, it'll keep everyone at bay, and Donathan will go home while he plays his idol for me. Win-win." I thought I was covered on both sides. Clearly, I wasn't at all.

What was the conflict with Donathan that we didn't see?

Nothing big. After the merge, we didn't have a relationship. We barely spoke at Malolo. He would constantly bring up an issue at Tribal that Michael and I were acting like cool kids, not including him in any decisions. But he was always flipping to both sides and there was no communication. He would be calling us out on things. We would remind him that it's a two-way street: "You're never approaching us!" It was weird that someone I wasn't even aligned with telling me he would play his idol on me.

There were four remaining Malolo heading into last night: you, Michael, Donathan and Laurel. Was this not the best group for you? Clearly, you started together, and clearly, there's this notion of "Naviti strong." But was it a bad combination of people for you to be stuck with in a situation with numbers against you?

Yeah. It wasn't the most cohesive group. We definitely felt the "Naviti strong" thing, but Donathan and Laurel were obviously playing with the other side. It was obvious for Michael and I that we were the only true Malolos. We could tell they were closer with the other team. But at the same time, Laurel and Donathan are smart. They knew that "Naviti strong" could still be a thing, so we would all still have our Malolo Four conversations. But to me, it never felt like we were locked in.

How short was Tribal Council? Was it a lot faster than the ones you experienced earlier in the season?

Absolutely. We were on a tribe with Sebastian, who barely spoke; Chelsea, who barely spoke; and Angela, who never spoke. It was a mix of no one having opinions about anything, and it being on me to get this done and over with. I didn't want to tip anyone off. I really felt like I was finally making a move for myself at this point. It was a very short Tribal. It was honestly an awkward Tribal. (Laughs.) Nobody else said anything! It was very weird.

You mention Sebastian, Chelsea and Angela weren't talking. It wasn't something I had considered much recently, but I was reminded this week about how your food rations were greatly diminished this season. Was hunger and starvation a bigger impact on the mental health of the players this season than we know?

It definitely was. I wish they would show it more. I wish they showed how much of a struggle it was to actually be out there. For me, food didn't affect me that much. We went three or four full days without actually eating anything, once we ran out of rice. For me, it wasn't that big of a struggle. But toward the end, they didn't show this: we negotiated to take down our bed and shelter for 20 pounds of rice, or something like that. It was insane, and Jeff Probst agreed to it. Toward the end, if you'll notice, Michael is spooning himself "pity rice," he called it. We were eating so much rice at the end. I was upset! I wanted people to be crazy and hungry and irrational, that way you can get stuff done. When everyone is happy and comfortable, that's when it's frustrating because they're not willing to do anything. I was frustrated that toward the end, we were eating like kings, when we were supposed to be playing Survivor.

When did you make the trade for that rice?

During the helicopter reward. While we were on the ride, the people who went back [to camp] had to rebuild the shelter.

I'm struggling to remember another player who was voted out and immediately had to go straight to the jury to watch another Tribal Council, all in a manner of minutes. It must have been a huge blur for you.

Honestly, I blacked out. All of the sudden, my torch is getting snuffed, I'm trying to process everything like everyone else does. Usually you get to cry and think about what just happened. I literally had to turn around and stare at everyone who just betrayed me. To top it all off, the new Tribal Council walks in. Pretty humiliating to be sitting there. And here's the cherry on top: Chris Noble, Libby and Des are sitting with me, with their beautiful makeup on, and I'm just sitting there being like, "What the hell is going on?" (Laughs.) In a weird way, it helped me transition into jury mode very quickly. I didn't have time to have a pity party. I think that was better for me. It helped me transition back into the real world very quickly.

Obviously, we didn't see too much of you on the show. Has that been frustrating?

Looking back and seeing how I played the game and the opportunities I was given, with Malolo being on the bottom and not having any luck … that was obviously a huge part of it. I obviously would have loved to be a bigger part of the storyline. But I don't regret anything. It was such an amazing experience. I'm proud of what I did. I came in as a recruit and didn't have the leg up of knowing the game as well as these super fans. I was proud for fighting day in and day out and getting where I was. I was cast as more of a likable villain, but I never had a chance to really be myself. I was centering myself so often, constantly biting my tongue. It was the most frustrating thing, day after day. Rewatching that was hard. But at the same time, I didn't deserve a ton of time. I didn't do anything! But it was frustrating, because I would have loved to do more.

People who pay attention to the Survivors outside of the game must have thought you and Sebastian were in lockstep out on the island. Can you set the record straight: are you and Sebastian really an item, or is this an elaborate hoax?

It's legit! We're in love. I'm moving to Florida in two weeks. I just quit my job. It's real! They didn't show it on the show; they showed us sniffing hair, and that's about it. We didn't really get anywhere on the show. We started flirting at Ponderosa [before the game], when we couldn't even talk to each other. We were sitting by each other. We sat together on the plane ride, flying out next to each other. That's where it started. We actually have matching tattoos of the plane seats we sat in.

Did it take some time to heal any of the rifts from the game? He not only voted you out, but apparently he voted you out after telling you he wanted you to see your dad at the loved ones visit the next day!

That's what was so shocking, because he's not a strategic player. He's an open book. Him telling me, "We're keeping you. I want you to see your dad." In my mind, there was no way this kid was lying to me, just because I didn't think he had it in him. It was so frustrating. I was totally shocked. It was really hurtful. But at the same time, I think I transitioned into juror phase very quickly. I didn't focus on what had just happened to me. I was able to get over it quicker than I should have. But watching it last night again? It brought it all back up, and we're in our first fight right now. (Laughs.) It was the episode, plus the whole Ponderosa video coming out … it hasn't been the best on our relationship!

Sebastian, if you're reading this, just know that Jenna loves you very much.

Thank you. (Laughs.)

Who is Sebastian, beyond the "stoney baloney" soundbites?

He's such a goofy person, but what people don't see is how lovable he is. He definitely has stoner eyes, but if you watch his individual interviews on CBS All Access, you see he's so articulate when he wants to be. This kid has put so much thought into his life. He's so smart. When he's not thinking about things critically, he just says whatever. But when he's asked questions and he's actually answering them, the kid is very smart. I think that's something they didn't show enough.

How close was your fragrance commercial to being named "Dead Weasel," instead of "Aqua by Survivor"?

It was supposed to be "Aqua Dump," actually. (Laughs.) We were brainstorming for our commercial ideas, and we came up with "Aqua Dump," which would be a big spoof. But seeing it back? I expected it to come out as a spoof, and instead it came out as a very well-done commercial and a lot more sexual than I thought it would! (Laughs.) But I love it. I think it's amazing. I think it actually showed who I am, versus the show. I was so censored!

Heading to the jury, having just endured your final Tribal Council, and then being forced to watch another one play out … did you feel like you had a sense of who was in the front of the game? Who did you think was going to win?

It was clear to me that Dom and Wendell as a pair had control. Every single person was walking up to them and asking permission to make any move. But out of the two, I always felt Dom was so much better at being up front about it. He was so clearly in control and unapologetic about it, and yet, no one ever did anything. Wendell was a lot more smooth, playing in the background. Props to Dom for always coming out and being like, "This is how it's going to be," and owning it. 

Weekly Probst-mortems:

• Week 1: Gonzalez and Jacob's exits, explained
• Week 2: The return of James Clement's idol
• Week 3: Michael's "double idol" gamble
• Week 4: Ending Stephanie's dreams
• Week 5: Probst on James' elimination
• Week 6: The return of three iconic artifacts
• Week 7: The Noble One's bogus journey
• Week 8: Probst on Libby's elimination
• Week 9: The anatomy of a brazen and risky move
• Week 10: The double elimination twist, explained

Weekly exit interviews:
• 20th place: Stephanie Gonzalez
• 19th place: Jacob Derwin
• 18th place: Morgan Ricke
• 17th place: Brendan Shapiro
• 16th place: Stephanie Johnson
• 15th place: James Lim
• 14th place: Bradley Kleihege
• 13th place: Chris Noble
• 12th place: Libby Vincek
• 11th place: Desiree Afuye
• 10th place: Jenna Bowman
9th place: Michael Yerger

Preseason player profiles:

• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland

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