'Survivor' Season 35: Jessica Johnston Tells Her Side of the Cole Story

The nurse practitioner speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about her 'Survivor' experience.
Courtesy of CBS

Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter's Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers regular season coverage! Every week, we're bringing you exit interviews with the latest person voted out, recaps from THR's very own Dan Fienberg and weekly check-ins with executive producer and host Jeff Probst. Bookmark our season 35 one-stop shop to make sure you don't miss out on any of it.

Warning: spoilers ahead for season 35, episode seven.

It's time to say goodbye to another Healer — or as one of the other Healers might say: "Deuces."

After six Tribal Councils, the castaways of season 35 merged into a single unit in this week's episode, kicking off the individual portion of the game. In many ways, however, it remained a tribal conflict, as the Heroes and Hustlers teamed up against the dominant Healers, who had only lost a single tribe member up until this moment. 

The "Herstlers" alliance (which was formulated despite a different plan that would have seen the Yawa tribe's five players stick together until the end) spent much of the episode deciding between two targets: idol-happy Joe Mena, or always-hungry Cole Medders. Instead, they settled on a third and less obvious choice: Jessica Johnston, nurse practitioner from Kentucky, sent packing only days after contending with the Thunder From Down Under.

Despite making the merge, Jessica's elimination comes right before the jury phase of the game, sending her on an early trip with the six pre-merge players: Katrina Radke, Simone Nguyen, Patrick Bolton, Alan Ball, Roark Luskin, and Ali Elliott. Not a bad group to see new parts of the world with, even if all seven would most certainly rather be in the hunt for the million dollars.

The morning after her exit episode, here's what "Nurse Jessica" has to say about getting voted out right at the top of the merge, her vision for how the game should have gone moving forward, the truth behind her apparent showmance with Cole, the dish on several different active players, and more.

How are you feeling, Jessica?

Um, you know. Dealing with a slightly broken heart. But who doesn't have that at times? I'm good.

Was it worth it for the Thunder From Down Under?

God, I can't believe they showed that. I can't believe I said that! (Laughs.) I watched that, and I was like, "Oh my God." I"m not joking. I do not remember that coming out of my mouth. It had to be all of the chocolate. I literally had three desserts that day. I was on a high. I don't even know where that came from. I am embarrassed. What can I say?

How was the merge in general? The feast, the getting-to-know-you of it all …

It was utter chaos. Really, everything you see as a viewer happens on the island. People scrambling, people acting like total fools, people going to the people they think they trust and now they're remerged back with their old tribes, trying to figure out what happened in their old tribes? It's utter chaos. That's what it was.

I want to get some context for how you viewed everything at this point in the game. Were you serious about the Yawa Five? What were your thoughts on the landscape of the game, going into the merge?

Going into the merge, I was 100 percent confident that as far as the Healers, Joe and Desi would come back with us. Unfortunately, the relationship between Joe and I didn't really make much of the edit, because we kept winning [challenges on the Healers tribe]. What wasn't shown was that Joe had picked me as his number one, which he tweeted last night, and I was so excited to see that. I wasn't making it up! It wasn't in my head! We legit had something, which is awesome. It's good to have the sub-alliance within your bigger alliance. So, there's that. I was really excited when I saw both Joe and Desi. No doubt in my mind that the five Healers would join together, period. That was happening.

My other two members of the new Yawa, Ben and Lauren … I knew Ben was partly defected. What's the agent called that goes rogue? What do you call a defected, rogue agent?

A mole?

He is a mole! I knew that coming into the merge, because I knew how he had defended Chrissy. Nobody had a good vibe on Chrissy. I wasn't even on a tribe with her before the merge, but there weren't good vibes coming from her. I knew Ben was tight with Chrissy. In my mind, he had picked her as his first wife, and I was his second wife, in my head. Going into the merge, I was scared that they would rejoin forces. Lauren, however, I felt very confident in. Lauren and I had built this really tight thing on Yawa — which again, wasn't shown, because we kept winning. Again, it sucks to win, right? 

Only in this context.

Right. (Laughs.) So, going into the merge, I was very concerned with Joe acting like a maniac, which he did, because that's just who he is. With Cole and Ben, Ben wanted Cole out … so the whole merge, I was consumed with trying to get my boys under control. I wanted to make sure Joe and Cole were still good. I wanted to make sure Ben forgives Cole. I was the one who told Cole to go to Ben and apologize for eating the cinnamon sticks. Like, what are you doing? You're killing everybody! 

So, that was the dynamic in my life at the merge: getting my boys under control. I knew I had Mike. I had to touch base with Joe to make sure, listen, we're still good. Joe's concern was that Ben had infiltrated us, because Joe did not trust Ben. I was like, "Dude, we didn't have a choice but to [include] Ben! We had to build a new Yawa!" That was my whole goal: make Joe trust me, make Ben forgive Cole, and make sure Mike wasn't paranoid. All of that strategy proved to be worthless, because I still got voted out! (Laughs.) What I should have done was say, "Screw all of you. Is the heat on me?" But I didn't think it was. Unfortunately, I was too busy protecting everyone else, which is what I felt like I had been doing since day one. So, I got screwed.

Was it a good job by the Heroes-Hustlers alliance then, that they really made you feel like it was Cole or somebody else?

I applaud all of them. Obviously, heartbroken that Lauren and Ben did not come with us. Because guess what? There's no way they would have infiltrated … and I'm not sure why I keep saying "infiltrated," maybe it's because I watched that Navy SEAL show last night. (Laughs.) But it's a good thing Ben and Lauren didn't come with the Healers, because we would have voted them out. We were so tight. Which was our downfall, I'll admit. They made a good decision. When I watched the episode last night, the one thing I was surprised about — and the one thing I didn't have closure on — was at what point did Ben and Lauren decide they were not going to choose to play with me? I loved the part where Lauren was trying to tell Ben: "Listen, we have a good thing with this new Yawa. We don't need to break it." I was like, "That's my girl! That's the girl I knew I could trust!" I love knowing that the relationship I had with her was genuine. Again, unfortunately, sucks for me, that I was not in the majority. She made a really good play by choosing to blindside me and going with what everyone else wanted. It's just how the game goes. She made a good call. Bravo.

Let's talk about Cole. Here's your chance to tell your side of the story. Was the show's depiction of your relationship with Cole fair to you? Do you feel it was overblown?

My side of the Cole story … do I feel like the edit was overblown? I want to say no. What was shown was what was said. That's what was happening. Cole would say these wonderful things in my ear. Unfortunately, to be honest, as a girl, we all want to hear these kinds of things from someone we think we might like in real life. I was constantly like, "Oh God. Are you being serious right now? We're playing Survivor, and you're saying sweet nothings in my ear? This is not the time or place to be saying these things!" 

That's what I feel wasn't shown — me going, "Hold up, wait a minute. You're confusing love and Survivor." But at the same time, I'm totally confused. Do I want this to actually be real enough to blow my game? That was an inner conflict I had. Is this real? Cole, are you playing me? Is this going to ruin my game — and if this is real, do I care if it ruins my game? It was so confusing. I realized very early on what I was doing. How do I get out of this? 

But even though Cole was playing pretty ridiculously stupid, I think most of us can agree, I knew he would never write my name down. I'm now in this situation where he's a number, I haven't been put to the test yet, our alliance and loyalty hasn't been tried yet because we kept freaking winning. Again, it sucks to win. So I didn't have a chance to really put that trust into the battlefield, you know what I mean? All I know is that when push came to shove at the merge, he did not write my name down. He didn't know I was on the chopping block, but I don't think he would have. The relationship we had on the island was uber-confusing in my head. I don't even know what he really thinks about it. Is this real? Is this fake? Are you playing me? Am I delusional? I was constantly thinking those things.

How about Cole's shenanigans with the cinnamon sticks and the hanger management — was that widely felt among the other players, and if so, was it something you thought would be beneficial for you down the line? Did it make you comfortable enough to play until the end with a guy like that?

Oh my God, yeah. That's why I'm so glad we're talking about this. It's what I identified early on. Am I going to get defensive and say, "No, I wasn't in a showmance!" Absolutely not. Call it for what it was. Sure. Absolutely. But in this situation, we've all seen and agree that Survivor continues to change. Why can't a showmance be something wonderful? Cole ended up being the opposite of what everybody thought. He was making huge mistakes, which were real. The hangriness was legit. He was stealing food, he was acting like a crazy person, and I was like, "This is amazing. He's now my coverage." 

I would have loved to have gone to the end with Cole. He would have been a threat all the way to the end, and I feel like I could have defended myself in the Final Three against him. Of course, if we had been able to play the game together, who knows what would have happened with us? Someone was like, "Jessica, would you have really written his name down?" Are you kidding me? Absolutely. I end relationships all the time — aka I'm single. (Laughs.) I would have totally ended the showmance if my life depended on it … 

… unless I really thought we could get married. Like, thank you! Really hoping that happens for me in life! (Laughs.) But does that really happen all the time on Survivor? No.

It's not the classic Survivor story. There are a few!

Exactly … but why not me, right? (Laughs.)

Walk me through Tribal Council — your first and only, tragically. 

The Tribal Council was totally chaotic. What was interesting is, within that Tribal Council, Joe is going crazy. Which we expect! He's a character, and a good one. How he's playing is who he is. Bravo, Joe. Then we have Ben going at it with Chrissy, which really wasn't portrayed a lot [on the show]. We have Mike talking. I'm just sitting there thinking, "Thank God it's not me." I really just wanted to protect my game. We all want to be careful about what we say at Tribal, because we all want to go back to the island and play the game.

But when Joe pulled out that idol, it was the first time where I went, "Oh God. He just showed his idol. This is not OK. This is not good." Then Cole makes a comment, something like, "My boy has my back." In that moment, I went, "Well, there you go. I'm the only Healer without protection." I knew Mike had an idol, I knew Joe just showed his idol, Desi was safe, but even in that moment, it didn't resonate with me. Because I was way too confident in believing I infiltrated Ben and Lauren. In that moment, I still felt we had the majority, and Chrissy was going home. If I even had an inclination it was my name, I would have been a total crazy person. I regret that. I'm super assertive. When I feel like something's wrong, I say it. I never got the opportunity to be a "crazy blonde," which I would have been in that moment. I would have leaned over to Mike and I would have said, "You have got to play that idol for me." I hope he would have. Who knows what would have happened. But in that moment, I knew something was up.

Can you size up the competition for me, the people on the other side of the vote — the new players on your radar: Chrissy, Ryan and Devon?

I only really had one full day with these people, but I will say… I hate to say I'm an expert at women, but I feel like I am. Chrissy. I remember thinking she is not OK. She is not OK. She does not like competition from other women. I was very, very aware of it. I felt it. I saw it. In my opinion, I saw her give that aura. Doesn't want to go up against another woman, and if she feels another woman is causing her threat, she will do what she can to remove the threat. Again, good for her. Definitely pegged her as a threat. And I knew how close she was with Ben, so she was a personal threat to me, because I'm trying to be close with Ben. He can't have two women in his life, right? Definitely a big threat there.

Ryan and Devon, I pegged them as … obviously, they were in the minority. I didn't see them as huge threats. Devon didn't talk a lot. He was a surfer dude: "Come with me, be my friend." Ryan was super sweet. I didn't feel a whole lot of competition from him. The biggest threat I saw out there was Chrissy, and I knew Ben was leading a pack. Ben was either going to lead my pack, or he was going to lead his own.

If you're feeling Ben and Chrissy are close, why vote for Chrissy if you need Ben's vote? 

Again, I think that was a downfall for the Healers. We put way too much trust in the fact that we thought we had Ben and Lauren. Total downfall. That was our downfall. We trusted we had pulled him in with us, and totally ignored the fact that the Healers were a huge threat. I think we were overly confident in the relationships we thought we had. I know I was! What I wish I would have considered was thinking about the relationship Joe and Desi had with Ashley and Devon. It didn't dawn on me that that relationship was so broken. Again, I wish I had been more aware of everyone else that day, instead of being concerned with saving Cole, and being concerned Joe still trusted me. It ultimately kept the blinders on myself, and I was unaware of what everyone else was doing. 

And last night, something really resonated with me. I specifically remember a moment I had with Lauren, the day of the merge. I said to her: "Hey girlfriend! What's up?" You know, our typical lingo. Well, my typical lingo. She never says, "Hey girlfriend!" (Laughs.) She's just like, "What's up, Jess?" And I'm like, "What'cha dooooing?" Anyway! I did that with her, and totally got the cold shoulder. I did not remember that moment until [watching the episode] last night. I was like, "Oh God. That was it." That would have been my clue. If I had not been so consumed with making sure Ben didn't want to vote out Cole." That sucks. 

You mentioned before, something happened between Ben and Chrissy at Tribal … can you elaborate on that?

I believe there was a lot of back-and-forth between Ben and Chrissy, and I wish I could remember exactly what that was. Now, I'm wondering, was it just a play? Were they causing total crazy talk to make them think we weren't really going to play together? There was a lot of controversy between Joe and Chrissy as well. I don't know why. I wish I could remember details of that night. I just remember thinking: I'm glad I'm not the one having to argue tonight. Clearly, I should have been arguing!

Speaking with Jeff Probst this week, he said: "I think [Jessica] will make a case to play again in a 'second chance' season and I think she'd be strongly considered." Do you have that case ready, Jessica? What's the pitch for a second shot at Survivor?

Oh my God. Jeff Probst, get ready. Crazy blonde is coming out. I got two pieces of advice before I came out and played this game. Number one, don't hook up with the good-looking guy. I was like, "No way! I've watched Survivor before. Showmances never work." And look what the freak I did. I did exactly what I told myself I wouldn't do. And I made best friends. I screwed myself! I made best friends, and I hooked up with an eight-pack. The next time I play? There will be no hooking up with an eight-pack. Maybe a twelve-pack, but not an eight-pack. And I'm not making any best friends! I might just be a villain next time! (Laughs.) You never know! 

Follow THR.com/Survivor all season long for weekly conversations with Jeff Probst, exit interviews with the castaways as they come off the show, and weekly recaps from THR's very own Dan Fienberg.

comments powered by Disqus