'Survivor' Season 35: Alan Ball Strips Down the Latest Twist

The NFL player weighs in on the power of tribe swaps, immunity idols and his role in the debut of the strip search strategy.
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 four.

"I have to give credit where credit's due. They played a hell of a game, and they got me."

Those are some classy final words from Alan Ball, the professional football player and former Heroes tribe member, spoken after becoming the fourth player voted out of Survivor season 35. It's certainly not the incensed sentiment Alan would have predicted for himself before the game, based on what he told me in the preseason.

"That's some bullshit," Alan said on Day Zero, sending his blindsided future self a message from the past. "I don't know what happened, but I know it was some bullshit. I don't know who did it, but I guarantee it's bullshit, and I should still be there."

Honestly? There's some truth in Alan's original final words, as the NFL player was knocked out of the game thanks to a series of external forces beyond his control, including: (1) a tribe swap that left him on the erstwhile Heroes beach with only one familiar face from his original tribe, Ashley Nolan, with whom he had a tenuous relationship at best; (2) crucial new ally Devon Pinto's vote was cancelled out, thanks to an advantage discovered by Jessica Johnston on Yawa beach; and (3) Joe Mena successfully played a hidden immunity idol on himself, canceling out Alan and Ashley's vote, and guaranteeing Alan's elimination.

How does Alan feel about his exit now, months later, the morning after his final episode aired? And what can he say now about those first few days on Heroes beach, during which Alan targeted Ashley and JP Hilsabeck over an immunity idol that never existed — did he really believe they had an idol, or was it all a carefully laid plan?

Alan's thoughts on all of those topics and more, in our exit interview below.

How are you feeling, Alan?

Good. It's a little early, but everything's good. (Laughs.) I'm feeling good. It was fun watching myself. I enjoyed watching it. I think there's a lot missed in there, but I enjoyed watching it. I really did. I enjoyed watching it. So I'm feeling good.

Has your experience watching the show measured up with your memory of playing the game?

You know, I think it's tough putting all of that time we spend out there, all of those people, all of those interactions, and putting it into an hour a week. It's tough doing that. You have to give the producers and Survivor credit for the way they edit things. They definitely keep the show what the show is, and is pure and it's natural and it's good. At times, I think they made me look crazy! I don't have a problem with that. But it measured up pretty accurately for the most part. There are some things they could have added to show why things were happening, but I think it measured up pretty accurately. I don't have any problems with it. I enjoyed watching it and I enjoyed being out there, and I would definitely do it again. I don't have any problems with it. I think they did a good job.

You've had a lot of time to do the post-game on what happened to you out there. So, what happened? Have you identified a key reason for why you went home?

Yeah: Joe had to go, or I had to go. It's pretty simple. (Laughs.) I don't think that tribe would have lasted a day longer with both of us there. He's not somebody I could have worked with. I don't think he saw me as someone he could have worked with. I think he was intimidated by me. I was annoyed by him. At the end of the day, one of us had to go. He had more power in the game than I did, especially with that idol. That's why I'm sitting on this couch right now talking to you.

What happened between you two out there? Was it clear quickly that you weren't going to get along?

Yeah. As soon as he got to the camp, he just annoyed me. Some of the things he said and says, his interactions ... he's just annoying. He's an annoying person. I don't know whether that was for the show or that's him. I don't know. I know that when he showed up at the camp as soon as we got there, before we could even figure out which direction to go, I was deeply annoyed by him. It didn't take long for me to figure out that Joe has got to go. Sometimes, when something is set on your mind, maybe that's a fault of mine, that when I'm locked into something, I'm locked in. Sometimes, that goes your way and makes you successful, and sometimes it ends in your demise. I was locked into getting rid of him. That was my view of it the entire time. Maybe if I saw things a little differently, things would have played out differently. But I definitely couldn't be on that tribe with him for too much longer.

Did you have any suspicions that he had an idol?

I did not. In talking to him, he surprised me. I didn't think he was that cunning and that good of a player to have a blow-up and have an idol to draw that. I didn't sense he was that bright. It was a good play. Whether he's bright or a good Survivor player, I don't know. I didn't give him that much credit. I should have given him more credit to say, maybe he did have an idol. Did it cross my mind? Yeah, but the weight of me wanting him gone weighed way more than the fact that he might have an idol. I went on the side of "I want you home," instead of, "You might have an idol."

When the tribes swapped, what were your first thoughts about the new Levu?

Standing on that mat, I didn't have any problems. I'm looking at Ashley, and OK, we've had our issues, but at that point I think we knew that even though this is the last person I want to be stuck with, we could probably still work together. I looked at Devon and saw him as obviously big and strong and could be an asset. I didn't know much about Joe. I looked at Desi and thought she could be an asset, too. She looked like a competitor. When you put all of us together, from what I see right now, it looks like we can do well. But when we got back to camp, after that very first challenge together, I knew we were going to have some issues. Going through that challenge, I felt as though we were a little disheveled. I didn't think Joe was that strong when it came to competing. It felt like we should have made some different moves. Maybe we needed more time to figure things out, but after that first challenge, I knew we might have some problems.

Going into the swap, how were you feeling about where the Heroes were standing, after a pretty rocky start to the season?

You know, I think we were in the middle of a bounce-back. It sucks. We got a win under our belt, we were getting it together. Some lines had been drawn, very much so, which I didn't mind. I think we were finally getting on solid ground. Not that everybody was buddies, but everybody was working through it and figuring it out. Everybody was cordial. We knew there was a bigger goal, to make the tribe as strong as possible and continue to win, especially after getting a taste of victory. I think we were finally coming together. That's why I was so surprised when we dropped our buffs. I was just starting to figure my way out with these people, and now I have to start over with new people? It was a blow.

How did things go so crazy in the first few days of the game, with everything that happened between you and Ashley and JP? And was the strip search premeditated — was that something you knew you were going to bring into the game?

Absolutely not. Absolutely not. I don't think anyone can predict someone dropping their pants in front of you. That was not scripted. That's nothing you could predict. Still to this day, if I did it all over again, I would never expect that. (Laughs.) It went crazy. When you watched it, and when I watched it, all of that happened in three days, but out there, it felt like so much longer than three days, because a lot happened and they squeezed it into one episode. It's crazy to see. That was over a three-day span, and a lot happened. There were things I planned, but nobody could plan for that. Seriously.

But did you genuinely believe JP and Ashley were a power couple?

Power couple? That's my own little twist. But I definitely know they had intentions of working together beyond the core four [of Alan, Ben, JP and Ashley] and beyond our tribe. I knew that. I still, to this day, believe that they had something that would have given them power or something that would have changed the game that they were hiding. Now, I can't say what, because he dropped his pants and went through the extreme of trying to prove me wrong. But I think I deterred them from growing in the way they wanted to, and that was my goal, when we were talking about developing a core four and they were talking about developing something stronger between them two.

Did you believe they had an idol on top of that?

I don't know if they had an idol. I thought they might have a clue to an idol. I thought they had something. But it didn't hurt me to throw it out there. That's why I went about it the way that I did. 

What is it like to play Survivor with JP?

(Big sigh.) If there's food around and he can catch it, we'll eat. He's a hunter. He's a gatherer. He doesn't add much to conversation, per se. I don't think he added much to the game. But he might be a really good dude outside of the game, cool to hang with and grab a couple of beers with ... but outside of that? I don't think his contribution to the game was that great, but he's still there and I'm not, so he's a better player than me. JP is a wildcard to me, in the sense that he's JP. Self-explanatory. If you watch him long enough, you'll say the same thing. He's JP.

Were you comfortable working with Ben and Chrissy for the duration of the game?

Definitely. I'm rooting for them now. Ben is incredibly loyal, and Chrissy definitely wants to get to the end of the game and will do the things necessary where she can get herself there. I think she's a really good player. I trust Ben more. But I really enjoy talking with Chrissy. I enjoyed being out there with her. I'm pulling for those two, and I think they're incredible players.

What was going through your mind when Devon played his disadvantage?

Oh, man. At that moment, I kind of knew where this was going. At that moment, I'm going, "OK, I'm going home." Throughout Tribal, things are said and your thoughts are all over the place. But in that moment, things were taking a turn they weren't supposed to take. I left camp feeling one way, and now things are going a completely different way. In that moment, that's when I knew I was probably going home right now. When he read it, I think he read it thinking he really had an advantage. I'm listening to him and going, "This is the worst thing ever! This isn't an advantage at all!" I realized my fate was about to change drastically and I was probably going home.

Is there anything from Tribal that we didn't see?

Looking back on it, I think they showed ... well, it got pretty intense. For the sake of the show, I think they left out some of the back-and-forth between me and Joe. They nailed it down pretty well in terms of the flow of how things went. They did a good job of squeezing that Tribal and what happened in the amount of time they had. It was pretty accurate.

In my weekly chat with Probst, he said you're an example of someone who he would ask back for a second chance, even though you were voted out pre-merge. Would you play again?

Reach out to Jeff right now. Text Jeff for me right now. Tell him: "Let's get it." (Laughs.) Text him right now and say: "Let's get it." I would definitely go back. I had to come home and I had to watch this season. When I left, I thought, man that was tough. Would I go back? People were asking, and I can honestly say now, and I stand on it, that that was one of the best experiences of my life. It was an incredible journey. I had a blast. I would definitely do it again, no question.

Do you feel like you have unfinished business? 

That's part of it. When I left after that 11 days, I felt like I had so much more. That's my biggest regret. I sit here and I don't even remember being hungry or exhausted. I don't remember being overly anything. I had so much more to give and put out there. Did I fail because I went home and didn't play a good game, or did I fail because I had so much more in the tank? That's the question I'm stuck with right now. I had so much more. I have so much more game play. A lot of people were confused about how I was playing the game. My goal going in, and everyone asked me before, "Who do you want to play the game like?" I didn't want to play the game like anybody. I wanted to play the game like I wanted to play the game. I was just showing how I was playing the game. People were finally seeing how I'm playing the game, and I don't think I let enough of that out. I don't think enough of my story and how I was playing got out. I definitely left some things on the table.

Will you practice how to chop a coconut before you go back out there?

You would be surprised. We could have a coconut challenge right now, and I'll blow your mind. I can get through a coconut so fast now. (Laughs.) That's done. That's in my backpack of tricks now. I can crack a coconut anywhere. I just do that for fun now.

Click through the slideshow below for Alan's final words, from before he played the game.

 

Spoilers ahead! The fourth one out from #SurvivorHHH sends one last message from the past...

A post shared by Josh Wigler (@roundhoward) on

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