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Much like the strength of the storms wreaking havoc on Survivor: David vs Goliath, the current iteration of CBS’ iconic reality franchise is experiencing a powerful response from its fan base — thanks in no small part to truly unusual instances of drama, like the one featured in the most recent episode, “Jackets and Eggs.”
The Goliath tribe’s Natalie Cole became the latest player voted out after an utterly bizarre conflict broke out in camp: Natalie, acting on behalf of fellow Goliath Angelina Keeley, tried to strong-arm underdogs Nick Wilson and Lyrsa Torres from the David tribe into giving up their jackets, or else kiss their chances in the game goodbye. (Cue Lyrsa’s signature catchphrase of the season thus far: “Um, excuse me?”) Infuriated by Natalie’s attempt at “leverage,” Lyrsa and Nick teamed together with filmmaker Mike White to flip the script on the publishing CEO. Even Angelina was in on the plot, only voting against Lyrsa to save face with Natalie and earn the outgoing Goliath’s jacket; the results of that mission can best be described as an epic fail.
In a season filled with clever and unexpected storytelling, the climactic Tribal Council at the heart of “Jacket and Eggs” was truly one for the books. As the person on the other side of the vote, Lyrsa joins The Hollywood Reporter to explain how it all played out from her perspective. In addition to breaking down “Jacket and Eggs,” Lyrsa also opened up about the first few days of the season, as well as the storm she’s currently weathering outside of the game.
We’re going to focus mostly on “Jackets and Eggs,” but first, is there anything from your time on the David tribe in the first three episodes that we didn’t see, that you want to take a moment to shout out here?
We had so much fun during the days we didn’t have challenges. Gabby and I would spend hours talking about cheese because that’s the thing I missed the most, after my fiancé and my cats. Christian and I had a blast making jokes about Slamtown, and how we were going to run a campaign against John. I was going to be Secretary of State because I studied anthropology and was going to be able to be sensitive to other towns like Punchtown, Kicktown and such.
At the end of the day, although there were some fractures, we would sit around the fire and talk and joke. I really enjoyed my time at the David camp, because we all had different points of view, but we were able to listen and share without [judgment]. Elizabeth and I see the world very differently, but we were able to sit down and talk about controversial issues like gun control, homosexuality and religion with grace and no need to be offensive.
As we move forward, let’s start with the weather, which was severe enough to lead to Pat’s injury at the start of the season, and eventually so devastating as to lead to the full cast’s evacuation. Can you describe just how vicious it was out there?
The weather was brutal. It reminded me of all the hurricanes that I survived back in Puerto Rico. The difference was that in this situation, I was out there with the elements, feeling its fury hitting us with no mercy and no protection as you might find in a house. When I started to see the palm trees moving side to side violently, I knew what was going on, and immediately had some sort of regression and started to think mostly of PR during [Hurricane Maria]. All the destruction, the lives that were lost and the impotence of being here in Boston, unable to talk to my family, unable to send help because all the airports were closed.
I never thought that in our season someone was going to be evacuated. You see this happen on some seasons, but you never think, “It will happen to us,” so losing Pat was a really sad moment. I was really enjoying having Pat around because he is such a nice guy and very caring. He was always more concerned about our well-being than his, especially during the bad weather. I am very stoic with my emotions because I don’t want to look vulnerable, but Pat’s accident really broke me. Even my mom called me when she saw the episode to ask me how Pat was doing and if I was okay reliving that moment, seeing it back on the TV.
When we were forced to leave the beach, I had a sense of relief. I knew Jeff was not going to leave us there, and I really trusted the production crew. While we were waiting to be evacuated, I was waiting outside of the shelter, just letting the rain and the wind hit me. Angelina and Mike were calling me to get back in, but in that moment, I felt it was my time to feel and connect in a spiritual way with all the people back at PR during Maria. I think it was the way of the universe to give me some sort of connection with that catastrophic event that took so much of so many of my people.
It’s clear from watching the show that you and the other players are suffering moments where you’re extremely cold, due to the weather. How much was your jacket a lifesaver during those dreary days?
That jacket was fucking amazing! When I was informed that we were going to film in Fiji, I got really excited because it was still winter in Boston. A snow storm had just left the Northeast area and another one was coming. I was so happy to leave the cold weather for the sun, the beach, all the amazing weather conditions that you associate with Fiji… and then the rain started and didn’t stop. Having that jacket was a lifesaver. It kept me super warm at night, and sort of dry during the rain. It dried really quick compared to my pants and socks. Every night I slept with the jacket on.
You, your jacket and the weather all collide on Jabeni beach with several other players, including “Napalm” Natalie Cole. What were your first impressions of your new group after the tribe swap?
The swap didn’t take me by surprise. Being a hardcore fan of the show, you know it’s coming at some point. I was in denial at first because it’s David vs. Goliath, and in that biblical story, you don’t see David joining the Philistines. When I was opening my buff, I was all up for a swap, although my face said differently. I just got so bummed that Elizabeth had orange and I had purple. Then I saw that Natalie had purple, too, and during pregame when I saw her — and I think I told you this [on First One Out] — I thought she was going to be like the mom of the tribe… little did I know I was going to join Napalm Natalie and on her beach! I was willing to work with everybody, regardless of their original tribe, but she was very hard to crack into. I was really excited to be with Mike because I “knew” him from The Amazing Race, and I was actually rooting for him. That’s the first thing I told him. I was a little hesitant with Angelina, because I knew she was way in the game zone, but I really wanted to connect with all of them on a personal level.
But when I arrived to their beach, I felt really like an outcast, because Natalie made sure we felt like that. She was very “Goliath strong” without looking to other possibilities to develop her game outside her original group. But I noticed she was the crack on that group and had to work that angle. Needless to say, I bumped heads with her all the time. At first I thought it was because we were the minority, but she was way bossy and I really don’t like to be bossed around. I am an adult, and we can have differences, but we can respect each other without speaking down to one another… so I made it very difficult for her, too. If she wanted the machete in a particular corner, I would put it in the other one. I like to push buttons, and in this game, you shouldn’t, but I saw the crack and couldn’t contain myself. I did everything in my [power] to annoy her as much as she was annoying me. I found it hilarious.
I bonded the most with Mike. We had “The Rainbow Coalition.” Yes, we had a name for our alliance, like Nick had names for his! It was a breeze to be with Mike, being able to be all the gay I wanted to be and talk about my partner, and make jokes that someone else would understand. He was all up for me “Puerto Rican snapping” on Natalie. I felt that Mike was the David of the Goliaths, and we bonded around that. I tried to sell that idea to Natalie, and see if she wanted to work with us, but it didn’t work.
This is as good a time as any to get your side of the story on the eggs. Can you walk us through the aftermath of winning the eggs at the reward challenge, and the argument with Natalie that ensued?
I was very excited about winning the eggs because that was my outlet to show my chef skills to my new tribe. Once we got to the beach and we started doing camp work, Natalie said that she was going to boil water to cook all the eggs and then we could save some for later. I told her we couldn’t do that because we had no means to save the cooked eggs for later, and after four hours, FATTOM [food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen and moisture] was going to occur and bacteria was going to form and spoil the eggs, which will make us sick. She was very adamant, and we started going back and forth about eggs and egg preservation in the conditions we were in. She kept saying that the eggs were not going to be good the next day, and I told her that before refrigeration, people still had eggs that they had to store, and that it was fine as long as we saved them in one of the trunks and under the shade. They were going to be good for at least three to four days, and in a game like Survivor, you need to use all your skills and resources to survive. We went on for a while. She was not backing down, and I was not backing down, so I told her to cook the eggs, but that from my portion of the winnings, I was only going to eat one and save the rest for the next day. So I saved my extra egg in the trunk and ate it the next day with rice.
After your tribe lost immunity, we watched Angelina task Natalie with coming for your jacket. You were obviously very offended by the whole ordeal. How did it all go down, as far as you remember?
Before the challenge we were getting ready, and Natalie asked me in front of Angelina: “So, why should we keep you and vote Nick out?” I was very out of it, because we were not even done with the challenge, and here she is going into [it with] a negative state, asking for a résumé when I am trying to relax and keep my anxiety down. I knew I really had to perform since I have the “she’s not good at challenges” tag on my back. I told her that I was going to tell her [why to vote Nick instead] if we lost, but at that moment, I wanted to think positive and perform well. It really rubbed me the wrong way, because I felt she was setting us up for failure.
When we came back from the challenge, I knew it was probably going to be me. I was still trying to find out a reason why. I was no physical threat, but doing decent on challenges. I was helping a lot in camp. I had no idol, and I was making life at camp more enjoyable and less stressful. I went to Mike and told him I really didn’t want to go home, that challenge-wise I was doing way better than Natalie, and I was more fun to have around. He told me he was going to talk to Angelina. I went to walk around and just try to figure out my next move to keep myself safe… and the whole jacket situation went on while I was off doing that.
I got back to the camp, and Nick tells me Angelina and Natalie wanted him to steal my jacket. I couldn’t believe it. They planned to vote me out and try to keep the jacket, and I was blown away. I really didn’t care about the jacket that much until that moment. It was just a frigging jacket! But the audacity of valuing a jacket more than a person and their assets to the team really upset me. I felt that it said a lot about the people they were. If they would have told me: “Hey, if we vote you out, can we keep the jacket?” I would have said yes. [Editor’s note: Natalie has a very different answer to this question.] I knew it was cold at night, but after hearing that, I was like, “Nuh uh. If I leave, I will take the jacket. I have more value than the jacket”.
How did the votes against Natalie come together? Did you and Nick walk into Tribal Council with Mike already on your side?
I went to Tribal trusting that Nick and I were voting for Natalie, and hoping that Mike was sticking with us. I knew he was in a difficult position because he didn’t want to upset the Goliaths in case we merged, so I was very nervous. My reaction to the reading of the last vote was natural. I felt really unsafe, and I am grateful that Mike stuck with us for the vote.
Angelina came to me [before Tribal] and asked me if I had an idol, which I didn’t, and told me that she was going to vote for me, because we were getting Natalie out but if she voted for Natalie, she was not going to [get Natalie’s] jacket. She told me to tell Natalie that we were having a “Latina to Latina” conversation about how I was next and that she was sorry, but not to tell her the plan. I didn’t trust both of them after the whole conversation with Nick about “Jacketgate,” so I nodded.
Angelina indeed voted how she told me, and she asked Natalie for the jacket more than it was shown. I think she even dropped a tear or two, but I knew Natalie was not going to give it up. Natalie is a very smart woman, and she knew what had happened. She was not going to give her jacket, like I was not going to give up mine.
Before we wrap, I want to ask you about something that’s happening now, outside of the game. In the past few days, you’ve opened up about dealing with cyber-bullying, especially following this episode. What are you currently experiencing?
As a person that’s been bullied my whole life, I think it’s really sad that people are still relying on hurting people just to make themselves feel good. What is the point of hurting someone that, in this case, you really don’t know? I signed up for the game, with the good and the bad, and I was very ready to not be liked by a lot of people. What I was not ready for was the harassment, and dragging my partner in this. I am the one that decided to become a “public persona,” not her.
I left my Instagram public so fans could enjoy this journey, never expecting [harassment]. People might ask, “Why didn’t you turn off your phone?” I have elderly parents in Puerto Rico, alone, and if something happens at any time, I have to be available for them. I reposted some screenshots of the messages, with the hope of creating consciousness about this. I have always told fans in my social media that my space is a no bashing one. We all shared this exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime experience that only past players can relate to, and up until [this past week], they respected my request. The accounts were reported and blocked. Then a “Loving Lyrsa” group was created, and that made me smile again, and have some faith that there are still people out there that understand that this is a game, that we are real people who just want to bring a good game and show to all of you to enjoy.
When you have been bullied from kindergarten to your senior year, you create this shell. You know, or hope, that at some point, it will stop. That you will go out to the world, and find people that really like you and enjoy the wonderful person that you are, that will value your friendship. That’s what kept me going all those years in school: that once I get to go to college, I was going to meet the people who were going to really value me for who I am, that I was going to create amazing bonds with them. And that’s what happened. That’s why I treasure my friends like the most sacred relationship after my blood relatives. My friends, my partner and my family are everything to me.
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