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“What is the lie?”
It’s an eternal question, and one that found its way into the most recent episode of Survivor, in which castaway Desiree Afuye lied through her teeth about a plan to vote against her former allies. With her plan outed by her would-be conspirators, Desiree did everything in her power to convince the other members of the original Naviti tribe that she never even entertained a conversation about flipping sides — a complete and utter lie, given four other players who participated in the talks.
The vast majority of the remaining Ghost Island castaways saw through the ploy and worked together to blindside Des, making her the third member of the jury, and only the fourth player from the original Naviti tribe, to exit the game. Though she wore the purple buff for the first six days of Survivor, Desiree spent even more time on the supposedly cursed Malolo beach, losing challenge after challenge after challenge… until she led the charge in burning the Malolo flag to the ground, reversing her fortunes, if only for a time.
What was the full extent of Desiree’s plan to make a move against her longtime ally Kellyn and the rest of the original Naviti? If the scheme worked out, what was her ideal situation moving forward in the game? Here’s what Desiree told The Hollywood Reporter about all of that and more.
How are you feeling, Desiree?
I’m good. Good to talk to you.
Sad to talk to you!
I know. It was a good plan!
Do you have any regrets about the plan?
I have close to none. I guess my only regret would be the execution of it. After the lie blew up, I could have regrouped better. I could have gone back to Laurel and try to reiterate my plan and convince her that it was in her best interest to go along with the plan. I felt like we still could have pulled it together, even after it blew up.
How long was your plan to turn on Naviti in the works?
I knew around the merge that it’s what I wanted to do. I was convinced it was the move to make after the Chris vote, when I saw the Naviti women were divided. I didn’t know about the Chris vote. I voted Libby. That showed me there was a division there and I was pretty convinced it was the right move to make.
Interesting; we haven’t had a lot of clarity on why you and Angela voted for Libby in the Chris vote, if it was a backup plan or if it was you not knowing the votes were coming for Chris. So you were in the dark?
I was very surprised when Chris went home. There were different conversations, and Libby’s name was thrown out. That was the name I thought we were all going with at the end of the day. It wasn’t, when the votes were revealed. That helped me with my game, though. I thought my relationship with the Naviti women was stronger than it actually was. That put the target on Kellyn’s back for me, and on anyone else who had anything to do with keeping Dom and Wendell in the game. I felt like they were dangerous players at that point in time, and we needed to get them out.
Why target Kellyn first, especially given how much Survivor the two of you had played together up until that point?
When you think about it, Kellyn was winning challenges. On top of that, she was teamed up with Wendell and Domenick, somehow, some way. That’s the only way Chris was able to get voted off. I knew that one, Kellyn is strong individually, all by herself. Two, Kellyn’s in an alliance with other strong people. So she had to go. If she’s keeping Dom and Wendell here? She needs to go. I didn’t want to do it, because like you said, I had played a lot of my game with her. It just seemed like the right choice at the time.
Did you form the plan on your own? Was it in tandem with anyone, like Chelsea?
I definitely formed it on my own. It was an idea I brought to Angela. I was going to bring the plan to Chelsea, but I hadn’t told her the plan right away. The plan was to tell Chelsea about it once she had no choice. She was still closely tied to Kellyn. I figured that Kellyn and Chelsea were the two who decided to make the move against Chris without telling me. Let me not tell Chelsea, because if I tell her I’m trying to vote out Kellyn, she might tell Kellyn. That’s who I was really worried about telling: Chelsea. I wasn’t worried about Laurel. I figured this would make the most sense to Laurel because literally the whole Malolo group had been asking someone to flip. They had been asking everybody to flip, and nobody was taking the bait. I figured that once we gave them this plan, it makes no sense not to go along with it, because it’s what everyone had been asking for.
Did you suspect that any of the four Malolo would reject your plan?
I had no suspicions, really. I knew that Donathan was tied to Dom in some way, that they had been talking, and that Dom was in his ear. I knew Laurel had been talking to Wendell, and whenever I talked to Wendell, he would say, “We have Laurel. I have her under my wing.” I knew he thought he had a strong relationship with Laurel, but I thought that by me telling Laurel all of these things — “Wendell thinks he has you under his wing and thinks he controls you” — I thought that would break whatever was between Wendell and Laurel.
Once you found out the rumors were spreading around camp, what’s your immediate reaction? What’s going through your head?
Oh, I went straight into “deny, deny, deny” mode. (Laughs.) As soon as I heard the story, I knew everything they were going to say. They’re telling me everything that I said to them, and I’m just like, “What?” My whole facial expression is just one giant: “What? I have no idea what you’re talking about. Why would Laurel even say that? When did she plan this?” That was my immediate reaction: go off and totally throw them off.
How did you commit so hard to the lie? Did you make a shift in your mind, that the lie was the truth?
Yeah, I had to make that shift. “This is the truth.” A million dollars is on the line at the end of the day, so if I have to lie, I’m going to lie, and I’m going to lie big. People are going to be so confused. I wanted Laurel to be thinking, “Wait, which one of us is lying?”
Once the lie blew up, was there any follow-up attempt to get things back on track with Laurel?
There was an attempt, but I couldn’t get as close to Laurel as I wanted. Everybody had eyes on me at that point. Everyone was still trying to figure it out. I didn’t want to talk to Laurel and they all now get the idea that I’m trying to make a play, or that I was lying. So I had to stay away from Laurel until this all blows over, and I figured I’d see what happens tomorrow — but, unfortunately, tomorrow on that island never came for me.
Did you feel like there was a real chance you were getting voted out that night?
I definitely felt like it was 50-50. Maybe I’m going home, maybe I’m not. But I was going to ride with the lie all the way until I’m gone. That’s what was on my mind.
Did we miss anything at Tribal Council?
It was pretty close to how I remembered it. Obviously, there was a lot more back and forth. But I was still confused at Tribal, and I think that was portrayed pretty well. It was 50-50 for me, if I was going home or not. By the time you’re viewing Tribal Council, I’m still not sure what’s going to happen to me. When I saw Michael’s name come up first, I thought Michael was going home — but it wasn’t Michael. It was me.
If the plan went off without a hitch, and Kellyn goes home the night you went home, what was the next step? What was your plan to get to the end?
After Laurel sided with me and Kellyn went home, the next big targets would have been the guys. For one, they have idols. There’s no reason to side with anybody who has idols this late in the game, especially when they’re powerful players even without the idols. To me, it made the most sense that once Kellyn went home, I would pick off the guys. Then the easy picks to go would be Chelsea, who maybe hasn’t bonded with everyone, and Jenna, too. Although maybe Jenna could have stayed because she really hadn’t made a move. I’d be left with people who hadn’t really made big moves left in the game…
So you would have been comfortable going to the end with anyone at that point?
You mention that you knew about Domenick’s and Wendell’s idols. Was that a known fact throughout camp?
I definitely knew. Word had spread around, some way, some how, that Wendell had found an idol at Yanuya. He had made a fake idol, too. That I knew.
Wendell made a fake idol?
That was the word around town. It’s part of why I thought Laurel was going to go along with the plan: “Laurel, you know these guys have idols. You know they are powerful players, even without the idols. Everybody loves Wendell. Everyone loves Dom. You don’t want to be sitting next to them in the end if you get to the end. It’s not a pretty picture.” That was the pitch I used for Laurel, and it’s why I was so convinced she was going to go along with the plan.
Going back to before the merge… how satisfying was it to burn the Malolo flag to the ground?
It was so frustrating to be on the losing side of the challenges. Time after time, you just want to go in with a positive mind-set. “We’re going to win this time, even though we lost the last five challenges. This is the special one.” And then you lose again, and you have to try to pick your head up and go back in with the same attitude the next time. By the time we burned that flag, I was ready to burn everything. I was ready to burn the whole Malolo tribe to the ground. (Laughs.) Good thing we did burn the flag!
• 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
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
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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