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In a season filled with hard-fought Tribal Councils and big-time blindsides, the latest person eliminated from Survivor was sent out of the game with plenty of advance notice.
At the very least, entering the homestretch of the latest Survivor: Ghost Island episode, three people knew their heads were on the chopping block: Michael Yerger, Jenna Bowman and Stephanie Johnson, the three original members of Malolo still stranded on their same sandy beach under the thumb of former Naviti players Bradley Kleihege, Kellyn Bechtold, Desiree Afuye, Sebastian Noel and Chelsea Townsend.
There were few fireworks at Tribal Council, as the result was plainly clear: one of Michael, Jenna or Stephanie would be sent home; it was just a matter of which one would be getting their torch snuffed at this particular Tribal Council. Ultimately, the vote came down on the sole surviving Stephanie of the season, sending Johnson packing to Ponderosa, where Stephanie Gonzalez and the other eliminated castaways were waiting.
This season, one player each episode is banished to a place called Ghost Island. There, castaways sleep beneath Survivor death in the form of the more than 30 torch snuffers, all from Jeff Probst’s own collection, dangling overhead in the lonely shelter. Earlier in this week’s episode, Stephanie Johnson slept beneath those snuffers; little did she know that her own fire would be snuffed by a similar artifact in just a matter of days.
“The moment of the torch snuff is always powerful for me, always,” Probst tells The Hollywood Reporter, weighing in on the emotional Tribal Council. “Though I try to never show it, I am very aware that a dream is ending. And even though a vast majority of players hold a strong stance and hide their emotion, I know that they are reeling with a thousand different thoughts and emotions. It’s just a major bummer.”
“But,” he continues, “just as quickly I remind myself that without these stakes, the game would not be nearly as much fun. It’s very difficult to win Survivor. Everything has to go right and you have to have a lot of luck as well.”
Such is Probst’s assessment of Stephanie, who he felt was showing “signs that she could be a very good long term player” before she wound up on the wrong end of the new Malolo tribe’s numbers.
“Her handling of Jacob was beautiful,” says Probst. “She read him well, got him to trust her and got what she wanted from him. She made it look easy, but those moments require a lot of nuance. The hope I would have for Stephanie is that she can find pride in how she played. She went hard, made alliances, gathered information and then fell victim to a tribe switch. The ‘luck’ portion of Survivor cannot be undervalued.”
In the preseason, here’s what Probst had to say about Johnson: “She’s a mom and a tri-athlete, and we’ve been talking to her for a while. Note to future Survivor players: When we say you’re not out of the mix, you’re really not. Sometimes it just doesn’t work, for reasons that have nothing to do with the player. I have mixed thoughts on her. I’ve heard a lot of people saying they love her, and I’ve heard other people saying she’s too much. I guess that’s kind of my mix, too. She’s really engaging and probably a really good friend. On Survivor, there’s that balance: ‘Okay, Stephanie. I just need a moment!’ But as you know, I know nothing. You and I are sitting on a table here, and they’re out there on the beach, living!”
Here’s how Probst reacts to his own preseason assessment now: “I would definitely change my first impression of Stephanie. She proved me wrong. I didn’t see any of the ‘too much’ during her time in the game. She seemed to have a very good grasp of the dynamics of her tribe, she navigated Jacob very well, she was a great interview, she never quit trying to make something happen and when it was over, she handled it with grace. She delivered.”
More from Stephanie Johnson coming soon, in the form of this week’s exit interview. What did you make of the latest episode? Sound off in the comments and follow THR.com/Survivor for more coverage.
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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