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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 five.
Five Tribal Councils deep into Survivor season 35, and the impossible has finally occurred: the Healers have lost one of their own.
Social worker and Survivor fan-turned-player Roark Luskin became the first person on Healers beach to exit the game — in large part because she was the only Healer still on Healers beach, thanks to the tribe swap one episode earlier that left her stranded on Soko with Ryan Ulrich and Ali Elliott of the Hustlers tribe, and Chrissy Hofbeck and JP Hilsabeck of the Heroes tribe. Over the course of Tribal Council, Roark declared herself a swing vote for the evening, while Chrissy posited that a different collection of three could team together to decide the impending outcome. As it turned out, the actual actuary was in on the actual plan, as Ryan teamed with Chrissy and JP to vote out Roark.
Given that she’s the first Healer off of the field, Roark enters press day with the best perspective yet on how players like Cole Medders, Jessica Johnston and Mike Zahalsky have approached the game. With that in mind, here’s what Roark tells The Hollywood Reporter about everything that happened on Healers beach, in both the pre- and post-tribe swap eras.
How are you feeling, Roark?
I think what happened is I thought I was on Top Chef, so it all just went very poorly. (Laughs.) No, I feel totally fine. As far as boot episodes go, I can absolutely live with that being canon. I’m good.
Did it feel true to your experience?
Yeah. I think they did a really wonderful job at telling the story of what happened there. I feel there were some things people had questions about. I saw that a lot of people were questioning Ryan’s move. I saw a lot of people questioning the Chrissy animosity. People did have a couple of questions, but overall, I think it accurately portrayed what was going on.
Well, let’s start with the first of those two questions. Did Ryan make the right move, as objectively as you can be about it?
I really think he did. I completely defend his move, even though it obviously didn’t go my way. He had established trust with Chrissy because of that Day 1 advantage that we had absolutely no idea about — and by we, I mean myself and Ali. In my parting words, I said I wasn’t going to blame it on being swap-screwed. I owned that there was something I could have done. Now, knowing what I know? I think the only thing I could have done is find an idol. I don’t think there’s any way socially or strategically that I was getting out of swapped Soko. We were also the only tribe with three women, and obviously you see these challenges are insane. We were losing. Without an idol, I don’t think I was getting out of there, because once we stepped out on that mat with myself, Ali, Ryan and Chrissy, it became the most non-traditional swap relationship status ever before. You as a viewer get to see that whole picture, even though you don’t get to see every minute of conversation. You did get to see the whole picture, which Ali and I were not privy to.
From the jump, did you feel like the swap was a non-starter for you? You’re the only Healer on the tribe, but did you feel like there was some maneuverability with these people?
I hoped there was maneuverability! Look back at your own press: Ryan and I really wanted to work together. It breaks my heart that if we had started the game together, Ryan and I could have worked together. Things could have looked very different. I really like Ryan as a person. The way the cookies crumbled in the first nine days, it didn’t turn out so well for me. And honestly, I hoped that I was the swing, that that could have been the Survivor trope I could have fulfilled. But that swap could not have gone worse for me. I remember talking through with a producer: “What are your fears of a swap? What are your hopes?” I said, “I am very concerned about what I see happening with Jessica and Cole. If they swapped, and continue to build that relationship, I don’t love that.” Boom, there they go. I said, “Desi is the one person who has not been trusted with the information about Joe’s idol, so I wouldn’t love it if they swapped together.” Boom, there they go. It was awful. (Laughs.) It was really awful. And I did tell Desi about the idol; Cole did not. That obviously worked out for her. But yeah, that swap worked out very badly.
The second question you posed, about the animosity with Chrissy… what did that come down to? Why couldn’t you two click?
She and I were oil and water. In a way, I love how that played out. We’ve seen Zeke and David, but when do you see two insanely educated and eloquent women battling out? That was kind of awesome! I don’t hate that! (Laughs.) But what happened is Chrissy obviously recognized there are still six Healers in the game. We land on swapped Soko and she pulls Ali aside pretty much at jump and says: “Roark is the obvious move. If we go to Tribal, we take out Roark.” I don’t want to speak for Ali one hundred percent, but I don’t think Ali wanted to be told what to do, and not in that way and in that moment. She wanted to get to know me and decide if that’s what was best for her game. That’s why you get that quick Ryan confessional saying: “Chrissy and Ali will not be working together.” That stood for me as well. There was no bridge to be built there, unfortunately.
You weren’t surprised about the level of tension at that Tribal Council, then?
Absolutely. Absolutely. There was a ton that you didn’t see, obviously.
What did we miss?
One of the better moments… another weird configuration of the tribe was right after JP made the comment about three women and two men. Chrissy went, “Well, there’s another configuration: Roark, Ali and JP are all from LA, and I’m so sick of hearing them talk about LA and what it’s like to live in LA and go to restaurants in LA.” Ali and I simultaneously go: “How dare you! You and Ryan are from neighboring towns in New Jersey and you do the exact same thing!” All of it was just so delightful.
So you could tell that Ryan and Chrissy were close? Were you concerned about it as an actual possibility?
Even though I now believe that circumstance had a far greater role in my fate than I originally believed, I do have some regrets — not that I think they could have saved me, but I have personal regrets about things I could have said. For example, we slept on the sand, and we were bifurcated by a bonfire in order to keep warm. Ali and I slept together. My understanding is that Ryan and Ali were super tight. They voted together every time and they were awesome together. Ryan was with Chrissy and JP sleeping on the other side of the fire. I was like, “That’s really weird. Why is that happening? Ali, you guys are so close. What’s he doing over there?” My mind had that thought, but then it stopped moving. I didn’t then go to Ali and say, “I think we’ve lost Ryan. I think our only hope is to get with JP.” I don’t know if JP would have done that, though. One of the things I said out there is that JP was moldable and I wanted to continue with JP because I felt he was incredibly manageable and workable — and I said that in trusting faith in Ali and Ryan, and Ryan then told that to JP. I think what turned JP wasn’t the all-girls thing. I think it was Ryan telling JP that I thought he was manageable. I think that hurt his feelings.
What was it about Ali that drew you to her? You seemed like fast friends.
Oh, yeah. Ali and I hit it off. I’ve said that Ali was a starving girl, and I was a sandwich for her. I got to start the game with Jessica and Desi and we could not have had more fun together. Ali started in a very different situation. I think Ali was really looking for someone to relate to again. I provided that for her. I think Ryan has stated [to me] that he felt he had Ali coming into the swap, and then Ali loved me so much that he felt like he lost Ali. I think he felt like he had primacy with Chrissy and felt he had lost primacy with Ali, and he never had it with me in the first place. I don’t know that he was right that he had lost it with Ali. I can’t speak for her. I don’t know Ryan’s interior mind and I don’t know Ali’s, and I don’t know their situation together. But that’s definitely what Ryan perceived. He may have not been wrong.
If you had survived this vote, what was your game plan? From the outside looking in, it looks like the Healers are going to stick together, and the remnants of the Heroes and the Hustlers will try to band together. Did it feel like things were trending in that direction, or did you have a different sense of what the tide was going to bring for the next stage of the game?
I was really not happy going six [Healers] strong into the swap. I was desperately trying to get people to throw a challenge with me. I don’t know if you can see it, but in the challenge where we’re stacking the blocks, I was so lazy. I’m always the last person to the mat. If we lost that one, it’s fine. Us being six strong is not a good look. But Joe and Cole and the rest of the people were like, “Six strong! We’re going to Pagong everyone!” Obviously they didn’t use the word “Pagong,” but they though it was going to be amazing. I was like, “No! It’s not amazing! This is not how this story works! That’s not how that story goes!” Going into the swap with six, the way we swapped, I felt it was an absolute disaster. Cole, Jessica and Mike being together and not throwing a challenge? Completely insane to me. I can’t even begin with that. We have a Healers group text and that’s something we dissected. Cole was like, “I think I blame myself for your boot. I should have thrown it. We were so focused on winning.” Well, yeah, thanks Cole. Remember how you said in pregame you would gladly throw a challenge, and I brought that pitch to you like five times on Healers and you never did it and then when I needed you, you still didn’t do it? Thanks so much! (Laughs.) That’s just great! Literally, when that podcast came out, I was driving home from the gym and screaming. It was so upsetting!
What was your view of your standing within the Healers tribe, before the swap?
This is not me bragging… although I guess it is me bragging, but it’s true: I was in such a good spot on Healers. It breaks my heart. Desi was my ride-or-die. I was the one who told her about the idol, like I said; Cole wanted to keep it from her. Desi had admitted: “I’m a recruit. I don’t fully know this show. You seem to know what you’re doing. Let’s do it.” She was just on board with me. This was exactly the type of person you want to be with. She was just down to clown and do what I thought was strategically the move. When I would say, “Let’s just subtly throw this challenge,” she would be on board. She was down. Jessica is delightful. Even though it’s not being shown, I fully believe she would have cut Cole. Doctor Mike and I had some emotional moments together a couple of times, about homesickness and stuff from his life. I felt those connections… you hear me at the well with Ali: “I have Desi and I have Doctor Mike.” Because of the fact that I went home early, you never got to see any of that on Healers, but it was very true.
Where did Joe and Cole fit in, then? You’re talking about a hypothetical universe where the Healers throw a challenge. Is it one of them who goes home in that scenario?
If you want to get into super crazy fan-fiction… ideally we would have lost that block-stacking challenge. But this is going to be like that time I pitched to you the vote-split and you had no idea what I was talking about.
But I’m recording this conversation and I can transcribe it, so it doesn’t matter if it makes sense to me. Proceed!
Okay! (Laughs.) Basically, Cole wanted to blindside Joe with the idol. Me and the girls say to Cole, “That’s a great idea. Let’s do that.” Mike and Joe were going to vote for each other no matter what. That’s a one-to-one. Cole is planning to blindside Joe. So we tell him to put his vote on Joe, Mike has his vote on Joe, two of us will do Joe, and it will be a 4-2 vote. But the girls would get together to blindside Cole. Then we would come back and say to Joe: “Did you see that? Cole told us about your idol and tried to blindside you. We saved you, Joe.” And then we go to Doctor Mike: “Cole was not your friend. He just voted for you.” Whatever the case may be. Then we would have Mike and Joe in our pockets from that point forward.
And why vote out Cole? The trouble with the secret-keeping?
It’s funny. Chrissy uses the all-girls alliance as a red herring for JP, but it’s something Ryan was afraid of when Ali and I paired up. He felt I could bring her in with Desi and Jessica and the four of us would make a pretty good little foursome. I didn’t really have an intent of labeling anything as an all-girls alliance, but as you can see from watching the show, the girls are stable and the boys are erratic. So who do you want to work with: Joe and Cole, or Jessica and Desi, if you’re trying to get to the final three? It’s an easy choice. Maybe they were right to be afraid of an all-girls alliance.
Are you the next Kelley Wentworth? Are you going to come back for a Second Chance and fight your way to the final four, if not further?
I mean, I just think it’s written in stone and it’s undeniable that that’s my lowest upside. (Laughs.)
Do you want to play again?
It aligned so perfectly to do it. My grad school was so gracious in letting me play. I did all of my work over the summer when I got back. My transcript basically looks like nothing ever happened. They were truly wonderful. I don’t know that I could get away with that again. That said… especially as a fan? I didn’t even make it through one Tribal, man! Everyone sitting at home on their couch has survived the same amount of Tribals as me, and that’s upsetting.
I guess you and Nick Maiorano have at least one thing in common.
I know — and it’s devastating.
Click through the slideshow below for Roark’s final words, from before she played the game.
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