She tells PEOPLE about what went wrong and what she really thinks of the tribe that booted her.
How did you get on the show in the first place?
Oh, I was a huge fan of Survivor. I had seen every episode. I had dreamed about being on the show for years, so I applied. When they called me back, I was like, "Are you sure you're talking to the right person?"
So you got on the show and formed an alliance with Abi Maria Gomes on day one. How did that happen?
You know, she looked like she wanted to be in an alliance with me, and I thought she'd be good to align with. I wanted a strong, smart, strategic female. And we brought in Pete [Yurkowski, a 24-year-old engineering graduate]. We formed a bond right away, but clearly it didn't work out.
I know! Watching it fall apart was horrible.
It's a helpless feeling when someone backstabs you – especially because she was operating under incorrect assumptions. I thought she could be a good thinker to work with. But when that door closed, it was slammed shut and locked. I knew my chances of winning the game were pretty much wiped away. It was really unfortunate, because I thought we could have been friends.
She teamed up with Pete and they voted you out. Why?
There was no good reason. She was obviously very threatened by me. I'm everything that she's not – both in the game and in life – and she hated me for that. Pete knew he couldn't control me. So I really take it as a compliment that so many people thought I was dangerous.
You also had a falling out with Artis right after the diving challenge where you performed so well. What happened?
I've been a competitive swimmer since I was five, so I was in my element. We had a bunch of athletes on our tribe, and we all think that we're superstars. But this was a challenge I could do well. There are other challenges that other people will excel at, but I knew this was one for me. And when I stepped up, it rubbed certain people the wrong way. Their egos couldn't take it.
Sounds like your tribe was dysfunctional.
It was, but you know, we came together at challenge time and did really well.
On the flip side, you got along well with Lisa Whelchel. Did you recognize her?
I didn't know who she was! I wasn't born when her show was on. But I always knew she was hiding something while she was on the island. She could be evasive. If I had known that was all she was hiding, I would have been at ease. I didn't care if she was a child actress.
You were also aligned with former player Mike Skupin.
I was starstruck being on a team with him. He was a dream come true. He played with integrity and leadership the first time around. So I was thrilled.
But in the end, he didn't vote with you.
I love Mike. I still love him. He was obviously out for himself. He was trying to win a million dollars. So was I. So was everybody else. So I don't blame him. But of course I wish he would have voted with me.
So after watching Survivor for 24 seasons, what was it like playing the game?
I had the best time of my entire life. I spent so long hoping and praying that I would have that adventure, and it was something better than I could ever imagine. No, I didn't win. But I enjoyed every minute of it.