But things went awry 30 seconds into the game when his wife, Candice, was voted out of her tribe. As she dominated challenges on Redemption Island, he became a bigger target.
After being blindsided on Day 8, he lasted 11 more days on Redemption Island until he lost a challenge and was eliminated from the game.
He talks to PEOPLE about his game, his socks, and crying in his underwear on national TV.
Let's start with this week. If you had won the Redemption Island, you would have come back into the game.
I felt like I had a lot of game left to play! While I was on Redemption Island, I had been making plans to return to the game, and what I was going to do. I felt like I had unfinished business.
So you get to the challenge, and it's a pole-clinging challenge!
I know! That was not a challenge that played to my strengths. I knew that the cards were stacked against me. I was going to have to hold 200 pounds up, and I knew it was unlikely I'd win. But I gave it all I had.
You kicked off your shoes partway. Big mistake?
I was really struggling before then. It was a last-ditch effort on my part. I couldn't get a foothold, and so I was holding myself up with just my arms. I regretted taking off my shoes because I had socks on. I should have gone barefoot. I took my elimination hard. I think you could see that on TV.
So the game didn't turn out like you expected?
Not at all! First thing, I watched my wife get voted out. That was the single worst thing I had to deal with, to see someone you love more than yourself go through something so painful.
I knew that anything was possible, but it would have been easier for me if I had been the one voted off first.
You could have changed places with her.
She wasn't going to let me do it. We made the right decision. If I had switched with Candice, she goes to a tribe full of people whose loved ones just voted her out of the game. I'm not sure it would have worked in Candice's favor.
It's a very complex season.
It was really hard to predict what's going on. None of the normal rules of Survivor applied. Everyone's wondering what's in the best interest of both them and their loved one.
So what was your big mistake?
I should have talked to Caleb, because both of our loved ones weren't in the game. I should have had a conversation with him about forming a different alliance. But I thought I was safe and thought Brad [Culpepper] and I were together.
You clearly weren't.
[Laughs] I probably should have picked up on that. I thought we were together.
So after you were eliminated from the game, you and Candice spent weeks with Brad in Loser's Lodge. How was that?
There were some awkward moments, of course. But the hatchet has been buried. Brad is not a bad guy. He made some bad moves in the game, but he's not evil. He's very talkative and brings attention to himself, but I have no hard feelings towards him. We hugged it out after the game was over.
Part of the reason why he didn't trust you is that you didn't share the clue for the immunity idol.
I didn't think it was going to be a factor. I really didn't look hard for the Immunity Idol because I didn't want to stand out. Here I'm a big guy, a doctor, and if they thought I had the Immunity Idol, it would have been bad.
Speaking of being a doctor, how have your patients reacted to you being on Survivor?
Everyone in my residency program is giving me a really hard time. You know, because I cried in my underwear on national TV! Everyone thinks that's really funny.
I expected some ribbing, so it's all in fun. There have been a few parents in the emergency room that have recognized me. As I'm setting their kid's fractures, they're taking pictures with me. That's a little weird. But people have been pretty positive.