The peanut butter bandit goes home. Cole Medders got the boot in the latest episode of Survivor season 35 “Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers” after a solid alliance of seven went after the remaining healers — and things got a little crazy at tribal council.
The Little Rock, Arkansas, native, 24, was the target as his fellow healers, Joe Mena and more specifically, Dr. Mike Zahalsky, engaged in some rather erratic idol play — some of which we didn’t even see, Medder says — before his torch was ultimately snuffed.
The wilderness therapy guide knew he was on the chopping block because of his physicality in the challenges, but did have a potential plan in place to work with fellow “meat shield” JP Hilsabeck. So what went wrong?
Here, Medders breaks down his game with Us:
Us Weekly: Tell me about how you felt going into tribal council. Where did you think the votes were going?
Cole Medders: I was 90 percent sure I was going home. I did not have immunity. I did not have an idol. I knew the majority was coming for me. I was ready for it. I knew it was coming. I had prepared myself to go home and head out. There’s always that small glimmer of hope that something crazy will go down and you’ll be saved, but it made sense when I saw my name written down.
Us: How aware were you about the idols at that point? Did you know Mike had one?
CM: I knew Mike had an idol. I assumed Joe did not have an idol. Mike never explicitly came out and told me he had an idol, but I had told Jess and Mike where to find the idol on Yawa beach. I didn’t want Ben or Lauren to find it, so I wanted as many people digging for it as possible. Because I couldn’t be there all the time. When Mike found it and I confronted him and asked if they had found it, he was with Jess [Johnston]. Mike told me “no.” But Jess couldn’t keep a straight face and started giggling. I don’t think she has a dishonest bone in her body. I was like, “OK, they have it.” I knew Mike was probably going to play it for himself because he was a potential target that night too.
Us: Can you explain what Mike’s tribal play was?
CM: It was a little confusing because Mike did go on this grand speech about morality. We call it “the Statue of Liberty speech” in our group text. He said he tried to draw heat off of me and Joe and put it on himself, however, that doesn’t really make sense. He did pull the idol out before the vote and put it around his neck. He also pulled a fake idol out and put it on Joe’s neck before the vote. That happened, but it wasn’t shown.
Us: Why did Mike and Joe vote for you?
CM: I knew Joe was probably going to vote for me. We had a conversation that day and he said, “I think it’s either you or me tonight. So if I end up voting for you, man, no hard feelings. I want to save my own skin.” I said, “Same thing here.” I ended up voting for Ben just because there was nothing I could do at that point, so I was just voting who I wanted to go home. But Mike came to me and felt torn. He’s such a sweet guy. He’s well my senior, but he still feels like a little brother to me somehow. It’s odd. He’s kind of goofy and a bit of a putz at times and all over the place, but he’s one of the most lovable people I’ve met. He comes up to me and stutters a little bit. “Cole, I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to vote for you, but I think I might have to.” In that one-on-one moment there, I was like, “I don’t think I’m getting out of this tonight, Mike. I’m done for. There’s no way I’m going to win it. If this is what you have to do to keep favor in your alliance, do it and go win this thing for both of us.”
Us: How much did you search for the idol?
CM: Once Joe showed me that first clue at the beginning of the season and he found it, I knew there wasn’t going to be another idol on the island so I didn’t look anymore. On Yawa beach, I went and dug around the well a ton. I went digging there a lot. I could not find it. I wasn’t digging in the right direction. I told Mike and Jess about it, so they went and dug as well. And that’s when Mike found it, so I didn’t look for it anymore on that beach. And when I got to the merge and saw the clue, I knew someone else had probably gotten it before I did. Even though I kept digging there a little bit every day just in case.
Us: You mentioned at tribal council that no one really talked strategy with you. Did you attempt to talk game with anyone in the alliance of seven?
CM: I attempted. JP was actually really receptive. We had bonded a lot of rock climbing and outdoorsy kind of stuff at the beginning at the merge. Me and him were the only ones who would go out fishing almost every day. They didn’t even show the stingray that he caught, which was pretty cool. The immunity challenge that I lost and went home, he said if I had won that one — he said this before the challenge — if it had gotten down to me or him, he would have thrown the challenge, so I could win immunity. He was ready to make a move with me at the next tribal council. I did not make it that far.
Us: Were you sent home just because you were a physical threat?
CM: I had Devon [Pinto] and a few other people mention it to me. He came up to me while I was laying on the beach and said, “Hey man, I like you. I think you’re a great guy, but we’re all voting for you tonight. I just want you to prepare yourself for that. You may be going home. If you have a way of saving yourself, do it because I like having you here. You’re a giant physical threat and we have to get rid of you.” He told me that straight to my face. “I respect you so I want to tell you to your face.” I appreciated that. It let me prepare myself.
Us: How do you think your relationship with Jessica affected your game?
CM: Looking back, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to enter into any degree of showmance on Survivor. People notice. People pick up on that, no matter how well you try to hide it. It’s just one of those things that intuitive people can kind of feel out. My biggest problem is that I detached my gameplay from that. I was not strategizing and in an immunity challenge, I kind of felt like I wasn’t playing the game. That was my problem. I needed to realize the game was going on all the time. I did not do that. I definitely know where I went wrong.
Us: Watching the show back, who surprised or impressed you the most?
CM: I’ve been really impressed by Ryan [Ulrich]. I didn’t realize how good of a social player he was. I guess I started to figure it out when he was able to bond with me very quickly at the merge. I feel like I was valued and liked, which is a very good strategy if he were to make the finals. For jury management, that’s a great strategy to have. So I was really impressed by Ryan. And watching it back, I was really impressed by Lauren [Rimmer]. In the game, she kind of rubbed me the wrong way a little bit for a few days. Watching the way she handled Patrick and then handled me, it was really impressive.
Us: Let’s talk about the food-stealing situation. Were you aware that was pissing people off or was it Jessica who clued you in?
CM: It started off with me taking a couple bites of peanut butter when people weren’t around or looking. Ben [Driebergen], I guess, saw me do it or noticed it from the peanut butter jar. That was the extent of my food-stealing. It didn’t go any further than that. Ben was also upset about me eating a fish all to myself. That being said, I was out catching fish for my whole tribe, hours on end, every day. There was one day when I came back with one fish. That had happened a couple times. And to replenish my energy for fishing all day, I ate it for myself. I wasn’t aware people had problems with that. No one told me. So I just assumed people understood, I’m good, people appreciate my efforts for fishing. But it was rubbing people the wrong way and I wish I had some more self-awareness.
Us: Finally, is there anything you could have done at tribal council to save your game?
CM: I feel like they were pretty locked. I could have fought more. I feel like I didn’t fight as much as I should have. At that point, I felt pretty hopeless and discouraged about the situation, so I guess I didn’t really try to make a big scene about it. As Jeff [Probst] pointed out — way to go, Jeff — I was trying to shrink away and disappear, which I thought I was doing an OK job of. But then Jeff decided to point that out to everyone.
Survivor airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
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