The following contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Survivor.
There really is nowhere to hide on Survivor.
Small tribe numbers became a huge factor for the Tika tribe after losing their strongest player Bruce to a medical evacuation last week and losing Wednesday’s complicated snake maze immunity challenge. (Read a full recap here.)
Despite all of the paranoia surrounding their tribe’s locked-away idol, Carson’s vote became instrumental at Tribal Council, and the 20-year-old NASA engineering student sided with Yam Yam and Carolyn to vote out his kinda-maybe ally Helen.
Below, Helen talks to TVLine about who she thought might’ve snagged the idol, why Carson ultimately turned on her and what she regrets from her time out on the island.
TVLINE | I saw you going very far in this game! What happened out there?
HELEN LI | So did I, Nick, so did I! It was a good old-fashioned blindside! I love watching them on TV, hate being a part of them in real life. I really thought I was in tight with Carson and Sarah, and I thought we were going to make it through that first vote together. Sarah lost her vote, which is obviously not ideal, and I think that played into it as well, and we didn’t have Yam the way that we might’ve thought we did. For a lot of different reasons, Carson flipped and here I am chatting with you!
TVLINE | Why do you think he ultimately turned against you?
Some of this is going to be speculation, I don’t want to speak for him, but I think for a couple of reasons. He very much believed that I had the idol. He was reading my body language. I was closed off, dumping my bag too fast, whatever it might be. I get it. If you think I have the idol, why not flush it? Get that out of there.
Another thing, he and I both knew Sarah didn’t have a vote, so in that case, you look at your numbers, and you’re in a three-person majority with two votes, and if you can’t get Yam, that becomes a 2-2 split, and it becomes very untenable to get the plan that you want across the finish line. Ultimately, you look at some of the things he said in pregame, and he said he wanted to be the strategic one, he wanted to get out the strategic threats, and I do think Sarah, Carson and I thought about the game pretty similarly, and maybe that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to surround himself with people who thought about it differently than he did.
TVLINE | How were you expecting Yam Yam to vote?
Yam Yam was the big question. We spent a lot of time talking to him trying to get him to flip to our side. He was saying, “Yeah, yeah, I’m with you. Anyone but me. I don’t care who it is. I’m fine voting Carolyn.” I think a big misread on my part was how tight the two of them actually were. My understanding was they were close and bonded, but maybe didn’t fit together as much strategically, and Yam was doing a really good job at selling, “I don’t care who it is as long as it’s not me.” In that situation when Sarah may or may not have had her vote, I was thinking, “Let’s try to get him in on the majority vote and work with us.” But going in I was apprehensive. I wasn’t 100 percent sure that this plan was going to work.
TVLINE | When the four of you were emptying bags, why didn’t you suspect Carolyn of having the idol?
So I think Carolyn was on a walk or doing a confessional or something like that, but like Yam said, her stuff was all over the place. I think her bag was mostly empty most of the time. Carolyn does a really good job of playing down the strategic and self-aware pieces of her. She comes off as this very wild super authentic, unfiltered person and because of that we thought, “If Carolyn finds the idol, I feel like we’d be able to tell.” But she didn’t tell anyone. She did a great job of making it so that none of us really had that much suspicion on her, so kudos to her!
TVLINE | So, is the Carolyn we’re seeing on TV the real Carolyn? What was it like living with her out there?
There’s no pause, there’s no stop button, that’s what Carolyn is 24/7. The sounds she would make, you would hear them across the jungle, every single day, multiple times a day. And so we were like, “If she finds a key, we’ll hear her scream about it from meters away.” She’s exactly what she seems on TV, but much more savvy, self-aware and strategic than I was aware of.
TVLINE | When you were entering Tribal, what was your best guess for what had happened with the birdcage and whatever was inside it?
Everyone was pretty convinced that the birdcage had been emptied. I was a little more skeptical than some of my tribemates just because it wasn’t super clear. Honestly, I was paranoid people were telling me that because they wanted us to stop looking for this key. In that case, if we’re not looking for it, then someone else is, and they get it and get the idol. I wasn’t 100 percent sure it was fully empty. I didn’t expect that if it was empty, that anyone would own up to it, so in my head, Carolyn was probably lowest on my suspicion list of who had it, but Carson, Sarah, Yam, I could see any one of them having it. I was hoping it would be Carson or Sarah because I was working with them and hopefully that would not come around to bite me in the ass, but it was obviously Carolyn and we were none the wiser.
TVLINE | What was the hardest part about being on Survivor for you?
I think the first few days were really tough because you have this vision of how your game is going to go. Day 1, we get our buffs, I’m like, “OK, I don’t think our tribe is the strongest one. Hopefully we can keep up in the immunity challenges”. By the end of Day 1, our strongest guy is down and out. He’s gone. He was someone I was hoping to maybe work with. So now we’re a tribe of five in this game where numbers mean everything, especially when you get to the merge and beyond. It felt like we were, at every turn, getting knocked down and it was tough. You see at the first immunity challenge, it was maybe the biggest euphoria we ever felt. It was the first time we had a win.
Going into Tribal Council, you know everyone there is a super fan and there to play. Without any prior history of how someone’s words measure up against their actions, you’re going in virtually blind. All you can do is trust your gut and the people who you put your trust in blindly. It’s tough to try to tamper down the paranoia that you do have. You don’t want to be too paranoid, but you don’t want to be not paranoid enough, and I think I was more in that latter bucket. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Was there anything not shown that you wish made the edit?
One thing is just how nuts nights at Tika were. This tribe came to play and you realize that at night. We had 12 hours of darkness. It’s Fiji during the winter. It’s cold. None of us were sleeping. I would basically be awake all night and see one or two people gone at all times of the night. Whether they were searching for idols or looking for the key, they were just gone. There was a lot of paranoia around camp, and you see that especially at night when they think they have the cover of darkness, but nothing goes unnoticed and everyone was aware of what everyone was doing.
TVLINE | What do you wish you had done differently?
There’s a million things I could’ve done differently. Maybe I don’t cross my arms and Carson never thinks I have the idol. Something as simple as that. But I think for me, my biggest regret is not trying to ingratiate myself a little more with Carolyn and Yam. Another piece I look back on and kick myself for… I go into this game knowing people are going to look at me a certain way. There are stereotypes that Asians are smart, and things like that that you have to work against. I knew I had to tamper down some parts of me to try to make a longer run in the game, and I don’t think I did anything according to plan in that regard. [Laughs]