Survivor: Ryan explains all in exclusive merge interview

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Whether it has been finding a secret advantage, making a secret alliance, or secretly blindsiding a fellow Hustler after the tribe-swap, 23-year-old Ryan Ulrich has been at the center of a lot of the action that has taken place on Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers this season.

As the game enters its next big phase with the merge on Wednesday night, we were able to catch up with Ryan for an exclusive mid-game Q&A to get his thoughts on everything that had gone down so far. Read on as he explains the thinking behind all his biggest moves and shares the backstory on that red turtleneck. Not only that, but we have some exclusive new merge photos as well, so feast on those!

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the feeling like knowing you had made it to the merge and that phase of the game?
RYAN ULRICH:
Survivor is an emotional game and every moment on I had on Survivor was special. Making the merge is a milestone and any player who makes it to that point in the game has done something correctly. I think everybody has doubts about themselves going in, and everyone fears going early. I went to four Tribal Councils pre-merge so I couldn’t believe that I was able to fight through it and make it to one of the best moments a player can have in the game. I was just elated, I couldn’t put that merge buff on fast enough. Hands down, one of the best moments of my life.

Robert Voets/CBS

We saw you approach Devon very early on to make an alliance with him. Why Devon?
Without question, Devon is genuinely one of the best all-around individuals I have ever come across. He possesses such a caring nature and spirit, which is rooted in compassion and selflessness. He would never say anything like that about himself because he is such a humble kid, but I cannot commend him enough.

When I was looking for the advantage during the marooning, Devon made the decision to immediately jump overboard for the tribe so other Hustlers could throw him supplies and food so he could put them into our boat. At camp, he was just great to be around. Devon and I lead different lives, but we found so much common ground in talking about music, our families, and we made each other laugh so much. I am a better person for knowing Devon, and I am sure that feeling is ubiquitous for people after Devon has played a part in their life.

Over the last two votes, you essentially chose Chrissy over Ali. What in your view at that time made her the better person with which to move forward?
Ali is a terrific person and a savvy player. She is incredibly well rounded, and she has so many attributes and qualities which she can rely on in the game. However, Devon and I did not completely trust Ali. On day 8, the Tribal [where] Patrick went home, myself and Devon went to Patrick and proposed voting off Ali, but Patrick refused and was adamant on voting out Lauren, which Devon and I never truly considered doing. So we cut our losses and voted out Patrick.

With that being said, if there is no super idol, I 100 percent, without a doubt, vote out Chrissy and then Roark, and go to the merge with Ali and JP. I would have had zero reason to side with Chrissy and I would have continued to develop trust with Ali. I simply chose to keep Chrissy because I knew that being the one to start an alliance is better than having an alliance started for you. I was the one who decided to give Chrissy the super idol, I was the one who decided to save Chrissy when she got two votes at the first Soko Tribal Council. I had told Devon about the idol on day 2 and gained his trust, and I gave the super idol to Chrissy on day 3 and gained her trust. So I viewed myself as being the person who used a tool to endear two people to me in hopes that they would remain loyal.

Robert Voets/CBS

What was your best move in the pre-merge stage of the game?
I knew that the Super Immunity Idol was going to lose power after the first Tribal Council, so I wanted to be proactive and build a bond with somebody on my tribe. I felt like guaranteeing to somebody that they would not be the first boot was powerful, and I had nothing to lose because it was either going to go away to somebody else or lose power. The worst-case scenario I ran through my head was if I did not build a bond with somebody on my tribe, and then the person I gave it to was voted out at a later Tribal before I get the chance to meet them.

I wanted to maximize the use of this advantage, so I tangibly showed Devon that he could trust me and that I wanted to work with him. In terms of who to give it to, I wanted to give it to somebody who I didn’t think was on the bottom, and I could align with at a future date — that person was Chrissy. I got lucky that Chrissy and I ended up on the same swapped tribe and I gained Chrissy’s trust by explaining why I gave her the idol and the action showed her that she could trust me. I went to four Tribals pre-merge, voted correctly in every one, and didn’t get a single vote cast against me — I was proud of that.

What was your worst move in the pre-merge stage of the game?
I think people would pinpoint to me leaving Ali out of the Roark vote, but I wouldn’t. I did not want to run the risk of Ali telling Roark, and leaving the possibility of Roark, who is incredibly intelligent, trying to flip the vote on me. I even went up to Ali and floated the idea of voting out JP, but I immediately got shut down. I think Ali wanted to go with the Healers, she wanted those numbers and to get in with Desi, Jessica, and Roark. I think that’s a great plan for Ali, just not a great plan for me. Also, I thought that if I included Ali and it was myself, JP, and Chrissy, then Chrissy could target me with JP and Ali, and send me out of the game with her thinking being that now nobody knows about the Super Idol being fake.

I needed Chrissy to tangibly see that Ali wanted her out of the game, by Ali writing Chrissy’s name down. I wanted Chrissy and JP to know that Ali was against them, and that would not have been visible to them if Ali had been included on the Roark vote. The thing that bothers me the most is that I left both Yawa and Soko without the immunity idol. I looked diligently for the Yawa idol, but I never came across the clue that was painted on the back of one of the trees. We swapped earlier than normal, so I was upset that I left Yawa with the idol still there. I am 99 percent sure there was an idol at Soko; Roark had told us that Joe had the idol and we were fairly certain he played it at that Levu tribal council. So I believe it returned to Soko beach, but it was never found.

Robert Voets/CBS

Finally, do you really wear red turtlenecks back in New Jersey on a regular basis?
I really like wearing turtlenecks, but I rarely wear colors like that. It’s funny, I didn’t buy that specific turtleneck for the show. I had it for a while but never had worn it. One day I was going out and I put it on to wear. Before I left, I looked at myself in the mirror and took it off immediately, the color just really didn’t appeal to me. I don’t usually wear such vibrant colors, I like wearing neutral colors. A couple months later that was the only shirt I had and it is now one of my most treasured possessions — weird how life works.

For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss. Also, make sure to check out our 35 Reasons to Love Survivor, 35 Best Survivor Challenges Ever, and 35 Former Players Share Their Favorite Memories.

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