May 24, 2018 at 09:39 AM EDT

He started off the season as someone that had never left the country and seemed overwhelmed by his surroundings. He left as the Tribal Council bomb-thrower never afraid to mix it up. Donathan Hurley may not have won Survivor: Ghost Island, but he became a fan favorite along the way. And his game was somewhat handcuffed by his partner Laurel’s refusal to make a big move in taking on and taking out the two biggest threats in Dom and Wendell.

How frustrated was Donathan at not being able to make a move? Why did he vote for Wendell to win and not his big ally in Laurel? What would he do differently if able to play again? And hwo doe she feel about pop star Sia giving him $10,000 at the live show? We asked Donathan all that and more after the finale. (Also make sure to read our Q&As with Wendell, Domenick, LaurelAngela, and Sebastian as well as our finale recap, finale Q&A with Jeff Probst, and interview with Probst and Mark Burnett about NEXT season.)

CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s going on, Donathan?
DONATHAN HURLEY: It’s been a crazy day. It has been dream come true to make it to the finale, and coming out here meeting all the fans and seeing everything come together. It’s been a great day.

Yeah and uh, hello? Getting $10,000 from a huge pop star in Sia!
Oh my god! I can’t believe it. It just brings tears to my eyes every time I try to even talk about it. Just because I’ve been such a big fan of her, and for her to have been a big fan of me is just mind blowing. And that money, that is so thoughtful. I’m so appreciative of it, and she just blew my mind tonight for sure.

Well, listen, I’ve got some bills to pay. Can you put in a good word for me now that you two are like BFF’s? Can you hook a brother up?
I will, Dalton. I will.

Okay, let’s get into the episode and what we saw in this finale. First off, I obviously want to ask you about your vote. Why did you vote for Wendell, not just over Domenick, but also over your biggest ally in Laurel?
Well, me and Laurel have worked together throughout most of the game, and she would never work with me when I really needed her to, so it was a test thing to not be able to write her name down. But also, I had to look back and say she never really made any moves. She played a great social game in a sense, but also you have to play the game of Survivor. So that’s kinda where I look that Wendell is.

He’s a great social guy, he worked around camp, and you don’t see much of that anymore. Behaviorally, he made sure everyone’s comfortable, and that is a big element of the game that plays right into the social game. I think a lot of people were surprised because I had mentioned on the show previously that, you know, I was gonna vote Domenick, but I never had my mind made up over that. That was just more or less trying to get them to be buttin’ heads, but it never really worked out.

That was just an empty threat you threw out there to shake things up.
Yeah, cause at that point I knew I was on the bottom anyways. So, its time to throw some flames at them.

We saw a guy in you that was almost changing before our very eyes out there and getting bolder and bolder as the season went on — sometimes a little too bold maybe. But did it feel that way to you?
I’ve seen the show so much, and I’ve always seen that people had to lie and manipulate. Why not try to slip it around and be truthful about it, and just throw some bombs on some people? It’s very risky, but I went out there to play and I wanted to be memorable and I wanted to show people that I have these looks and I’m going to use it. It’s a big platform, so why not go ahead and go big or go home, right?

What was more frustrating: wanting to make a move out there against Wendell and Domenick only to have Laurel keep holding you back, or then having to watch it all play back on TV knowing that you all should have made the move?
I think a mix of both. Out there it was frustrating, that I knew those guys were really steamrolling through the game. I wanted to be the person that kind of gave them a roadmap and hopefully try to get them out, but then it just was never really working out for me — especially, ever since there was almost something with Des. From that point on it was just like I was trying to climb the hill, but I kept getting knocked down by boulders. It wasn’t a fun thing, because I knew it was just not going to get me there at the end. That’s why I kinda went erratic, and people probably thought so, but it was just more of frustration then paranoia.

What was your best move out there?
My best move was the Morgan vote. It’s the one time I had some people that were real and did anything. We really surprised them when Morgan’s name was read. That was an electrifying moment. It was crazy. I really take pride in that. That’s the strategic side, and being the social player, I’m really proud of myself for what I’ve done socially yet to a certain point.

What are you most proud of about this experience you just had?
Definitely that I just went out there and I was true to myself. I wanted to go play and do things that Survivor players do, but also show people who Donathan was. I let my story out at the first Tribal. People say, “You don’t do that!” But I wanted to flip that kind of script. Seeing Adam and Jeremy on Day 39, they played it through and told their story at the end. Maybe it worked out for me being so open those first few days, it probably got me a lot farther than if I wasn’t so open about it. That’s the way I view it.

And you had that big moment in the second immunity challenge where you got down there underwater and pulled that lever.
I did. A lot of people gave me a lot of credit pretty much over that. You know, you don’t know the full story. I was never supposed to go down there that far. I told them, “No I don’t want to do that. I’m not comfortable.” James was this guy that said, “I can do it. I can do it.” Then, the script flipped and he ended up ’bout drowning out there. It was up to me to go.

People don’t know that I was a smoker. I smoked for ten years. I quit right before this experience, and I never really worked out or anything. Just those elements of knowing that “Oh my God, I can’t breathe.” I had to take a second to collect myself before I went back down. I always have been a great swimmer, but that was the one moment that really opened my eyes, when I got out of the water and Jeff was like, “He’s a hero. He’s the hero of his tribe.” That kind of gave me the confidence to kind of move forward. I will never back down. I had a great moment with that.

Well, forget about you for a second. Tell me everything about Aunt Patty and tell me right now.
Aunt Patty is wonderful. She is the greatest. She came into my life in 2015 and pretty much let me know I had brothers and sisters, and that she was my Aunt Patty. She is just electrifying. She is someone that is just so great to be around and I just love her to death. I was so happy. A lot of the people, I think they like her more than they do me!

How is she handling her newfound celebrity?
Oh, she’s loving it. She’ll get along with everybody. She was here taking pictures with the fans, getting offered crafts. She was living it up here these past few days. She’s enjoying it. She really is.

If you were asked to come back and play again, how would you play differently?
Over these past few months, I’ve been yin and yang. I say, “I’d go back” and then I say, “Oh I guess I might not.” Then I come out here and you see the fans, and you see how much they’ve enjoyed me. I went through a phase where I never got to see anybody and it was hard not being able to see nobody. But coming out here has gave me that, “Yes, one hundred percent I would definitely go back.”

The next time I would go, I’m hoping I can just get some allies that want to make moves later in the game, because you always get those big calls at the end. You gotta have people to work with, so I’m hoping that I can get them to work with me if I was ever to play in a future season. Also, just trying to keep more of a stone face, cause a lot of people can read me from my face out there in the game. Yeah, a better poker face for sure.

Also make sure to read our Q&As with Wendell, Domenick, LaurelAngela, and Sebastian as well as our finale recap, finale Q&A with Jeff Probst, and interview with Probst and Mark Burnett about NEXT season. And for all the Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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