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April 10, 2018 at 11:00 AM EDT

If there was any doubt Domenick Abbate was going to play aggressively when he showed up for Survivor: Ghost Island, those doubts were erased a few minutes into the game when the construction supervisor called out tribemate Chris Noble at the opening challenge. It was a decision that forever altered the course of the season as Dom and Chris have been feuding ever since.

And that feud will be reignited when then two are forced to shack up at the same beach again thanks to the merge coming on this Wednesday’s episode. With that impending reunion, Domenick was the natural choice to be the subject of our exclusive seasonal in-game merge interview. Not only has he been a part of Chris Noble’s nightmares for 19 days, but Dom also has a Legacy Advantage, an immunity idol, and a confusingly constructed fake idol as well. Plus, he blindsided Bradley in a controversial move.

In this wide-ranging chat, Dom gives us the real deal about his feud with Chris, explains why he really wanted to get rid of Bradley (and even threw a challenge to do so), and reveals how his mouth almost got him voted out of the game in a moment we didn’t see on TV. Not only that, but we have a bunch of exclusive merge photos for you to enjoy as well. Click through both pages to read the entire interview and see all the photos.

Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First things first. Do you know how to do a front dive?
DOMENICK ABBATE: Why, what was wrong with my dive? I thought it looked good. No look, this last episode was action packed. There were a lot of different ways this episode could have been played out on television. For obvious reasons, keeping the audience guessing who the boot will be is always going to take precedence.

That being said, I took a lot of pride in my efforts this episode: Actually a joint effort between myself and Chelsea where we had agreed to throw the immunity challenge in an effort to vote out Bradley. Here’s where it got tricky. At the immunity challenge, we had to sit one person out. Everybody agreed that Chelsea should sit out because she wasn’t our strongest swimmer. I couldn’t argue with the group for obvious reasons. It was now up to me, and me alone to throw the challenge which explains my Phelps-like swimming performance and those fantastic sideways swan leaps into the water.

As a huge Survivor fan, how exciting was it to make it to the merge?
You can’t explain the feeling. I have seen the merge on television 100 times. And now I am living this moment for myself. The entire first half of the game, we are all thinking about making the merge. This is that first monumental level in the game that guarantees you being a part of the show in its entirety. It’s also a fantastic moment because you are back with everybody, which means you are no longer forced to try and make it work with the small group you are stuck with. Now you have options. You can go back with your original tribe members, or you can design a new plan with some potential low hanging fruit. You also get to let your guard down for a few minutes while everybody enjoys a mega feast. But only for a few moments because this is the inception of phase 2 of this game. This is where true gamesmanship begins.

Let’s talk last week’s vote-off when you got rid of Bradley. Was that really just because you all found him annoying, because that seems more like a reason to keep somebody?
Let me start by saying that I had several moments in the game that I wanted to strangle Bradley for certain remarks he made. I was actually shocked at how many demeaning comments were left out. That being said, there is no way in hell I would ever vote off somebody that is irritating everybody in the tribe. A player like Bradley is somebody that could act as a shield for me and he is an obvious person to take to the end because he most likely will have pissed off many of the jury members.

There was a Bradley/Kellyn dynamic. This was the real “showmance” of the season. And Bradley talked Survivor a lot around camp. His knowledge of the game was beyond comprehension. He would spit out stats and openly discuss past strategies a lot. It actually surprised me how much he knew and how openly he discussed it. In the beginning of the game, I was in Bradley’s alliance, but I knew immediately that I was the outer layer of that onion and that I had to do more to secure my spot. So early in the game (in addition to Morgan), I reached out to Chelsea in an effort to lock up a bond with her in the game.

After this most recent swap, I immediately went to Chelsea and she confirmed that Bradley and Kellyn were running the show over there and that she was on shaky ground with Bradley. Another observation I made was that Bradley eliminated Brendan and Stephanie, both who are parents. For this reason, I had it in my head that I was going to be next as soon as we merged. I felt so strongly about taking him out before the merge. So long story short, Bradley was a huge strategic threat in this game. I believe him and Kellyn would have run this game post-merge. And this is the real reason he went home. I could not let this opportunity slip through my fingers.

Robert Voets/CBS

Let’s get into your big war against Chris. Obviously, you made the comment at the start of the season questioning his decision-making at that opening challenge. But what is it about you two personality-wise that caused such a pre-merge rift?
Let’s start by addressing that horrible hand-raising decision that I made on day 1. I cannot begin to tell you how much adrenaline I had pumping through my veins in those opening moments of the game. Watching that challenge was not enough for me. I needed to participate in something or I was going to explode. So after the challenge, when Jeff asked if somebody would have made a different choice in the challenge, I just uncontrollably raised my hand. It just took over me. I couldn’t have stopped it from happening if I tried.

But my argument was not that Chris should not have pulled the lever during the puzzle. My actual argument was that Chris chose the wrong person to do the puzzle. Now, of course, I didn’t know anything about Dez at this point. Nothing about Dez gave me an impression that she would be good or bad at puzzles. There was one person who left an impression on me in the pregame and that person was Bradley. I would watch Bradley and knew this guy was highly intelligent. I observed the books he read and his mannerisms. In my heart, head, and gut, Bradley was the guy who Chris should have chosen to do the puzzle. But I wasn’t given an opportunity to really elaborate. And so began the war between Dom and Chris.

I believe Chris and I come off as very different people in this game but we are alike in so many ways. The biggest commonality that Chris and I share is that neither one of us want to be “out-duped” by the other. We both have too much pride. Chris comes from a very competitive background with all of the sports he has played in his life. I think my competitive drive comes from an opposite angle where I have made this big transformation in my life and all I want to do now is see how much further I can take this thing in challenging myself. I could not figure him out. For some reason, he has the ability to throw me off my game.

NEXT PAGE: Dom explains his fake idol play and his biggest regret in the game (Plus: more exclusive merge photos)

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Jeff Probst leads adventurous in the ultimate (and original) reality series.
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