Contrary to what the evidence may suggest, Chelsea Townsend was indeed a contestant on Survivor: Ghost Island. You just might not know it from the amount of screen time she got. Which is interesting, because Chelsea won individual immunity competitions, went to tons of Tribal Councils, and was even part of an aborted mutiny attempt that put her in the crosshairs. But we never really got to hear her take on any of that. Until now.
The 24-year-old EMT and pro cheerleader called into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) to talk all about her time on the island and off our TV screens. Was she surprised Laurel and Donathan voted against her? Does she think her challenge prowess doomed her? And how does she feel about her lack of screen time on the show (she had only 4 confessional interview clips in 12 episodes)? We asked Chelsea all that and more. Here are some highlights from that chat.
EW RADIO: Walking into Tribal Council, did you all think you had Laurel and Donathan in your corner for that vote we saw last night?
CHELSEA TOWNSEND: I hoped so badly that I did, but it was pretty clear that Laurel was attached to Wendell’s hip, and I just wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to see the actual power play that needed to be made in order to even have her build a résumé at the end. She just wasn’t willing to make the big move, and we saw that at the last vote. My biggest hope was that the fan in her would be like, “I’m going to make a big move. I’m going to build my résumé.” But, unfortunately, she didn’t, and I went home.
What did you think of her assessment that if she went with you, you wouldn’t have taken her to the end.
My plan was actually to take her to the end. Everybody felt like they could win against her. She didn’t really make any big moves in the game, and she wasn’t a central point in a lot of the strategy. Everybody still in the game had Laurel in their top 3 as basically a nonthreat.
Laurel’s great, but her game-play was very passive. Obviously, even as my edit shows, I was a very under-the-radar player, but that was my plan up until the merge, and then I played hard — which, obviously, we did not get to see much at all. [Laughs] But she was very passive the entire time, so I think it’s kind of hard to watch back knowing I played really hard and wasn’t shown at all, and she was actually very passive and basically was just listening to whatever Domenick and Wendell wanted her to do. But she kind of made out like she was playing harder than she was.
You go out there for a month, living out there 24-7, come home, wait 8 months, are all excited to see your story play out on TV. Then the season starts, and you’re hardly there. I think you had only four of those confessional interview clips over 12 episodes, which is practically non-existent, especially compared to folks like Wendell and Domenick. Was that frustrating to not see your own story play out on screen as much as you hoped and expected?
It was definitely frustrating. I think the biggest thing for me is I was so proud of my game. I played exactly as I wanted to, and my whole goal going into the game pre-merge was to be very under-the-radar and control things, but in a way where nobody knew I was doing it. So everyone just kind of thought I was floating around. But I was a very big part of a lot of huge decisions. That wasn’t shown at all.
And then post-merge, I wanted to hit the gate running, and I did. I was winning individual immunity idols, I was hunting for hidden immunity idols 24-7, I was a part of a lot of big strategy. So to watch it play back and all you really see is me nodding my head at Kellyn every time, it’s hard. It’s definitely frustrating because you want to be given credit for your game, but at the end of the day, it is my experience, and I know how I played, and I am very, very proud of how I played.
What’s something specific we did not see that you wish had made it to air?
[Laughs] There are a lot of those moments. I think one of the biggest things that comes to mind is actually the Bradley boot. Because a lot of what wasn’t put on the screen was that Domenick and I had this plan to get him out. We even threw a challenge because we wanted him out before the merge, and that wasn’t shown at all, actually, that we had planned on throwing that challenge. [Domenick talked about this as well in our merge interview.]
I kinda talked about it, but it was never shown that I said, “Domenick, I can’t throw a challenge. It’s not in me. So if you want to do this I’m going to have to sit myself, and you’re going to have to throw this.” My whole plan was that if it backfired I could be like, “No, Domenick was the one who threw it! I was sitting on the bench!”
Talk about that whole aborted Desiree mutiny situation. You got dragged into that, so tell me your reaction once you realized it had gotten back to Kellyn and then how you did damage control after that.
The weird thing about that whole episode was that I was really a central part of all that drama even though I wasn’t filmed. I actually did not know about Desiree’s plan at all. My name got tossed out there by Laurel — I’m not sure if it was on purpose or by accident because Des and I were really tight in the game and had an alliance since day 1. I did not know of this plan even though I was on the favorable side of it either way. Des didn’t include me because I think she was worried that I would try to talk her out of it or somehow ruin the gameplay because I was close with Kellyn as well.
So when I caught wind that my name had been tossed out there, I had to pull Kellyn aside and have a conversation with her and be like, “I don’t know how to convince you because I know this looks sketchy, but I am looking you in the eye and I am telling you I have no idea what this is about. I am on the same page as you.” And she believed me wholeheartedly, which was great.
But, at the same time, I think she knew how close I was to Des, so a couple of minutes before we left for Tribal, she decided, ” Okay, I’m going to take out Des because this looks sketchy.” She basically told me she didn’t have time to tell me, but I think she was just nervous and was like, “Okay, she’s going to be fine either way, so I’m not going to tell her to make sure Des does go home.”
Is there anything that surprised you watching the season play back on TV?
I actually didn’t know that Dom, Wendell, Laurel, and Donathan were as tight as they were that quickly. I knew they had formed some sort of bond, but I didn’t know that it started the second the merge happened. And that was hard because they never showed it, but I was really tight with Domenick for a lot of the game. And that was the first turning point for me and my relationship with him is that I was left out of the fact that he had this secret alliance, and it took me a while to figure it out. It is interesting to watch it back and realize, wow, there are some things I had no idea about or wasn’t as clear as I thought I was.
Who was your dream final 3? You said Laurel, but who else?
I wanted it to be me, Laurel, and Angela. I felt like I had a pretty good case against either of them to win, just because they weren’t really involved in strategy at all. And I had outperformed them in individual immunity challenges.
You were a challenge beast out there. Do you think that surprised some of the people?
People’s reactions were actually really funny — especially the one where we had to hold the ball up. They were like, “I don’t understand, your arms are so small, how did you hold that ball up so long?” But I always preached that I’m a dancer and I’m a cheerleader and I grew up with that strength that’s very much more endurance than bulk muscle. In dance, you are constantly using your arms and leaning them in weird positions for a long time. So I actually felt like I thrived in the challenges that involved a lot of endurance because that’s what my background was in.
Do you think it was your performance in challenges that ultimately got you voted out?
Yeah, once I started winning, I definitely could feel the target grow on my back every time. And I think the part that made it harder is that I was also winning all the reward challenges in between the individual immunities, so it just seemed like I was constantly winning, and people were starting to get scared of that, and I knew that once the challenge beast name was tossed at me, that’s not good. So I knew it was only a matter of time before people started coming after me.
Also make sure to check out our episode recap, our Q&A with host Jeff Probst, and the results of our fan poll picking the winner from every final Tribal Council ever. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.