By Dalton Ross
May 16, 2019 at 09:19 AM EDT
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Gavin Whitson came on Survivor and lasted all 39 days. He never even had a single vote cast against him. In that sense, he played the perfect game. But it still wasn’t enough to win Survivor: Edge of Extinction. Gavin became runner-up when he was bested at the end by Chris Underwood, who played only 13 out of 39 days but finished with a flurry of big moves.

How does Gavin feel about the jury’s verdict? Where did it all go wrong? And does Gavin feel Chris had an unfair advantage due to being able to buddy up with the jury in a non-game setting? We spoke to the runner-up shortly after the votes were read and here’s what he had to say.

Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Gavin, congratulations on making it all 39 days and becoming the runner-up. I know it’s not the result you were looking for, of course, but still, pretty cool.
GAVIN WHITSON: Thank you. It is. It’s still a great accomplishment. Being a Survivor fan, you dream of making it 39 days. But that one thing, you know, it slipped out of my grasp. I wanted the title of Sole Survivor, I didn’t get it, but you know, life’s going to go on. But I’m still super happy with the game I played and I’m thankful for the opportunity.

There are 18 of you out there, so for 17 of you, you’re thinking, “Boy, if I’d just done this one thing, maybe if I’d just zigged instead of zagged here, or maybe if I had done a little more of this or a little less of that, the result would have been different.” Have you been thinking about that over the past 10 months?
I have been thinking about it a lot. And, to be honest with you, I’m sticking to my guns. I’m proud of the game I played. I think every decision I made got me to where I am. The one thing that might have got me a couple extra votes in the end is if Chris wouldn’t have went to fire. If I could have made fire, you know, and I beat Rick, then I believe I win the game. You know, because other than that, I made it 39 days without receiving a single vote and that’s because of the social game that I played. So I don’t have any regrets. I’m still leaving with a full heart. It’s just a matter of that one opportunity I think I missed out on is what cost me a million bucks.

I think you’re right. I think if you go against Rick at fire and you win, you do win the money because it puts a big notch on your belt and, let’s face it, I think Chris coming into the game so late had to have a lot of notches on his belt to have a chance and it would’ve taken that one off. How do you think you would’ve done against Rick at fire? We didn’t really get a sense of how good you were at it. And we didn’t get a sense of how good Rick was at it, although, clearly, he didn’t beat Chris.
I said I was going to whup his ass, you know. Whether I was going to win or not, I was ready to go to war. I had that mentality, like I’m going to beat y’all or I’m going to die trying. So I was ready. And in my mind I was going to win. So whether I’m right or wrong, we’ll never know. But, yeah, I was ready to go, and that’s something that I will think back on for a long time. What if I would’ve made it? What if I had the opportunity? Would I be sitting here as a millionaire? But I can’t sit on “what ifs” for the rest of my life. So just going to move on and keep smiling.

It’s interesting because I think we’d all agree think Chris obviously played a great game once he got back in the game. So this is not to take anything away from him at all. He did everything he could once he got back in the game. But I’ve written a lot about this, and you brought it up, wisely, to the jury at final Tribal. Do you think he had an unfair advantage because he had bonded with so much of the jury over being voted out at Edge of Extinction while you and Julie were not allowed to do that at all?
I think 100 percent because, you know, the same people that I had gotten rid of, Chris was there to bring in and be buddy-buddy with. I never received a vote and that’s because I became friends with these people. These people were looking out for me just like I was looking out for them until the time came where I needed to cut them.

So I think that that’s something that did hurt me is these people that I burned — I burned Aubry, I burned Joe, I burned Ron, I burned Eric — those were the same people that I didn’t receive votes from. That’s people that Chris never had a hand in voting out. That’s just people that they got to know a side of Chris that wasn’t necessarily strategic, it was just on a human level. So I think that did hurt me.

Yeah, it’s the big flaw in this format of players coming back in. Speaking to Reem, she hated Rick and Chris when they voted her out, but then came to love them as they got to kiss and make up.
And you saw that, like in the fire-making challenge, you know, she was cheering Chris on. Like, how am I supposed to compete with Chris when I’ve never met Reem?

How were you feeling about your chances when you were walking into that final Tribal Council?
Right now looking back on it, I kind of feel like a fool, because I was confident going into final Tribal Council. Just plain and simple, whenever I think of Survivor, I think I’ve survived 39 days, I won immunities, I voted people out, and I didn’t receive a single vote against me. It sounds like J.T. and Cochran. You know, they played those perfect games where they never received a vote and then they won the show. So, that’s what was in my mind. I was thinking, I played this great game, I made moves, I did all this stuff, I won immunities, I did everything I needed to in order to win the game.

So it does stink, and I think that was a mistake on my end, I misread the jury. I didn’t realize either people were still angry at the decisions I made that got them voted out to keep me in the game, or it’s just a matter of how they bonded with Chris and how they respected Chris. So I’m not sure which way I should take it. But, you know, nothing against Chris. He played it great, but I played Survivor not to go to the Edge of Extinction.

And what about during the actual final Tribal, did you start to get a sense then, like, “Hey maybe this isn’t going the way I thought it was going to go”? By the time the voting started, were you still pretty confident or then did you sort of realize, “Hey, I may be in trouble here?”
I had a little bit of a reality check whenever I started talking about how I played Survivor and how I survived 39 days. And people were still trying to belittle that experience. I don’t know if that makes sense. But I realized, I was like, “Damn, I’m not as good in with these people as I thought I was.” Like, these people might not like me or they might still have some hard feelings, you know, because there was things that was brought up that never even happened. I was talking about possible strategies that could’ve happened on Edge, you know what I’m saying? Like, I don’t know, I just misread things.

Was there anything that didn’t make it to air  that you wish we had seen that we didn’t?
The question I got the most is “Why did you vote out Eric? Eric was your number one guy, why did this happen?” I don’t know if you remember going back to this episode, but Julia asked Eric, “Should we do David or Devens instead?” And me and Eric were super close and in my mind I thought, “If Eric’s my guy, then I’m going to come to him with this proposition and he’s going to take it.” Because if it’s really me and him at the end, then nothing else should matter.

So I went to him with the same proposition. I said, “Eric, right now it’s time to make a move. It’s going to be me, you, Victoria, Julia, that’s four. We’re going to bring in Lauren, Kelley, and Wardog, that’s seven out of a majority of, I believe it was 12 at the time.” So I said, “We have seven out of 12, so if we’re good until the seven. Then at the seven, we have a four out of three because we can take out Wardog, Kelley, and Lauren.” And he said, “Now’s not the time.” So in my mind, I began to believe what had been said. Like, “Is he really with me? Or is he making plans to move towards David and Devens and Ron whenever push comes to shove?”

So that was something that wasn’t shown that I wish would’ve been just because, you know, it would have been nice to get that closure, just so people could have understood my mindset on that. Just because I didn’t just completely throw him out to the wind, if that makes sense.

Is your new wife going to let you play again if you are asked?
That’s something that we’ll have to figure out. If I’m lucky enough to get asked back, then we’ll figure out if she’s going to let me play. But my main concern is her happiness and to make sure that she’s taken care of. So if I am asked back and she’s okay with it, then I would go back because now I feel like I have unfinished business. I had it, it slipped through my fingers. So I’m hungry for the chance again.

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