By Dalton Ross
May 16, 2019 at 07:44 AM EDT
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Rick Devens did not win Survivor: Edge of Extinction. But he still won a fair chunk of change anyway. Rick got taken out at the final four when final challenge winner Chris gave up his immunity to take on the fan favorite in the fire-making contest. But the disappointment of not making it to the end was replaced during the reunion show by the shock and glee of being presented with $100,000 from pop superstar (and Survivor super-fan) Sia.

This has become something of a regular occurrence for Sia. During the Kaoh Rong season, Sia was so moved by the story of Tai Trang and his love for animals — which included him saving a chicken from fellow contestants’ stomachs — that she appeared on stage at the season finale reunion show and announced she was giving him $50,000, as well as $50,000 to the animal charity of his choice.

But Sia wasn’t done. At the Ghost Island finale, Jeff Probst informed contestant Donathan Hurley that Sia was so inspired by his story of growing up gay in Kentucky and taking care of his sick grandmother, that she was going to give him $10,000 as well. The news got even better when Sia found out she could give even more tax-free, alerting Donathan via Twitter that she was upping the amount to $14,000. And then after last season of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, Sia gave $14,000 to Davie Rickenbacker.

There was no clear frontrunner for this year’s “Sia Award” so Rick was not expecting it. And he certainly wasn’t expecting $100,000. (Sia also gave $15,000 to a children’s cancer wig making charity after Joe Anglim cut all his hair off.) We spoke to Devens about an hour after receiving the surprise gift, and here’s what he had to say about that and everything that happened in the game, including the “monumental” advantage Chris had in the final voting.

Timothy Kuratek/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, you’re $100,000 richer thanks to a gift from pop superstar Sia. She does this every season, where she gives gifts out to people, but never 100 large straight to the person. Tell me about your reaction right now, because this just happened only about an hour ago.
RICK DEVENS: Dude, I was absolutely floored when it happened and I am still riding high from it. Sia single-handedly took what was a very depressing night, watching my demise, and turned it around. My wife broke down in the front of the audience. She was going nuts.

Did you get to actually meet her backstage or afterwards at all?
I did. I got to meet her afterwards and she’s so nice. I mean, obviously, I’ve got nothing bad to say about her. She just made me feel like the greatest guy in the world. And, really, it was so great to meet her. And the fact that, I mean, $100,000, for my family, that is a lot, and it is going to do a lot of things for my kids’ future, so I couldn’t be more grateful to Sia.

Let’s get a little bit into what happened on the show and on the season, because obviously a lot to discuss there. Just tell me what it was like for you. Obviously, you’re in great spirits now after the Sia gift, but about 10 months ago, you make it that close, but not close enough. How tough was that?
Oh, man. It was tough. Everything I’d done for weeks was just to get to that four spot, where I controlled my own destiny. Originally, that fake idol that was hidden up in the tree, that was there as a get out of jail free card. If I needed it, I was going to pull that thing down out of the tree in front of everybody, the fake idol, and then go to Tribal, and pull out the clue, and be like, “Hey, I didn’t have any chance to get this with nobody around, but here’s my idol.”

So everything was leading up to get in the final four. I’d been openly practicing making fire for about a week and was getting good at it, and then it just fell apart, just like that. And at the time, I thought Chris had no chance of winning, so I thought he’d come in and torpedoed my game, just to give second to someone else. I was hurt, I was angry, and then I got to Ponderosa and found out, “Oh, he actually has a little chance of winning,” which I was shocked at, but it was a lot harder to be mad at him at that point.

How do you think you do in fire if you were going up against Gavin or Julie?
I think I would’ve beat anyone left at fire, except Chris. They even told Chris when it was done that it was the fastest fire that anyone had ever made in that challenge. And my flame was right there. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m pretty sure the fires that we saw Gavin and Julie make tonight were the only fires that they made the game, and they had Chris helping them. So I was very confident going against anyone but Chris. And even now to think about it, to know I was that close to the million, because if I got to the final three against anybody, I felt very sure that I would win, and then basically had that confirmed once I got to Ponderosa.

You voted for Gavin to win. Why Gavin?
Well, for one thing, I think Gavin did have a lot more impact in the game than it seems like he had. He was in a lot of decisions, he never had a vote against him. I was also real close to voting for Julie. Both of them had two immunity wins, both of them played good strategically, and both of them did great in final Tribal. But the main reason was just that Chris hadn’t spent enough time in the game, in my opinion.

Because I had been on Edge of Extinction for six days, and I had been in the game since the merge, and the Edge of Extinction is hard on you, but the only way to leave is to quit. I mean, I could go take a four-hour nap, no problem, whereas in the game, you’re constantly driving. It’s really hard to stay in the game. I couldn’t do it. I got voted out once. And so the fact that Gavin and Julie had stayed in the whole time… I mean, if Chris had come back in when I’d gotten in, it would’ve been a little different. Maybe that’s just my bias. But he just came in so late. That being said, I think he’s a deserving winner. Good for him. He plays very hard.

You are uniquely qualified to answer this, because you did spend time on Extinction Island and you were back in the game. Did Chris have an advantage in the fact that he was able to kiss and make up to most of the jury in a non-game setting at Edge, while Gavin and Julie were not?
Oh my gosh, the advantage is monumental. I had a great relationship, when I won my way back in, with Reem, and Aubry, and Chris, and Keith, and Wendy because the only thing you have over there is time to make peace with these people. So Chris, not only did he have all that, where, like you said, you’ve been out there providing them with rice in the morning, and coconut, and fish, whereas Julie and Gavin are scrambling to stay alive in the game.

And then, when Chris comes back in with all that information from the Edge, the fact that Lauren has an idol, none of us would’ve ever known that. He came back, that you didn’t see, with written notes from some of the contestants. He had a written note from Ron, telling Julie to trust him. I mean, these are monumental advantages in the game. So that’s also something that came into my thought process when I gave Gavin the vote.

Wow. Ron gave him a note to give to Julie, saying to trust Chris?
Yes. And I saw that note. And from my perspective … And I’d like to hear it, because I haven’t had a chance to talk with them, but it seems like everyone on the Edge was basically out there telling each other how to win. So, of course, you put your guy back in the game, and he’s basically an avatar for the entire Edge of Extinction. But again, I had chances to get him out and I didn’t, so that’s the game.

Obviously, Rick, you perform on camera for a living, doing the news in Macon, Georgia, and it often felt like Tribal Council was your theater and you were performing for the jury, and they were loving it and just lapping it up. How much thought did you put into what you said, how you said it, and when you said it, when it came to playing all those idols? Were you almost writing a script?
It was a little bit of both. Definitely going into the game I thought, “You know what? Tribal Council is the most like a news studio. I’m going to feel a lot more comfortable there. You’re sitting, you’re facing an audience of either Jeff or the jury, you got the bright lights on you.” I said, “That’s something I can weaponize in a way that other people maybe haven’t.” But most of the stuff was unscripted, like the Julia vote-out, I was looking around that Tribal, and I thought she was in good with them, and then I see how nervous Wardog and Lauren are, and it’s like, “Okay. Let’s play this by ear.”

In contrast, the Tribal that I played the fake advantage that Ron had given me, I had been rehearsing that exact speech the entire afternoon, because I was so sure that that was a fake thing, and I did not know that Ron was going home that night. I wasn’t trying to steal credit for that vote. I was surprised by it. But my whole speech was designed to kick off that Ron vs. Rick war that I thought was going to happen, so when he got sent home, I actually felt bad, like, “Oh, I went way too hard on this guy.”

So some of it was planned. Most of it was just, I think, I felt a lot more comfortable there, and that kind of allowed me to think on my feet a lot and really to listen what other people are going to say, instead of sitting there and worrying about what I was going to do.

How were you able to find so many idols? I mean, did you have some sort of technique or was it what we saw on TV, which is just that you were working a lot harder at looking for them?
It’s really just I was working a lot harder at looking for them. And because I had nothing to lose. The others, if they’d gone and looked that hard, maybe they’d become the bottom of their four-person group. You got to think about things like that. So I had nothing to lose. I had no need to waste time strategizing, because they made it so clear that they would never work with me. And it is hard work. I mean, it looked like I found it in 30 seconds, I walked, and people just think production handed it to me. It’s like, I’m digging around for eight hours through cobwebs, through this island.

Once you find the first ones, you think maybe that’ll make it easier to find the second, because, “Hey, maybe they won’t put it back where I found it, and other people don’t know where I found it, so that gives me an advantage,” but who knows, they might put it right back, you have no idea. So it really is just getting out there as soon as there was enough time to look, and looking non-stop, every tree, very thoroughly, until you find it or you have to go to Tribal.

How much weight did you lose out there?
I lost 31 pounds. Wardog and I, I think, ended up losing the most weight of anyone, at 31 pounds.

That’s the Survivor diet right there.
Yeah, and I’ve kept about 15 of it off.

is there anything that didn’t make it to the air that you wish we had seen, anything about your game, or moves, or little fun moments that just couldn’t make it into the edit?
Well, I definitely feel like I got buried in the edit. I was a bit of a wallflower. It would’ve been nice if they gave me a little more airtime, as for edits. [Laughs] No, I’ve loved it. I feel like they did me justice. Like all my little funny lines, I was surprised at how many they put in. So I got no complaints, other than obviously they can’t show all the relationships. I was very close with Gavin. It would’ve been fun if they showed Aubry marrying Chris and I to each other on the Edge of Extinction. We actually had an unofficial wedding ceremony, we got so close.

But I got really lucky with my cast. It was so much fun. Wardog was one of my favorite people out there. David, I obviously had a great relationship with. Victoria and I had the same mean sense of humor, and she kept me so sane, because we didn’t have to say it out loud, we could just look at each other and know that we were thinking the same mean thing. So it would be those little relationships, that how could they show them? But those are the things that you really appreciate, thinking back.

No question in my mind you will be asked to come back to play this game again. So what will you say when you get that phone call?
I’ll be like, “Is Dalton still covering it? If Dalton’s still covering it, I’ll go.” It’s tricky with the kids, because I got a 5-year old and then someone who will be 2, but we’d probably find a way to work it out. It was so much fun and such an adventure. And my wife did a lot of sacrificing while I was out there, but she’s really enjoyed watching it. It’d be hard to say no. I would try to make it for sure.

And the last time I remember Jeff Probst sort of helping someone maybe get a new job on stage was John Cochran after Caramoan, and he got him a writing gig on a CBS show, so I know you’re happy in your job and you love it down there, but maybe you’ll be in a different market next time we speak.
Well, I’m sitting here going, “Hey. David and John Cochran are working on this Star Trek stuff. I don’t have any writing talent, but can I get in on that?”

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