"Why is it that women in this game can make the exact same moves as men, but don't get the same grace they do, or don't get the same leeway they do, or are vilified in a different way?"
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Survivor ultimately always comes down to the votes, but even more so for Chanelle Howell. That's because her game first unraveled after she risked her vote (and lost), killing any chance for a majority alliance on Vati. Things then went from bad to worse due to another vote — one she put on Mike Turner as safety in case Daniel Strunk successfully played his Shot in the Dark. That vote turned Mike against her for good, and poisoned any relationships she hoped to form once the tribes all ended up on the same beach.

As a result, when the tribe had their first chance to vote Chanelle out, they did so, making her the first member of the Survivor 42 jury. Was Chanelle's vote against Mike her ultimate undoing? What does she make of Daniel's claims that she was to blame for that Tribal Council meltdown and she should have fought harder on her last day to stay? We asked the 29-year-old executive recruiter all that and more, and she delivered a heaping helping of Survivor scoop, including lots of stuff we didn't see and the reason she was "vilified" on the show.

Chanelle Howell on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Okay, what happened. Why are you here talking to me?

CHANELLE HOWELL: Oh my goodness. I feel like I was so well positioned in the early game, very much felt comfortable. Even going to Ship Wheel Island. I know I say in my confessional, "My social game is so good," and I stand by that because I knew that I could go away for the entire afternoon before Tribal and my name wouldn't even touch the lips of any of my castmates. I knew that. And so I was well positioned until we got to Ship Wheel Island, and then I had to make a decision to risk my vote.

It's so funny 'cause I watch it back on TV and I'm like, "Oh my God! Wait, that's only half of it. That's only half of the conversation." And so I know everyone's so confused, like, "Why does she risk her vote?"

So why did you risk your vote?

The conversation that Omar and I had was like, "Hey, I really need my vote, and an advantage could do well for me 'cause I don't know where I stand and I'm going to Tribal." And I think we landed at, "Listen, if it hurts both of us, neither of us will take it. But if it helps both of us, both of us will take it." That gray area that we didn't really talk about was, what if it hurts one and helps the other. And so when I went to the ship wheel and I had to decide, I was like, "Well, Omar and I both just decided that if it hurts both of us, neither of us will take it. So he's not gonna take it. Great! I'm gonna take it."

And my logic behind that was if there's ever a time in Survivor to take a risk, it is when you are most safe. And I knew that I was the most safe. And I see a lot of people saying I didn't protect my alliance. I didn't really have an alliance. I was smack in the middle and Daniel was my plus one and I was aligned with Hai and Lydia and I was aligned with Mike and Jenny. So in any situation, someone from my alliance was always gonna go home.

And so it wasn't like, oh, you didn't protect your alliance. There was no alliance to protect! Someone was always gonna go home. And I was as safe as I was ever gonna be in that game, in that moment. And then I decided to risk my vote. And I would say my biggest mistake was not clearly communicating to Omar, "I wanna take it." 'Cause I think he would've given it to me, honestly. So that's kind of why that was a catalyst to the downfall.

And we have other steps in the downfall to get to, but let's stay there for one second. So your tribe said to you, "Don't risk it." But you get there and you talk to Omar…

My tribe never said don't risk it. We had no idea that Ship Wheel Island was a recurring thing. I think I read somewhere that Daniel and I had a conversation. We never had any conversation about this because we thought that it was a one-time summit just like Millennials vs. Gen X. So we had no idea that it would be a recurring thing. So when we got to the challenge and Jeff goes, "You're sending someone to Ship Wheel Island," we were like, "Oh!"

So no one ever said, "Don't risk it." No one said anything to me. This is completely brand new to us. I know as a viewer, you've seen this on 41. We've not seen anything. We had no idea. Like, is it a different thing? Is it the same thing? We had no idea.

Chanelle Howell on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

So let's get into the second part of it because Daniel kept saying that you betrayed him and hung him out to dry because you weren't taking part in the tiebreaker negotiations and were just kind of sitting on your hands while he did all the work. Is that true, and what do you make of his assessment?

I personally don't feel like I hung him out to dry. Or perhaps I did, but for me, the betrayal in Daniel's eyes isn't really betrayal. I kind of took a backseat at Tribal Council because I didn't have a vote. I don't have a vote so I'm not gonna be like, "Listen, I'm staking my claim in the ground. We should do this and this and that," when I don't have an actual tangible thing to put behind it. Why would I do that? It wouldn't be smart.

And also, you opened the negotiation up by losing! [Laughs] So at that point, I already knew, "Okay, well, then I don't have to concede anything." So why would I jump into a losing battle on a sinking ship when I don't have a vote? it didn't make any sense to me.

But if that was Daniel's perception of betrayal, then that was the only thing. Because as soon as I got off of Ship Wheel Island, I said to Daniel, "I don't have a vote." So he knew everything. I told him everything. I said, "I don't have a vote. I think this is how we should play it since I don't have one. Let me know if you agree." Which he did. And we went from there, so there was no betrayal.

I think that meltdown that we saw at Tribal Council was like, "Oh shoot, I have no cards. I don't know where to go. Let me just push the blame on someone else." Which I can't fault him for because perhaps I would have done the same thing. I can't fault him for that because it's a hard game. You're in the moment, you don't know what to do, but there was no betrayal. I think it was more like, I'm just gonna throw spaghetti at the wall and see if that sticks.

Let's talk about throwing a vote at the wall. Is that vote against Mike at the Tribal Council where Daniel went home ultimately what did you in?

I underestimated how emotional Hai was and how emotional Mike was — and they were very emotional. Because I'm a super logical person, and when I look at the game and I look at the greats of the game, the greats of the game can come back from Tribal after being blindsided to be like, "Good game move, let's move forward. I might work with you in a vote or two." That's how I see the greats operating, but I underestimated how Hai and Mike were playing very emotionally.

I don't think I could recover from that. And I do wanna kind of tap into the Mike vote because I know a lot of people were so confused. "Why did you do that?" I think in this game of Survivor that a lot of people only get the chance to play once, if they're lucky. You could sit there and cross your fingers and hope for the best possible outcome, and hope that this person who is clearly on the bottom, which is Daniel, doesn't use the advantage that he has in his pocket to save him. I could cross my fingers and hope that it doesn't happen, or I could play for the worst possible outcome, right?

And so if I would've gone home and didn't play for the world's possible outcome, I think I would be like, "Darn it! I didn't do this and I could have done this." And the fans would be like, "Why didn't you do that? You had that strategic move in your back pocket!" And so that was me playing for the worst possible outcome instead of crossing my fingers that the best possible outcome comes true.

And the thing that I underestimated again was how emotional Mike was, because honestly, Mike and I made the exact same move for the exact same reason, more than once! Mike and I both lost our vote. He didn't tell me that he lost his vote. I didn't tell him I lost my vote. Mike voted for me in case of Daniel's shot in the dark. I voted for him in case of Daniel's shot in the dark. We made the exact same moves.

And, for some reason — and I think this is a bigger theme — I am vilified for it. And I say that this is a bigger theme because, at the same time, you see Omar: He risks his vote at the ship wheel. And I risk my vote at the ship wheel for the exact same reasons. Yet when we get to merge, we heard Hai, say, "Chanelle screwed Omar, so he doesn't have a vote." And I'm like, "We made the exact same move!" Why is it that women in this game can make the exact same moves as men, but don't get the same grace they do, or don't get the same leeway they do, or are vilified in a different way?

I've been pointing that out in my recaps that Mike voted for you at the exact same time you voted for him. Did you ever point that out to him when he was bringing this up to you?

First thing! Absolutely. The first thing I said when we got back from Tribal, which is what we don't see, is Mike goes, "You voted for me!" and I go, "Mike, you voted for me. We're good. It's even. I'm not taking it personally. Are you?" We voted for each other for the exact same reasons, and I think he couldn't see past the emotion of "You voted for me." While I was very logical and was like, "Mike, that was a smart move for you to vote for me. I did it for survival. You did it for survival." Mike says, "I took it personally," and I'm like, "It wasn't personal. Just like your vote for me wasn't personal. It was for the exact same reason."

He did take it personally. That's clear. How are you and Mike now outside the game now that it's over?

I love him. I love everybody. He's great. Honestly, I look back on the show and I watch his confessionals and I'm like, "He's so funny."

Chanelle Howell and Omar Zaheer on 'Survivor 42'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

You did NOT look happy as you walked up to get your torch snuffed and everyone's telling you how much they love you. What was going through your mind there?

I was pissed. Because many events happened that day that I'm like, "How did I miss this?" And I'm not an idiot. I knew I was on the outs. I was very ostracized at the merge on a strategic level, but also on a social level. I was ostracized in a way that hurt because I knew that I was on the outs. I didn't know that the bullseye was on me the way it was because I came into merge like, "Yeah, I might not be in the core, but you guys aren't targeting me."

And the thing that the people don't see is that Vati was that girl when we got to merge. Ika was like, "We will target Taku. Let's work with Vati." Taku was like, "We will target Ika. Let's work with Vati."  Vati was that girl. And so in my opinion, it makes sense that we would essentially pick a side. And I think preemptively, we have Hai and Mike being like, "No, no, no, we're fractured. Let's create a whole new dynamic." We see Lydia as collateral damage because if we actually did decide to stay as four and work with one of the other tribes, I think Lydia might not have been collateral damage.

You decided to chill out on that final day because you didn't want to make anyone nervous with any scrambling, and that appeared to work somewhat. Is there anything you regret about your endgame there?

You know what? It's hard, right? 'Cause I could have scrambled. I could have done more. But honestly, I think the way that I played was the smartest. And it doesn't feel good 'cause you wanna feel like you've physically done everything you could, but sometimes the smarter play is to do less. Because ultimately in a tribe of 11 people, no one is gonna stick their neck on the line because in a group that big it's like, "I just hope it's not me." And for some people, it's like, "Oh, we could use her down the line," but in a group that big you could use anyone down the line, honestly. And so if Mike hadn't dug his heels in, I think that I actually could have stayed longer.

But I think that anomaly of him being very emotional about the entire thing that happened, however many days ago it was, was just [too much]. Could I have pulled a majority? I don't think so. Because I tried working with Romeo, he wasn't giving me the truth. I tried talking to Maryanne, but she was not giving me too much. And so I think what I did was honestly the smartest move that I could have done.

What's something that happened out there that you wish we could have seen but never made it to air?

I was a challenge beast out there! And that was not shown on the screen. I was carrying my tribe through these challenges and I was like, "I wish that that would show." But your girl was killing it. They didn't show all that, but your girl was carrying the team on her back.

Finally, what's it like being the mayor of Ponderosa?

I'm excited. I always say that every second on that island was a gift. Every second at Ponderosa was a gift. It is a really beautiful time that you have to reflect on your game and the experience, and just have gratitude for the fact that you're even there. And so it was beautiful. I loved it.

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