It was a history-making moment. For the first time in 33 seasons, all 20 castaways were evacuated from their Survivor beaches to escape an incoming cyclone. While it was a crazy reality TV moment, it was also filled with mystery.
We got to see both tribes battle wicked waves while climbing aboard a boat as production whisked them away to safety. But where did they go? A hotel? Post-elimination Ponderosa? We never got to see their overnight accommodations as they hunkered down, leaving the moment shrouded in secrecy.
But not for long.
Rachel Ako, the first person voted off Millennials Vs. Gen-X, revealed all the secrets about that mysterious evacuation location in our one-on-one interview. Plus, she dished the dirt on how her journey to actually get picked for Survivor was an adventure all its own and began crying when speaking about her dad’s reaction to watching her on the show.
SheKnows: You were part of an historic Survivor moment when all 20 castaways were evacuated from the game because of a crazy cyclone that was slamming Fiji. What was going through your head?
Rachel Ako: Getting evacuated I felt pretty lame. Jeff [Probst] comes in all well-groomed and looking nice like usual to tell us about the evacuation. He leaves unscathed on a boat and it’s all surreal. As soon as he leaves, it’s just thunder and the rain felt like bullets. It was 10 times worse, basically. I literally thought Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst had control of the weather in Fiji and the world. It was crazy. When we went, they evacuated us and brought us to a room. I got really excited. I thought there was gonna be furniture, beds and pillows. We walked in and it was just a concrete floor. I was like, oh my gosh, just take me out to Fiji. I would rather die with the palm trees on the sand.
SK: So it was worse where you went than suffering through the storm?
RA: I kept going back and forth. At least there’s a roof over my head, but there’s this awful concrete floor. I got really bitten up. They didn’t really show it, but I had bug bites when I got back from that nasty room that were the size of nickels and dimes. A few were the size of quarters. I was just eaten up from my back down to my legs. I’m not sure which element I would’ve rather been in.
SK: Were you allowed to at least talk in the room?
RA: We were instructed not to talk about our past or the show. That really leaves nothing. You have your past and you have your present, which is the show. So it was a lot of talking with the producer that was sitting there. Observing body language was a benefit even though there was no strategy or anything. It was a day on hold, basically.
SK: Were all 20 of you in this same room?
RA: We were separated by tribes. We weren’t allowed to talk about the game. It was Survivor purgatory. There was a producer in the room monitoring us the whole time. It was a little bit of a quiet hell [laughs]. Not what I was expecting at all. I was thinking there has to be a Four Seasons Fiji next door or something [laughs].
SK: Your tribe’s evacuation happened as the storm started gaining considerable strength. Then you had to climb on a small boat, which had to be another nightmare in itself.
RA: The boat, they didn’t show, but the storm was so bad it completely knocked out all the docks we used. It annihilated it. When we needed to get on the boat, there was no dock or no way to hold the boat down, so it swayed back and forth violently. We were expected to go waist-high into the water and jump on the violent swinging boat. There was a time right before Tribal Council where the boat knocked me and Chris over. We waited for the boat to pass so we could get back on it. I literally had a boat over me while I was in the ocean. It was scary.
SK: If you could hashtag that experience, what would it be?
RA: #IDiedAndCameBackToLife. That was my ninth life, thanks a lot, Survivor,for taking it away from me [laughs].
SK: So let’s get into the game a bit. Was your elimination a surprise or did you know it was coming?
RA: I totally knew it was coming. My tribe did attempt to blindside me and I think they thought they were going to. However, I knew it was coming and I stated it.
SK: How did you know?
RA: Right before Tribal Council there was just a weird vibe. I was trying to talk to everyone and no one was really saying who they were gonna vote for. It was very evident to me.
SK: Who do you believe was the driving force in getting you eliminated?
RA: It was Sunday. Ken wanted to tighten up members of the Gen-X tribe and told me to vote for Sunday. I’m the kind of person who is transparent. When I tell someone I’m gonna vote for someone, I’m gonna do it. I know she knew it. I wasn’t attempting to be fake, manipulate or lie. I kept my distance. I know she was the one going around talking to everybody [about voting me out]. You can see it in the interviews… I felt ousted from the moment I stepped on the Gen-X mat. I thought I would’ve fared well with some younger people on my tribe. A lot of people were naturally merging together because they have kids, families and such. I’m single and don’t have any kids.
SK: Let’s chat about some of your fellow castaways. Who on the Gen-X tribe do you think is the standout star? Who are you rooting for?
RA: I’m not rooting for Gen-X, I’m rooting for Millennials all the way [laughs]. Gen-X voted me out. I wasn’t with the Millennials during the show, but pre-game there was a lot of people with good energy like Jay, Michaela and Mari.
SK: How did you get selected to be on Survivor.
RA: I applied about three years ago. Survivor brought a lot of great things for my family. There was a point where my dad and I would only talk about Survivor. Maybe I have daddy issues and I’m still trying to make my dad proud of me. I applied and they called me. They said, “We’re doing a twist and want to have family members on the show together. We want to have you and your dad come in.” I told them my dad wasn’t going to do a reality show even though he’s been a superfan since day one. They said, “If you want to be a Survivor then you should be able to do anything. If you can’t, then maybe you’re not a fit for the show.” I called my dad and told him Survivor wanted us to come in. He was like, “No! Hell no!” I had to hide the fact my dreams were crumbling. His knee will eventually need surgery, so I relayed the message to Survivor. They were like, “Sorry.” But a couple years later I applied again. They called me. I was one of the last add-ons with a couple months notification before go time.
SK: So your dad being a superfan of the show, what was it like for him to watch you on it?
RA: My dad has rarely said he’s proud of me in my life. I can probably count it on one hand. After my dad watched the show, having him say that he’s proud of me is just memorable. [Cries] I think he said it once when I graduated from high school, once when I graduated college and once when I did a pageant. Just to hear him say it, I’ll never forget it.
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