It was an emotional goodbye for Stephanie Johnson as her torch was snuffed out on Survivor: Ghost Island. It was even more emotional on a personal level for her to watch it play out with her family. During our one-on-one interview with Stephanie, she discussed her disappointment that Michael and Jenna had flipped against her. Stephanie also revealed which castaway she was planning to align with deeper into the game before unleashing a secret surprise about Bradley.
SheKnows: It seemed like you knew the votes were coming against you. Did you really know you were going to be voted off, or was it a surprise?
Stephanie Johnson: I knew that it was gonna be me. Even if you have a 99 percent chance it’s going to be you, in this game it’s ingrained into your head that it’s not over until it’s over. When I saw my name on the first vote, you can see visibly I shrink down. That’s when it hit me that it really was over. You can be prepared or know, but the shock of seeing your name and knowing that it’s actually over, you can’t prepare for that.
SK: How did you know?
SJ: I knew on Ghost Island when I didn’t have an advantage and I had nothing to go back to. I had a shred of hope that going back, maybe Jenna, Michael and I could figure something out. I went back to camp after we lost the Immunity challenge and realized something did change the entire dynamic of the camp. In 24 hours, the game changes completely. Twenty-four hours is a long time in a game that’s only 39 days. I went back and pulled Jenna and Michael aside immediately. I could read it in their face. Jenna wouldn’t look me in the eyes. Michael was all of a sudden aloof when he had been a massive player strategizing with me the whole time. I just knew they had either figured something else out or they had thrown me under the bus. I just had a gut feeling they had plotted something.
SK: Both Michael and Jenna voted against you. As your friend and ally, did either of them warn you about how they planned to vote?
SJ: They didn’t tell me they were gonna do that. I think it caught me a little off guard at the moment. I was sad that Jenna, especially, had flipped on me. She chose Michael to go with. I don’t blame them. They came up with something, and they had to show their loyalty to those guys. It still stung. It hurts to be backstabbed by two people you’ve been with since day one, especially Jenna. She’s my girl. I think the first day I was out of the game, I was confused and pissed. I was like, “I hate everybody! This sucks!” All of the normal grieving emotions. But I’m friends with everybody. It’s a game. They did what was right for them. Absolutely, they made the right decision. If I would’ve been in their shoes, I would’ve done the same thing. I would’ve probably thrown one of them under the bus and tried to flip. They just had the advantage of having the time to do that, and I didn’t. There’s no hard feelings. I have no hard feelings toward anybody.
SK: Just to clarify, though, were Michael and Jenna aware the group was voting against you, or were they taking a strategic guess?
SJ: Oh, yeah. They both voted correctly with everybody else. I absolutely believe that they knew.
SK: Why did the group target you specifically instead of somebody like Michael?
SJ: It was definitely between Michael and I. We were both the most vocal at Brendan’s Tribal Council. We were trying to strategize in calling Kellyn out and calling Bradley out. We were trying to make something happen. I think that put both of us on their radar as two strategic players. I think it just came down to the fact that Michael had more time to build stronger bonds because he had that extra day. Had Michael been at Ghost Island, maybe I could’ve rallied something up. They also knew I was a triple threat in the game. I’m strong, strategic and social. They saw it and they knew that I was there to play. Jenna wasn’t a threat. She wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. I think it was a matter of who’s the biggest threat.
SK: You gave a very emotional speech just moments before you were voted out. What was it like watching it with your family?
SJ: That was really hard. It was a pretty heartbreaking episode, honestly. I was watching it with my kids and they didn’t find out that I was going home until last night. They’re so young. They’re 6 and 8. They don’t have a filter and would’ve gone and told people, so they didn’t know until last night. It was real emotional watching it with them. They were emotional. I was emotional. There were a lot of tears. It was really gut-wrenching to watch with the music. It was a really sad Tribal. We were all hysterically bawling, all three of us.
SK: Bradley has been sticking out as another potential target. Tell us a bit more about Bradley.
SJ: Bradley definitely stuck out to all of us because he was such a whiny bitch when he came over [after the tribal swap]. He just complained for the entire first day we were over there. He didn’t make a good impression with any of us. The thing about Bradley, [laughs] and he wouldn’t really want you to know this, but he’s kind of a softie. He does have a really good heart. It wasn’t shown because they really just showed our rivalry. We had some really great conversations on the island. We had some very intimate and personal conversations. We related to each other on a lot of different levels, so there was a very genuine friendship I had with Bradley. On the flip side, it was so complex because anytime strategy would get brought up, I literally wanted to smack the kid. He drove me insane with his arrogance and his whining and complaining. He wasn’t willing to budge or work with me. He’s not a malicious person, but he’s very snarky. It really rubbed people the wrong way.
SK: Why wouldn’t he want people to know he’s a softie?
SJ: He’s got this hard exterior shell. But for people he chooses to open up to, he actually has a soul in there. Bradley has a soul, just so people know. He’s a very good soul inside that snarky body of his [laughs].
SK: Tell us a bit more about Kellyn.
SJ: I love Kellyn. They didn’t show our relationship too much besides our sunrise. Kellyn and I have very similar life paths. I see a lot of myself in Kellyn, where I was at five years ago. She and I have shared a lot of the same life experiences. We shared very intimate, personal stories as well. We really connected on a spiritual level, so there was definitely the soul sister vibe we had going on, which is why she was crying when I was voted out. There was an emotional attachment there.
SK: At this point, which castaway do you think is the most underrated?
SJ: Kellyn. She’s not getting the credit she deserves. Her and Bradley are definitely a power couple. I called them out on that from day one. They are running the show and have their three little minions. Out of that couple, I really think it’s mostly Kellyn calling the shots. She’s got it because nobody really likes Bradley. She’s put herself in this amazing position, but I don’t think she’s getting the strategic credit she actually deserves. She’s playing it good because she has a social game, which Bradley doesn’t have.
SK: Who were the players you wanted to go all the way to the end with?
SJ: On day one, Jenna and I definitely bonded. We were very tight. I would’ve gone all the way to the end with her. Brendan and I were extremely tight being the old people [laughs]. We were both there to fight and play. They didn’t show it, but we would watch the sunrise every morning and talk about our kids. I would probably say those two were the people I was closest to. Had Kellyn kept me around, I would have been extremely loyal if she would’ve given me the chance.
SK: How did you get on the show?
SJ: It’s crazy. I was actually reached out to after an Ironman event. They reached out to me, which is really crazy because I had been trying and trying and trying for so many years. It was always meant to be, living my life and doing the things that I love to do. This dream came to me because I pushed so hard for it. I probably applied 12-15 times. I don’t even know the number. I applied on VHS all the way back during Season 2 and went to open casting calls. Instead, they found me.