Survivor: Island of the Idols has arrived! Every week, Parades Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.
Youve got to break your own heart in Survivor, Ronnie Bardah told me before he set out forSurvivor: Island of the Idols. But the record-setting poker player had no idea that his heart would be the first to break this season. After a chaotic scrambling at camp and a heavily emotional Tribal Council, the Massachusetts man of many jobs was shocked to add another one to the list: first boot.
Related: Survivor Host Jeff Probst Breaks Down the Island of the Idols Premiere
Starting off, Ronnie utilized a motto from his time at the poker table: Sit back and watch. And what he watched was Elaine Stott quickly endear herself to the Lairo tribe. Fearing her likability would make her an endgame threat, he plotted alongside Aaron Meredith to clip the factory worker. But Elaine was picking up tells from him as well, finding him untrustworthy. She then used her early bonds and alliances to make sure she would continue to spice up the game like cumin. Though Aaron and Ronnie swapped the vote to Vince Moua due to Lairos self-destruction on the puzzle, everyone else bluffed the poker pro and blindsided him in his first and last trip to Tribal.
Now out of the game, Ronnie talks with Parade.com about how surprised he was by his elimination, why the target turned from Vince to Elaine, the tells he picked up from his tribe members and the lifelong friends hes already made from Survivor.
I got to see in person how upset you were when you got voted off back in Fiji. What was it like last night getting to rewatch your elimination?It was brutal! Lets be real. But it was really hard to watch everything crumble again, to watch your dreams go out the window. Im very privileged and happy to have played the game. But ultimately, nobody wants to be the first one out. We all want to win, and everyones extremely competitive. It was extremely tough to watch, Mike.
As the votes were coming in, you were certainly surprised. Were you expecting your name to come up when you were going into Tribal Council?When I heard my name come out of Jeffs mouth the first time, I just told myself, Dont panic. I wasnt that surprised seeing my name come up one, maybe two times. The third time, I thought, Holy [expletive], this is not real. Was it a blindside to me? Yes, I was surprised. But I remember getting a read on Tom and Chelsea. They wouldnt even look at me. Tom was spooked, and Chelsea is a major tell box. I had a weird feeling something was going on. If Vince or Elaine looked at me like that, I would be fine, since I knew they would vote for me. But Chelsea couldnt look at me or keep a straight face, so I knew something was up.
Tribal Council was heavily emotional. Vince and Elaine were both brought to tears, and you expressed your hardships. What was it like for you to see your tribe members pour their hearts out?You want to relate to their life experiences, and I truly did. I genuinely felt them. But Ill admit when I put a hand on Vinces shoulder, it was sort of disingenuous. I remember feeling fake at the moment because I was writing his name down [laughs]. And to be honest, I wasnt really feeling him when he was pouring his heart out. But Elaine did pull on my heart. There was obviously a lot more not shown. It got to me. When I poured my heart out, it was real. And I dont regret it.
Considering you had targeted Elaine so early, what led to you and Aaron voting for Vince?Vince on the puzzle did nothing. He was holding the blocks up; he was extremely uncomfortable and didnt know what he was doing. He was like a fish thrown out in the desert with no water around him. I wish we could have swapped out; we would have done so immediately. Another thing came with the conversation you saw with me, Aaron, Karishma, Dean, Missy and Vince. We were in a five-way circle talking about what was going on, and Elaines name came up. We spoke a bit about Chelsea as well for being awful on the puzzle. We said she looked frazzled and couldnt handle the pressure. He went back and told Chelsea. And Chelsea couldnt hold it in; she came back and asked, Whyd you throw my name out there? We knew then that Vince couldnt be trusted. On top of that, Elaine came over with a good argument of why she should be kept. And she swayed us over! At that point, we didnt trust Vince because he made it extremely apparent he didnt want to work with us.
I was his target, to be honest, as soon as we hit that beach coming off the boat. I remember everyone introducing themselves and hugging. When I went over to him, I could feel the distance between us. He didnt want to be my friend or talk to me. The only reason why he ended up hugging me is that he had to. He didnt want to mess with me at all. He made a judgment extremely early without giving me a chance. I felt the same way about Tom too. When I came onto that beach, I was at a negative two. Based on how people judged me from my exterior, I was at a disadvantage without even saying a word.
On the note of perception, Before the season, we spoke about how you can look intense or calculating when youre not smiling. Did that happen in those first few days?Oh, for sure. They didnt really show me smile at all on the episode. We had some good times out there that wasnt shown. But I definitely fell into that. I wasnt able to develop relationships outside of Aaron and Karishma and possibly Dean. I wasnt able to show the softer side of me, which is really who I am. Im soft as puppy [expletive]. Im intense at the table, but Im a soft, loving guy. They all know that now. Its just brutal that I wasnt able to display that as much as I wanted to. The first few days of Survivor is a crapshoot. Its high variance because everything is so brand-new. Its like a game of Russian roulette. The chambers on you; then the chambers on Vince. If Tribal Council happened five or six hours prior, it definitely would have been Vince or Elaine. But before we left, it changed to me.
You just mentioned developing bonds with Aaron and Karishma. Can you elaborate on those?They were both personal and off of general vibes. Aaron seemed like somebody I grew up with, somebody right off the bat who I really got. Karishma as well. Dean played a game where he was calm and quiet. You couldnt get much off of Dean. Aaron and I hit it off right away. That was one of my downfalls. He and I were constantly together because we were working on the fire. As a tribe, we paired up when we worked. Elaine was with Tom; Chelsea, Missy and Elizabeth were together; Vince was all over the place; Karishma tried to help fix the shelter. She worked with us a lot.
If I could change things up, I would decide to step away from Aaron and go with Missy, Elizabeth and Chelsea. Watching back, it was three versus three. Karishma had to save face and they trusted her enough to tell her it was me. But out there, it was me, Karishma and Aaron versus Elaine, Tom and Vince. Aaron thought he had Missy, but we lost the battle. It was ultimately my fault. In those first couple of days, I wasnt able to form alliances or relationships with Missy, Chelsea and Elizabeth. It was like pulling teeth talking with Dean. It was so hard.
You targeted Elaine early for her likability. What led you to pursue that line of thinking?We can throw some facts out there. Elaine is pretty much a liability in physical challenges. It was one thing if she was extremely strong and good at challenges. But we knew she would weigh us down. Secondly, she was extremely likable. She was the life of the party and didnt hold back. She was out there being herself, which is great. Shes a great person and extremely funny and personable. She was cracking jokes and everybody loved her. Aaron and I were like, Holy [expletive]. You do want to think a few steps ahead. To think that far ahead is a bit crazy.
But everyone who was cast for this season is a player. They did a really good job this season casting gamers, people who think about the future that early. We didnt want her to go deep, which led us to say, Why not get rid of Elaine now? I thought about what if a tribe swap happened and it was her and I and four people on Vokai. They would most likely vote me out over her. Elaine easily grabs onto you and makes you laugh. There was nobody out there like her. Everybody out there was from the East Coast. We were all pretty similar. Then theres Elaine. Somebody unique and can charm with her Southern accent and hospitality. Hey, its just me, Im chilling out here. Its like we were watching a movie unfold in front of our eyes. It was entertaining, so we thought she had to go.
Speaking of East Coasters, Elizabeth comes back from visiting the Island of the Idols. How much did you believe her story, and was she ever on the chopping block with suspicion of her having an advantage?When she came back and pitched what happened out there, I was in a confessional. When I got back, she took me aside, because she wanted to speak to everyone. She told me exactly what you guys saw last night, and I didnt buy it for a second. She said that the card in the urn said, No game, you lose. We knew it obviously didnt say, You lose. I looked her in the eye and told her, Too bad, Im sorry. But I knew there was a lot more going on with the Island of the Idols.
To answer your question, nobody had a conversation with me about whether we should vote for Elizabeth because she could have an idol. I remember us talking about how we should put a lot of pressure on her so we could flush an idol if she had one. But at Tribal Council, nobody put any heat on her. They mentioned Island of the Idols really quickly, and then just dropped it. I was pissed! I dont have many regrets, but I do [laughs].I wish I could go back and ask, Why is nobody talking about this Island of the Idols? That being said, she also did a great job of being extremely likable. Shes a great girl and was very well-received.
In your Final Words, you spoke about how unforgettable this experience was. Are you going to take anything away from the few days you spent on Survivor?Of course! I loved being disconnected from technology out there and having that small personal journey outside of the game. It was huge for me to just journal and think about life. I was also happy to be a part of Survivor history and gain many lifelong friends. We all shared something that only alumni will understand. I gained a best friend in Aaron. Well be diehard friends until we hit the grave. Hes a great guy; we really clicked out there. If I met him when I was younger, theres no chance we wouldnt be great friends. We clicked right away. We knew when we had to lie to protect one another. The chemistry we shared with each other was insane, and that will last forever.