In many "Survivor" seasons, Katie Collins would have been the first person voted out. Her tribe lost the first challenge and she took responsibility for a big part of that failing. 
 
Instead, Brad Culpepper and his male alliance targeted Marissa and Katie was off on a surprisingly long run that ended on this week's episode only after a Duel in which her mother, Season 2 winner Tina Wesson, offered repeatedly to let her take second and stay in the game for another day or two. 
 
Katie declined her mother's offer and, months later, she sounds pretty comfortable with that decision. She also feels good about her last Tribal Council, in which she drew the white rock and was sent home by chance after multiple voting deadlocks. 
 
In the exit interview, Katie talks about her perpetually precarious position in the game, her feeling that she never would have written her mother's name down and the part of the game her mother couldn't have prepared her for.
 
Full Q&A after the break...
 
HitFix: So at the end of the Duel on last night's episode, your mother asked you twice if you were sure you didn't want her to step aside for you at the very end of that Duel. How loud was the voice in your head telling you to accept that offer?
 
Katie Collins: [Laughs.] I couldn't. We saw that she talked about it the night before, we both did. At Redemption she was like, "I will sacrifice my game for you. I will let you win." I knew that that was something that she would be willing to do. We talked about it and I told her, "Let's play as hard as we can and may the best man win." At the Duel, same thing. She turns around and she's like, "Katie. Is this OK? Are you sure you want me to go through?" And basically, that action would send me home, so I think she wanted to triple-check and make sure that I was OK with all of it. But it's hard for me. Of course my, "It's OK" line was a little hesitant and reluctant, but I knew that that was our plan. It's hard, because you don't want to go home for good, so I didn't want to be like, "Yeah! Of course! Send me home! That'll be great."
 
 
HitFix: Which was the stronger conflicting desire in that moment, though? Her desire to let you win and help you win or your desire to let things play out naturally? 
 
Katie: My main concern was to make sure that she wasn't going through any sort of emotional trauma. I don't think that she wanted to let me win. She would have, but she never lets me win anything. When we play backgammon, she never lets me win, ever. So I was even surprised that she toyed with that idea. For me, making sure her headspace was OK, that was my main goal and concern. I think that it worked out. It's still hard. Even watching it last night, it was hard to watch. Watching it from an outsider's perspective, you're like, "Uhh. Kinda emotional. Glad they go through it." But for us it was, "[Feigns crying.] Oh, I love you so much much," because I know she's going through these emotions and so am I because I don't want to go home. But it's fine.
 
 
HitFix: OK. If your mom doesn't let you win at anything, what do you beat her at?
 
Katie: We have this one game called Mancala and it's like a little marble game and it's a board that has holes in it and you walk these marbles through the holes and I consistently beat her, which is why she conveniently lost the game and we don't get to play it anymore. We only get to play the games that she kicks my butt in, which usually is backgammon. I'm pretty good at cards, too. When we play cards, I'm fairly good. We're kinda on the same playing field in that department. But there's never been a time in my life when she's given me a win, so it was interesting, like I said earlier, that she even toyed with that idea, because she could be brutal.
 
 
HitFix: You and Ciera were in a unique position out there with your mothers. What was your reaction to her writing her mother's name down and could you have done the same?
 
Katie: The latter question, I couldn't have written my mom's name down. It wouldn't have been worth it for me. I don't think I could have done that and that's my honest answer. My reaction to Ciera writing her mom's name down? From talking to people about it and watching again, I don't even know if it was necessary for her to do. I don't think Tyson was like, "If you don't write her name down, then we're not gonna trust you," but I think she wanted to prove to her new alliance that she would be willing to go that far to prove her loyalty. I don't think she wanted Laura around. Laura was ruining, quote-unquote, her game. But that was definitely Ciera's strategy. I was shocked to see that. That was the first time we saw that happen and that was the big question going into this "Blood vs. Water"-themed game is, "Can you turn on your loved on?" and that was an example where it happened. And Laura, Laura kept wanting to get back in the game at Redemption to play with her daughter and they just voted her back out again. And like, "Wow, this is really incredible to watch."
 
 
HitFix: But why couldn't you have written your mom's name down? She won the million dollars already. She had this experience. She can always say she's a "Survivor" winner. Why would you not have done it to give yourself the chance at that experience?
 
Katie: It would just be painful. Maybe going back, if I absolutely had to and she told me, "Katie, if you don't write my name down, I'm never flying you to North Carolina for Christmas and I'm gonna disown you," then I would do it. But in Ciera's situation and scenario, if I were in her shoes, I couldn't do it. And to your question of why, I wanted it to be a positive experience for both me and mom and something we did together and I didn't want to have be in a situation where I had to... I mean, obvious at Redemption we had to Duel against each other, but that was completely out of our control. But didn't want to be in a situation where I would have to put her name down. She loves the game so much and we saw it last night where she had to kinda put my game to rest to further her game and so maybe writing her name down would have been sorta a similar situation, but I don't know til I'm actually there. It's very situation, so it's hard for me to say one way or the other, but it would be difficult.
 
 
HitFix: When you look back to the beginning of the game, how close do you think you came to going home at that very first Tribal Council?
 
Katie: Yeah, because Marissa wrote my name down at the very first Tribal, so I'm think in my head... Everyone's confident going into this game. We see it. Everyone's like, "Uh, of course I'm gonna make to the Final 3. No duh." So I think we all have this confidence and as soon as you see your name written down, you have this taken-aback moment where you're just saying to yourself, "OK. Maybe it's not all going my way." So I had a sense at the beginning, too, that "Alright. Maybe this isn't gonna happen for me." And the game turned around. I remember going back in my head and thinking about having to win the challenges and then the guys voting out the girls and that didn't help. It was just a whirlwind of emotions. But it really panned out so that I really enjoyed the whole game and I'm glad I made it as far as I did, especially since the odds were against me, I feel like, the entire season, just going to every Tribal, almost, and dealing with that guy alliance and having mom. It was an adventure.
 
 
HitFix: Well after that first Tribal when it became clear that there was that guy alliance, was there any point in the next 30 days when you felt like you were in control out there? Or were you scrambling for almost an entire month?
 
Katie: Oh man. The majority of the time I was scrambling. There were a few Tribals? I feel like when we did the Tribe Swap and I was over at Galang, I did feel a little more confident, because I knew that I had mom and Vytas on my side and we were voting together, so at those those Tribals, I thought, "OK. We kinda have this in the bag for the time being." That was really nice to not be super-paranoid, because Monica and Laura B and Kat never seemed like they were gonna form an alliance to go after us, so I felt pretty confident them, but that was really the only time.
 
 
HitFix: Were there any points where you were thinking, "OK, I'd like to make a move... but I really can't make a move." Were you constantly thinking, "If only I could do this, something different might happen, but I'm scrambling the whole time"?
 
Katie: There were times. Remember when Laura Morett went after me when I was digging for the Idol? We had a sit-down. We took a break from digging and I'm like, "Why don't me, you, Ciera and my mom, we'll form together and  make a new alliance." There's times when you go to people and say, "OK, let's think about it from this angle and then we can make this move," but as we've seen even with Gerv, Tyson and Monica, it's pretty unbreakable, but you do have these "What if?" moments and you just have to trust your judgment. So me being, yes, on the bottom and sorta belly-up for a lot of the tail-end of the season, I just felt a little on the hopeless side, which is a reason why the rock-drawing would have been the best option, at least for my game, in order to break that Tyson-Gerv-Monica alliance.
 
 
HitFix: Let's talk a bit about the rock-drawing. That's the sort of thing where it's a brilliant move if it works and less-so if it doesn't. As you've thought back over it in the past few months, have you been sorta of one mind that you did the right thing and it was the only thing you could do?
 
Katie: Yeah, just going back and hashing it in my head and talking with other people, it was the best. If I could go back to that Tribal and vote differently or agree to not draw rocks and be safe for another Tribal? I don't know if that would even still be worth it for me. That moment of chance really was going to be my savior, I feel like and even the savior for Hayden and Ciera. Yeah, I wouldn't have done anything differently. I think it was the right move. There could be people think differently, maybe, but I'm confident in that move, that Tribal Council.
 
 
HitFix: And even knowing what was coming, how much tension did you feel watching that Tribal Council play out on TV?
 
Katie: Man. Yeah, knowing that happened, I knew it happened, but just watching it on television? I watched it with my mom, actually, in North Carolina, and it was so sad to watch. I'd told her what happened at Redemption Island, I told her everything, her and Laura, but she hadn't really seen it happen. So both of us still were gripping the couch, because it's so tense! It's a really tense moment and you still go through the flood of emotion that you did at Tribal and it brings back all those emotions and memories and... Yeah. It's still one of the best Tribals of the season, I feel like, because of the chance aspect of it.
 
 
HitFix: I assume that your mom told you lots of "Survivor" stories over the years, but what were you least prepared for? What surprised you the most out there?
 
Katie: OK. Good question. Mom prepared me for the starvation. She prepared me for just expecting the worst and she's like, "It's not gonna be peaches and roses. It's not gonna be easy." So I knew going in, she didn't sugarcoat anything. But the thing that I least expected was how difficult it was to separate friendships from the gameplay. I still think about how difficult it was. You're going through so much with these people. You're starving together. You're going through challenges together. You're going through highs and lows and you really form a close bond. But then these are the same people that you have to backstab or talk crap about and it's not the easiest thing in the world to do. We had that moment where me and Ciera were in the hammock and, "You stole my Idol?" You put so much trust into your quote-unquote "friends" on the island and it's moments likes that where you realize, "OK, Katie. This is still a cutthroat game." And that was difficult for me. And it's personal, so that's nothing anybody can really prepare you for.