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Survivor’s Hali Ford Upset Over Jeff Varner Backlash: He’s ‘Been Punished More Than He Deserves’

Hali Ford’s past is repeating itself.

On Survivor’s season 30 in 2014, she was voted out on day 21, making her the first jury member. Fast forward three years and she landed in the same situation. On the Wednesday, April 19, episode of Game Changers, Ford was sent packing on day 22, making her — yep! — the first jury member. Again. 

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Against Ford both times: tribemate Sierra Dawn Thomas. Now the recently ousted contestant is questioning why she’s experiencing déjà vu. 

Hali Ford
Hali Ford Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images

“I pretty much just took my last season and put it in the trash. I was not in the game my first season. My head was everywhere else,” Ford explains to Us Weekly. “This season I came in completely focused. I felt a lot more confident and I was a lot more present and I was talking strategy more. Watching the episode, I had no idea that Sierra thought I was gunning for anyone. I’m still mystified as to why she cared to vote me out. Why am I a threat that you want to take out? I’ve finished the exact same, so I don’t know what I could have done better.”

The public defender, 27, talks more game play with Us.

Us Weekly: Your name was thrown around a lot this season. Why do you think you were a threat?

Hali Ford: I don’t think I was a threat. A lot of why my name was thrown out was because I was on the outs. I found myself as a placeholder, as a space saver vote. This vote was kind of like, “Let’s keep our group together and vote out an outsider.” If you want to make a big move, usually you want to pull in those floater votes and try to vote out a threat.

Sierra Dawn-Thomas, Hali Ford and Debbie Wanner on the third episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers
Sierra Dawn-Thomas, Hali Ford and Debbie Wanner on the third episode of SURVIVOR: Game Changers Jeffrey Neira/CBS via Getty Images

Us: In your final confessional, you said it was dumb to vote you out right now. Why?

HF: Everyone was always talking about drawing this line in the sand, but no one was willing to make the move to do that. If it really was the two factions — Zeke [Smith], Andrea [Boehlke], Sarah [Lacina] and then Brad [Culpepper] and Sierra’s crew — why not make a move now, when you can really get those numbers and have control over the game? If there already are two sides, now is the time when you pull in, as Zeke said, those soldiers. I thought my vote was really dumb. It’s annoying too.

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Us: At tribal, you admitted you didn’t have an idol. Why was that an important move to save your game?

HF: I was stunned to find out they genuinely thought I had an idol and I was offended that that might be the reason I go home, because it was so false. I don’t know where Sierra got that idea. I was trying to do everything I could to dispel that incredibly false belief. I don’t know if it would have changed their vote anyway, even if I had literally shaken down and stripped down. I would have just gone home naked.

Us: Watching the season back, do you have more clarity on why you were voted out?

HF: I’m probably more confused because I had no idea why Sierra genuinely thought I had an idol. I thought Ozzy [Lusth] thought I had an idol because, at tribal council, he was the first one to talk about an idol. I thought it was an Ozzy-calculated vote. I saw him going around and counting numbers. It seemed to me he was the one spearheading that.

Us: Any regrets?

HF: I have a big regret about the move that I didn’t make. At the metamorphosis challenge [on the Wednesday, April 12, episode], I knew the word metamorphosis. I don’t think they showed it, but Jeff [Probst] was out there talking about butterflies and caterpillars. I didn’t just pull that out of the air. Jeff was dropping so many clues but no one was listening to him. So it wasn’t that hard. I wish, in retrospect, that I had thrown that challenge and that we could have voted Cirie [Fields] out. That’s torn me up. That’s kept me up at night the past few months. But now, having watched the episode, I don’t know if that would have saved me. It might have just made me go pre-jury.

Us: What makes Cirie a threat?

HF: Man, she is just good at talking to people. Cirie has this air about her that when you’re in her hands you feel secure. You really feel like she has your back. She gives off this air that she’s a gangster and can take care of you. That security is big in Survivor. If you can make people feel secure, then you have a lot of power.

Us: Is she the biggest threat in the game right now?

HF: At this point, I would say that you need to keep your eye on Andrea. Immunity challenges are big, and when you pair that with social and strategic smarts, Andrea is the biggest threat. Cirie is a stronger strategic player than Andrea, but you can take her out at any time because her odds of winning immunity are a lot smaller.

Hali Ford on the third episode of 'Survivor: Game Changers.'
Hali Ford on the third episode of ‘Survivor: Game Changers.’ Jeffrey Neira/CBS via Getty Images

Us: When you first merged, Zeke sat everyone down and explained that Jeff Varner had outed him as transgender at tribal council. What was your reaction to that bombshell?

HF: I was shocked and hurt for Zeke. It’s really hard when you’re robbed of releasing something that’s core to your identity into society. I thought that was awful. But I think that Jeff has been punished more than he deserves. You have to understand that you’re a little bit crazy when you’re on Survivor. There’s no excuse for what Jeff did, but I think it’s time for him to have some grace. He’s been beating himself up for months and months. He’s lost a lot. I was really proud of Zeke and I still am. It’s amazing how Zeke handled it. But I don’t really like how everyone else has handled it.

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Us: Have you spoken to Varner since the game ended?

HF: We’ve done some texting and some tweeting. He’s just really gracious and thankful for any support. I just know how much he’s waiting for this to turn into something good. He’s been punished for way too long.

Us: Last, would you play again?

HF: Maybe. I would be into Blood vs. Water. I’m a lot more excited about my real life than Survivor right now. I’m a public defender. It’s my dream job. I’m dating my dream guy. He’s a prosecutor. We’re like a little TV show. I live in L.A. It’s just a dream. I’m so happy!

Survivor airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.

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