updated 04/05/2013 AT 3:00 PM ET
•originally published 04/05/2013 AT 5:00 PM ET
Being on Splash was a matter of life or death to Kendra Wilkinson.
The reality star, 27, who stepped down from ABC’s diving competition on Tuesday, tells PEOPLE, “I feel like the world is off my shoulders now. Every morning I would wake up and be shaking. It’s a really risky show. I related jumping off the high board into the water to jumping to my death. That’s how big of a deal it was. To me, it really meant risking my life.”
A teary-eyed Wilkinson climbed down from the 23-foot platform on Tuesday’s show, and said, “One thing I don’t do is quit. This is the first time in my life I’ve quit something. This will haunt me for the rest of my life.”
Wilkinson, a veteran in the water, thought she’d be doing aquatic activity when she signed up for the series.
“I love to be in the pool,” she says. “I was always a swimmer, but this is an aerial sport. I didn’t know that until I signed up. I thought it was swimming. But then I was like, ‘Wow, this is acrobatics. This is what you see in the circus.”
Despite some hate for quitting the show, Wilkinson says the positive has definitely outweighed the negative.
“People link quitting to failure,” she explains. “But on the other hand, I think people understood. After I quit, I expected the world to fall down on me and it actually ended up being the opposite. It’s one of those situations either you understand or you don’t. If you don’t, you hate me. And if you do, you love me.”