updated 12/12/2013 AT 6:35 PM ET
•originally published 12/15/2013 AT 12:05 PM ET
Survivor is a cutthroat game with only one winner each season, but Survivor: Blood vs. Water contestant Katie Collins has discovered that in times of need, all rivalries and alliances are forgotten.
“We’ve been getting sweet messages and notes from Survivors that I’ve never even met,” Collins, 26, tells PEOPLE of the outpouring of support following the death of her brother Taylor, 25, who was ejected from the front passenger seat of a vehicle that hit a house in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Dec. 3.
The news of the accident came as a shock to Survivor fans, who were first introduced to Collins and her brother when their mother Tina Wesson, 52, was declared the winner of Survivor: Australia in 2001.
“Survivor has been such a part of our lives,” says Collins, who competed alongside her mother this season. “It has been sad but there has been such a pouring of support from the fans. I appreciate everyone’s condolences. Everyone has been great.”
Collins and Wesson had been planning bringing Taylor to the CBS reality show’s season finale but will still honor his memory at the taping in Los Angeles on Sunday.
“We are bringing his girlfriend,” says Collins, whose elimination on day 33 of the competition aired Wednesday. “We are all going to be there together and he will be there in spirit.”
And while Collins is no longer in contention to win the grand prize, she is thankful for the experience she shared with her mother before facing their tragic loss together.
“For me to get to share [Survivor] with her was the best,” says Collins. “It is something that we will keep with us forever and that is a wonderful gift that CBS has been able to offer us and we are eternally grateful.”
Survivor’s season finale airs Sunday (8 p.m.) on CBS.