'Survivor' Season 35 Player Profile: Meet JP Hilsabeck

He's not walking into the game wielding Mjolnir, but this California firefighter nonetheless steps into 'Survivor' with the support of Thor.
Courtesy of CBS

Welcome to the Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason! THR's Josh Wigler reports from his exclusive visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 18 new castaways battling it out for the million-dollar prize.

Click here to make sure you're all caught up on our stories from the island, including our weekly podcast series "First One Out," an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out this season.

And the award for the castaway most likely to spend their Sole Survivor winnings on building a dog bar goes to … JP Hilsabeck, come on down!

In fairness, the young Hero from California (definitely not from Texas, his castaways' predictions to the contrary) mostly earns this prestigious honor because A), he's a firefighter just like Survivor: Caramoan's very own Eddie Fox, and B), he's the proud co-owner of a Siberian Husky named Thor, an incredible dog by JP's own account: "He's the perfect size. He sits in the front seat nice. Sticks his tongue out the window when you drive around, and things like that. You take him hiking. I take him pretty much everywhere I go. It works out pretty good. He's a friendly guy. He's friendly to other people. But for some reason, he's kind of like that alpha male type of dog, and he doesn't get along with other dogs. It kinda all depends on the dog."

JP shares the honor of watching over Thor along with his three other roommates, also firefighters: "We all went through the academy together, and it was a great experience and things like that. We have Brice, who's going to be working with Orange County, and Eric and Corey, who work at the same department I do. Great group of guys. Kinda wish they were out here." 

At first, JP thinks it would be "awesome" to have his friends, roommates and fellow dog parents out on the beaches of Fiji with him. Then, he recognizes the inevitability of having four friends on the same Survivor beach: "At the end of the day, we would have to vote each other off. We would probably get in a fight, because we're so competitive with everything, whether that's CrossFit or working out or something stupid in the backyard or something like that. We're just competitive 100 percent of the time, which is great. It brings out the best in us. It pushes that person to be that much better."

Even though they can't be out here themselves, what do JP's roommates think about their friend taking the Survivor plunge? And what do the rest of the people in JP's life think about the upcoming adventure, as much as they know about it? His answer: "As much as people know that I'm coming out here, they think it's a great experience. It's a great opportunity. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity type of thing."

Listen to the podcast below to hear from JP and the rest of the Heroes Tribe in the second episode of our preseason series, "First One Out."

For JP, even if getting on Survivor is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it isn't necessarily a dream come true. At the very least, it's not a dream come true the way it is for some of the other castaways who have fantasized about playing this game for years, some of them since the very first days back on Borneo. 

"I wouldn't say I'm a huge Survivor fan," he says. "There are some people who are over the top with it. I just say I've been kind of watching the show as I've been growing up, and as the shows have progressed through it all. I always thought it would be very cool. I'm a super outdoorsy type of guy, and things like that. So I was like, hey! This would be a great opportunity to do that. And I finally got that opportunity to come onto the show. Here I am. Here I am talking to you. And it's exciting! Super exciting."

In terms of his outlook on how best to push forward in Survivor, JP lays out his views on how he plans to balance his love of the great outdoors with the need to stay strategically vigilant: "I love being outdoors. I like spearfishing and starting fires and doing all that type of stuff. That's the cool part about it. But you also have to bring it back home. You're here to play a game. You have to make sure you're focused on the game and not too caught up in your surroundings. You have to stay focused and stay involved in the game while the game is going on."

"It's a game that has no rhyme or reason," he continues. "It's ever-changing from episode to episode. As soon as you think you have things figured out, there's a twist or things don't go your way. There's no one way to play it. Every time you get with a group of people, they create their own environments. It's like the Lord of the Flies book, you know what I mean? Every group of people is so different. You can't say, OK, you played it like this this time and it worked, but when you play it this way with a different group of people with different backgrounds and experiences … I think the game's going to have to be played different. You have to buy into their backgrounds and things like that and work it, and at the end of the day, use it against them and use it to come out on top."

Watch the video below for more from JP on why he's going to win Survivor.

That's JP in his own words. But what does everyone else think? Over the course of these interviews, I showed the castaways pictures of each other from casting, to get their pregame impressions of their future competitors. Read on for their takes on JP.

Note: comments from the castaways have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): What do you think of this guy?

JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter, Heroes Tribe): Oh, that guy? That's a great looking dude right there. Is that me? I dunno! 

Chrissy Hofbeck (Actuary, Heroes Tribe): No read on him. Absolutely no read.

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): Nothing?

Chrissy Hofbeck (Actuary, Heroes Tribe): Nothing. I cannot figure him out. I feel like him and the other young beautiful boy, they're gonna be best buddies in this game.

Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): He seems to be like your stereotypical male. Classic looks. He's pretty jacked, and doesn't really say a whole lot or interact. Like when a helicopter flew in yesterday with Jeff Probst on it and everyone's freaking out, he just sat there in his chair. He didn't even turn around and look. He was just, like, dead to the world.

Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): I bet he's military. He could literally be Captain America.

Ben Driebergen (Marine, Heroes Tribe): He's another young kid, another cut kid. They're all cut, like chiseled out of stone and shit. 

Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard, Heroes Tribe): He's very cute. He almost reminds me of another guy I dated, actually. He'll be fun, but I don't know how smart he'll be with the people game. 

Lauren Rimmer (Fisherman, Hustlers Tribe): I think that guy is probably a white collar type. I've observed him a little bit and, you know, the way he drinks and the way he carries himself, he kind of acts like his shit don't stink. And that's fine, you know. Sometimes I'm sure I look that way. But out here, you need to be laid back and you need to be willing to crack a smile. 

Patrick Bolton (Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): He looks so uptight. He seems uptight to me. He's one of the few that doesn't smile or give you anything. He acts like you're not there. Like, come on guy. We're out here trying to have a good time. We're on Survivor. Maybe this is part of his strategy. But it's not working with me. 

Watch the video below for an early look at what JP's victory speech might look like.

Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): He seems nice. I don't really know too much about him. He kind of looks like your average American guy, you know? He could be nice and friendly, or he could be the opposite — a douche bag. I don't know.

Desiree Williams (Physical Therapist, Healers Tribe): He seems like a young college kid, or just recently graduated. He seems nice enough, but I don't have any real major reads on him.

Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): Another jock. He's cool. I keep mentioning the word muscle, but it's like, is this like Survivor: Muscle? Everyone brought their A game.

Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): Seems like the jock type. Probably a football player.

Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): That's the wrestler. Super fit, in shape, loves the sun. He'll lay out and get a tan if it's 12 at night, if he can. But he's quiet, doesn't say much. I can tell he's from the South. I know he's from the South, just by what I've observed. 

Roark Luskin (Social Worker, Healers Tribe): I would says he's probably our fratty bro from the South. He really keeps to himself.

Katrina Radke (Olympian, Heroes Tribe): I think he might be an exercise physiology type guy. I think he's from Texas, because he was wearing a Texas shirt.

Simone Nguyen (Diversity Advocate, Hustlers Tribe): Texan. I think he's Texan.

Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop, Hustlers Tribe): I think he's from Texas. I saw him wearing a Texas shirt, so everything that I gel with him over will be sports. That's an angle that I really am going to try and play up, especially with him and especially if I can't get a read on people. 

Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): I mean, who likes the Texans? I mean, do you watch football? Who likes the Houston Texans? He's built like a tank and drinks aspartame all day, too. I'm doing something wrong.

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): You need to drink more soda.

Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): Yeah, I gained 15 pounds to come out here, but I didn't drink any soda. Like, I think I need to drink soda to be ripped and ... I don't know. I'm doing something wrong!

Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): When was the last time a very strong person has won Survivor — if ever, right? Like, Ethan might have been strong, but it's not like the Ozzys or the Malcolms ever win. So, I'm happy to play with him. At some point, when the puzzles come along, we'll take him out in the end. 

Click through the gallery below for photos of JP and the rest of the Season 35 castaways.

Keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage of the Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason.

 

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