Hi. Remember David Wright?
The two-time Survivor castaway was in the hot seat during the latest Edge of Extinction Tribal Council, which also stands out as one of the wildest and most unruly Tribals in the CBS reality franchise's history. Instantly iconic, one might say. David and ally Rick Devens spontaneously developed a large new voting bloc in order to oust medical student Julia Carter from the game, but only after a truly rowdy back-and-forth that saw multiple castaways whispering in each other's ears and otherwise shouting at each other from across Tribal Council — all under the amused eyes of host and executive producer Jeff Probst, not to mention the growing Edge of Extinction jury.
Having participated in one of only three tie-breaking rock-draw Tribal Councils in the show's 38 seasons on television, David knows a thing or two about unhinged votes. How does this past week's lavishly live Tribal Council stack up with some of his past date nights with host Probst? And where does it fit in the greater Survivor pantheon, as the evolution of strategy continues its journey from season to season? The Hollywood Reporter caught up with David over e-mail for a deeper dive into those questions and more.
Walk us through this insane Tribal Council, start to finish. How did it play out, from your perspective?
We returned to camp after the immunity challenge and people immediately ran off to discuss who to target at Tribal. I got the feeling that Kama and the Lesu 3 (Wentworth, Lauren and Wardog) were going to vote me out, and Devens concurred. Even though I was told the plan was for Kama, Devens and me to vote out Wentworth, I couldn't be sure that was the real plan — especially during the awkward silence at dinner before Tribal.
Walking into Tribal, I wasn't nervous, since Devens and I had joint custody of an immunity idol. I had such trust in him that I was confident there would be no hesitation to use the idol if that's what needed to happen.
At first, Tribal was pretty ordinary. People talked about where their heads were at, I mentioned watching sharks and minnows while taking a poop … pretty ordinary! Then Julie got very emotional, which resulted in Julia confirming to everyone that there were multiple plans. That's when everything disintegrated into chaos; people got up and suddenly, the vote was live. I overheard my name several times, so I felt Devens and I should play the idol to be safe. I believed Julia would most likely be voted out, but I didn't want to risk being wrong.
What are your thoughts on this Tribal Council's place in Survivor history? Is it the messiest Tribal in the show's lore?
It was singlehandedly the craziest Tribal I had ever been to — and I've been to rocks before! It lasted for hours, which felt like days. People were leaping up, snapping at each other, and at one point, Julie was in my lap. Nothing could wipe the huge smile off of Jeff's face — he was at full dimple. It was an incredibly stressful Tribal for everyone, but because Devens and I had an idol, I was able to have more fun with it.
Can you take us through your relationships with the other players in the game through this point, person-by-person? Let's start with your closest ally, Devens.
A fundamental rule to winning Survivor is finding that one person you can trust. In my two seasons of playing Survivor, I found the deepest trust in Devens. We had a fantastic partnership. He reminded me of my best friends from college. We shared the same sense of humor and he was an absolute riot to be around. We would strategize at night so that nobody could tell how close we were, which was entirely betrayed by the fact that I couldn't help but laugh at everything out of his mouth during the day. I hid nothing from him and he hid nothing from me. Our bond was so strong that even when we disagreed on the Eric vote, I never thought it would stop us from being each other's closest ally. I knew I had found a lifelong friend in Rick Devens.
How about Wentworth, your sometime nemesis?
Survivor: Second Chance is my favorite season and a big reason why is Kelley Wentworth. I love her gameplay. She's a smart, veteran player who knows this game very well. Going into it, I wanted us to be shields for each other and work together. I saw her bond with Lauren very quickly, which would not have rattled me except that I didn't feel included in their strategizing. And so I felt the need to target Wentworth before I became a target myself. Even though I still got along with Wentworth, Lauren and Wardog individually, I always felt on the outs with the Lesu 3, which is why I relied on my relationships with Devens and Wendy. While Wentworth and I were never completely working together and wrote each other's names down, there was still an unspoken bond between us as the remaining returnees in the game [after Aubry and Joe's eliminations]. Plus, we're both members of the "Day 38 Club," which I incorrectly predicted would be the theme of the season.
Lauren is a really strong competitor, but given the fact that she was in a very tight alliance with Wentworth and that I'm 70 years older than her, we just never found common ground. However, game aside, we got along well; it just never came together strategically. Also, I was sure I spotted Lauren darting towards a hidden immunity idol on day two, and that made me wary.
My relationship with Wardog dissolved during the cold, windy days of Lesu. I told him I was willing to go to rocks for him, and he said he wasn't, and that was the end of that. Wardog has a very blunt way of speaking. If he decides he doesn't want to work with you, there's no changing his mind. Still, we got along and talked about our mutual love of The Beatles, especially George Harrison. Wardog repeatedly said he was going to vote me out. While that honesty was refreshing, it meant I would never be able to trust him and that I'd have to vote him out before he voted me out.
Moving over to the old Kama: Ron?
Ron was fantastic and a great morale boost during the down hours of camp life. It was important for me after the Eric vote to re-establish trust with Ron. Ron and I are closer in age, he's a smart man who I have a lot of respect for. Also, at this point in the game, I had no idea that he was best friends with Oprah [Winfrey].
I got along well with Julie. We both attended Syracuse University at the same time, so we had a connection from that. We bonded over crabbing, and actually got pretty good at it. At this point in the game, I felt very good about my relationship with her, and she was willing (along with Ron) to work with Devens and me in a way that many members of Kama were not.
I was impressed with the way Victoria was able to navigate the game and make everyone feel like she was on their side even when she wasn't. I enjoyed hearing about her guinea pigs and hoped I wouldn't become one.
Gavin was such a down-to-earth, great guy. Had we started on the same tribe together, as super-fans, I think we would have instantly formed an alliance. However, with the way things shook out, by the time I met him he had already bonded with Kama, which hurt us being able to work together. Fun fact about Gavin: He knows everything about Walt Disney, including where his frozen body is stored.
Super fun to talk to. She was unpredictable at Tribal and in the game in general. Her lack of a filter was refreshing in a game where people are usually more guarded. I was worried about her going on an individual immunity run as she was very physical. Because she was at the bottom of Kama from the beginning, I felt she might be somebody I could work with going forward.
And let's end on Julia, the person on the wrong side of this very messy Tribal?
I have a lot of respect for Julia as a person; she also made camp life a lot more fun. She was very skilled at the game and therefore a giant threat. It was apparent she really wanted to work with Kama. While she may have been willing to work with Devens and me for a vote or two, it was obvious that we were not part of her long-term plans.
At this point, you're fully aware of the Edge of Extinction. What were your thoughts on the Edge as far as it being a new wrinkle to the game? In what ways did it impact strategy, to your mind?
I was well aware that the Edge of Extinction twist potentially gave players the chance to grease the jury. I was hoping Aubry would make it back into the game as I knew she'd be somebody I could work with. I was worried that Joe would return because he could easily win individual immunity challenges. Plus, Joe and I are the same archetype — hot and hunky providers — so we'd be competing for screen time.
Throughout the season, there has been a tension between the new and returning players. In the early going, at least, it looked like you were somehow able to side-step some of the baggage attached to being a veteran player. How did you pull that off? What were some of the advantages and disadvantages of being a returning player mixed in with several newbies?
I think it's a true testament to my social game, as well as Wentworth's, that we were able to survive so many pre-merge Tribals. And I did it this time without an idol. I knew for my second chance I needed to be more of a calming presence. Last time, I was very neurotic and openly searching for idols. This time, I made sure to remain at camp and to integrate myself socially. I felt I needed to rely on my social game to get me through those early votes because, let's face it, I'm more of a sinker than a swimmer. (Although special shout-out to my girlfriend Leah for the swim lessons.) It was important for me not to play the hero, but be somebody who the newbies could seek counsel from if they wanted to. I needed to frame this as their experience, not mine.
I also think Wentworth and I did a good job at picking up a strong ally in someone who was in our archetype: Lauren for Wentworth, and Devens for me. I think what minimized our threat level as returnees was being so closely aligned with a newbie. As a result, Wentworth and I weren't seen as a tight returnee pair in the way that Joe and Aubry were on the Kama tribe.
I think the fact that the returnees have all been targeted this season shows what an evolution there has been in the game. It's why I love Survivor so much; it just keeps changing. The second you think you have a grasp of it, there's a shift and it becomes an entirely different beast.
You exit Tribal Council without an idol, but with your life intact, and a whole mess of chaos to boot. How did you feel about your place in the game and the state of the game generally, heading back to camp?
Leaving Tribal, I wasn't feeling happy about the state of the game. While I don't regret playing the idol because I've always been of the mindset that it's better to use one incorrectly rather than be sent home with it in your pocket, once I realized I wasn't the target, I was regretful about burning the idol. The only relationship I felt truly great about was the one I had with Devens; I didn't think the majority of Kama and the Lesu 3 wanted to go to the end with me, so I had my work cut out for me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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