'Survivor David vs Goliath': Nick Wilson Breaks Down That Historic Blindside

The secret 'Survivor' superfan-turned-island-dwelling strategist explains the complicated Dan Rengering vote.
Courtesy of CBS

[This story contains spoilers through episode nine of CBS' Survivor: David vs. Goliath, "Breadth-First Search."]

There's an alternate universe in which Kentucky public defender Nick Wilson was the first one out of Survivor: David vs. Goliath, voted out by his fellow members of the David tribe. Instead, Pat Cusack wound up medically evacuated from the game, and Nick survived the events of the premiere — and through nine episodes, he's still surviving.

Indeed, Nick has lasted long enough to establish alliances such as "the Mason-Dixon Line" and "the Rock Stars." He's an eyewitness on the scene of the infamous "Jacketgate," an instantly iconic instance of Survivor surreality. Nick has even lasted long enough to play critical roles in the season's two biggest votes yet: John Hennigan at the hands of Davie Rickenbacker's immunity idol and a split minority vote, and Dan Rengering's elimination via vote-steal and idol nullifier.

"Here's a quote I'm sure I'll regret, and I say this with total admiration and in the best way, if that's possible: he reminded me a bit of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho," executive producer and host Jeff Probst recently told The Hollywood Reporter about Nick. "Because when it comes to Survivor, Nick's a killer. He is relentless, and he is a shape-shifter. Just look at his relationship with Mike White. He's strumming his air guitar and laughing like he's three beers in, and having the greatest time. With Christian and the 'Mason Dixon' alliance, he takes on a very different role. They tend to sit down or meet in the woods as peers and plot their next move. He molds himself to the person he is talking to, and that's a really great quality in this game."

Through the current run of David vs. Goliath, few players have found themselves in the thick of as much Tribal Council drama as Nick. In the aftermath of two blistering blindsides, Nick joins THR to give his perspective on how the vote against Dan came together, the thought process behind his vote-steal play, musings on voting against "the Mayor of Slamtown" and "Natalie Napalm" and much more.

Walk me through the move against Dan. How did it come together? Why target Dan, and how was the specific plan to take him out via nullifier and vote steal devised? 

Davie, Carl and I decided to inform Gabby and Christian about the vote steal, in order to put them at ease about our deficit in numbers. This led to Christian telling us about his idol, and Carl about his nullifier. At this point, we were all on the same page and strategized as a group on how to approach the next vote. Gabby and I pitched that we steal Dan's vote, hopefully spook him into playing his idol on himself, then put our six votes on Alison or Kara, saving the nullifier for another day. Carl insisted that we play it safe, use the vote steal and nullifier on Dan, which would ensure no matter what that Dan would go home. Both plays would have been great, but we ultimately went with Carl's plan for a sure thing. Gabby and I both were flexible players and active idol hunters, so joining Carl's plan was easy to do, as it would further our David unity and cause the idol nullifier to leave the game. 

Everyone knew about Dan's first idol. How did you know about the second one, or was it just a hunch?

Mike gave me the information that Dan had found the idol on Goliath beach. When we merged, I relayed that to Christian. Christian believed there was a possibility that Dan had also found the Tiva idol, because on the morning of the merge, Christian recommended an idol search party and everyone was on board, except Dan who wanted to have a relaxing morning. Then when Dan played an idol for Angelina, I was sure that he would only do that if he had two idols. 

You used your vote steal against Alison, even though Dan was the ultimate target. Why take Alison's vote?

I stole Alison's vote for a few reasons. First, I wanted to misdirect who we were voting for in hopes of tricking Dan into playing his idol on Alison. If Dan played his idol on Alison, then Jeff would not have revealed that an idol nullifier had been played, or even existed, and the vote steal would get all the credit for the big move. Second, Alison and I did have somewhat of a working relationship, despite her decision to remain Goliath strong. I knew if I gave her a good explanation on why I stole her vote, she would understand and be able to trust me again. Other players who are less analytical than Alison might take it personally and never consider working with me again. Third, and shamefully perhaps most enticing (although not most strategic), is that Alison is totally the most fun person to troll. She was devastated that I stole her vote and was totally freaking out. The whole time the rest of us were voting, she was checking her pulse and fighting back tears. I felt guilty the next morning and so bad for her watching it back now. But at the time, I wanted the Davids' haymaker to land and cause as much damage as possible to totally obliterate "Goliath strong," if not humiliate them for lying to the Davids and overlooking us as important players in the game. 

It's rare we see players speaking so openly about the advantages in their arsenal, which is why the scene with the five Davids on the beach running down the vote steal, the nullifier, and Christian's idol was so much fun. What do you remember about that moment with everyone?

What I remember most is total and utter joy. We were all proud of each other and ourselves to be pitching into the effort to overcome the seven to five numbers disadvantage. As John said: "You get what you give." Davie was honest and shared the secret advantage clue. I was honest and opened up about the vote steal, and it was rewarded with more honesty from the others in my David alliance. It allowed us to freely discuss all options and speak openly and truthfully. It was an empowering moment for us Davids who had been powerless for so long.

Based on the episode, of all the Davids, you came across as the one most personally offended about the Goliaths' behavior and the "segregation" on the beach. What was it like sharing the beach with them at this stage of the merge? What was the biggest source of your frustration?

The Goliaths would walk out onto the beach and talk and strategize together for hours. The frustrating part for me was that they didn't even hide it, and it was almost insulting. Then Alison and Kara expected us to believe that they were on board to vote out Dan or Angelina. When the Davids met, it was quickly and effectively. The Goliaths knew they were up in the numbers, and it felt to me like they didn't care if we saw them together. It didn't matter, because what could the Davids do? We were outnumbered. It was the Goliaths' game!

Tribal Council was incredibly intense. Can you take us through the night from your perspective?

Walking into Tribal Council with a 100% fool-proof plan was the greatest feeling in the world. At that point, it was my strategic goal to simply instigate as much as possible and take notes on what everyone says. The more blowups and fighting at Tribal, the better. The only surprise for me was when Carl held up the paperwork to the advantage and gave a loud, "DING!" That was so hilarious. That guy is a legend. 

Let's dial it back to last week's vote against John Hennigan, another blockbuster move. What's the inside story on how that came together between you, Davie and Christian — the latter of whom I assume was included in the plan, given that he voted for John? And why vote for the Mayor of Slamtown, of all the Goliaths you could target?

Mike, Alec, Alison, and Angelina all told me that they regretfully had to vote out Christian because he is such a threat. They didn't want to blindside me. So I took the information to Davie to brainstorm about how to save Christian. When we were chatting on the hammock, I asked if we should play the vote steal to tie the numbers at six-six. Davie said no, because he had one better. My mind was blown. I then went to Christian on the raft and said, "Do you trust me 100 percent? They're coming for you. We have to vote John." Christian wanted to run through the numbers. I was afraid to be seen talking with him for a long time, so I simply told him that three votes would be enough, and to go talk to Davie. 

It was a beautiful thing. Davie, Christian and I had complete and total trust in each other, and when that happens, an unstoppable plan can come together in a matter of minutes. On day six, Christian and I spoke for literally 10 seconds before Tribal when choosing to vote for Jessica. On Day 22, we spoke for three minutes about the plan to vote out John. Mine and Christian's trust was almost to the point that if one of us pointed at somebody during Tribal Council, the other would vote for that person. 

I targeted John, because only John, Dan and Kara lied to me by saying they were going to join the Davids in voting out Angelina. Dan had immunity. I thought John would be a better target for a huge blindside than Kara. 

You, Davie and Carl discovered the vote steal, with the advantage officially falling in your hands. What do you remember about the operation to snag the vote steal?

Davie and I found the clue, then the tree. We were rushing over to the tree to check it out, but there were some people close by. Davie said, "Let's come back later." I said, "No way, man. Someone else could find it." So this led to Davie's beautiful and well executed distraction. Carl had joined me by the time I got to the tree, so he was with me when I snatched it. I thought it would be an idol, but it turned out to be a vote steal. It worked out great. It also was best that Carl happened to be with me, because I think that moment developed so much trust that he immediately told me about his secret advantage. 

Entering the merge, you and Mike White were tight — two cats in a cradle, one might say. In the past few episodes, we haven't seen much from that relationship. What was the status of "the Rock Stars," once you hit the merge through this vote against Dan?

Mike was my number one ally on Jabeni. Also, I developed a close personal relationship with Angelina. Then when we merged, I got back with my close allies Christian and Davie, as well. It's great to have many close allies, but sometimes that forces a tough decision. Mike told me about their plan to get out Christian, and I used that information to blindside John. Mike felt very betrayed after I made that decision. The day after John went home, Mike and I had a conversation on the beach that can only be described as two people in a relationship when one of them cheats on the other. We were still in love, but we had to break up. He was hurt. I was sorry. We agreed he wasn't gunning for me and I wasn't gunning for him, but we would weigh other options, unless and until it made sense for the band to get back together. All great rock bands have a breakup! And I was loyal to my word: while we considered voting out other Goliaths instead of Dan, Mike was not an option.

Continuing our trip down memory lane… "Jacketgate." Give us your take on how all of that played out between yourself and Natalie "Napalm" Cole, watching Angelina try to get her jacket, and all the madness that ensued.

I didn't really feel bullied by Natalie. I felt uncomfortable when she asked me to steal Lyrsa's jacket, but I shut that down immediately as something that I think is immoral and crosses the line of what's allowed in a "game." Lyrsa is a huge fan of Survivor, as am I. Believe that I will have my game clothes framed in my home somewhere, and I wouldn't contribute to robbing Lyrsa of that opportunity. However, when Natalie asked for my jacket, I viewed it as an opportunity to throw Natalie under the bus even harder on her way out, so I acted more offended than I really was. In fact, we got through nearly the whole Tribal without the jacket thing coming up, so I brought it up and opened a whole new can of worms. We then had what seemed like a whole second Tribal Council about the jackets. I could've never predicted it would turn out to be as great as it was, but I like to think I had some contribution to "Jacketgate."

All the way back in the premiere, it looked like you were in intense danger after losing the first challenge… and then Pat's accident occurs. If he had not been evacuated, were you really in line to go home first? 

I would have certainly gotten votes at the first Tribal Council, and I am glad we didn't go, but I can't count six votes against me. At most, I think Pat, Carl, Bi and Jessica vote against me. But who knows. Believe me when I say, I am glad I didn't have to find out. I messed up by neglecting to help with the shelter. Carl and Pat are old-school guys, so they didn't appreciate that. Once they threw my name out, it had the snowball effect, because in the first three days, most people have the "as long as it ain't me" attitude. 

I was going through some things that first day. I was living my dream. I wanted to look for idols, like Mike on Goliath. I wanted to build one-on-one relationships, as I did with Elizabeth, Christian and Davie. I thought a lot about my mom. Overall, I was just emotional, geeking out to be there, and nearly pulled a Jacob Derwin. I repaired the damage by coming clean — admitting to the emotional struggles I was facing that day. Then I started working a lot around camp, especially after we lost Pat, who was a work horse. 

You're a prolific nicknamer of alliances. What was the strategy behind that?

Survivor is a better game than Big Brother, but I like Big Brother, as well. One of my favorite things about it is that the players always name their alliances. I just think it's fun and sometimes hilarious. So I started naming alliances just to have fun, then I noticed Elizabeth and Christian both felt a very close bond with me, and began to wonder if the naming of the alliance had anything to do with it. If not, then at the very least it was fun to call Christian "Dixon," or to strum an air guitar with Mike. So I developed the alliance name rules! First: choose an alliance name that references the person's home, occupation or something that inevitably bonds that person to the alliance. Second: try to think of a fun symbol or saying for the alliance. (Example: Mike and I playing the air guitar.) Third: never put a number in the alliance name. 

Here are some of the alliance names I made in the game:

• Christian and I were the Mason-Dixon Line, or Mason-Dixon.

• Elizabeth and I were The Thoroughbreds.

• Carl and I were The Rattlers, short for Texas Rattlesnakes, the deadliest snake in Texas.

• Mike and I were The Rock Stars.

Alec and I were Surf 'n' Turf.

• John and I were a tag-team wrestling duo called The Torch Snuffers.

Leaving this past Tribal Council, it's five Davids against five Goliaths… an even split. What was your feeling about the state of the game and your place in it, as you headed back to the beach?

I was stoked to finally be out of the numbers disadvantage. It took everything we had. I felt great about it, because the five Davids were a unified force to be reckoned with against five Goliaths that were fractured. I felt we would go to rocks for each other, and the Goliaths wouldn't. So instead of being tied five to five, I felt the Davids now had the upper hand.

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