'Survivor: Edge of Extinction' Delivers an Amazing Blindside

The Hollywood Reporter pulls the curtain back on the season's biggest elimination yet.
Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment
'Survivor: Edge of Extinction'

[This story contains spoilers for week six of CBS' Survivor: Edge of Extinction, "There's Always a Twist."]

Ever since he crushed the very first challenge of Survivor: Worlds Apart, Joe Anglim was a walking, talking target. Across his first two seasons, the artist known as Joey Amazing enjoyed six individual immunity wins and was ineligible to be voted against for the vast majority of his time competing on Survivor: Second Chance

With that history in mind, alongside the rising tide against returning players throughout Edge of Extinction, it's no wonder that Joe's loss in the first individual immunity challenge of this current season led directly to his elimination from the game. The votes came from his own fellow Kama tribe members, with the writing already scrawled on the wall in these previous words from the current reigning immunity champion Julie Rosenberg: "Joe cannot go too far in this game. That's a no-brainer." This week, world-class teacher Ron Clark put it another way: "If you're playing Survivor and you have an opportunity to take out Joe, every time is the right time." Music to Stephen Fishbach's ears, albeit a few seasons too late.

Joe's elimination at the end of the merge episode was monumental on its own, but far from the only monumental moment of the night. Among the other highlights: Rick Devens won his way back into the game after beating the other five Edge of Extinction residents in a sprawling obstacle course; those five players accepted executive producer and host Jeff Probst's invitation to return to Extinction for another shot at reentering the game; two of those five, Keith Sowell and Wendy Diaz, subsequently threw in the towel and left the season for good, missing out on becoming part of the jury; the Mana five imploded and turned on one another in the face of the overwhelming Kama tribe numbers; Devens earned two halves of an immunity idol that could only be used if he survived the first vote of the merge; and after all signs pointed toward either Devens or Kelley Wentworth hitting the road, the six rookie Kama players turned against one of their own, sending Joe on over to the Edge of Extinction.

An eventful night indeed, leaving tons of questions in the air about the future of the season. For now, let's look toward that future by turning back to the past. Ahead, The Hollywood Reporter presents an edited version of our preseason conversation with Joe, for insight into how his first run on the island ended, some guidance as to how he may fare with the Edge of Extinction's slower pace, the loved one (and former competitor) he's out there playing for, and more. It's not an exit interview, but perhaps it's instructive of what's to come all the same — after all, given Joe's challenge prowess and his gifts as a survivalist, there's every reason to think and even expect his shot at the million dollars is far from over.

How often have you thought about returning to Survivor?

Every day since Second Chance. I've really tried to cut back on overthinking, because that has been the death of a lot of players in the past, where you have a lot of time off and you can only go back in your head so many times of all the mistakes you make. Every season is different. You can't say, "Oh, I'm not going to not do the same thing I did last season," because it's always a different animal with different people and different scenarios. I am super excited. I'm hungry. I'm ready. I feel good. I feel focused. 

The last time you played was immediately following your season. You wrapped the season 30 finale and then you're on a bus for season 31. Now, you're seven seasons removed from Survivor.

It doesn't feel like it. It only seems like a couple seasons ago to me. It was good that I took some time off and did some self-reflection and looking and analyzing about my past game play, and where I went wrong. I think I overstretched myself. Come day 32 [on Second Chance], I was exhausted. Cambodia sucked the life out of everybody. I just wasn't thinking clearly. I made some emotionally charged decisions. I should have went after Jeremy, Tasha and Spencer. Since then, I've really dove into my own personal life of how I communicate, how I analyze things and analyze situations. You can really get blinded by the experience of Survivor. As a fan, sometimes you look at the game and you just forget that you're a player and that you have so much more power than you think. You feel like you're at the will of all these other people, but you are one of the integral parts of every decision, every conversation. That's going to be my focus this season: making sure I'm part of all those conversations, making sure I'm being very genuine and real with these other players that I'm coming into this game with. Even though I have all this experience of playing, I can't forget that [for the other players], everything's new. It needs to be new for myself and for everyone else I'm playing with. Everyone else is going say, "Hey, you already had your two shots, so why should we keep you around?" I need to be present and focused on building those relationships, really caring about everything. You can't skip a beat in this game, or you go home. 

Since last we saw you on the show, you found love in the form of a former fellow castaway, Sierra Dawn Thomas [who competed opposite Joe on Survivor: Worlds Apart and returned for the Fiji-set Survivor: Game Changers]. How did that happen?

Obviously, she voted me out, which was kind of fun. She reminds me every day. We were just close friends and everyone saw something. I mean, there was obviously some form of chemistry that we both missed. We just developed a really good healthy relationship. We're best friends and all of a sudden, it just kind of turned into [a relationship]. She's an amazing person. The more I get to know her every single day, I just find myself more in love with like the person that she is. I'm very, very blessed. I always knew Survivor was going to be a part of my life. I knew that I was on a path, but I didn't know it was on a path to find her. It's weird. You don't think, like, I never would have thought I would have found a really amazing person that I could potentially share my life with on the show. 

Did you ask her about playing Fiji?

I picked her brain. She said it's hard. It's cold and it's rainy, but it's not as bad as Cambodia. There's only so much you can prepare for in the game, but as far as having someone who fully understands what the other has gone through and will go through? Neither of us were in a relationship when we both played both times in the past. Now, we're both sitting on the other side of where everyone else is at, the loved one who's going away to play Survivor. It's definitely much more emotional, much more real, and now I have a lot more to play for. I'm playing even harder this time around.

I can't imagine this is the first time you were offered a chance to return. You must have turned down Game Changers.

I did decline in the past, because [Survivor is] so hard. It really took a lot out of my sails, especially because I had so little time in between my first and second season. It's just hard to explain. It puts you through the wringer. It takes some time to heal and break down walls and communicate to your family and friend: "Hey, I'm not the same. I've gone through a lot." I didn't realize all the personal things that this game [changed in me]. It challenges you. It forces you to go to the limit and beyond. I feel like I'm still on a bigger path, that it's not just Survivor and even winning, but there's more for me to do. God has a bigger plan for me, even after the game. I can't exactly tell you what it is, but I just know it is. It feels good. I'm excited to see what the next 40 some-odd days we got here.

What kind of reputation do you feel you're entering the season with? What should these players expect from you?

They can expect me to play hard. They know that I love the game, I love the show. I love the survival aspect of being a provider: getting fish, taking care of camp, building things. I know that there's going to be a level of expectation from me to do those things, so I have to give them that. I also don't have to be Joey Amazing. I don't want to shine brighter than everyone else because that's how you get voted out. For me, it's now a matter of just stepping back a little, just chill out a little more, enjoy Fiji, enjoy the island, enjoy getting to know these other people. I think the personal part for me now is how am I going to maneuver these relationships to get me to the end of the game and ultimately win. "Smarter, not harder," as my boy Rodney [from Worlds Apart] would say. That's where I'm at: I don't have to give everything 100 percent. Just give 80.

What are the types of people you want to work with on Survivor this year?

Honestly, I want to work with everybody. I want to be able to have a relationship with everyone to some degree, because if there's one person that you don't try to get to know, that might be the person that you didn't spend enough time with and then you end up losing the game. Look at what happened with Dom and Wendell [who tied the final vote in Survivor: Ghost Island]. Perfect split. If one of those guys spends a little more time with just one of those people on the other end, like it wouldn't have gone the way it went. It's just a matter of little things that obviously, as fans, we can't see everything that happens, but everything is the game. Everything is important. For me, that's more of the thing that I want to do: be able to be relatable to everybody. I want to develop genuine relationships that hopefully, once the game is over, I can really say I got more out of the game than anybody. I want them to be able to feel that because of [me], they got a lot out of the game as well. Relatability is huge, but also being able to be flexible and adapt. Even if there's a person who's the opposite of me, someone who's just out here to cut throats and win, how do I relate to that person because I'm trying to have a good time and enjoy every part of this game?

From the two times that you've played, do you have a sense now of the types of players that you don't play well with, or have a harder time connecting with? Have you thought about that type of person if you encounter them out here?

I try not to think about all of the different types of people that I'm going to face because you can literally waste all your energy hypothesizing all of the different outcomes or all the different people until. I just [need to] meet them. I have to be sitting like we are, face-to-face, and then all of a sudden, now, you can get a much better feel. That body language, that eye contact, all those things are so important in this game. I want to say there's no one I'm not willing to work with. There's also the person that I might be the most connected to [who] might not necessarily be the person I need to align with, that might be someone that I can kind of leave alone a little bit because I do have such a great relationship or rapport with them right off the bat, and focus on the person that I'm least connected to throughout the entirety of the game.

Survivor has changed in many ways, even since you last played, most notably in the final four fire-making challenge. I assume you feel comfortable with that twist?

Yeah. For some reason, I feel like I'm going to be in that fire making challenge this season. I'm confident if I was placed in that situation, I could perform and win. Obviously, it's a variable now that affects everyone. The people that are placed in that situation have a huge opportunity to make it or break it. I think it helps me in particular, because it's like, "Hey, even though you might not win that last immunity, you still have a chance to make it to earn your spot." I like it. But it's tricky. This whole game is, to some degree, scary. There's a lot of luck. There's a lot of twists and turns. Every day, every hour, it's fast and it's slow at the same time.

I can't even imagine how boring it can get sometimes, in the day-to-day.

You can't even fathom how slow. If you're at home? Just shut down your whole life, right now, and remove everything you've ever known, and then see what you do with your time. It is slow.

How do you deal with that?

You have to be present. This is primal 101. This is what our ancestors went through, being one with nature and being able to chill out. We live in a culture, a society that's go-go-go. It's fast paced. We're overstimulated all the time. For me, it's a matter of just chilling out, meditating, breathing, enjoying the beauty of the island and these people. Again, like a conversation, it's about finding things to talk about that might be so far-fetched and off-topic that it has nothing to do with the game. We're social creatures; we're meant to interact and have conversation and get to know one another.

Is there something rewarding about that quality of Survivor, the boredom? If you can push through those tiny moments, does it sharpen you somehow?

Yeah, it does. It's funny, because in reality, in real life, I'm always late. I move a little slower. I don't know if that's from the game or if that's just who I am as a person. I operate at a different speed. You could say it's methodical or it's slow paced, but I like to take my time. I like to treasure every moment. I'm not really on my phone that much. I'm always trying to be where I am versus somewhere else mentally. Some people hate that, but this is where I thrive. It's all about your mindset. You could come out here and say, "Oh, my God, the days are so long." Or you could go, "Oh, my gosh, the day is so beautiful and I get to just sit. How many people get to do this?" Again, it's all about your mindset.

Do you think that's going to be helpful for you in not letting your mind wander to back home? For example, I'm sure you miss Sierra right now…

I miss the hell out of her. When I do think of her, I try to talk to her like I actually am just having a conversation in my head with her and I'm hoping that on the other end of that, she's hearing me and feeling that. That's part of my strategy this season: to help the other players in this game not only treasure and remember those relationships that they have back home, but strategically, it takes their mind out of the game and what's happening here. Yes, there's a genuine level where I want you to think about your family back home, but it can also crack you. Every family visit I watch on the show, I get emotional and tear up because it is so real… 

Is Sierra coming out for your family visit, if you make it that far?

I don't know! We're going to just have to see…

A little bit of a teaser!

We're just going to have to see, yeah. (Laughs.) I'm hoping. You never really know who you're going to see. I would like to see her. I would hope that maybe she's on the list. I mean, she might be too busy. I don't know. She might be like, "Nope, I don't want to go back to Fiji."

Too busy for Survivor? Come on.

We'll see. I'm planning on getting to the family visit, absolutely. It's just part of the next step to get to the end.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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