'Survivor: Ghost Island' Player Profile: Meet James Lim

Survivor 36 Promo James Lim - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of CBS

Welcome to the Survivor: Ghost Island preseason! THR's Josh Wigler reports from his visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 20 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: Ghost Zero," an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season, and Wigler's exclusive overnight stay on Ghost Island.

Almost every season we hear about the new smartest person to ever play Survivor. Meet the newest owner of that distinction: James Lim, a business analyst and former Harvard track star. Originally, James wanted to enter the CBS reality universe by way of The Amazing Race. When that opportunity fell through, Survivor quickly came calling, forcing James to hit the books in a hurry.

"At the risk of sounding redundant, James is yet another guy who is working on something while he's out here," says executive producer and host Jeff Probst. "A lot of it came from our casting. He came in as a Harvard track captain with an IQ that's so high it's a squiggle. It's off the charts: 150 with a squiggle next to it. That's insane! The one thing he doesn't seem to have is emotion. I was just playfully saying, 'You seem more like a machine than a human. You seem really close to a human! But more like a machine.' He went upstairs after we were done [during casting], went up to his room, and immediately started watching Tony Robbins to figure out what I was getting at. I was just playing around! But to his credit, he took it to heart. He came back and said, 'I know what you're getting at, and I'm going to work on it. By the time I'm on Survivor, I will have mastered the social part of the game.' Tall order, but the guy has a squiggle next to his IQ!"

Hear more from James and the other players in the third episode of our preseason podcast series First One Out: Ghost Zero, and read on for highlights from our interview.

James on his history as a Survivor fan:

"I became a fan recently, but originally I was a fan of The Amazing Race, all throughout college. I finally found the guts to apply my senior year with my friend, also on the Harvard track team with me. We got cut during the process, but we made it far enough that they put us on their database for other shows. I got an e-mail around Thanksgiving last year asking if I had heard of the show Survivor before, and I said, 'Who hasn't?' And they asked, 'Do you want to be on it?' And I said, 'Hell yes. Sign me up.' That's how it all started. I went through the entire process and started watching some seasons, thanks to some recommendations. I've seen about ten seasons in total. Some of my favorites are Heroes vs. Villains and Micronesia; they really stand out. For the old-school seasons, I like Cook Islands and China. For the new school, I liked Millennials vs. Gen X, not just because it was live when I started applying, but as a millennial myself, I could relate to those people very well."

How James' first day will go, if it goes perfectly:

"Ideal first day… I wonder if I want it to start on a boat or on the beach. Either way, Jeff goes: '39 days! 20 people! One Survivor!' Everyone goes crazy, we get a lot of good supplies, get on a raft, paddle, classic Survivor… we make it to our beach, and hopefully most of the people on the tribe are friendly and hard-working. We get some good progress going on the shelter. Hopefully someone builds a fire. I've watched some videos on YouTube about how to do that; let's see if it works out. I want there to be some camp life progress, some meeting people, and then given how the new-school seasons have gone, the gameplay is probably going to start on day one. By the end of day one, I will want to go to sleep on the beach knowing I have a solid social footing. There are some people I'm vibing well with, and I'm definitely not the annoying one or the lazy one or the weak one. That would be a good start."

James on the art of the blindside:

"No matter who I blindside out here, I want to end the 39 days having made 19 lifelong friends. That's a true hope that I genuinely have. It might require becoming friends and then backstabbing, but at the end of the day, I want to be straight up: 'We're in this together. I respect you. I'm not going to be an asshole to anyone. This is just part of the game. If you're pissed off? We can talk about it later."

James' ethical philosophy on Survivor:

"For me personally, there are lines. But as you've pointed out, to some people, there aren't any lines. That's more important to me. I need to play a game where my potential enemy is someone like Russell or Tony — someone with no boundaries whatsoever. In that case, it becomes more challenging for me to pull off my plays. I need to be aware of that potential. For me personally, am I ready to lie and blindside? Yes. But I hope to do it in a way that conveys true respect for their strategy and their game. I don't want to give anything off as vitriol." 

That's James in his own words. But what do the other castaways think about him? Over the course of our interviews out in Fiji, the Ghost Island castmembers were presented with pictures of their competitors and asked to establish their preseason thoughts. With that said, here's what they think about James.

Chelsea Townsend (Cheerleader and EMT, Naviti Tribe): "I think he's going to be a big threat in this game. He seems like he has good physical stamina, and will be a threat in the challenges. He also seems to me like he'll be a very good strategic player. He's very smart and very well put together. He seems to know when to act and when to hang back. He's someone I would like to align with, because I think he'll do well in this game."

Bradley Kleihege (Law Student, Naviti Tribe): "He seems smart. He's doing a lot of logic puzzles. He seems very smart, pretty assured of himself. He also seems like he's been pretty friendly to me. By all means, I would work with him."

Morgan Ricke (Marine Animal Trainer, Naviti Tribe): "He seems like your studious guy who gets a master's in school, grad student, straight As."

Libby Vincek (Social Media Strategist, Malolo Tribe): "Do you remember Yul? That dude walks in with his collared shirt: 'I am athletic, I know what I'm doing, I am Yul!' He's cool. I can't tell if he's a superfan or if he's just here on a whim like me. I mean, I wouldn't say I'm here on a whim… but I think we're pretty opposite. I think we could align together."

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): "Are you looking to align with an opposite type?"

Libby Vincek (Social Media Strategist, Malolo Tribe): "I assume it's easy to stereotype me. I would like to go against what people might think, but only on the DL. The people I'd align with would appreciate that."

Angela Perkins (Army Veteran, Naviti Tribe): "I think he's focused. I think his motivations are definitely different than mine, and his life experience. I think he's fairly intelligent, but there might be a slight bit of arrogance."

Michael Yerger (Real Estate Agent, Malolo Tribe): "He seems very arrogant. He wears it on his chest and on his face. Maybe it's an inner insecurity. We'll have to see how that pans out."

Stephanie Gonzalez (Graphic Sales, Malolo Tribe): "He has almost little man syndrome. He walks like he's tough shit. Okay, my friend. Yeah, you're built. I'm sure you've been training pretty hard. But to walk with your chest poofed out? I just don't understand the mentality behind it. He's very organized. His shirt is perfectly ironed. It's a perfection thing with him."

Donathan Hurley (Caretaker, Malolo Tribe): "He's hot. He's the one I'm most attracted to, because he's so exotic, and I love that."

Stephanie Johnson (Yoga Instructor, Malolo Tribe): "He reminds me of Woo. I think he's a good guy who wants to be liked. He's very athletic. He's flexible. Literally, his body is flexible. He has to be into some martial arts or yoga, something like that. On the scale of 'I don't trust you' to 'I really don't fucking trust you,' he's somewhere in the 'I don't trust you' range."

Laurel Johnson (Financial Consultant, Malolo Tribe): "He seems a little sneaky. He's been reading a lot of finance magazines and very big books. I think he's a smart guy who knows the game very well, and so I think he's a threat to me."

Chris Noble (Male Model, Naviti Tribe): "He's one of those people I'm up in the air about. I'm not sure. He could be a trustworthy guy. I'm not sure how much I'll be able to connect with him."

Sebastian Noel (Fishing Guide, Naviti Tribe): "He's probably going to be very dangerous. … He might be someone to team up with. But I don't know if he'll be loyal to me. I think he's more of an individual player."

Jenna Bowman (Advertising Account Executive, Malolo Tribe): "When he sits down, he's so meticulous about how he moves. He has perfect posture. Every morning, he has his breakfast the exact same way."

Wendell Holland (Furniture Company Owner, Naviti Tribe): "This guy is a robot. He's super jacked. He walks super erect, and sits super erect. He's always stone cold with the facial expressions. I would like to meet him and chat with him. I don't like the whole robotic thing. But he has smiled here and there, as opposed to other people. I could work with him."

Jacob Derwin (Music Teacher, Malolo Tribe): "He reminds me of my cousin. My cousin was a triathlete at Duke and an environmental science guy. This guy has the body of a runner, so he's definitely something like that, probably a track athlete. He's very poised. The guy never slouches. He has this sturdy togetherness about him. He's obviously very ripped. He always has a tank top on, so he's humble. He seems young. He's probably my age. But I would bet he's like Ken from Millennials vs. Gen X. He wants to play a loyalty game. He wants to get some allies together and kick some ass at challenges together, and keep loyalty to the end."

Brendan Shapiro (Physical Education Teacher, Malolo Tribe): "He seems friendly. He walks around like Superman, with his chest puffed out, like a really strong guy. I'm guessing he's a straight-shooter, or at least thinks of himself that way. He may be a code of ethics kind of guy."

Domenick Abbate (Construction Supervisor, Naviti Tribe): "This is a man of honor. He lives by the code. His parents were definitely born in some distant land, and they brought him over to America, and this guy lives by the code. I will exploit that. I will take him and I will ruin him."

Desiree Afuye (Student, Naviti Tribe): "He's very proper. He's very perfect. I feel like he already has a strategy. I feel like he already has a plan. If you're going into Survivor with a plan? You're going in all wrong. The twists and plots and schemes they have in this show will knock you off your feet."

Kellyn Bechtold (Career Counselor, Naviti Tribe): "He always looks so put together. He does his hair better than I do. He looks like he takes care of his body very well and is a very planned person. He doesn't seem emotional at all. He looks like everything has gone perfect in his life, and that he thinks everything will go perfect in the next 39 days."

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): "How do you think he'll do?"

Kellyn Bechtold (Career Counselor, Naviti Tribe): "I bet he'll do pretty well. He seems quiet. He won't piss people off. People will want to keep him around for a while because he's strong. I think he'll be able to slide in for a while."

Keep up with all of our preseason interviews:

• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland

NOTE: Due to scheduling issues, there was no exit interview with James, the 15th player eliminated from Ghost Island.


What's your read on James? Sound off with your predictions in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more interviews with the Survivor: Ghost Island cast.