'Survivor' Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Ali Elliott

The celebrity assistant steps into 'Survivor' with a massive secret: She's playing against somebody she knows.
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 of the season.

Survivor is a game in which complete strangers battle each other for a million-dollar prize — except when it isn't. 

Normally, when Survivor players know each other, that's because they have already competed on the show before, or because they are playing against their own family members, or maybe a celebrity or two has been drawn into the mix. (Here's looking at you, Blair!) It's very rare that brand-new castaways have any kind of preexisting relationship heading into the show, but such is the case for two of the members of this season's Hustlers tribe: Ali Elliott and Patrick Bolton.

For his part, Patrick said nothing about his connection with Ali when we sat down together in the middle of the Fijian jungle. Ali, however? It was the very first thing we spoke about.

"I got here, and I look over, and I see someone I went to college with," she says of Patrick, with whom she attended Auburn University in Alabama. "We actually were neighbors. We were kind of in the same circle of friends in a sense, I guess you could say. It was a big circle, so we weren't close, but this is going to be weird!"

Very weird, indeed, as Ali says she's already feeling the heat of Survivor without having even started the game: "It's almost like another thing I have to deal with. Now it's only 16 people I don't know. I do know him, so how do I factor that into the game? I know his tendencies kind of, and I know how he thinks kind of, so I'm kind of worried. He's a goofy kind of guy. He's all over the place. He's unpredictable, completely. I am frightened he's going to run up to me and be like, 'Ali, hey! How are you!' And I'm going to have to be like, 'No! Pairs don't work!' I don't want anybody to know. My goal is if I can use it as a positive, it would be a secret that we have going on. If he tells someone? I don't know what I'm going to do."

"It is one of those weird small world things that you would just never think would happen," executive producer Matt Van Wagenen says on the subject of Ali and Patrick knowing each other. "It's going to be interesting to see how she deals with it. She clearly has some reservations about Patrick, and she's worried that it's going to mess with her game. I'm curious if her first thought is to cut his throat immediately and get rid of the evidence."

Listen to the podcast below to hear from Ali and the rest of the Hustlers in the fourth episode of our preseason series, "First One Out."

The connection to Patrick is obviously a major storyline surrounding Ali, a celebrity assistant from Los Angeles who works with YouTube personality GloZell Green. But it's not her only Survivor story. Ali is a lifelong fan of the show, who has dreamed about the opportunity to play for years and years.

"My mom is one of 11 kids," she says. "That whole side of the family is obsessed with Survivor. Out of the 35 seasons, I've probably watched live at least 20 or 21. For my 12th birthday party, my aunt threw me a Survivor party, where my soccer team had to pick our buffs and had competitions all over the house. It's literally crazy. We even [used to] do a Survivor pool, where we pulled names of contestants out of a hat, and whoever you pulled, that's who you were for the season. We would have email conversations: 'You're going to Loser Island! Sucks for you!' You know how they have fantasy football? This was fantasy Survivor for us. It's definitely been a big part of my life."

In fact, Ali isn't even the only person from her family who has come up against the genuine Survivor article: "My uncle was an alternate one year. He didn't end up making the show. He was one of the best people in the entire world. This was his dream, to be on Survivor. He actually passed before his opportunity. He was very healthy. He took a random trip to Jerusalem. He wanted to see all of the things Jesus saw. He passed in Jerusalem. It's kind of this heart-wrenching story, because that's what he wanted to do, and he was young and healthy and fit, which was so bizarre. So, me being here? I know he's with me. Having my family behind me, and once they get to live this with me, it's going to be a very big deal."

Given her family connection to Survivor, her own enthusiasm for the show, and the complication of competing against an old college classmate, Ali has a lot on the line and a lot on her mind as she heads toward Hustlers Beach. 

"The way the game has evolved strategically, things that used to be important aren't as important now," she says. "For me, I'm coming into this thinking, 'How do I stay in the middle ground?' If you're too high, they're going to vote you out, and if you're too low, they're going to say you're too weak and vote you out. So how do I stay middle ground on everything? Not even just an alliance, but with the competitions. You don't want to win everything. You look at Ozzy and Malcolm [from Survivor: Game Changers, among other seasons], and they're out [for being physical threats], just because they look it. You don't want to be the smart person. The first time Michaela [also from Game Changers, as well as from Millennials vs Gen X] was around, she was showing people [game plans] with rocks, and literally a minute later they voted her out. She decided to draw plays on the ground, and there she goes."

"I have to stay in this realm where people see me as their friend, as their confidant, as their person they can rely on and depend on," she continues. "Hopefully, if I can get to the merge, from there I can really start playing my game. But my goal at the beginning is to say, 'Who do you want to go out? Not me? OK! They can go.'"

If Ali's war plan sounds like the way two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine plays, that's by design: "She amazes me. Even this most recent episode [of Game Changers, in which Sandra was finally voted out for the first time ever], she's trying to save her butt, and people were coming back really believing her, because she just draws you in. It's crazy, because she could completely be herself and they still kept her around, even though she's so bold and so straightforward. But that doesn't work for everyone. Like, Michaela. She's completely herself, and people are like, 'That attitude? It's enough.' For me, I would love to show who I really am, and people actually like me. That would be great."

However it plays out for Ali, it's already great — even with an unsettling known quantity in the mix — for the simple fact that she's even out here: "I get chills. I can't believe I'm here. I'm so blessed. I know I'm going to be miserable in a few hours, but I don't know. It's hard to take in."

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

That's Ali in her 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 Ali.

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

Patrick Bolton (Small Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): She's a cute girl. She keeps to herself most of the day. 

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): What's she doing?

Patrick Bolton (Small Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): She's always staring into the sky or looking at some palm trees. She doesn't ever make eye connection. And she's playing with her hair, curling it up some more than it already is, and she seems to be pretty nice other than ...

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): Just being off in her own world?

Patrick Bolton (Small Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): Yes.

Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): I hope he likes me. I feel like I've always been kind to him. He's a very quirky kind of guy. He's very goofy. He's very all over the place. My ideal [first] day would be to have him on the tribe so I can watch him, and that way he's not telling everybody that we know each other. I hope he's not telling people that we're best friends. I haven't seen this guy in three years! Three years, and all of the sudden, we're on an island together.

Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): I love her. She seems really smart. Really put together. She's gonna be a good mental player. 

Desi Williams (Physical Therapist, Healers Tribe): I love her. She's cute. I mean, she seems young and impressionable, so I'm hoping to prey on that a little bit.

Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): I think she's a doll. I think she's super nice. We have this eye contact thing going on and so right now I feel really tight with her. I feel like I could share a coconut.

Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): I call her "Unique." She's part of my alliance in my head.

JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter, Heroes Tribe): Another athletic girl. Don't know too much about her or anything like that. We'll see what happens. 

Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop, Hustlers Tribe): She seems friendly. She seems nice. She doesn't seem like one of the most threatening girls, because just from looking at physicality and everything, I think just some of the girls here have some more muscle than her. And I think honestly that could work to her advantage. Not too much of a read on her, but that may be the game she's playing. 

Ben Driebergen (Marine, Heroes Tribe): She's a little silver spoon. She's very pretty, but I think she might have a little hard time being out in the elements here. I don't know about her yet. 

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

Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): Well, for one, I think she's absolutely beautiful.

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): Showmance?

Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): Well, we'll see.

Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): I should cool my jets?

Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): Yeah. But I'd be really excited to get to know her. She's always smiling. She seems really energetic and happy to be here. But outside of that, I don't know what else to think about her. She seems really in shape and fit, and I'm always into that. 

Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): She's cute. She's cute, she's cute. She's... um, she's cute. 

Simone Nguyen (Diversity Advocate, Hustlers Tribe): Oh my gosh, she's so pretty. I hate her! She's so pretty! I hate her! You've got to be kidding me. You're going to put me on the beach next to that? I thought I was cute. Yeah, she looks cute. I don't know, something about her just makes you want to be her friend, and I hate that about her. She is the pretty girl in school.

Roark Luskin (Social Worker, Healers Tribe): She is, first of all, model-pretty. Her makeup somehow throughout these couple of days has stayed so good. But I would say, she's been pretty quiet. She's been pretty quiet. I don't know that I have a huge impression of her yet.

Chrissy Hofbeck (Actuary, Heroes Tribe): OK, I'm not quite sure of her personality, although I think she's so beautiful that I can't stop looking at her. At first I thought she was kind of standoffish, but then sometimes she gives some nice smiles and things. So then I'm like, "Oh, maybe she's kind of sweet." So I'm not 100 percent on her. I don't know either way. 

Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard, Heroes Tribe): She's beautiful, definitely a pretty girl. She's another one that I'm kind of worried about — well, not so much worried about, because if it goes as I think it might go, she might be an easy target pretty quickly, because the environment might be a little [tough] for her. Pretty as she is, she seems like it might take some effort, and she might care a little bit more about that than surviving on this island.

Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): I don't want her in my alliance. Any sort of alliance. First of all, she doesn't seem like she's going to survive out here. She's already been like giving sighs when we're stuck in a hot tent or you know, the simplest little things where, I don't think she realizes how intense this game is really going to be when we get to the real deal grind. 

Lauren Rimmer (Fisherman, Hustlers Tribe): I think that she is possibly going to be good during challenges, but I think she might show her ... her game face might show. She might tell on herself, if that makes sense, just from the way she looks at different people and stuff like that.

Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): You can't judge people by how they look. That's what we're doing right now. Once you get to know someone, you bond with certain people you would never think you would bond with in the real world. Survivor is interesting, because it tests you on so many levels: mentally, physically, emotionally, and I don't know if people can really understand that until you're put into it. You don't understand how alone you really are, even though there are people out here, and how much you do get hungry, you do get tired. I'm excited to be a part of it — it's going to be an amazing experience — but we're all going to learn a little bit about ourselves through this game.

Click through the gallery below for photos of Ali 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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