9:00am PT by Josh Wigler
'Survivor' Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Ben Driebergen
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.
Third up on the Levu tribe: Ben Driebergen, employed at a grocery distribution center at the time of our interview, making his home on Heroes beach due to his past as a United States Marine. Ben joined the Marines in 2003, serving overseas in Iraq.
"I was in the infantry and went over to Iraq and did what Marines do best," says Ben, his typically booming voice hitting a quieter tone when he talks about his time at war. "I was a good Marine. I was good at my job. I was a company honor man out of boot camp and school, and loved what I did. Certain things happen. You lose friends. The Marine Corps was a good experience, but it was also a bad experience."
When he returned home, the very word "home" became something of a flexible idea. Ben went around the country working a variety of jobs, from staking out land in Alaska to working as a bouncer to living in North Dakota to building fence in Wyoming and beyond. He eventually moved to Texas, where he married his first wife at "a drive-thru wedding," with the best man and maid of honor sitting in the backseat of the car.
"The preacher came out through a Burger King drive-thru window with the speakers and players, 'Here Comes the Bride,'" Ben remembers. "I was like, 'She's right here! She's right next to me!'"
Since then, Ben has remarried. He has two children: Wyatt, five years old, who was literally born to the tune of Queen's "We Are the Champions," and Gracie, who will be turning three years old during Ben's time out on Season 35: "She's a beautiful, healthy little baby girl, but she's sassy as all hell, so she's a Driebergen. We're in for a world of hurt. The world is in for a world of hurt."
For Ben, his world has started to heal, thanks to the formation of his family and the years he's spent processing and living his life since returning from his service overseas: "You have to learn from it. It's hard. You feel like you're alone when you come back. Every Marine and veteran who comes back from all that stuff has a lot on his or her plate. You have a foot in the grave and you don't care about nothing. There's help now that's out there, but you kind of have to figure things out for yourself. Once you do, life is a lot better. Life is worth living after you get back."
Listen to the podcast below to hear from Ben and the rest of the Heroes in the second episode of our preseason series, "First One Out."
Now, it's Ben's turn to kick some butt, as he attempts to combine his experiences of surviving in hard conditions with the lessons learned from years of watching Survivor, every move fueled by one simple goal: giving his family a better life.
"Five years ago, six years ago, if you would have asked anyone who knew me if I would have a family, a house, two kids, a good job, and I'd be on Survivor? They would kick you in your shin," he says. "You're out of your mind. 'No, not the Ben that I know.' But my wife helped me out a lot, and I love her for that. She gave me two kids, and that's why I'm out here. I'm out here for them. I'm out here for us."
Watch the video below for more from Ben on why he's going to win Survivor.
That's Ben in his 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 pre-game impressions of their future competitors. Read on for their takes on Ben.
Note: comments from the castaways have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): Honestly, I think he's the biggest threat in the game.
Desiree Williams (Physical Therapist, Healers Tribe): I love that guy. He seems maybe ex-military. He's fun and has a good energy.
JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter, Heroes Tribe): He's got a military hat on, so I'm guessing he was in the military or something. I'll probably get along with him great.
Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard, Heroes Tribe): I like his hat. (Laughs.) He seems funny. He seems like he might have some kind of military background, and that actually excites me. He reminds me a little bit of a dating phase I went through. He reminds me exactly of the guy I dated, many years back, so that was the first thing that caught my eye from him. Like, I had to do a double take. Like, whoa! Flashback! But the military background, that might be a good person to align with. Because they're generally used to uncomfortable situations and inadequate weather, or inadequate just environments in general.
Chrissy Hofbeck (Actuary, Heroes Tribe): Oh, he's so sweet! I love him. I call him the cowboy. He just looks like he's joyful and loyal. He's actually someone I hope is on my tribe.
Katrina Radke (Olympian, Heroes Tribe): He's cool. You know, there was somebody at casting that looked like him, and I'm wondering if it's the same guy, but he was sitting so far away I never really saw him close up. I think it's a different guy. They're so similar, I'm going, "Wow, they must be casting very close." I think this might be a different guy.
Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): He's hilarious. He's always like the goofy one in the middle. He strikes me as kind of clumsy sometimes, and just a good old country boy. He already has the cutoff T-shirt and super bad sunburn already, just right out the gate.
Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop, Hustlers Tribe): This man is very badly sunburnt right now, but he still looks great. He just seems like a good guy. He doesn't seem like he's from New Jersey! And it attracts me to him because of the difference we have. A lot of people say we could bond over commonalities, but sometimes you just want to find out more about another person's culture and another's person's way of life. He seems pretty friendly. He seems like a guy who's definitely going to try and build the shelter. And he's definitely going to not be great at it, but he's going to want to take charge, and if anybody else wants to take charge? That is fine by me!
Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): He's seems funny. I feel like we would get along. He seems very friendly. And he's always [polite], like, "You go first." He seems kinda like a gentleman. I think that, you know, because I did go to school in the south, I probably encountered a lot of people like him.
Patrick Bolton (Small Business Owner, Hustlers Tribe): You know, he's an interesting character. I don't know exactly what to think. He's got tattoos all over him, which I don't like to really judge off of tattoos. He's got this little pinup doll on his lower calf, and then you can't count them all — he's covered in tats. But other than that, he seems like possibly a country guy, hardworking. Seems like a hardworking type of person. So that would probably lend to somebody good at camp. As far as challenges go, I don't think he would be the most athletic. Doesn't strike me as an athletic type.
Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): Classic, classic hick, definitely. Classic hick, full handlebar mustache like got all the hick tats, the pinup girl, the fucking Texas bull skull, all of that. It's totally not my style, but as long as he has a good heart? I'll get along with him just fine.
Watch the video below for an early look at what Ben's victory speech might look like.
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Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): Although he doesn't look it, he's very charismatic. He's very charming. He's very easy to talk to. People congregate to him. But he also has tattoos all over his body. And I believe that tattoos tell a story, and that his story from his tattoos are not necessarily the same story as the guy [who has] the nice little child on his arm tattoo.
Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): He's the one that's going to screw himself, I'm telling you. I like him because of his personality, but he's extremely social and I think that's going to backfire on him. He's kind of too social with everyone, and I just feel it's going to backfire on him a little bit.
Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): Let me tell you about him. If anyone's going to play like a villain, it's going to be him. He has tattoos on every extremity and on his wrist. I haven't stalked him enough to get this, but it [looks like he] has an angel versus demon, or an angel and a demon. Listen, I have to figure out what side of the fence is he playing on. Are we on the dark side or are we on the light side? I'm playing on the light, and I would hope to align myself with someone who is going to be a little rough.
Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): You would like to be the angel and you would like to find your demon?
Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): I think every demon needs an angel. I'm going to be his, if he'll let me.
Simone Nguyen (Diversity Associate, Hustlers Tribe): I love him. I love him. I'm going to try to align with him because he seems big and dopey and kind of doe-eyed. He wants to be a villain, but he doesn't have it in him, you know what I mean? I think that he wants to think that he's this badass guy but I think at heart, he's a big softy. I think that's why it's going to be easy to pull at his heart strings.
Lauren Rimmer (Fisherman, Hustlers Tribe): God love him, is all I know. He's going to be a go-getter. I think he's going to try too hard. I think he's going to work himself into a hole. And it's not that he's going to intentionally do it. I just think looks like he wears his heart on his shoulder, and it might hurt him.
Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): He's a character. He's a character. He kind of reminds me of somebody on The Voice. Do you watch The Voice?
Josh Wigler (Reporter, THR): I do not.
Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): Okay, so The Voice is kind of like... I can't give it an analogy. He's one of those guys who when you look at him, you're expecting one thing. The way I watch him, he's full of personality, a good sense of humor. The Voice is based on you not being able to see somebody, but hearing them. You can see him, but his personality speaks a lot louder than his look.
Roark Luskin (Social Worker, Healers Tribe): For me, I can't decide. The problem is because we can't talk, I don't know if he's like a Keith Nale, who's going to get along with everybody, or Mike Holloway, who's going to get along with everybody. And if it's Mike Holloway, he's gotta go. If it's Keith Nale? He can hang.
Ben Driebergen (Marine, Heroes Tribe): You look around at all of these people, and they're physical threats. Everybody here is strong, cut, both the men and the women. I used to have a six-pack, but now I have a beer gut. But I can still kick it! It's going to be amazing.
Click through the gallery below for photos of Ben and the rest of the Season 35 castaways.
Keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage of the Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason.