Rick Devens is a whole new man.
The Survivor castaway broke free from the Edge of Extinction in this past week’s merge episode, returning to the game with fire and fury — which may or may not be the unofficial names of the two halves of the whole immunity idol he returned with, playable only if he survived the first vote of the merge. (It’s not the name.) The Georgia newscaster survived the merge vote indeed, though not without weathering two votes against him, one of which was cast by the evening’s ultimate victim: Joe “Joey Amazing” Anglim, betrayed by his own Kama tribe.
Of course, Devens knows a thing or two about getting cast out by his own people. He was first voted out at the fourth Tribal of the season, in what was supposed to be an emotional elimination for all parties involved. Turns out? Not so much, as veteran player Kelley Wentworth declared Devens her new public enemy following his unexpected return to the game. (For her part, it appears there are reasons to doubt the extent of Wentworth’s desire to take down Devens, as revealed by the San Juan Del Sur and Second Chance contestant herself.)
What’s the real reason Wentworth wanted Devens gone at the merge? The official Survivor answer will have to wait until this week’s coming installment, if not later. For now, here’s another account on the record: none other than the island’s very own Kool-Aid Man, Rick Devens himself, who joins The Hollywood Reporter this week for an active player interview about what life was like out on Extinction, what was running through his mind on his journey back into the game, his perspective on the merge Tribal Council, and more.
Welcome back, Rick Devens! You were voted out, you survived Extinction, and now you’re back. As someone who lived on both sides of this season’s twist, how would you say the Edge of Extinction most impacts the traditional game of Survivor?
There are the obvious things, like sending advantages back into the game and the possibility of having to face castaways you had a hand in voting off. Another big one is the free exchange of information on the Edge of Extinction. We told each other pretty much everything. That wasn’t very beneficial to me however, because everyone except Aubry was original Manu. Aubry told me a lot about Kama, but it was clear by her blindside that it might not be the whole story. Wendy tried to bring clarity to that Manu 2.0 dynamic for Aubry, but she was clearly also outside of the decision making.
You spent nearly a full week on the Edge of Extinction. How bleak was your existence out there? Who were you closest with? Who did you avoid at all costs? How did you keep comfortable, pass the time and hang onto any shred of sanity?
It is so boring. It’s shocking how quickly you lose track of the game. I don’t believe I ever would have made the mistake of solving the map for everyone if it had been “inside the game.” It’s a unique healing process. I didn’t try to avoid any individuals, although at times I’d walk to the other side of the island to avoid everybody. Chris and I definitely got close. He was the one I felt I had most betrayed and he was really big about forgiving me. The worst thing about the Edge is the boredom and the lack of information. I fished (unsuccessfully), I napped, we talked, and we played stupid games to pass the time. Have you ever played “Big Booty”? Don’t.
The six Extinct players competed in a challenge to return to the game. Congratulations! It’s you! Can you walk us through that experience, from the revelation of your existence to the other players, through winning the challenge?
The six of us were waiting right outside the challenge. We knew we were competing but had no idea how it would work. We had talked and agreed that we hoped the others would not be watching. We hear Jeff yell, “Come on in guys!” That’s when we know they’ll be watching. Jeff yells it again and we come in. Everybody looks shocked. I’m trying to make eyes with David and my Lesu tribe. They’re all playing it cool. When Jeff describes the challenge, I think, “I can do this.” By no means did I feel like it was mine to lose, but I knew I could compete. I was right on Chris’ tail through the physical part of the rungless ladder and cargo net. Aubry got that lead on us using the bamboo to get the key but I was very focused on keeping pace with Chris. We got to the snake about the same time, and he had the knots to work on. It felt like an out-of-body experience. I could hear everyone cheering us all on. I did hear Wardog supporting me quite a bit, which felt great. I was so locked in. When the ball dropped in the snake’s mouth and Jeff called out my name, I was elated. But I was surrounded by these people I really cared about and we thought their game was over. It was a wide range of emotions.
As you reentered the game, what was your plan of attack? What was your philosophy on how to play the game now that you had this new lease on life?
Coming back into the game, my number one priority was to check in with my buddy, David. He and I had been 100% loyal and I wanted to make sure that was still the case. Other than that, I saw myself as a free agent. I was happy to work with former Lesu because I really liked and cared about those guys, but I also felt justified in finding new allies since I knew I was at the bottom of that five. In a big picture sense, I was going to play harder. I spent a lot of time on the Edge feeling like I had gone out too easily the first time.
I felt coming back that I was in a great position. I thought Lesu would be trying hard to reel me back in, and I felt I had the social skills to fit in with the original Kama folks and wait for cracks. I tried hard at the merge feast to find that common ground and make friends. Julia and I bonded over being Army brats. Eric, Julie and I talked a lot about our kids. Ron and I hit it off quickly, two Georgia guys. Gavin and I were fast friends and I thought Victoria was hilarious.
What were the other players’ reactions to learning about the Edge of Extinction? What kinds of questions did you weather from everyone? Did you lie about any of the details?
I was pretty open about what the Edge of Extinction entailed. I withheld information about the competitions for advantages but told them about everything else. There was a real sense of dread. It was obvious people did not want to visit there. Kama was so curious about Reem and Keith. Apparently they had adopted Keith as some sort of secret mascot for their tribe. I guess you have a lot of time for that sort of thing, dancing and singing when Joey Amazing is on your tribe. My tribes were so consistently jealous of the vacation Kama was on with Joe. He is, by the way, as amazing as advertised.
After your return, in no time at all, Wentworth set her sights on you — a surprising development given the closeness of the Lesu Five, as seen in your fateful Tribal Council. Can you help us understand what’s happening here, as best as you’re able?
I loved Lesu. I went to Joe and pitched a Lesu plus Joe and Aurora alliance. David did too. Then Julie came to me and said Wentworth and Lauren wanted to send me right back to the Edge. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe they’d do that to me on a personal level, and it made no sense to me on a game level. I thought they’d be overjoyed to have me back. I told David; he was just as confused. As weird as it was to hear, it’s important to note that I also never doubted Julie, Ron and Eric were telling me the truth. Lesu had been less than welcoming. I was told by Kama folks that Wardog did not want to do it. Wardog and I were good friends and he was pushing for David to go, but was overruled.
You ended up working with Kama on this vote. Was this simply self-preservation, or did you feel you could trust and work with these people moving forward?
I felt like Kama was such a big and untested group that they would fracture. I believed if David and I could get Kama to focus on the three other Lesu for a few Tribals, they would turn on each other and David and I would be able to pick our path. David was a lot less comfortable. He felt we were putting too much power in their hands by letting them leave us out of the vote. They did not tell us who they were voting for because they did not trust us. I told them we would vote for Wentworth and they said, “Do it.” David and I talked a lot about possibilities but didn’t have a lot of options because we did not want the other Lesu to know their plan was not the plan.
As part of your reentry into the game, you earned a two-part idol that can only work if you survived the first vote of the merge. What were your thoughts on how to use it?
There was no doubt I wanted to give half to David. The thought of using it as a bargaining tool with Kama was too much risk. If someone came to me and said, “I have an idol. I can’t use it tonight but after tonight it’s full power.” I’d vote that person out. One less idol to worry about. So I knew I could trust David. The problem was making sure both of us made it through Tribal. Once Joe was voted out, our idol gained its wings. Now the powerhouse DAVENS™ alliance has an extra tool in our arsenal.
At Tribal Council, we saw Reem, Chris and Aubry return as members of the jury. Were you surprised?
I was shocked. I was also happier than ever that I had won the challenge to re-enter the game. We didn’t know where Keith and Wendy had gone so we didn’t know why these three were still around and those two were not. But I was really happy to see those guys. I really had grown to care about them and was crushed when I thought they were out of the game. I was happy to see they still had a chance. I also felt like my time on Extinction could pay off in the form of jury votes. Reem and Chris had never met anyone from Kama and disliked most of Manu. I had made my peace with them, and formed a friendship with Aubry outside of the strategic game.
Heading out of this Tribal Council, Joe’s gone and the Lesu Five have shot their votes all over the place. You have a newly minted idol burning a hole in your pocket. What’s your take on the state of the game and your place in it as you’re exiting Tribal that night?
I’m feeling good exiting Tribal. Three days earlier I was on the Edge, now I was safe because strangers had come to my aid. I felt like David and I proved ourselves to the Kama Six and that put us in a much better spot than the Lesu Three. With our idol, I felt like David and I were in a strong spot to take advantage of the fallout. I’m also feeling super smug towards my old tribe because they took a shot and missed. I was hurt, mad and so happy to be playing Survivor again.
Oh, yeah. Before you go, one last thing: what’s up with you and the Kool-Aid Man?
That took on a life of it’s own. I think I said the Kool-Aid Man’s “Oh Yeah!” line twice during the game, once in an interview on day one, and once before the very first immunity challenge. I was surprised when they showed it and embarrassed. When I’m self-conscious about something I try to own it (think: dad bod) so that’s what I did. But then people didn’t make fun, they seemed to laugh with instead of at me. The whole thing became really positive, and I’ve doubled down with GIFs as I was voted out and won my way back in. My wife, Becca, who is an amazing Twitter follow, really bought in. The rest is history.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow THR.com/Survivor for more coverage.