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Due to the unusual nature of Survivor: Edge of Extinction, there will be no exit interviews this season. Instead, The Hollywood Reporter’s Josh Wigler presents a weekly series of retrospective interviews from his earliest conversations with the cast and executive producer Jeff Probst before the season began. How did first impressions measure up with each castaway’s eventual fate? Draw the connections yourselves in the stories ahead. Needless to say, spoilers ahead for the season premiere.
Even the most ardent Survivor fan and analyst amounts to nothing more than an armchair quarterback. Without feet on the beach, sand under fingernails and parchment in hand, it’s impossible to know how one should zig or zag in the 39-day quest toward the million dollar prize — and even those who have witnessed the game up close and personal since its genesis would agree with the sentiment.
Case in point: executive producer and host Jeff Probst, the keynote speaker on all things Survivor, who regularly advises fans not to take his word as gospel. “You should never listen to me,” Probst repeatedly told THR during an interview about Survivor: David vs. Goliath — and that was when he knew the outcome of the season! It’s even more of a trip to dig deeper into the past, looking at Probst’s analyses of the players in the earliest days of the season, before much more than a few hours of the game have been played.
As an example, look no further than Probst’s preseason Survivor: Edge of Extinction assessments, beginning with the first player voted out of the season: Reem Daly.
“Reem is great,” Probst told THR, speaking two days before the Virginia sales rep would go on to get her torch snuffed after one of the most brutal first Tribal Councils in recent Survivor history. “Reem’s energy is contagious, and she’s unabashed about it: ‘This is me, and you can say what you want; people do all the time. I don’t care. I don’t care that I’m older. I don’t care.’ I would hate it if Reem was voted out early simply because she was older, because there’s so much she has to bring to this game … but at least out of the gate, I think Reem comes off a little more self-assured, and she’s not going to get blown over by the wind.”
It’s a rich assessment in retrospect. On one hand, Probst was right on the money: Reem did not go out quietly, voted out after a heated verbal exchange with her tribe mates; indeed, she did not truly go out at all, as she left Tribal Council and became Extinction Island’s very first inhabitant. On another hand, Probst didn’t want to see Reem go home early, certainly not due to her age; in short order, Reem was voted out first, for “age discrimination,” in her own words — though the other members of Manu would certainly disagree.
Speaking of the other members of Manu, how would they size up the first Edge of Extinction victim? Great question — and great news: I have answers!
In the preseason, I asked the fourteen new players to weigh in on each other based purely on their wordless first impressions, developed during the pre-game lockdown conditions. For those unfamiliar with the process, before filming begins, Survivor players spend days with each other learning survival skills, meeting with press and producers, and other assorted odds and ends. They are unable to speak with one another, a strict policy supervised by staff, but their body language and furtive glances speak volumes enough on their own, fueling the pre-game observations you’re about to read. Sadly, the returning players were exempt from this exercise, as their existence was kept secret from each other, not to mention the new cast.
With all of that said, was Reem’s early boot from Manu decided before she even hit the beach? Here’s what the six new players she left behind said about her in the preseason:
Lauren O’Connell, college athlete: “[Reem is] always smiling, 24/7. That girl is hilarious. I want her on my team. She seems like she would be super nice and would be a great person to have around.”
Keith Sowell, pre-med student: “I definitely get good vibes. She’s definitely a potential ally. But I think the problem is everybody will probably see her as a potential ally, because she’s very approachable, offers to help people. If there’s a snack bag, she’s always offering it to other people. She’s very approachable. Very approachable.”
Chris Underwood, district sales manager: “She’s going to be the mom of the tribe. She’s already offered me chips, peanut M&Ms, pretzels and a coloring book. I’m just sitting here thinking, ‘Man, you want to be the nurturer here, for sure.’ I like those types of players! I have a better knack with 40- and 50-year-old women than I do with 20-year-olds. This is something I could work.”
Wendy Diaz, swap meet vendor: “She’s a sweetheart. I really like her. She threw up on the boat [on the way to press day]. She and this other guy got seasick…”
Rick Devens, news anchor: “She is giving out a lot of vibes. She’s a super people-pleaser. She’s going to be interesting. If there’s an annoying person around camp, it’ll be me, or it’ll be her.”
Josh Wigler, THR: “Why would it be you?”
Devens: “Well, I’m looking around, and I thought it would be obvious, but it’s not… so maybe it’s me! I’ll have to be really careful. I can’t bring the energy I’m bringing [in interviews] to them. It’ll get real old, real quick.”
Wardog, law school student: “I think she’ll be an aggressive player, maybe in a passive-aggressive sense. I don’t think she’s going to sit back and let her number get plunked. Her number might get plunked early, but it won’t be for not trying. I think she’s going to come out of the gates firing.”
Rick and Wardog, like Probst, accurately called Reem’s fiery debut, while Wendy’s observation of Reem’s early seasickness may have contributed to her perception as the tribe’s “weak link.” (For the record, when Wendy mentions “another guy” who was seasick, she’s referring to Rick.) Otherwise, sounds like the Manu-ers entered the game with their hearts and mind open to the Daly grind.
How about the players on the other side of the line? If Reem wound up with a different mix of people — say, the seven new players over at Kama beach — would she have fared any differently? Considering at least some of these men and women will very likely meet Reem on Extinction Island in the future, it’s worth getting their thoughts on the record as well…
Gavin Whitson, YMCA director: “[Reem] might be a little bit older than everybody out here. I think she’s someone who I could get along with. She might be the motherly type.”
Julie Rosenberg, Etsy shop owner: “She seems friendly. I feel like she’s chatting a lot. She has a big personality, even without hearing her talk.”
Ron Clark, educator: “She’s tough. She looks like she could lift a boulder. She walks and carries herself like a truck driver. She looks like one you’ll underestimate.”
Julia Carter, medical assistant: “She walks around with this aura where she just dominates a room. I can’t figure out if it’s a positive or a negative yet. She reminds me a bit of my mom.”
Josh Wigler, THR: “How would you do with your mom on Survivor?”
Carter: “I would vote her out, immediately.”
Victoria Baamonde, waitress: “She’s a little goofy. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s her mannerisms. She is very big and bubbly, but she can also be a little bit awkward. I don’t know what she’s going to be like. I think she might rub people the wrong way. She was trying to throw something out this morning, and then she dropped the lid to the garbage pale, and was kind of a mess. Nobody was like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ But she’s kind of a klutz.”
Aurora McCreary, divorce lawyer: “I think she’s going to get in fights with people. I think she doesn’t realize how eccentric and vocal she is. She gets so excited by the littlest things. When food comes out? She’s all, ‘woo-hoo!’ Which is great, but people are going to be annoyed by it. Who was the swim coach who had the Wisconsin accent? She took the New York mobster’s alligator shoes and threw them away…”
Josh Wigler, THR: “Holly Hoffman?”
McCreary: “Holly! I think that’s who she’s going to be like. She has the crazy eyes. I see some Holly Hoffman in her.”
Eric Hafemann, firefighter: “I like her. But there’s an interesting thing I’ve noticed. You’re around people who are trying to get on the show during finals week. Some of the people you end up with [on the season] are people you have potentially already been around, in the same capacity [as Ponderosa], where you haven’t talked to them. There’s a weird comfort in seeing someone who you have been super awkward around already for a day. She was in my finals week, so I know her. I don’t know her, but I recognize her. That’s something I’m curious about. How many of these people were like that? Who knows each other? There are a lot of finals weeks, so it’s hard to know. It’s impossible.”
Strong words of wisdom from the firefighter to future contestants: study the competition as early as possible, even during casting sessions. Not that any such study sessions ultimately worked out for Reem, at least not on her first attempt at the game. Now stranded on Extinction Island, Reem has another lease on Survivor life, albeit a difficult and enigmatic one.
Before we see more from Reem next week on the Edge of Extinction, we close out our first retro interview with one final preseason assessment of Reem’s chances — from Reem herself. Here she is, in her own words:
Reem on how she’s handling Ponderosa’s strict no-talking lockdown conditions:
“It’s so weird, man. It’s like finals week. You can’t say a freaking word to anybody. You just look at each other and smile, but everything is unspoken. We just want to get the ball rolling, dude. Yes, there’s food. Yeah, we’re in a tent on a pseudo mattress with a pillow. But I just want to get the ball started. I may regret saying that! We’re all anxious to get started.”
Reem on how she planned to avoid an early elimination:
“You should always be concerned. Don’t go into anything feeling super cocky. I’d like to say the force is strong with me, and I won’t go home first. I’m certainly not going to be a jackass at camp. I’ll be helpful. I’ll be polite. I’ll be kind. I won’t be out there saying something stupid like, ‘This is the best tribe ever!’ If we do go to Tribal Council, I won’t be whispering in people’s ears. That’s never a good idea. Just saying! You don’t want to fly under the radar, but you also don’t want to be an idiot. Watch your mouth. Know your tribe before [you speak]. But that’s kind of my fear; I sometimes have a big mouth.”
Reem on how she would react to getting voted out first:
“It would really suck. At the end of the day, I’m lucky I got chosen. I’m lucky I’m here. Just because you’re the first one out, doesn’t mean you didn’t make an impact. Maybe I’d be invited back. I’d hate for that to be my last shot. It would really suck. It was the famous last words when I left my house. They said: ‘Don’t be the first one voted out.’ That’s embarrassing! Let’s be honest! You can’t leave with a nasty attitude about it, or a bad taste in your mouth, because at least you got to come out here. Not everybody gets to come out here.”
Reem on why she believes in her ability to win:
“You know why? Because I’m not a good liar… which might be my downfall! But I feel like I can sense shadiness. I hope I can. I like to think I can. I’m trying to keep it real. I feel like I know when to keep it real. I know you hear this all the time: ‘Try to be true to yourself.’ I truly feel it’s so important if you’re inclusive of all others — don’t only focus on Tom, Dick and Harry — focus on everybody. It all boils down to votes at the end of the day, and sometimes Tom, Dick and Harry are not the people to be with. Keep it open. Always keep your choices open.”
How Reem will deal with the boredom of Survivor:
“Look, as long as you can talk to other people? If we can talk to each other and throw a game of basketball with some coconuts, it’ll be fine! It’ll be like a fun beach vacation. Hopefully it’ll be with people who are chill. And I’m always looking for some good drama — so hopefully something will go down where I can just sit down with my coconut and eat and watch. Somebody’s gotta piss somebody off — and that’s just fun to watch. I hate to say it. As long as it’s not me! As long as it ain’t me, it’ll be fun to watch.”
Listen to the audio of Reem’s preseason conversation with The Hollywood Reporter:
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
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