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In June 2018, The Hollywood Reporter’s Josh Wigler visited the set of Survivor: Edge of Extinction, witnessing the first three days of filming — including the first Tribal Council of the season. Ahead, Wigler gives an edited behind-the-scenes account of the evening, which lasted nearly two hours in person and ended with the first vote out of the season. Of course, major spoilers from the season premiere are ahead. Proceed with caution.
Fresh from falling face first during the new Survivor season’s opening immunity challenge, returning player Kelley Wentworth is the first player to fall face first at the opening Tribal Council — though far from the last.
Wentworth and the Manu tribe, buffed in blue and feeling blue about the impending vote, walk into the sprawling Tribal set, grab their torches at the instruction of host Jeff Probst, and dip them into the flames. Fire comes easily for everyone, except Wentworth, who requires a few dips before her torch is alight.
“This isn’t my first time here, I swear,” she says, drawing uncomfortable laughter from the other eight players in attendance — including 19-year-old Keith Sowell, sitting on a stool designed to look like a piece of shipwreck wreckage, a smile on his face so big it rivals the hulking vessel that towers over Tribal.
“Tribal sucks, but at the same time, it’s the super fan in me,” Keith explains. “You want the whole Survivor experience. Even though it’s bittersweet, I’m still getting something out of this.”
Probst turns to David Wright, Wentworth’s fellow returning player, noting that it’s a new phenomenon to see players so excited about laying eyes on Tribal Council. A super fan before becoming a two-time player, David can relate to the sensation: “For years, I wanted to get inside this game, and when it happened, I could barely believe it happened. Being around these newbies… it’s really reinvigorating.”
The sentiment is shared by others on the tribe, including noted Kelley Wentworth fan Lauren O’Connell: “As a super fan who has been watching the show since I was three, I’ve wanted to see Jeff Probst in person.” For his part, Probst admits that he’s blown away to host a castaway who first watched Survivor as a toddler; count it toward evidence of his rumored immortality.
As a table-setting measure, Probst asks Chris Underwood to speak to the vibe of the tribe. Chris, his hands still raw from the challenge, believes it’s a cohesive group, lack of fire notwithstanding. Indeed, fire is a funny subject for the other Manu-ers (we should work on the phrasing), as Dan “The Wardog” DaSilva notes: “It was a two-day operation. We got so close a couple of times.”
“Right off the bat, it was one big tribe,” adds television anchor Rick Devens. “As the days progressed, some were weaving fronds, some were working on the shelter, others were making fire, and the groups started mixing. As the day goes on, people start separating, forming mini-groups in the larger group.”
Rick’s testimony will eventually play out in the televised season premiere, seen in the threesome of Keith, Wendy Diaz, and Reem Daly — and it’s Reem, the ultimate target of the evening, who instantly becomes the focus of Tribal Council conversation. After Rick finishes speaking, it takes very little time at all before Reem explodes on the rest of the tribe.
“My name got thrown out today, and I’m pissed,” she states, after Probst asks if she’s annoyed. Reem goes on to monologue about work ethic, feeling awkward about jumping into projects that are already in progress, and why she thinks she’s one of the people Rick is identifying. Looking straight at Probst, Reem makes it clear: “You say I’m annoyed? I am annoyed.”
Any illusions of peace are instantly shattered, as it becomes a matter of Reem Daly versus the world. At first, it’s Reem against Wentworth, who also has heard her name tossed out as a possible first boot. Reem feels Wentworth should wear it as “an honor,” because she’s a legend. “It’s not an honor when you can still be voted out,” Wentworth retorts. Reem believes she’s being targeted because of age discrimination. Wentworth digs back into her own personal archives and retrieves the receipts: “I worked with Keith Nale, who was in his fifties. I have no age discrimination.”
The conversation balloons to include others whose names have been tossed out. “My name was out there as well, and I didn’t feel honored,” says Rick. Lauren chimes in, saying she was targeted by Reem as well: “I was told that my name would have two votes tonight.” Asked by Probst if she knew why her name was being tossed out, Lauren responds with a shrug: “I think it’s because of age discrimination. I’m young!”
“I’m just a bystander in a drive-by,” says Rick, before looking over at Reem. “It’s okay you put my name out there. This is Survivor.”
Throughout the chaos, David Wright sits perfectly still, like Littlefinger in the midst of a King’s Landing coup. When drawn into the conversation (Wentworth asks Reem why she didn’t throw David’s name out, if she was targeting “legends”), the Millennials vs. Gen X fourth-place finisher is the model of a diplomat: “The first Tribal Council I was ever at, my name came up a lot. I know exactly what Reem is feeling. It’s miserable. Having been through it before, I’m a little more calm [now].”
When Reem calls him out as a potentially weak challenge performer, David once again provides a diplomatic answer: “I do think I’d be better to keep for challenges. I know I’ve only known you for three days, and I don’t want to pile on, because I know you’ve been through a lot already. I don’t agree with your assessment of me. But you’re totally entitled to your opinion.”
“I just want to know the reason behind my name,” Reem persists, unsatisfied with the nebulous reasons for being identified as a “weak link.” In comes Chris Underwood with his own attempt at diplomacy.
“A lot of this game in the beginning, when we say strength, it isn’t necessarily played out in the challenge, it’s when we’re working together as a tribe,” he says. “When personalities clash, that’s not strength. When we’re motivated to win and all jiving together, when I say strength, that’s how I assess that word. David killed it at the strategy part of that puzzle, everyone agrees with that. We were behind because Joey Amazing got to the rope bridge first. Back at camp, if someone’s being a little too much, it rubs different personalities the wrong way.”
Cue Reem: “Was I being too much?”
Chris, again with a show of diplomacy: “Not to me, Reem.”
Enter: The Wardog.
“To me, a little much,” he says, hand raised. “Personalities do clash sometimes. You try to help out, and it’s good-natured, but sometimes you’re moving things around and people can’t find their things.”
From this moment onward, Reem’s tendency to move people’s personal belongings without asking permission first becomes a central topic of conversation. She defends the intentions behind the move: “I’m sorry I bothered you. I thought you were glad your stuff wasn’t getting wet.” The Wardog describes Reem’s actions as “motherly,” which goes off with the force of a nuclear bomb. “Please don’t put me in the mom category,” says Reem. “I don’t want to be [seen] as an annoying, nagging mom.”
“I didn’t want your pants to get wet, so I moved them around and I put them on the beach, so they could dry. I apologize if you found that annoying,” she continues. “I was rearranging their shoes in the sun to make sure they all got dry. When it rained, I gathered everyone’s stuff to bring it into the shelter. I had no idea it was rubbing everyone the wrong way.”
Probst stops down Tribal Council so the camera crew can change discs, temporarily hitting pause on Reem’s rampage. (He’ll stop Tribal again one more time before the tribe begins voting.) When the action continues, he attempts to steer the conversation away toward other topics, like the challenge from earlier in the day. He throws the question to Rick, or “Devens,” as he’s known by Probst (“The inmates can’t run the asylum,” he says at one point, scolding some of the players attempting to choose their own nicknames), who blames the balance beam for the loss. Wardog says he knew it would take a miraculous effort to win, simply due to the Kama tribe’s speed at the balance beam. “We were going to keep going until someone said we lost, and that’s what we did.”
“We’re a unique group, and each one of us brings different things to the table,” says Chris, speaking more toward the tribe’s culture. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a time where none of us were laughing. I think everyone enjoys being with Devens. Wardog is a hustler, working his ass off at camp. Keith had a unique moment the other day with his poetry. It’s really fun being here in the moment … at the end of the day, these are just regular people.”
Probst wants to know about the one person who doesn’t seem to be fitting in: Reem … and just like that, after minutes of stewing in radio silence, Reem is on fire again: “I really screwed myself by making sure everyone’s stuff was dry. My bad!”
After Reem self-identifies as “the hated person on this tribe,” Wardog swoops back in with a correction: “I never used the word ‘hated,’ or even ‘dislike.’ In my opinion, and I can’t speak for the other seven people, your personality would be the hardest for me to deal with for 39 days.”
“I respect that,” answers Reem. “I hear what you’re saying. This whole thing is about growing. I really had no idea he felt this way.”
“I don’t think anyone dislikes Reem,” says Rick. “All of us like Reem a lot. But you’re looking around and asking, ‘Who is the most annoying?’ Wardog isn’t alone. I don’t want him to feel like a man on an island. If I have something on a tree, it’s how I’m drying it out. David’s played before; however David wants to dry his stuff is going to work.” He adds that no one has ever doubted Reem’s intentions were coming from a good place: “We like you a lot. It’s just Survivor.”
Probst points out his own surprise at Reem, as it seems she’s given up on her continued survival, fully disengaging from the discourse. “It’s not that I’ve disengaged,” she says. “The first couple of Tribals are about getting out who you feel isn’t cohesive, or jiving, or is simply annoying. I’m just surprised it’s me. It’s fine. I can respect what you’re saying.”
Even as she’s accepting her fate, Reem remains unsatisfied about how her own plan went haywire, as she feels she and Wardog were once on the same page to vote out Wentworth. Wentworth tells a story about how Reem emerged from the jungle and approached other players with a pitch of her own — speaking with a knife in her hand.
“I had a machete. It didn’t look good,” Reem admits, with a big laugh. “I was sharpening the machete. I really wasn’t trying to threaten anyone. But it doesn’t look good!”
Probst posits two theories about the night’s Tribal Council: either Reem is self-destructing and will be voted out in short order, or it’s great cover for another plan bubbling beneath the surface. Chris, David, Rick and Wentworth all weigh in on the question, with varying responses. The veterans’ answers seem to be the ones that satisfy the most.
“There are nine people here, nine people with their own games,” says Wentworth. “We’re a tribe right now, but there could be another plan in place that I don’t know about. I’m pretty confident the group is on the same page, but you’re always thinking if there’s another plan. What’s the best move for me? What am I going to do moving forward?”
“We’ve seen in modern Survivor that live Tribals are a real thing,” says David, before turning to Reem. “I don’t think tonight was great for your game, but we’ll see what happens. It’s like Jeff said: you have to fight for your game. I’m really sorry this is coming as news to you. This must be hard to take.”
Indeed it is, as Reem’s implosion continues. Asked if it’s a foregone conclusion that she’ll be voted out first, Reem responds: “I’m not going to lie to you. This is a freaking nightmare, to be the first one voted off. For reasons you didn’t even know were going to happen!”
As Tribal starts winding down, Reem attempts to drag Wentworth through the mud one last time, saying the two-time player pitched a plan to turn on the men. The reason: the possibility of the five men of Manu (the Menu? still working on it!) teaming up against the four women.
“I don’t think the guys have an alliance,” says Wentworth, defending against the charges. “I get along splendidly with all the men here. When you’re with someone [like Reem] who is in an emotional state, you can’t just walk away from them. You have to speak with them. As she’s sitting there, what am I supposed to say? ‘Too bad, you’re going home?’ So I say, ‘Who do you want going home?’ I didn’t throw a name out there. I don’t want any of the guys to go home. It’s something I said because I had to say something. The guys know I’m not planning on voting them out.”
If this is all exhausting to read, imagine experiencing these events as any one member of the Manu tribe, let alone as a fly on the wall. Even Probst seems taken aback at how much the conversation keeps circling back to Reem, and her oscillation between shock, horror, confusion and frustration. Even Wendy, Reem’s one and only ally (who makes her loyalty known by accusing Wentworth, Lauren and Chris of having a tight three-person alliance; the drama in the moment is short-lived), makes the situation clear: “As of now, I think it’s 100% Reem.”
“You know what, I am who I am,” says Reem, moments before the vote. “I didn’t mean to rub anyone the wrong way. I really wish someone had said something. I wouldn’t have touched your stuff. I do apologize for that. At the same time, [Wentworth] is a genius. I wish you all the best, because you are a genius. So, vote the way you want. If you are going to write my name down, please spell it right. It’s R-E-E-M.”
“I’m mortified,” she concludes. “My friends told me, ‘Don’t be the first one voted out.’ Famous last words.”
“Somebody always is,” answers Probst, his voice rich with empathy. It’s back to business as he says his next words, the iconic phrase: “It is time to vote.”
Up first, Wendy, who votes for Lauren: “This might be a throwaway vote, but this is for Reem. Aside from that, I saw your truth at this Tribal Council. I don’t trust you at all now.”
Chris votes for Reem, without much comment.
Wentworth votes for Wendy: “Sorry girl, nothing personal. Just part of the plan tonight.” (It’s assumed that the plan is to split votes against Wendy and Reem in case Reem has an idol; of course, she does not.)
Rick votes Reem: “I think you’re great. I wish things had gone down differently.”
In comes Reem, smirking and shaking her head as she climbs up into the voting booth. She writes down Kelley’s name, and holds her ballot up to the camera — but the ballot is upside down. Reem repositions and states: “Dude, you’re so shady. Just for the record. You’re so shady. So. Shady. Whatever.”
Wardog votes for Wendy, noting that it’s all part of the plan and he hopes to work with her in the future.
Lauren votes Wendy as well: “Here’s to going with the majority,” she states in such a way that makes it sound like she’s saying, “Here’s looking at you, Shorty.”
Keith walks up and also votes for Reem, seeming genuinely upset about the decision: “I genuinely wanted to work with you, but I can’t be attached to a sinking ship this early.”
Due to the rain and windy conditions, torches across Tribal dim out, forcing production to relight the set. Eight minutes later, David Wright is allowed to cast the first Tribal Council’s final vote: “Reem. Reem, it’s nothing personal. I’m sorry.”
Probst stalks off with the voting urn. An eternity passes before he returns. He asks if anyone has an idol they would like to play. No one responds. The votes are read:
And the first person voted out of Survivor: Edge of Extinction is… Reem.
Torch freshly snuffed, Reem embarks down the long trail past Probst, which normally ends in a one-way ticket to Ponderosa. “Lame,” she says repeatedly. “So lame.”
Less lame: Reem’s surprise at the end of the pathway, reading the sign that informs her of a second chance to stay alive.
“Hell yeah I want to be in this game,” Reem says excitedly, grabbing a new torch and heading toward the boat to Extinction Island. “Hell yeah, dude. What is happening? I’m so happy!”
Back at Tribal Council, as is his custom, Probst provides the Manu tribe with some closing remarks: “Survivor is a complicated game, and the next vote might not be so easy.” Who knows about the next vote, but the complexity of the game? All too evident, based on Reem’s new life on Extinction Island, an improbable feat of survival after the single most excruciating Tribal Council tailspin I have ever witnessed in person.
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