Welcome to the Survivor: Ghost Island preseason! THR’s Josh Wigler reports from his visit to the show’s shooting location on Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 20 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: Ghost Zero,” an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season, and Wigler’s exclusive overnight stay on Ghost Island.
Laurel Johnson, a 29-year-old financial consultant and former college athlete, considers herself a triple threat in the game of Survivor. Not only is she intensely physical and clearly intelligent, but she’s also a diehard fan of the show who has thoroughly immersed herself in the Survivor culture, podcast fandom included. This isn’t Laurel’s first brush with Survivor, either. She was very nearly cast a few seasons ago on Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X.
“We’ve wanted Laurel for a while,” says executive producer and host Jeff Probst. “It just didn’t work [for season 33]. We had too many people and it didn’t seem right. We kept in contact with her, and she kept her energy and her spirit and her belief in us. Laurel’s biggest problem is she has so many threatening qualities that I think she’ll have to downplay them. The other thing is she’ll have to mix well with others very quickly. In the room, in casting, she was very social. But when I was watching her on the first day at the marooning, I wasn’t sure if she was nervous or what. My question for Laurel is going to be, ‘What is she doing right now on the beach? Is she engaging or is she a little standoffish?'”
Hear more from Laurel and the other players in the second episode of our preseason podcast series First One Out: Ghost Zero, and read on for highlights from our interview.
That’s Laurel in her own words. But what do the other castaways think about her? Over the course of our interviews out on Fiji, the Ghost Island castmembers were presented with pictures of their competitors, and asked to establish their preseason thoughts. With that said, here’s what they think about Laurel.
Stephanie Johnson (Yoga Instructor, Malolo Tribe): “She’s super fun. I love her smile. She has a really great energy about her. I would love to have her be in my all-women alliance.”
Jenna Bowman (Advertising Account Executive, Malolo Tribe): “She seems kind of quiet. I haven’t picked up on anything with her. She smiles and she’s nice. Looks pretty athletic.”
Brendan Shapiro (Physical Education Teacher, Malolo Tribe): “Very friendly. I suspect she was a high-level athlete at some point. She’s very muscled up, tall and strong. I bet she’ll be very strong in challenges.”
Angela Perkins (Army Veteran, Naviti Tribe): “She’s sweet. I think she’s very in control of her emotions. She’s athletic. Her whole body type. She’s very tall. She has her shit together. She’s very observant.”
Bradley Kleihege (Law Student, Naviti Tribe): “She seems cool. She seems pretty excited to be here. There are some people who don’t seem excited to be here, which is weird. She seems like she’s taking it all in stride. She might be a good person to hang out with on the beach, because she doesn’t seem like she’s been bored out of her mind out here, and I’m going crazy.”
James Lim (Business Analyst, Malolo Tribe): “At first, when we got to Ponderosa, she looked a lot more shy than the other people. Now she’s opening up a bit more. I sense some sass in her, which could be interesting if you mix her with some of the guys with big egos. How will they get along with each other, in terms of chemistry? But I’m down for whatever.”
Domenick Abbate (Construction Supervisor, Naviti Tribe): “Friendly. First day out here, she seemed a little scared. Now she’s opening up and smiling. She gave me one or two smiles. That’s what I like!”
Morgan Ricke (Marine Animal Trainer, Naviti Tribe): “She’s a hard one to read. She’s smiling a lot. She keeps to herself. She’s tall like me. I don’t have much on her.”
Chelsea Townsend (Cheerleader and EMT, Naviti Tribe): “I don’t have a good read on her. She keeps to herself a lot. Some people smile at you, but she’s someone who hasn’t interacted in any way. I think she’ll be good at physical challenges. She seems like she has an athletic body, so I think she might be a good physical threat as far as the females.”
Libby Vincek (Social Media Strategist, Malolo Tribe): “She’s nice. She’s taller, so you would assume maybe she’s a basketball player or an athlete. She walks in with a big smile. She doesn’t remind me of Michaela or anybody like that, but more somebody like… I don’t know. She’s one of her own.”
Donathan Hurley (Caretaker, Malolo Tribe): “I love her. I hope she’s like Michaela. I would love to have that type of personality. I love the bluntness and the honesty and the flamboyance of her. I can’t wait to meet her.”
Chris Noble (Male Model, Naviti Tribe): “I could see some Michaela in her. I could see her being really fiery. She’s sort of quiet and timid, sort of how Michaela was when she started. She might be the best observer out here. She could be a great observer, but whether she has the social skills, that’s another thing.”
Wendell Holland (Furniture Company Owner, Naviti Tribe): “She’s big and strong. Her legs are trunks. She could almost be a Michaela type: a strong, athletic woman. But then I’ve seen her laugh at my Fros R Us guy, making jokes, and I think maybe she could be a little nerdy. I could get in with that. That could be good.”
Jacob Derwin (Music Teacher, Malolo Tribe): “I don’t have a great read on her, unfortunately. She seems really nice. She seems really sweet. She seems smart. When I first saw her, I thought she was probably some sort of athlete. And now that I see her in glasses? Maybe you’re just a book nerd, and I had this misconception of you as this sort of long jumper. I don’t have a great read on her yet, but she seems cool. I would be happy to work with her.”
Stephanie Gonzalez (Graphic Sales, Malolo Tribe): “Extremely athletic. The woman is built like an ox. It’s scary! She has the most athletic body. She doesn’t care what people think. She wore the same yellow shorts twice. She’s eating like I am. I respect that about her. I think she’ll play really good in challenges, but I don’t know about her social game. She hasn’t made a whole lot of eye connection with anybody. She hasn’t lingered around anyone. She’s doing her own thing. I think that’s going to hurt her.”
Sebastian Noel (Fishing Guide, Naviti Tribe): “She is a little mysterious. She might be an athletic goddess or she might be socially awkward of some sort. I don’t know. She sits by herself a lot. I don’t know what to think about her yet.”
Desiree Afuye (Student, Naviti Tribe): “She’s another one that’s not going to be backstabbing. She’s one where you’ll tell her: ‘We’re going to vote this way,’ and she votes that way. That’s it.”
Kellyn Bechtold (Career Counselor, Naviti Tribe): “She seems very kind and easy going. I wonder how much of a fan she is of the show. Some people’s eyes light up when Jeff walks in, and you can tell they’ve been waiting for this moment. I haven’t gotten that sense from her. I’m excited to see what she thinks of the game and if I’m completely wrong.”
Michael Yerger (Real Estate Agent, Malolo Tribe): “Very intelligent. Someone I want to work with personally. I haven’t exchanged much interaction with her, but she seems very reserved, very collected. She doesn’t give away much with her expression. I think she’ll be someone who’s great to align with.”
Keep up with all of our preseason interviews:
• Angela Perkins
• Bradley Kleihege
• Brendan Shapiro
• Chelsea Townsend
• Chris Noble
• Desiree Afuye
• Domenick Abbate
• Donathan Hurley
• Jacob Derwin
• James Lim
• Jenna Bowman
• Kellyn Bechtold
• Laurel Johnson
• Libby Vincek
• Michael Yerger
• Morgan Ricke
• Sebastian Noel
• Stephanie Gonzalez
• Stephanie Johnson
• Wendell Holland
What’s your read on Laurel? Sound off with your predictions in the comments section below, and keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more interviews with the Survivor: Ghost Island cast.