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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.
When it comes to Ryan Ulrich and Survivor, the conversation starts with Richard Hatch.
Relax, Survivor Reddit, nobody’s trying to trigger you. Resume your fixation with Alan’s repetition, Simone’s takedowns, and things like that. The reality is that Ryan’s very first vivid Survivor memory dates back to the very first season finale, where the very first winner of the game intentionally threw the final immunity challenge in order to secure his victory.
“I think I was 7 in the summer of 2000,” Ryan remembers, speaking with me in the jungle of Fiji. “I remember watching Richard Hatch beat Kelly [Wiglesworth] in the finals, and I was mad. At that time — I always critique my 7-year-old self, who just loved the challenges — it made no sense. How could somebody who had won four challenges lose against Richard, who stepped off of the final immunity challenge?”
Several years later, Ryan realized the brilliance of what had happened: “If Rudy [Boesch] wins, Rudy beats [Richard] in the Final Tribal, and he was banking on Kelly to win. It was awesome, and something I appreciated years down the line.”
In addition to the passage of time, Ryan credits another group of castaways for getting him to appreciate the ins and outs of Survivor strategy: the men and women who hail from season 12, Survivor: Panama.
“That’s my favorite season,” says Ryan. “You have Terry Deitz, arguably the best challenge competitor of all time. You have Cirie [Fields, four-time Game Changer], arguably the best social competitor of all time. You have Shane [Powers, would-be Second Chancer], arguably the most entertaining character of all time. You have Aras [Baskauskas, who returned for Blood vs Water], who turned out to be a very solid winner. You have Danielle [DiLorenzo, Captain of Sports], who was brought back for a later season, so she wasn’t that terrible. Look at that final five. And the final six? That three-two-one vote? Come on! So that’s my favorite season, and that’s when I started going back and examining episodes and really becoming a fan.”
If Ryan was seven when Survivor: Borneo aired, he would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 or 14 when Panama aired (OK, that’s a little bit triggering), an impressionable age to start developing a deeper appreciation for the game. But still not quite enough to actually want to play the game himself. “Obviously I wasn’t old enough to apply,” he says, “but I had every reason not to do it.”
Listen to the podcast below to hear from Ryan and the rest of the Hustlers in the fourth episode of our preseason series, “First One Out.”