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Welcome to THR’s Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers regular season coverage! Every week, we’re bringing you exit interviews with the latest person voted out, recaps from THR’s very own Dan Fienberg, and weekly check-ins with executive producer and host Jeff Probst. Bookmark our season 35 one-stop shop to make sure you don’t miss out on any of it.
Warning: spoilers ahead for the second episode of the season.
Before the official launch of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, diversity advocate Simone Nguyen had one major phobia on the mind — and coincidentally enough, given her placement as the second person voted out of the season, the fear also involved the number two.
“I’m very panicked,” Simone told me two days before the game began. “I’m not afraid of these other people. I’m not afraid of dying. Nobody’s going to let me die. I’m very afraid of my body and what my body is capable of. I don’t want to fall and die and be drowning in my own shit! I don’t know! It’s terrifying!”
For what it’s worth, when pressed on the subject of relieving yourself on Survivor, executive producer Matt Van Wagenen has some helpful advice for any prospective players who share Simone’s fears: “The only time there’s not a camera around is if you are going to the bathroom alone. If you are going to the bathroom alone, we will not follow you. Otherwise, we’re following you. We have followed people who go off to the bathroom together and we’ll follow that conversation, but there are moments that are sacred.”
In any case, Simone faced her fears while out there in Fiji, as made clear by her first scene in “I’m a Wild Banshee,” the second episode of the season, not to mention her final appearance of the season. Really, it was Simone’s first scene, straight up, as she was the one castaway without a confessional in the premiere episode. In her second and final showing, Simone was seen as struggling with the great outdoors (even if she was starting to get the hang of it toward the end; kudos on the fish-gutting!), on the outs with her tribe, struggling to put the puzzle together and wrestling with the dreaded aqua dump — the preferred way to use the bathroom by many Survivor players’ accounts.
How true was that depiction to Simone’s own experience? Let’s ask her. Read on for my exit interview with Simone, in which she pulls the curtain back on how she viewed her time on Survivor, the dynamics at the Hustlers tribe, her battle with the elements and more.
Congratulations on conquering your worst nightmare. Was the “aqua dump” as bad as you feared?
Had I not read that book “How to Shit in the Woods” and the Boy Scouts manual, I would be done for. I would be dead. You would not be talking to me right now because I would have exploded on the island.
And what day was it when you finally found the courage to confront your worst fear?
Four! It was day four! Like, not going for four days? It’s insane! (Laughs.) Patrick is screaming every night for four nights, and I’m the one who’s not fitting in because I can’t get over the fact that I haven’t gone in four days! Yeah, that was my experience!
On a serious note, did it feel like you were anchored down by that fear? Was it such a fear that you felt it was impacting you socially?
I think so. But it’s also because I’m such an open person. I went out there and was like, “I don’t want to have to deal with the Asian stereotypes. I’m not going to let anyone perceive me as sneaky. I’m going to share everything. I cannot care about how I’m going to seem. I need to be open with people. I went to college here. I don’t know how to drive. Yes, I do regret lacking these basic life skills but whatever.” And one of the things I would talk about was my body. Lauren was there, the salt-of-the-earth nicest person you will ever meet, and she was like, “What do you say to a person who is constantly talking about this, and what do you say to someone who doesn’t have much in common with you?” I tried to bond with her over the fact that we both had never left the country before, but she wasn’t having it. But I had a lot of fun. I had this feeling that I was either going to go super early and nobody was going to remember me or I was going to make it deep. At Tribal Council, I felt like it was a 50-50 chance. It could be me, but it could be Patrick. I knew I didn’t fit in, and I knew there was nowhere to hide on a tribe of six. I didn’t want anyone thinking I was sneaky or disloyal. Obviously I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but I still had the time of my life. Especially days five and six, after I went.
I’m sure that was a relief. (Laughs) Tell me about that Tribal Council, and the plan to come after Patrick. Did you feel like it had a real shot at succeeding?
Let me tell you a thing about Patrick. There’s so much to talk about with Patrick. It’s insane we haven’t been talking about him [this whole time]. He would get up in the middle of the night and scream and howl. He loved the cameras. You just saw a snippet of it. That wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg. You have no idea. It got to the point where he was bickering with Lauren, he was treating Ryan like a court jester: “Make me laugh, Ryan!” He would go on and on. I was thinking to myself, “I know I’m not gelling with everybody, but this man? Wow. The loudest person I have ever met in my life.”
So to you, did it feel like he was the only person on the tribe you could reasonably target?
Yeah. Obviously everybody is super charmed by Ryan. Patrick acts the doofus, but Ryan is also acting the doofus, and everyone’s taken in by him. I could tell, even in the beginning. Not only is he really smart and he can’t hide it, but he’s also funny and charming and goofy. I was thinking to myself, “Oh my god, that’s so terrifying. I don’t want to sit with anybody who is able to charm me.” He’s the king of jokes and the king of puns, and I was living for them. I wasn’t trying to be charmed by anybody! I was just trying to exist out there, and rough it, and treat these people like they were all the same. But they were taking me in. Even Ryan was taking me in. It was hard. It was hard, Josh!
Were there any major moments from Tribal Council we didn’t get to see?
Graciously, Survivor has chosen to be very good to me. What you heard of me describing what it was like out on the island? I felt like I said so much about that. I felt like there was an entire part of the monologue where I was just like, “Okay, well, I smell things 100% of the time. That’s what it’s like to be on Survivor.” Jeff had asked me about it, and I was trying not to lie to him. When I said my monologue about how tough it was out here, Jeff tossed it to Devon: “Simone is being so vulnerable out here, does that not move you?” And then Devon, your island crush but also my island crush at this time, was like, “Yeah, I’m a surfer dude with the surfer lifestyle, but Simone is out here trying so hard and I have to give it up to her.” I turned around to him and was like, “Thank you! Thank you, you adonis of a man!” He’s very cute in person.
Adorable. It might not translate to those who haven’t met him, but…
Oh my god. If you have not met a Devon? Go out and meet a Devon. It’s worth it!
Who did you feel closest to on your tribe?
Devon was my island crush, but Ali… there was always this distance between us, because there was this one day where we all went around and went, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And Ali said a joke: “I want to be a housewife!” And I’m not understanding the joke, so I said something like, “I want to be a U.S. senator!” It felt like she and I were very different from each other. I always really admired her, because she was cool under pressure. I was able to appreciate that about her. And oh my god, if you think Devon’s good-looking? You should see Ali in person. Oh my god, Ali is insane. People should not be allowed to look like her, she’s that pretty!
You gave everyone a hug at the end of Tribal Council. Were there no hard feelings on your end?
Here’s the thing: I knew I was early out or I was going deep. There’s no in-between for me. I’m not a person who makes the swap, if I don’t make this one Tribal. I’m not the person who gets to the merge and gets booted at the merge. There are only two options for me, and now, this other option was done, and now I have to live with it, and I have to be okay with that. So, okay, this tiny Asian girl is going to try to hug you all now. I get it. It’s a game. I feel bad, but it’s how it goes. And it might have been my last chance for a while to touch Devon. (Laughs.) I was just feeling those abs as I was trying to leave the Tribal Council area, even though Jeff was trying to get me to leave immediately.
What do you remember about the challenge? The Hustlers were in an early lead, but it all came down to the puzzle…
It wasn’t as straightforward as there are eighteen pieces in eighteen slots. There were pieces that connected to each of the puzzle pieces as well. In the adrenaline of the moment, you know, I’m the person on the puzzle and if I don’t get this, my number’s up. From what I remember, I was like, “Thank god these pieces have names so we can refer to these puzzle pieces by name.” It wasn’t just me and Ali on the puzzle, either. It was Devon and Ryan and Patrick all shouting: “Put Cambodia up top! Vanuatu goes there!” We were all working on it, even though I was on the puzzle with Ali. I felt terrible. We were coming back from the challenge and Devon’s right arm and chest were all bruised up because he worked so hard to give us the lead. These were not trivial bruises. These bruises were about as tall as Ryan. It was insane. How can you be mad at somebody who sacrifices their body to give us the lead, and you lose that? So of course I gave him a hug as I left Tribal. That, and he saved me during the marooning. You guys missed that completely, but I almost died.
Wait, what happened to you during the marooning?
I almost died! Exactly what I said! So, I get out there, and I have this crippling fear of heights. I have a fear of heights, a fear of flying, a fear of horror movies — that one’s unrelated — but I needed to jump off this boat during this marooning and you don’t even know! Devon needed to be out in the water, and he just shouts up: “Simone! Swim with me!” And he basically put me on his back and into the boat. “Whoa, thank god he’s here! What did I sign up for!” Thank you for saving my life, Devon. Wish you had saved my life in the game.
It was a quiet run for you on the show, without a single confessional in the premiere. Were you disappointed in how you were portrayed?
Here’s the thing: There’s so much story in these first couple of days. I couldn’t have even been bummed about that first episode because I was just thinking about my girl Katrina. Katrina is possibly the only person in my life I’ve met who has a bigger personality than Patrick. You don’t even see her. You hear that she’s a mom, but you don’t see her talking about energetic frequencies and all of these other things I’ve never heard about in my life. Katrina is not a normal person. You can’t put Katrina in a box, and it’s true, but we didn’t even get to see her, and I was bummed about that, more than not seeing myself in the first episode. Also in those first few days? I was so fixated on, “No! What have I done to myself?!” I couldn’t even be mad at production. I thought they handled my narrative as best as they could, given that I went out second. I really was having a difficult time connecting with people and out there in the elements. But it is what it is. I will always be thankful to Survivor for giving me the chance to be brave out there.
Your pregame assessments of the other players were legendary. Here’s your chance to walk them back or double down, but the floor is yours.
Okay! Here’s what I’ll say. For two or maybe three of the people? I was wrong. Everybody else? I stand by it. (Laughs.) Like, I’m sorry. Am I supposed to feel bad? It’s a game! Don’t take it personally! What else can I say?
How are you handling people’s reactions to you online? It was a very strong reaction to you in the preseason — you were getting a lot of “yes, queen, yes,” but also a lot of “no, queen, no.” What’s your take on the culture of being a Survivor contestant?
It always feels good when people recognize you as a queen. (Laughs.) But you can’t take it too seriously. Survivor is a reality television show. I’m lucky. My younger sister is a superfan. It’s her dream to be on Survivor. She’s a little nervous about applying, but she’s willing to go on Reddit for me and report the facts. But can I clarify one thing about the pregame?
Okay, obviously, you see Ali. She’s a goddess. Beautiful. She should not be allowed to be a person because she’s just that hot of a person. I think a lot of people read my thing about Ali — “I hate her” — as in I actually hate her. I don’t hate her! That bitch is beautiful! This is the most weird way of talking about it, but when I say, “I hate you, you’re so pretty!” That’s a compliment, bitch! That’s a compliment! I’m just trying to express all of the colors of my emotions! That’s what I feel! Let me just say that Ali is just that beautiful in person. She’s even hotter than Devon.
What are your final takeaways from playing six days of Survivor, Simone? What did this experience mean to you, ultimately?
Ultimately, it means so much. Let me say that it’s not trivial. Like anything else in your life that’s worth doing, it’s not trivial. I went out early, sure, but I wouldn’t take that experience back for anything. I really enjoyed myself out there. I felt like I handled it as best as I could. Also? Ponderosa is dope. It is amazing. It’s like paradise. Survivor is paradise, but Ponderosa is paradise, let’s be real. You have your own chef, you have like three beds, you have air conditioning… oh my god, the air conditioning is amazing.
Safe to say your first trip out of the country was a success, then?
I mean, I think so! But a lot of people would be embarrassed to go out second.
Well, I liked Ponderosa. But given the chance to go back out? I would go in a heartbeat. It was insane. Survivor is a wild ride.
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