The finale of Survivor: Ghost Island ended like no other. When the 10-member-jury deadlocked with five votes each for Wendell Holland and Dominick Abbate to win, the third person in the final three, Laurel Johnson, had to then cast the deciding million-dollar-vote. She ultimately cast the most important vote in Survivor history for Wendell.
But what was going on behind the scenes while Laurel was voting? What happened to the vote after that? And where is the vote now? Executive producer Matt Van Wagenen walked us through the crazy scene when we spoke to him on location in Fiji for filming on season 38 (to air in early 2019). Here’s how it all went down, in his own words.
We’ve never had a situation like this before. Going into it, we knew it was going to be a close vote. Whenever we get to the final voting, the camera operator who shoots the votes leaves, and we turn the feed off to the control room and I’m back there just watching it happen. I’m just there, basically, to make sure that everything is recorded, that there’s audio, all that.
The first vote comes in for Dom, second one Dom, third one Dom, and I’m thinking, Oh my gosh, Dom is going to run away with this thing. He’s got this in the bag! He gets five votes. Then, finally, there’s one for Wendell and I’m like, Oh cool, at least we can show one Wendell vote. That’s good. Suddenly, there’s another Wendell vote, and another, and another. I’m kind of making little hash marks in my notes to see how the votes go and I was like, This is going to be a close one. And then all of the sudden the last one comes up and it was Angela. Angela took her time, and I’m thinking Oh my gosh, she has no idea what she’s deciding right now!
Sure enough, she voted for Wendell. Jeff comes back and at this point. We’ve already filmed two seasons in a row and that’s a lot of days out on the island. So we’re all ready to wrap this up and are a little bit weary. I just held up the hash marks. Jeff looks at me and he goes, “What?” So I held it up again. He’s like, “What?” I go, “It’s a tie!” It’s like, oh my God! There was real excitement.
So then it was like, Okay, we have a plan for this. What do we do? It was like, all of the sudden we had to shift gears. There was probably about four or five seconds of, like, Oh my God! I can’t believe that just happened! Like the way a fan would react. Then it turned into Okay, we’ve talked about what we’re going to do, let’s go over it, and here we go. So we had to reset for another vote, because we knew that Laurel was going to be the one who was going to be deciding things.
As for how Jeff handled it, I don’t think he knew exactly what he was going to say, but we definitely talked about it. He goes, “Okay, this is what I’m going to say. Does it sound good?” “Yeah.” “Okay, that sounds right.” “Okay, here we go.” So then Jeff walked out and you’ve seen the rest.
Jeff’s amazing. You’ve seen that he can actually just talk from off the cuff, and I think he just nailed it with “Alright. I’m going to read the votes.” The delivery was great, and then even with his last line when he took Laurel’s vote and he goes, “This one, I’m going to save.” I think that was the line. It was perfect. It just really fit the tone of the whole moment.
We had Laurel’s vote for almost 11 months in a safe. It was funny because I actually brought that vote to CBS, and I stuffed the envelope that it was in with a bunch of old mail so that it looked thick and looked like there was a lot of votes in it so that when we went and put it in the urn nobody knew that it was just one vote.
As for where the vote is now, after Ghost Island, we have become collectors. We keep a hold of all sorts of things now. A lot of people make fun of me. I am kind of like the trash man when it comes to Survivor memorabilia. So yes, we still have possession of that vote, as well as all of the others.
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