SPOILER ALERT: I’m going to do something I’ve never done before, and that is reveal my episode 1 pick to win a Survivor season before episode 1 airs. I mean, I guess I kinda already did that in the headline so it’s not such a spoiler now, but yes, David Wright is my pick to win Survivor: Edge of Extinction (premiering Feb. 20 on CBS). And yes, considering my picks have now been wrong TWENTY TWO TIMES IN A ROW, I just jinxed David Wright from winning anything, but let’s ignore that for the moment, shall we?
To understand why David — who came in fourth place in Millennials vs. Gen X — is my pick, all you need to do is read my interview with him from Fiji two days before this upcoming season began. I’m not sure if any player I have ever interviewed has done more preparation heading into a season. I’ve always maintained that puzzle-solving is the most important challenge skill, and David should easily dominate in that category. Fire-making is now a close second with the new final four rules, and David has that on lockdown as well. (Too bad they didn’t have that rule in place for him last time he played.)
But that’s not all David has going for him. As a returning player, he will not be crippled by the early game paranoia that almost completely derailed him last time. And with three-timers Kelley Wentworth, Joe Anglim, and Aubry Bracco also back, David is most likely seen as the least threatening of the returnees, meaning he could get easily overlooked as a target compared to the other all-stars.
If you really want to know what sealed the deal for me in making David my pre-game pick to win it all, just read the interview below, where he spills the beans about a fake advantage and fake idol he plans to plant, all his absurd puzzle prep, and why he compares himself to the Dark Knight and hopes to be a “more lovable Heisenberg” in his second time out. It’s a great interview. You should check it out. Just scroll down. It’s that easy! (Read through both pages for the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: David, why come back and do this again?
DAVID WRIGHT: That’s a great question. I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately. Women, they give birth. Then they get amnesia, and they forget how hard labor was. It gets them to do it again. But I remember every horrible detail about my first Survivor experience. There are a lot of reasons to say no to this, especially also given the fact that I think there’s just going to be a giant target on my back coming into this game.
Why do you think there’s a giant target on your back coming into this game?
Millennials vs. Gen X, it wasn’t that long ago. I think people remember the season. I think they’ll remember how well I did. These newbies are going to want to come up with any excuse to not get voted out themselves, and they’ll just say, “Hey, let’s get rid of this returnee. He seems to know what he’s doing. He’s a threat.”
All right, so you say “these newbies.” You’re assuming there’s going to be newbies.
Yes. I believe there will be newbies. Actually, I thought until today that I had a handle on the theme. I do think it is somehow related to day 38, because I got voted out day 38. Kelley Wentworth got voted out day 38.
And she’s the only person that you know is on this season. You guys traveled together over here.
That’s right, but I suspect there are two more returnees, to be honest. I just have a hunch. I don’t know who. If it indeed is season 38, then presumably you would expect to see someone like Devon [from Heroes v. Healers v Hustlers]. Then I think you would also need another woman. I don’t know if that’s Cydney [from Kaoh Rong] or who that would be, but I do think it’s some version of day 38. I do feel like I’m missing just a piece of the puzzle, and I can’t put my finger on it.
You brought up day 38. You and I just were speaking a little before we started rolling here about the new final four fire-making challenge. First off, what do you think of that? As someone with a lot of experience that did not get that chance to make fire, was cut at the final four, what are your thoughts on it?
Especially now that I’m about to play again, it hurts a lot less. I think it was certainly hard for season 35 because it was sprung on them. They didn’t know about it. But now, it is a fundamental part of the game. I think that, yeah, if you get cast on Survivor, you just need to know how to make fire. You need to know how to make it really fast. Fortunately for me, I can make fire in less than 20 seconds. I view now final four personally as really being final three, because I just don’t think that anybody can beat me making fire.
Was that the case last time you played?
It was the case last time I played. Really, honestly, it’s my fault for not pressuring Ken to make it a tie between Adam and I, because I think had that happened, if it had gone to fire, I would have won. Then I’d be a millionaire right now.
You would have loved the twist if it had just been a little earlier.
Yeah, please, just two seasons earlier.
You said it’s part of the game. You have to prepare for it. How does it change the dynamic of thinking about the game and thinking about whom you’re bringing close to the end?
Here’s my sense of the game, and I’m going to be completely honest. My girlfriend has been incredibly helpful in preparing me for this second time around. I’m really just parroting her advice, but really get rid of the biggest threat at six. Hopefully you have an idol. You play it at five. I can win at fire. That gets me to three. Really, I’m focused on the benchmark of six in terms of getting rid of the biggest threats.
You said that you think that you’re a big threat here. If you’re right and if this is a bunch of newbies and some returning players, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being a returning player in a situation like that?
Well, in a mixed season of newbies and returnees, the disadvantage to being a returnee is that there’s already a giant target on your back. The newbies have seen your season. They know how you play. They know what to expect from you. It’s easy to make an easy mark of me, like, “Oh, let’s get rid of that guy. He’s a huge threat.” But the advantage of it though is that I am a known quantity. In playing Survivor, it’s good to know things. It’s comforting to know things. I also think that in a weird way, I can be a shield for the entire newbies as well as the other returnees, because I’ll always be an easy vote. You can save me to close to the end and then cut my throat, because I’ll just be this umbrella protecting them from the rain.
We’re recording this just days after Ghost Island just finished airing. How much does it hurt you that your fake idol played a big part in that season? It kind of reminded people, “Oh, right, David Wright, and they keep talking about this incredible fake idol he made. Now it’s being played in this hugely dramatic fashion.” It sort of puts the target back on you, doesn’t it?
Yeah. On my couch, I was thinking, “Oh, this is so cool.” Then I get the phone call. It’s like, “Oh, this is so terrible.” Yeah, it’s an issue. It’s a huge issue. There’s no way to really combat it other than just to embrace it and say, “You know what, I’m a huge fan of the show. I was just trying to have some fun. Let’s all just have some fun together.”
You think it’s a mix of returning and new players. I don’t know if you saw this. I did a whole statistical analysis last year.
I did see this. Good news for me.
The numbers are pretty interesting. It’s basically, in a mixed season, eight out of 93 new players have made the final three, that’s 8.6%, while 11 out of 39 returning players have made the final three. That’s 28.2 percent. You have three-and-a-half better times a chance of making the end.
Yeah, I saw that post that you did. I read it. I was like, “Oh, this is really good news for me,” but then the other thought I had was we’re living in this era of Survivor where it’s constantly changing. I’m worried. Is this where it flips the other way?
So you’re not going to get the Boston Rob treatment, the way they worshiped him on Redemption Island, or the way folks were star-struck by Stephenie in Guatemala?
I don’t think anyone’s going to be star-struck by me, and I will say that the way they cast now, they’re casting super fans. From that sense, yeah, maybe it’ll be cool to meet me for five minutes, but then they’re just going to play as hard as they can and get rid of me. Yeah, it’s a real concern of mine., I’m really worried about it.
If that’s the case and you get out there, and there are new players, and you’re a returning player, what do you do to make them comfortable with you?
Honestly, Boston Rob did kind of do this. It’ll be a slightly different dynamic with me, but I really do need to cultivate this culture of us. Not me, me, me, me, or this is my return. This is our season, guys. We’re together. It’s us versus them, meaning maybe Kelley Wentworth’s tribe if she’s on a different tribe. I don’t know. But yes, I want to make it so that … I want to buck people up. I want to highlight their strengths. I want to, hopefully without being a leader exactly, but just inspire positive thinking going into these challenges, and hoping we can get a few wins and avoid some Tribals, because there’s just nothing worse than the first Tribal.
The first few days are so key and so important. Are you going to be as paranoid as you were last time?
It’s very funny you say that. I made these Survivor puzzle books. It has every puzzle ever featured in the show. At the back of the books, I put a list of things I need to just remember going out here my second time. At the very top of the list, it says, “Don’t get paranoid.” It’s not anything that I think I have too much control over, but I’m mindful of it. I’m aware of how much it almost destroyed my game the first time. I’m going to try to just project as much confidence as I can, and I’m hoping that people will come to me. I certainly on day two am not going to, in front of people, go looking for an idol. I certainly will look for an idol, but not in front of people the way I did the first time. (Interview continues on next page.)
NEXT PAGE: David’s crazy puzzle prep and even crazier plans for the game