Kim Spradlin-Wolfe on defending her best Survivor winner ever crown

She may have given the greatest performance in Survivor history. So what's next?

That means that even in a season filled with huge targets, the now Kim Spradlin-Wolfe — who has remarried and given birth to three young children since her first appearance on the show — could be the biggest one of them all when Survivor: Winners at War kicks off Feb. 12 on CBS. Does Kim worry her reputation puts her in immediate danger out on the island? How do the big changes in her life make her a different player in the game? And what does she make of her competition? We asked the Survivor legend all that and more when we spoke out on location in Fiji before filming began on season 40. Her answers await.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, I named you as the best single-season winner ever, and I know I'm not alone in that belief. How do you feel about that? Does that put any extra pressure on you coming out here?
KIM SPRADLIN-WOLFE: Yeah, first of all, thank you. And, yeah, it's both. I really appreciated being anonymous my first season. But now, all those articles and top 5, top 10 rankings don't do me any favors this time around. But I think I'm still okay. I love that, and I've been flattered to read things like that for the last few years. But walking into this, I definitely think there are people out here who have had more days in the game, have had bigger résumés, and appear to be larger threats, hopefully, out of the gate. So I'm hoping not to get too centered in on, day one.

It's been seven, eight years since you played this game. Let's give people the update. What have you been up to?
I've been up to a lot. So last time coming on, I was coming out of a messy divorce. Twenty-eight years old. Single. Independent. I owned a couple of bridal salons. And since the game, I got remarried, which I'd never thought I would do. But honestly, in the game, that gave me some clarity that it was something I did want to do. So I got remarried and then had three kids about as fast as is humanly possible. So they're all within 26 months of each other. So now I have a 3, 4, and 5-year-old. And my life is sweet, honestly. It's just so good. So it was hard to leave.

Was it?
Yeah. Super hard to leave.

So when you got the call, was it hard but an automatic yes? Or did you have to think about it.
Yeah, it was a big think about it, for me. There was always part of me that was going to want to play, but my first answer was no. I just couldn't picture a way where I was going to leave my three kids at this age. And then we talked about it for a while, and I was like, "It's a no." And my husband was like, "Yeah, it's a no." And then a week later, I was like, "I don't know, I'm just kind of wondering if I should have the conversation." He was like, "You're going to do it. I just know it already, the fact that you're even putting a question mark on it." So there were green lights. And I really wanted to think about if this was something I should actually do, and as I dug deep and did some soul searching, it was a yes. So, here I am.

Did they ever approach you in the past about coming back to play? Or did they know you were pregnant or just had a kid?
Yeah, they've called a couple of times while I was pregnant or had a newborn, and so that was an easy no. And so this was really the first time. And honestly, I want my kids to get to experience this. They don't even know what Survivor is. They haven't seen my season. We've never really talked about me being on. And so I love the thought of them getting to watch their mom go do something adventurous and hard while they're alive.

Kim, how does it make you a different player considering how different of a person you are now?
It's a great question. I think I am completely the same and totally different at the same time. I mean, I have a lot of the same attributes that I think made me good the first time. And this time around, I think I know how to grind way harder than I did last time. I mean, having three babies in three years was beyond anything I had experienced. A whole new tired. Natural childbirth. You just want to die. And so if I had to do Survivor or natural childbirth again, that would be a tossup. They're both an ass-kicking.

And they're compared a lot to each other, because you forget about how hard they are.
They are! That's exactly right. I do compare them a lot because of that, yeah. I mean, there's total PTSD, and then you kind of walk away from it and you're like, "Yeah, I could do that again." But as I'm approaching it, I'm dreading it. It's absolutely miserable, physically.

You are sitting out here and you're with nine other women here before the game. You don't know who else is going to be out here. I'm sure you've been doing your own guesswork, and maybe have some ideas. and maybe they're right and maybe they're not. Who do you want to work with from the people you've seen?
God, it's so funny. I feel like one of the things that makes me good at this game is I feel like I'm good at reading a room. And I don't know. It's really a hard thing for me to say. I can guess right now and everything might change day 1. I love Sandra. There's just something about Sandra that I get. I don't know what it is. And of course, they all scare me. She scares the s— out of me, but I like her. I could see myself working with her. I really like Amber. I think Amber's going to be an interesting one to see. She's probably had a lot of thought in her home about this game in the last 10 years or whatever, so she's probably bringing in a lot more than people wouldn't maybe anticipate. I like Sophie. I've always liked Sophie. She's smart. And she also scares me. They all scare me a little bit.

How much do you know these people?
I don't know them well. I've met most of them a time or two. I'm trying to think if I've actually had a long conversation with any of them, and I don't think I have. I met Sarah at her finale, but, no real friendships with people that I chat with. So I'm hoping I'm not the outsider. I don't know how many of them have real relationships.

Well, that's always the question when you get into returning player seasons, right?
Yeah. Honestly, I know some of the guys better, for sure.

It's interesting, because you're not from the early days of Survivor, but even since your season, which was season 24, so much has changed even since then in terms of the advantages and new twists they've put in. Is there a learning curve for you at all with that?
Oh, for sure. I know this is going to be a totally different game. And honestly, that's the way I want to approach it. I am coming into this with a total clean slate. I don't want to think about what I did last time. I want this to be a fresh start. It's a new game. It's new people. I think my mistake would be to try to think about what I did last time and what worked and what didn't work. You've got to start over, read the situation, adapt. But, yeah, it's a totally different game. I think this may end up being a little more old school. I'm just not going to be surprised. I think there are some people that would like to see that happen here. Just because that's the way it was when they played and they don't like the way that the game has changed. So it's going to be fascinating to watch.

How do you think others see you? What's the book on Kim Spradlin?
I naturally don't like to praise myself, and so it's hard for me. I think I tend to underplay myself, which, I think, would be a disservice to myself in this moment, because I think underestimating how people see me would be a mistake, so I have to be honest. And I think that they think I'm pretty legit. I'm sure that I'm on the list of names of some people that people are worried about. So if I can get through those first few days, I can get in there. If they don't come gunning for me, I'll be all right, maybe.

What's your biggest weakness? You are so well-rounded, which is why you're so well-regarded. What's the one thing about getting back into play that you're worried about, that you think, "This could be my Achilles heel?"
I don't know. That's the problem, I guess.

Well, that's their problem, because you're so good. That's their problem, it's not your problem.
I know what some things I could do wrong are, and I'm definitely going to try to not do those things wrong.

Tell me about your head space going into this game. Are you more or less nervous than last time?
Way less.

Because you've been through it?
Yeah, I think I know what to expect. I just don't feel as green. But I also think I'm just a way more confident person than I was then. I mean, my confidence was so shook when I came out here at 28. And I had been a really confident person my whole life, but going through that divorce, and it was such a mess, and it made me question everything about myself and if I could make good decisions or not. And so I really gained a lot of that back being out here last time.

Because I was like, "Oh, I can make good decisions, and I can trust my intuition, and I can trust myself again," and that's just continued since then for the last seven years. I've made lots of good decisions that have been really beautiful life decisions. And so I think I feel total confidence to come out here. People are like, "You have something to prove," and I'm like, "Yes and no." This game just goes the way it goes, and I can play an absolutely flawless game and be a genius and go home first. There's just no way to control all that. So you sort of have to just get comfortable with the fact that there's a lot that you can't control out here.

How's it different in terms of playing against all new players like you did last time, and you've seen the nine other people you're here with now —  they're not new players? And they're very accomplished players. How do you process in terms of playing the game differently knowing that?
Well, it's totally different. It's a way higher level of play than the people I played with last time. There's no easy passes in the room. And yet there still is a room.

You don't think the other tribe is going to win immunity and then decide that they'll go to Tribal Council anyway? You don't think that's going to happen again, Kim?
No, I don't think that's going to happen this time around. Yeah, I'm not going to name any names, as tempted as I am. Way higher level of play. And yet there still is a tribe and there are people and I think there's still room for people to fall. There's room for people to be overconfident. It's just going to be subtler, I think. This group is highly intelligent and emotionally intelligent, as well, so.

Well, don't make me look bad by ranking you as the best. Don't come out here and lay an egg and make me look bad, all right?
That'll be my motivation, yeah.

That should definitely be your motivation.
That's what I'll keep at the core of my person.

Forget about taking care of the kids back home with another massive check. This is why you're playing this game. Yeah. It's for you, Dalton.

For more Survivor articles, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss, and for exclusive season 40 photos and video, follow Dalton on Instagram @thedaltonross.

Related content: