Edge of Extinction champ Chris Underwood and Island of the Idols victor Tommy Sheehan were not invited to return for Survivor: Winners at War (which premieres Feb. 12 on CBS). That means David vs. Goliath’s Nick Wilson is the most recent champion to appear. In fact, his victory aired just five months before filming began on season 40. And it was a triumphant season at that, considered one of the best in the show’s long, illustrious history.
But that high-profile status would become something Nick had to deal with in his return engagement, and it was at the top of the season 37 winner’s mind when we spoke the day before filming began for his second go round. While Nick was worried his recent climb to the top of the Survivor mountain might be held against him, he also feels he is owed more respect for how he played in his first outing — especially when it comes to his social game. Can the David become a true Goliath by slaying the titans of the game?
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s going on, man? Welcome back to Fiji.
NICK WILSON: Feels like it was just yesterday.
It almost was, and I guess that’s a good place to start. Do you think the recency of you having just played and won — and especially in a season considered one of the best ever — do you think that hurts you?
I really thought if I ever played again, I would be a huge target for that reason. I’m hoping in this scenario it won’t hurt me too much because I look around and there are big targets everywhere. So I’m hoping that maybe I can be underestimated again. I mean, yeah, I won a great season, but we’re talking about people that have played four or five times. People that have won twice might be here. So, I hope that I’m not the biggest target here. I don’t think I am.
Why come back, Nick? You just won, you conquered Survivor. I remember talking to you right after you won and you’re like, “Oh, I’ll come back.” Why is that?
I definitely wanted to come back. I didn’t realize it would be so soon. But once I started trying to think of why they would want me back so soon, I couldn’t pass up something like that. If it’s a 20th anniversary, possibly an all-winners season, it’s like any fan’s dream. Just a little over a year ago I was a huge super-fan hoping to play Survivor one day. And now I’m in Survivor 40. It’s pretty epic.
Well, talking about being a huge super-fan, did you find yourself a little star struck? You’re here before the game with nine other players, all men, all winners. That’s who you know is here. I’m sure you have your suspicions about other people that might be here, but were you a little star struck when you first saw some of these guys?
I’m totally star struck already. JT was always my favorite player, and he kind of messed that up with his last season. And so my next favorite player has always been Tyson. So ever since Game Changers, my answer to, “Who’s your favorite?” “Oh, it’s Tyson.” Tyson’s here and like I can’t even really talk to him. And it kind of sucks. I just can’t wait to hang out with Tyson and talk to him.
Whom do you think you might want to work with? You’re sizing them up.
Yeah, so it’s really tricky. I hope that since I just played I can be like a free agent and maybe some other sides will to recruit me. Because I don’t know anybody. This is totally different from coming in my first season, because all these people know each other. So I know that Jeremy and Tyson and Rob are friends, and I’m pretty sure they’re friends with Kim and Sandra. And so there’s a big group of people that kind of naturally makes me want to just think of what other recent winners are here, or maybe if there’s people that are here that really haven’t been in the community for years. Maybe we could form something to go against that other crew. But at the same time, I’m not going to completely say no to those guys. Who wouldn’t want to be in an alliance with Boston Rob and Tyson? I mean, that would be awesome.
Last time you played was your first time so I’m sure there was a lot of excitement, but some nerves as well. Now you’re coming back, you have the confidence of a winner, but you’re playing against some legends clearly. Are you more or less nervous this time?
I think I was more nervous the first time.
Because of the unknown?
Yeah, just the unknown. I didn’t know where I was going to fall. I didn’t know who I was playing with. The unknown and the unpredictable, I think, is scarier. Now I’m definitely anxious just to kind of see where I fit in within this group. But if it goes back and I’m pre-merge or something, I think I would be more complacent and satisfied this time. Because I’ve already played, I’ve already won, I had the full experience. I definitely don’t want that to happen, but if that happened the first time, it would have been awful — like, life shattering, you know? So I’m lucky I’ve won once, that makes me less nervous. Worst case scenario, I still get to be a part of this epic season.
We talked about this a little bit after you won in terms of the big question of whether you would have been voted out first had there not had a medical evacuation on your tribe. I know that some of the producers have said that you would have gone first. I also know you are not ready to completely believe that. But just think about that for a second, Nick. We can both agree that there’s a good possibility at the very least you would have gone first. And now you’re sitting here on an all-winners season.
Yeah, I mean it could have happened, but that’s one thing that motivates me is that I’m here to prove that I wouldn’t have gone first. I’m here to prove I didn’t need to win those immunity necklaces at the end. I was going to be in the final three anyways. So that really give me a lot of motivation and gives me a lot of fire and drive to do well in this season and show that I am one of the greatest players ever to play Survivor.
Hold on, you went on this epic immunity winning run at the end, which is something that I would think you’d be extremely proud of. But it sounds like you also feel that that people don’t realize the great social game you were playing because you didn’t have to prove it. Is that true? Do you feel that way?
I think so. And Mike was great, and I think the fact that he got three votes also made people try to understand what exactly happened on the island. But the fact is, I had a great social game, too. As good as or better than Mike’s, so yeah. I want to show that. I want to prove it.
You have this garish orange Hawaiian shirt on. What’s your wardrobe going to be like this season?
They got me in the same thing as last time.
Of course, they do.
They told me to wear basically the same things, so same colors. Got the blazer.
Nick, how many alliance nicknames do you plan to come up with this season?
I hope I can have some. I’m afraid to just come out and do it. I don’t want to seem disingenuous. I don’t want to give people notes to compare. I don’t want to get caught, basically, is what I’m saying. But if I form an alliance with somebody and they want a nickname, oh, it’s coming for sure.
Because I love it. It’s so fun.
You want to win — and I can see you’re serious about that — but you do want to have fun while you do it, don’t you?
Yeah, especially on this season where I think I can win, but probabilities are much lower than any other season. So yeah, I definitely have the main goal of having fun and enjoying my time here. I think last time I had a lot of fun, too, but sometimes I got so focused on the prize and winning that maybe I took some time out here for granted. So this time I definitely want to enjoy everything and take it all in. Hopefully for 39 days again, but even if it’s just for like 15 days, I want to enjoy every second of it.
You have a book on everyone else, and your impressions on them. What do you think their impressions are of you? I think my game might be more respected than I was anticipating. Like I said, I did play a good game and it’s recent. It’s fresh on everybody’s mind and my season kind of really put Survivor back on the map. It was a huge buzz around my season. So I think people might actually look at me as a strategic and social threat.
What’s your biggest weakness? If you’re going to self-evaluate, what’s the one thing you need to work on the most?
In this situation, I think my biggest weakness is how recently I played, and how I don’t know these people yet. And they all seem like they know each other. It’s still Survivor, it’s still a game, where you backstab people. But a friend in real life, I think, takes higher precedence over an alliance member in the game.
Playing in a returning players season, it’s so different because the concept of Survivor is strangers on an island, and you’ve never met them and there are no pre-game alliances. But in this, people can talk. And I’m not just talking even over the past few weeks or months before you came out here. But over the past few years, as you mentioned. And clearly that’s something that concerns you — as it probably should. Some of these people have histories with each other. And so you obviously see that as a disadvantage for yourself coming into this so recently, right?
Yeah, I see it as a disadvantage. I’m just hoping that there’s enough people that have the same disadvantage I do that we can come up with some numbers. I mean, Wendell and Ben are both here. They won. They’ve had a year longer than me to meet people. But who knows? They might not be friends with any of these people, either. Yul’s here. I don’t think he’s even watched Survivor since he won. So he probably doesn’t know many people, either. So I’m just hoping maybe there’s enough in the same boat as me that we could join up, or maybe there’s a couple of different factions of friends that when we go against each other and they need me as a number.
How much did you try and reach out to people after you won on TV, which was a few months ago?
So, yeah, there were a few people at my finale that I was able to meet, but it was, like, quickly. Since we knew this was happening, I’ve tried to talk to a couple people. But it’s nothing compared to what some of the other people have. That’s what I’m concerned about.
No deep bonds.
Right. Yeah. Like, if Davie was out here with me, I mean, I would know for sure that I had somebody that we would never turn on each other no matter what.
You don’t want Davie out here. He’s going to get the Sia money.
Yeah, I know. He’ll get the Sia award.
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