More than starvation, the elements, and backstabbing moves by other players, overconfidence can be public enemy No. 1 on Survivor. And on Wednesday's episode, Debbie Wanner learned that the hard way when she was blindsided shortly after comparing the solidity of her six-person alliance to concrete.
"I was confident and shame on me," Debbie told TVGuide.com Thursday, while clearly harboring no ill will towards the fellow castaways who voted her off.
Read our chat with Debbie to find out how Game Changers stacks up to her experience on Kaoh Rong, what she learned from her time with Cochran on Exile Island, and why she thinks people are being too hard on Michaela.
You definitely seemed shocked after last night's vote, and earlier in the episode, Sarah accused you of getting too cocky in the game. Do you think that's a fair characterization?
Debbie: I always find that there's a thin line between confidence, cocky, secure, arrogant. You could have just as easily been shown a clip where I was questioning our six alliance, mostly original Nuku. I had actually gone to Mr. Culpepper and said, "When this group breaks up, it's going to be Sarah." She had conversations with both sides. She beat me to the punch, good for her. It's kind of funny. I prefer to think that I analyzed the situation the best that I could, played the best game I could, and I was confident. Did I come across as cocky? Well, yes. I could definitely be perceived that way. But again, this is a show that tends to bring out your best and your worst. Could I have toned it down a bit? Yes, perhaps I could have. But Sarah is the one who swore on her son's life over and over and over again, so I don't have that blood on my hands, and there we go.
How does this season measure up to your previous experience on Survivor?Do you have any regrets about how you played the game this time around?
Debbie: I wish I would have made a move on Sarah before she made a move on me. Of course you always wish you would have taken out the person who is mostly responsible for taking you out. Kaoh Rong was brutal. I think the average temperature was 115, 118 Fahrenheit. ... The physical environment was much more pleasurable in Fiji. And then again, I got that spectacular Exile reward. Talk about a blindside. That one I didn't see coming. I'm expecting to go off with nothing. So, it was much more pleasurable on the physical environment. The players, however - these were professionals. So, the level of gameplay, the caginess, the duplicity, disingenuousness, backstabbing, was just at an all new level.
Let's talk about Michaela. It's clear to us as viewers that she's difficult, but people on the tribe just really seem to dislike her, and not just because she's a threat in challenges. In this episode, you were fixated on getting her out. What's going on with her and the rest of the tribe?
Debbie: Well, I like Michaela. She's an enjoyable young lady. Mr. Culpepper had spent more time with Michaela than I did, and there was a clip that aired where everybody is breaking down, talking about how difficult the game is. Sierra Dawn is crying. Brad actually starts crying, talking about how much of a trooper his wife was, who made it to the end. I adore Brad's wife. It's one of the reasons I wanted such an alliance with Brad. And there's Michaela flicking in the sand. Perhaps she comes across as cavalier. This is what I want to say, as a woman: Is Michaela cocky, arrogant? I sometimes think that women get called words that just don't as easily get ascribed to men. Men are mature and confident, but women are cocky and arrogant, etc. So, had Michaela been a young man, would those words be given to her? I don't know. I wanted her out because Brad wanted her out. For me, it was that simple.
I loved when you pretended to be drunk in order to gather intel. Why did it occur to you to do that?
Debbie: The two people that I was truly closest to, Sierra Dawn and - well, Brad had volunteered, like a true gentleman, to sit out — they know I don't drink. So, what happened there was, it was this crazy feast with everybody drinking and handing you things. And being a person who's never been a drinker - I don't know why. I'm not a recovering alcoholic. I just never liked alcohol or drugs. It's just easier to go with the flow and not have to defend yourself why you don't drink. When people do drink, their lips fly. And what was the topic of conversation? There it was. What advantage are Tai and Brad getting over there? Do you think they got immunity idols? Do you think that they have some huge advantage? No good deed goes unpunished. ... Everybody's plotting against Tai and Brad. So, let them drink. Let them keep talking and telling me how Brad and Tai are now the big targets. And that's what I wanted to do. I've been in that position, being a non-drinker, one too many times to raise people's suspicions. "Oh, she's not drinking. Oh, she doesn't do this. Oh, she doesn't do that." You just go along. It's just easier.
After a rough spot initially, you and Brad seemed pretty close in last night's episode. Did you take that intel back to him?
Debbie: I told him every time. As soon as his name came up. That's the reason Ozzy was out. Jeff Varner said, when we had that explosive Tribal Council, "Ozzy is in an alliance with Andrea and Zeke." Well, that stuck in the back of my head. I still wanted to talk to Ozzy, so the time that he went home, that three-day span, Ozzy and I went for a walk. And of course, you're out there observing. I often saw Ozzy with Andrea. And I said, "Ozzy, let's put our cards on the table." Because Ozzy's a great guy. There was no huge joy or satisfaction taking him out. And Ozzy said, "I want to take out Culpepper or Sierra." Well, gee, they're my two closest allies. Of course I go right back and tell Culpepper and Sierra. Tai wanted Ozzy out because that pole challenge. That was a colossal marathon of biblical proportions when it came to duration and endurance. So everybody wanted Ozzy out. It was just me you saw, as we were tossing out names, throwing out his again and everybody going along with it.
You brought up your Exile Island experience. I imagine it was a rollercoaster of emotions, from being dismayed at being sent there to realizing you actually lucked out.
Debbie: You know, I wasn't even that dismayed, because I'm not the person people think that I am. I'm pretty laid-back. I'm very comfortable being alone. But I thought, wow, at least I'll get some peace on Exile. And by that I mean, I'm in this frenetic, fast-paced, vociferous cacophony of a game where it's just constant, with so many people, so many conversations, trying to keep up. I thought, whew, I'm gonna have some peace. And I'm seeing this huge, beautiful yacht in the distance. And I'm thinking, well, that's not for me. That's just a boat out here. And then all of a sudden, I spy this little sign, "Welcome to Exile." And I just start laughing. I thought, I'm not telling a soul, because I don't think that they'd actually believe me. They'd think I was making this up. They'd think, oh, God, why is she making up this story now? It was spectacular. And what I got to do was get some peace.
The episode after that was kind of dominated by the Varner/Zeke debacle, but is it true that you didn't tell anyone about what it actually was, and they found out by seeing it on TV?
Debbie:I did not tell a living soul. What happened on Exile absolutely did stay on Exile, yes. So, nobody knew. And it was funny, because when I was there, I said, "I didn't even have any flint. I got no rice." And that was true.
On a practical level, I imagine that, after not eating for so many days, you can't just totally feast, otherwise you'll get sick. So did you feel like you had to restrain yourself?
Debbie: You're exactly right. I don't know how quickly your stomach actually shrinks, but it apparently is pretty quick. So, yeah, I often crawled into my hammock with my three blankets and my fluffy pillows and I thought, oh, I ate too much. But, I was trying to not waste all that spectacular food but yet not overdo it. So, yeah, I did pace myself, but often still felt like, oh god, I shouldn't have taken that last bite. But I felt like I was a camel, having to go back into the game and starve once again. I'll tell you, starving is not fun.
What was your reasoning for picking the extra vote challenge, as opposed to the challenge advantage so you could curry favor with your new tribe, or the immunity idol kit?
Debbie: The one thing that the extra vote was was a done deal. A sure thing. Nobody could manipulate it. It was for me to be the hero or the zero, to use properly, to not use properly. It was all on me. A fake immunity idol? OK, you might have some fun with it, but it's like having an unloaded gun. I mean, what good is that at the end of the day? Advantage? The advantage for the tribal immunity, that was only good for one more vote. And that would have turned out to be the one that was Metamorphosis. OK, maybe we would have started with the word. We would have blown it anyway. And, just like Brad and Tai sitting out the feast, no good deed goes unpunished. All anybody was talking about at that feast was, "Did Brad and Tai get an advantage? Brad and Tai should be the next target. They've probably got immunity idols now." You think that you're doing something nice and good in Survivor? let me assure you, it doesn't get you anywhere. As a matter of fact, it breeds bad feelings.
Did you have any other takeaways from Cochran other than smoothing things over with Brad?
Debbie: Cochran is a wonderful human being, who clearly won. Cochran's biggest advice was, stay hyper alert. Stay paranoid. Stay on a smooth, even keel with everybody. OK, well, you try to do that, but meanwhile people are off-camera saying eff you, and I can't stand her. And we all do things like that. But, to be hyper paranoid, number one, is absolutely exhausting. It's almost impossible. So, I tried to keep abreast of everybody's conversations to the degree that you can. What do you do, walk up on two people, surprise their conversation, try to gauge their responses? Look, you already know they're being disingenuous and lying. So, that was my big takeaway, stay as hyper alert and vigilant and paranoid as you can. And I found for me, by Day 26, my gut instinct was right. "Mr. Culpepper, Sarah is going to be the one that breaks the alliance." "OK, then she'll be the first one of the six we take out." Timing is everything, and she made the move first.
Any final thoughts on last night's episode or the season in general?
Debbie: It was not completely unexpected once I saw my name come up. I had figured it was either Troyzan because he wasn't an original Nuku member, or Sarah, because I just had the bad feeling, instinct, about her. Kudos to her for making the move first. No hard feelings. It's a game.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)