“Survivor” Champion Wendell Holland – “I’d Love to Sit Back and Watch These Old Heads Kill Each Other”

“Survivor: Winners at War” (CBS)

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Editor’s Note: The players were separated by gender and didn’t officially know the theme of the season when this interview took place.

Another Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted across from the giant “Boston” Rob and Sandra heads at the Island of the Idols.


Winner of “Ghost Island” (2018)

Name: Wendell Holland

Age: 35

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Current Residence: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Occupation: Furniture Designer


Gordon Holmes: As a furniture designer, I feel like you could make your own giant head.

Wendell Holland: Oh yeah, easily. I could have made them for them, but they didn’t ask me.

Holmes: Missed opportunity.

Holland: They never call me! (“Survivor” Challenge Producer John) Kirhoffer never calls me. I’m waiting on that call.

Holmes: To become a challenge builder?

Holland: Yeah. I’d be great.


Holmes: “Ghost Island” was fifteen years ago. What’ve you been up to since then?

Holland: (Laughs) So long ago. I went back home and continued building. But, my time is a little different now. As a big fan, I wanted to stay in the “Survivor” community and do things and be active. So, I’ve been traveling a bit, making appearances, speaking engagements, charity stuff. I want to be able to use my influence any way I can. You get a lot of Survivors doing charity events, I’ll always do those things.

Holmes: Every time I click on Instagram there’s a new picture of you at some event. Oh, Wendell is on a morning show in Des Moines.

Holland: I’m always doing something, man. I like it. I’m just grateful to be a part of this community. It’s hard for me to say, “No.”

Holmes: You can’t say “No” to this interview. They make you do it.

Holland: (Laughs) Nope, I’m out of here.

Holmes: Sit the (expletive deleted) down, Holland.


Holmes: How do you think other players view you? What do they remember about Wendell on “Ghost Island”?

Holland: I think they think I’m a social guy who tries to be cool with a lot of people. And the person I am is, I like people. I’m a people person, but I’m not a people pleaser. I like building relationships with people, and different people. People from different backgrounds, whatever. I have a lot of friends. And I guess my season, the way they edited me, I was a very social guy. My partner in crime Dom (Abbate) was a very strategic guy. I think in actuality, I’m very strategic, but I’m glad they didn’t show that much of that part of me. But, these people, I think they see me a lot, I’m very visible on social media. And because he’s so visible and he knows a lot of people…I’ve only been in the “Survivor” family for a year, but I know a lot of people. They might view that as some kind of threatening move. That’s what scares me.

Holmes: So, do you lean into that, do you try to convince them otherwise? What’s the move?

Holland: I feel like I’m leaning into it. Even in the pre-game I’ll see somebody and I’ll smile at them. I walk by Jeremy Collins and I give him a little elbow. I’ll make fun of Tyson even though we’re not allowed to talk.

Holmes: I need to know what exactly it sounds like when you make fun of Tyson.

Holland: (Laughs) I don’t know, OK…I ran into the restroom real quick and Nick was in there. And Nick said, “I’m about to blow it up in here.” So, I’m walking by Tyson and I’m like, “Are you about to go to the bathroom?” And he said, “Yeah, I’m about to brush my teeth.” And I said, “Nick’s about to blow it up in there.” So, he said, “OK, I’ll go in the women’s room.” And I said, “You belong in there, Tyson.”


Holmes: This is important to me. When you complete a puzzle in an immunity challenge, what’s the next step?

Holland: According to the rules stated before the challenge, if my memory serves me correctly, Probst said, “The person who finishes the puzzle first wins.”

Holmes: Uh huh.

Holland: But, the unwritten rule is that you should probably get the attention of the executive producer.

Holmes: For me.

Holland: For you.

Holmes: Just for me, just say the guy’s name.

Holland: Lesson learned.

Holmes: And screw it, say his full name. Jeffrey Alexander Probst. Scream it if you must.

Holland: OK.

Holmes: That might not be his middle name.

Holland: I’m going to say it anyways.


Holmes: You have no experience in an all-star season. How do you think it’s different?

Holland: The first time out? I’m good at that. This is my second time out, some people, it’s “Boston” Rob’s 72nd time out.  It’s Tyson’s 47th time out. Some people have been out here a lot, so they know the returnee game. I don’t exactly know that. And some of these players, Ethan played however long ago. He’s had so many years to establish relationships or fall out of relationships. But, some of these people, they played together in “Heroes vs. Villains.” And this is my first, second time out here. You’ve got to finesse it. I’m going to try to build the right relationships. People might think the newbies are going to stick together. So, I want to try to reach out to some of those old heads.

Holmes: “Old heads,” now there’s a Philly term.

Holland: (Laughs) Old heads. True indeed.

Holmes: Man, I should have swung by Wawa and grabbed you something.

Holland: I could’ve taken a hoagie. Give me a cheesesteak. But, some of the more seasoned players, I’m going to try to reach out to them. I want to know which seasoned players are gunning at other seasoned players. If you’re a Tony, do you have Rob in your crosshairs? And if so, how can I help one of you guys kill the other? I’d love to sit back and watch these old heads kill each other. Then I’ll cruise in post merge and do my thing. But, I have a feeling it might be the older crew against the newer crew. I’d prefer to not be caught up in that because for some reason I feel like the older guys have the leg up. Am I using up all your tape?

Holmes: No, we’re fine.

Holland: OK.

Holmes: Tape? (Laughs) What year do you think this is?

Holland: (Laughs) I don’t know how you do it! But, it’s Rob’s sixth time if you count what he just did. So, he’s like an executive producer out here.


Holmes: They haven’t told you guys a theme yet. What do you think is going on?

Holland: I think it’s ten male winners against each other, and you have a one-in-ten shot at a million dollars.

Holmes: It’s going to be an awfully short season.

Holland: Nah…I think they’re holding the ladies somewhere else. Pretty much all the men that are out here are the men I thought would be here, plus or minus one.

Holmes: Who is…

Holland: (Richard) Hatch. I heard rumors that Ethan wasn’t going to be out here, so I thought it would be Hatch. It’s actually good to see Ethan, I’m close with the Zahalskys, Dr. Mike, and apparently Dr. Mike’s wife loves Ethan.

Holmes: Does she know him or just love him?

Holland: I think they know each other now. I want to say they named their son Ethan after Ethan. But yeah, I’m close with them, I’m going to try to use that to get in with Ethan. Yul seems like a good guy. He’s scary man. He still looks super fit and he’s as sharp as a tack.  You know he’s the smartest guy out here, other than me, that is.

Holmes: I’m assuming the press isn’t included in that.

Holland: Of course, Gordon.

Holmes: I appreciate that. If there are ladies here, who do you think we’re gonna see?

Holland: I think Tina (Wesson), Danni, Sophie, Kim, Fitzgerald, Natalie…

Holmes: Anderson or White?

Holland: Anderson. It’d be cool to see Natalie White, though. Sarah Lacina…Denise…

Holmes: Do any of those names concern you?

Holland: There are some serious players. I’m all caught up with these guys, the Tony, the Tysons, the “Boston” Robs, the Jeremys. But it’s like, Kim, Sandra, Sarah Lacina is a scary player from what I hear. Michele Fitzgerald is a friend of mine. I’m actually excited to see Kim because she’s in interior design and I work with a lot of designers. Sandra is petrifying even though I met her once or twice and she seems like a sweetheart. These women are formidable opponents to say the least.


Holmes: Is there anything to the idea that you’re playing with house and some people might be more interested in making themselves a bigger name than they are in winning?

Holland: I did wonder if some people have that mentality. But, I want to win, man. I had other opportunities at home. I could have stayed there and done my thing. I’ve come to win. And, I’m competitive, I’m a competitor. One of the criticisms was “Wendell is so serious.” And that’s not who I am. I’m a friendly guy. And then I see stuff online and I think that’s because when I’m in a competition my game face is on. I’m zoned in. They were like, “When Wendell got his individual immunity, he wasn’t smiling.” That’s because I remember I saw people excessively celebrate before and get voted out. And, if you get comfortable, that’s when you’re open to get voted out. When I’m in a game, I’m locked in. That’s why it’d be hard for me to sandbag challenges. I want to lead, I want my team to win. Yes, I’ve already won, but the stakes are still high. It’s still a million bucks…I think…if they want finesse it a little bit.

Holmes: I’ll talk to Probst about that.

Holland: Yeah, make that happen for me. Some people might be coasting, but I don’t know these people’s pre-game routines. So, I don’t know.


Holmes: You know me, you know I like my games. Here are your nine buddies.

Holland: Jeremy Collins, I modeled my game after his. To me he’s probably the best winner. He could be the scariest guy out here. He’s a good friend of mine. I’d have to cut his throat to win this game. When I met him for the first time, the first words out of my mouth were, “Thank you for winning me a million dollars.” I literally studied his game.

Holmes: Did you give him a cut?

Holland: I didn’t give him a cut. I’ll buy him a drink after I win this second mill. Rob Mariano…”Boston” Rob…one of the greatest to ever play. He’s scary, but he doesn’t look the same anymore. But I know he still has it up here. He’s super smart. He was just on 39 with Sandra. So, if they’re both out here, hopefully that will magnify their threat levels. I don’t want him to get any momentum out here. I want him gone early. Tony ran season 28. He played at a level that the game wasn’t ready for. Then he came back in “Game Changers” and he was a huge target. That could have taken some of the target off of him. People knowing that he is not invincible. I actually think I can work with him. He might be one of the OGs in the game that I’d like to work with, kinda like how I worked with Dom (Abbate) but not as far. Yul, I probably will work with Yul. I’m drawn to the smarter, calculating, reserved folks. He’s probably the smartest guy in the game. I want to work with him, but I don’t want to sit with him in the end. Tyson is another scary player. He’s hilarious. He’s fun to joke with. I always text him and message him about his clothing and my clothing. We have similar shirt collections. The shirts with patterns, I’ll be like, “Yo, let me borrow that one.” He’s good in challenges, he’ll be fun to be around. Adam Klein…a newer winner…I don’t know how ready he is. I love him to death, but I don’t know where he will fall. I’m scared for Adam. Ethan…look at Ethan! Ethan doesn’t look like he did when he played. That’s not to take anything away from him. I’d like to work with him. And, he seems like a good, nice guy. I’m very close with Davie (Rickenbach) and Davie and Nick are besties. Nick…I want to be able to work with him, but I think there will be a point where he’ll want to backstab me. As two of the more recent winners, maybe we can get some of the older people out of here. Ben…I’ve always liked Ben. Ben found a lot of idols and it’s scary to play with someone who can find a lot of idols. You never know what they’ll be hiding. To me, Ben seems like a good, genuine person. It’s hard to say he’s someone I can beat, he’s a war hero.

Holmes: OK, of these nine, give me four people you’ll work with and five people you’ll avoid.

Holland: Jeremy is going to want to work with Tony, Rob, and Tyson. Jeremy likes meat shields. But, I want to work with Jeremy because that’s my boy. I’m going to find a way to work with Yul. He’s smart. Nick and Ben, I’m going to work with them too.

Holmes: Alright, why aren’t we working with these five?

Holland: I’m going to be cool with Tony. But, like I said, I don’t know where Adam’s head is. I’m not sure how hard he’s willing to play. You might want to sit next to him in the end. Tyson is a scary player. He’s unpredictable. Rob, I don’t know how hard he’s going to play. Like you said, I don’t know if he’s playing with the house’s money. If he’s playing hard, he’s scary. And I’ve never seen him not play hard. I could work with Ethan, but I feel like he might be out pre-merge. Sad to say. Knock on wood. I could be out pre-merge. (Wendell knocks on a plastic table.)

Holmes: That’s not wood.

Holland: (Laughs)

Holmes: Aren’t you a carpenter?

Holland: Knock on plastic. And finally, Tony, I’m going to work with him. I feel like I can almost tell when he’s lying. There’s something about him, I’ll work with him to get rid of some big threats.

Holmes: OK, of your top four, who is your ride or die?

Holland: I have a bond with Jeremy. It’s like a big brother, but I know I need to get you out of there. You can’t be my ride or die. And, I think there will be a point where he tries to get me. So, my ride or die might be Ben. I’ve only met him once. I have more connections to Nick or Jeremy, but there’s something about Ben that I like.

Holmes: And of your bottom five, who’s the first out?

Holland: I’ll say…the first one out is Adam.

Holmes: You’ve mentioned a few times that he doesn’t seem prepared. What’s giving you that impression?

Holland: Maybe it’s just the person that Adam is. He just seems a little aloof. I’m locked in. I’m ready to go right now. Maybe it’s because some other people are used to competing a lot and maybe Adam doesn’t play rec leagues or maybe he didn’t play football in high school. I don’t know what it is. He doesn’t look like he’s ready to go out there and kill people.


Holmes: You’re out here with some legitimate legends. And that comes with time. Ten years from now, Wendell the legend, two-time winner. Is there any concern that hero worship could come into play or does someone’s legacy inspire you to take them out?

Holland: The season before season 40 is called “Island of the Idols” and season 40 should be all winners. That’s such an exclusive group of Survivors. There are certain people that just belong on Mount Rushmore. There are certain people in pre-game, I was nervous to sit at the same table as Rob. But then I think about seasons where you have a mix of returnees and newbies. The newbies should be smart enough to gun at the returnees. We’re newbies to this returnee game, but we’ve won this game. We’ve did a little something something. We know how to play this. We should gun at some of these Rushmore cats and get them out of here early. I think some people are going to be nervous and scared to make that move.


Holmes: On the other hand, you’ve played the more modern game and some of the Rushmore crew hasn’t. How will that come into play?

Holland: I think that’s a double-edged sword. If you’re a more modern winner, they just saw you. You’re fresh in their minds. But, you also know to look for idols. You know how to look, you know where to look. Keep your eyes open, look for landmarks. You understand the advantages, you have to call audibles, you have to be adaptable. Whereas, some of those players only know the old-school game with strict allegiance to alliances.


Holmes: If an alien landed which scene would you show them to prove to them that “Survivor” is awesome?

Holland: A cool moment would be “David vs. Goliath,” the five-hour challenge between Hubicki and Alec (Merlino). It’s like, in the game of “Survivor” you don’t know who’s going to be good at what with these weird circus-like challenges. And you have this guy, who’s a challenge beast Alec, and you have this nerdy guy Christian. And at this particular challenge, Christian was holding his own. An alien would say, “Clearly this strong guy is going to beat him and win this whole game.” But then when you think about the complexities of “Survivor,” Christian was the biggest threat on the island. And what’s weird is, he didn’t make any big moves up until them. People just looked at him and labeled him as such.


Holmes: If Jeff let you pick a twist, what would you request?

Holland: It’d be the twist that nobody likes. Last season…

Holmes: The Edge of Extinction?

Holland: Yes, because if they vote me off, I’ll just keep winning my way back into the game.

Holmes: Now I don’t like you either.

Holland: (Laughs)


Holmes: OK, I’ll give you a reason someone could use to target you. You argue against it.

Holland: Got it.

Holmes: Wendell is a challenge machine. He’s so confident that he doesn’t even call Jeff over to check to see if he won.

Holland: What about Tyson and Jeremy and Ethan and Yul? There are other challenge threats out here. Let’s get them first.


Holmes: The guy’s too likable. Who doesn’t love Wendell? I’m not facing him in the end.

Holland: You’re right. (Laughs) No…it’s not about likability right now. We’re playing against “Boston” Rob and Tyson and Jeremy. These players they’re strategists and they are sharks out here. We need to get rid of them first before we worry about who’s likable.


Holmes: Wendell promised he’d make a cornhole set for the “Ghost Island” beach. Never happened, can’t trust the guy.

Holland: But…what I did was make a few other games that were more fun. I had the Ghost Islanders and production playing throughout the season. So, I didn’t make a cornhole set, but I made other things.

Holmes: What did you make?

Holland: There was like a ringtoss thing. Dom said that he went to a bar or something and they had it in the waiting area. There’s a ring, and it’s weighted, and you stand back fifteen feet and you kind of throw it. And if it lands on a nail, you win. I made something like that.

Holmes: I stand corrected.

Holland: We’d look over and see production playing that game.

Holmes: Back to work, guys!

Holland: Yeah. It’s not for y’all!


Don’t miss the premiere of “Survivor: Winners at War” – Wednesday, February 12, 2020 at 8 pm ET.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @GordonHolmes