QUICK NOTE: The good folks at XFINITY sent me deep into the Fijian wilderness to bring you an exclusive look at “Survivor: Game Changers.” While I was there I conducted interviews with “Survivor” host Jeff Probst and the entire 20-person cast. I also captured exclusive photos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. So, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.
Name: Debbie Wanner
Hometown: Reading, PA
Previously Played On:
“Survivor: Kaoh Rong” – Finished 9th and Jury Member
Best Known For: Nursing Aubry back to health.
Gordon Holmes: In your bio you say you’re much more aware of how people can see and hear the same conversation or event and have wildly different opinions on it. Is that based on something that happened in Kaoh Rong or in your personal life?
Debbie Wanner: In life in general I’ve long been fascinated by…let’s take a Supreme Court decision. Nine people hear a case and they’re split five/four. Most major landmark decisions are split five/four. So, even people that I consider to be intelligent, educated, erudite…can have very differing opinions. What surprised me the most out of “Survivor: Kaoh Rong” was how nobody thought they were edited fairly. They did not think that their depiction was even a 60% accurate portrayal of themselves. So, that was a surprise. I, however, thought I was an accurate portrayal. I am kooky, or eccentric if you will. And that’s cool.
Holmes: You are one of four people who is here from Kaoh Rong.
Holmes: Is that a positive or a negative?
Wanner: For me, it’s neither. That’s because everybody here knows a great deal about everybody else. We all know each other’s names without being told, so everybody is going to know that Aubry and I are not a couple. (Laughs) Aubry doesn’t trust me and I don’t trust her. It’s a race to see who takes out who first. We’ll pretend we like each other, but it’s B.S. all the way. If there’s any issues with who is going to be perceived as a couple, it’s going to be Caleb and Tai. They had a bromance that was brutally interrupted by Caleb going into shock, heat stroke.
Holmes: Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you say you had wished you’d put on some weight before you came out here?
Wanner: (Laughs) You don’t hear this often, but gaining weight is not easy for me.
Holmes: I hate you so much.
Holmes: I look at food and gain weight.
Wanner: (Laughs) I did gain a couple of pounds more, but not as much as I wanted to. It’s OK. I’m a lean, mean, efficient machine. I’m a diesel motor. It takes a lot less fuel for me to get by then some of these 200-pound guys. When I get up in the morning I start working out, it’s my stress reliever. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t chew my fingernails. The way to make me feel balanced is push-ups, sit-ups, and running. So, I’m certainly not going to stop that. It keeps me feeling sane. Well, I feel I’m sane, anyway. I don’t go for junk like donuts. Why do you want to put that crap in your body?
Holmes: Cause it tastes so goooood.
Wanner: (Laughs) OK, I don’t look at it that way. I look at it like I’m putting crap in my body. So, I didn’t gain as much weight as I’d like, but I am three pounds heavier than Kaoh Rong.
Holmes: How do you feel you’ve changed the game?
Wanner: I thought my game change was instant. It was being approached by Aubry who was having a total psychological meltdown. We called in Probst, we called in the doctor. She wanted to quit. It was day one. And this went on for three days. I was approached by other members of the Brains tribe who said, “Let her quit. It takes us one step closer to a million dollars.” And I said, “You know, if your daughter, your sister, your wife…whoever you care about, would you really want somebody to rip them apart? To have them return to normal life devastated? Cowering in a corner thinking, ‘Why did I even try?’” I didn’t want that to happen to Aubry. My game changer was keeping her around so she could firmly insert a knife into my back and take me out.
Wanner: That was my game change! Et tu, Brute?
Holmes: When I heard the title, I was wondering if it meant people who were going to change their game the second time around. Are you going to change your approach?
Wanner: Yeah, the biggest thing, my daughter wrote me a note to remind me, and I knew it the first time I just didn’t stick with it; I’m just a Captain. And I’m only a Captain in the Air Force Auxiliary. That is not active duty. That is the volunteer branch of the Air Force who gets dispatched for search and rescue. I’m a Captain, there are Colonels, there are Generals, there are Majors. And when I played this game the first time, I did want that cohesive unit. And I loved the Brains. Nobody had a plan. When we lost the first time I had to come up with the plan. And I don’t want to be the person that comes to you and says, “OK Gordon, here’s the plan. Blah blah blah blah blah.” This time I want to come to you and say, “Gordon, what do you want to do?” And we’ll talk and I’ll say, “I think we should take out Big Sierra, Little Ciera, or Tony.” So, now I’ve given you choices to make. I’m not being dictatorial. I’m giving you an idea because you don’t have one. I’m going to be more diplomatic.
Holmes: It’s like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book.
Wanner: Yeah. (Laughs)
Holmes: What do you think of this cast?
Wanner: I love the cast! I adore 50% of these people. They’re people I’ve long admired. Ozzy, I respect Tony, I liked Brad Culpepper. He got a bum rap the first time around. Cirie has a great personality…the girl from 33…
Wanner: Michaela. Fit, pleasant, smart, clean, I make these little subtle observations. Some of these people I’m surprised that they’re back. Other people, you can let them play from here until the show ends as far as I’m concerned, like Ozzy. (Laughs) JT! Good guys.
Holmes: Anyone you’re looking forward to working with?
Wanner: To my astonishment…I am drawn to Tony the cop and Brad. Simply because I saw Brad be polite. Not even for one of us, he opened the door for a woman. And, I saw Tony picking up trash that would’ve otherwise been sucked up into the ocean and taking it to a trash can. And these are the little things that make me think; I don’t care if other people say you’re a wanker, a liar, you’re a backstabber…you just kept plastic from going into the ocean and you were just a gentleman. I like that.
Holmes: My wife, long before she was my wife, and I were going for a walk in a park. She had a water bottle that she was looking to throw away. She walked into the woods for a second, and I was horrified because I thought she was just going to toss the bottle away. And I’m thinking, “Oh, if she just litters…this might be a deal breaker.” Fortunately, she came back out with the bottle, she had just gone in to smell a flower.
Wanner: Oh, thank goodness.
Holmes: It’s how you act when you don’t know anyone is paying attention.
Wanner: Yes! It’s a reflection of your larger character. If you opened a door for a woman who isn’t going to be in the game, you have no reason to impress her, you don’t know that anybody is watching. You’re a gentleman. I liked it.
Holmes: Do you have any early targets?
Wanner: OK Gordon, here it is. Aubry can’t trust me. I can’t trust her. I don’t care how nice she wants to make it be, I know Aubry. And I know Aubry is Woody-Allen neurotic. And what goes through her head is like a chess match. I screwed Debbie over big time and I made fun of her because she went to Julia. But, then I went to Julia and I orchestrated her blindside. And not only did I orchestrate it, but I tried to blame somebody else. And Debbie saw it all play out on TV. So, Aubry can’t trust me. I can’t trust her. I will not target her initially because she’s a strong girl, she’s a smart girl. And I genuinely like her as a human being. But, I know that she’s targeting me.
Holmes: What’s your relationship like with Tai?
Wanner: I adore Tai. There is something hysterical here, which is Troyzan, Tai, and myself are all wearing turtle necklaces. Tai knew that I have rescued tortoises because Aubry told him. I love that Tai is vegan, we’re both very athletic, and I think the change this time is that Tai and I will work together. We have so much in common. It just didn’t happen the last time because he decided to go with the big, bad boys.
Holmes: I know you and Caleb were never on the same tribe, but what is your relationship like with him?
Wanner: I think we have a special relationship because he saw me go down. Then I saw him go down far worse. I adore him. I know he’s Christian, I know he’s military. I have the utmost respect for him. And, say what you want about “Survivor,” it’s not climbing Mount Everest, but it takes balls to come out here. And when you almost die, and that kid, make no mistake about it…look…there wasn’t an ER out there. There was a medical bag. That helicopter took 45 minutes to get there at least. I applaud him for having the ability to come back out and try it again.
Holmes: I’m going to give you some reasons people might use to turn others against you. I need you to defend against them.
Wanner: That’s very creative, Gordon!
Holmes: I had a long flight to come up with all of this. Alright, Debbie is so good at puzzles. I don’t want her to sweep puzzle challenges after the merge.
Wanner: After the merge, your big problem is going to be these men. You have men here who could take Spartacus down. So, you better stop and think, mental ability is nothing after the merge. It’s brute force. Take one of the brute force guys now when you have a chance.
Holmes: Debbie was a member of the Brains tribe. Smart people have gotta go.
Wanner: Debbie is so smart that Aubry blindsided her and took her out. Maybe Aubry’s a little bit smarter. We should look at her. She blindsided so many people that she only got two votes in the end.
Holmes: There are four people here from Debbie’s season. You know they’re close. Gotta sends some of them packing.
Wanner: Within that group, two people can’t stand each other. We saw that on the show. One is being chased by a gay guy trying to kiss him and he just married a gorgeous young girl. That bromance needs to be broken apart. The relationships that are more cohesive and need to be broken up are whoever and whoever, even if I have to make them up.
Holmes: Debbie on TV is kooky Debbie. But Debbie in person is really likable. I don’t want to face her at final Tribal. Let’s boot her tonight.
Wanner: Why don’t you shut the (expletive deleted) up! (Laughs)
Wanner: You’re a dumb ass! Screw you! (Laughs)
Holmes: Well played.
Holmes: There are two unknown quantities with the duo from season 33. What do you do with that?
Wanner: I give them both a chance. A blank slate. Zeke is not physically fit. He’s going to be socially awkward, but that’s OK. He gets every chance in the book with me until I hear him whispering my name. Michaela, I’d love to work with that girl.
Holmes: Are you a part of any pre-season alliances? Have you heard any rumors?
Wanner: (Laughs) Pre-season alliances…I think that Hali and tall Sierra are going to go together because they had time at the reunion together. I would also think that Tai and I will go together. We’ve become closer. I think that every two people who have played a season together have the potential. However, let’s take Malcolm and Andrea who played together. If I needed to, I would persuade Malcolm that she is the reason he didn’t get an idol. So, for every reason people have to be cohesive, I can find a way to drive a wedge between them.
Holmes: You’re in lockdown now, but there’s winking and smiles…
Wanner: Yeah, but I’m not doing it.
Holmes: Who’ve you caught doing it?
Wanner: Is this really confidential?
Holmes: I do not mess around with the sanctity of this game.
Holmes: What you say here stays here until next winter.
Wanner: Here’s what’s going on…I pick a strategic spot in the room, then I make myself invisible. I pretend like I’m sleeping. But really I have something over my face and I’m watching everybody. Tony and Sarah can’t stand each other. They’re both cops and had a shaky bond and Tony screwed her over. She has not forgiven him. She has not said one word. She has not picked up his plate, you drop something and someone picks it up? Nope. Little nods here? Nope. They’re going down the same path and she moves away from him. So, Sarah is out for Tony’s ass. Hali and Sarah have made a connection. Whenever they think nobody is looking they have a little bit of chit-chat. Which is cool. Two girls that I think I can work with and I like them both. Aubry has isolated herself and will make eye contact with nobody. She goes to the bathroom and if somebody else is in there, there are two separate stalls. She won’t even go in one of the stalls, she turns around and she walks out. Cirie is doing the same thing. They’re not communicating with anybody. And that’s at their own peril. And I was reading a book and somebody had written a note in it. It said, “Don’t judge me by my past, judge me moving forward. P.S. I read some of your book, it’s the best book out here. –B.” Now, there’s only one person who’s B out here and that’s Brad. For whatever reason, Brad is drawn to me and I am drawn to Brad. This is totally platonic, totally professional. I loved his wife, I love that he has his wife’s name tattooed on his arm. He’s a football player, now he’s a lawyer. And he’s a trial lawyer. Me and Brad…we have brought Tony into our group. Why? Tony is probably in the best shape. He’ll cut anybody’s throat, so we keep him till the merge. Tony has sought us out, probably because other people are shunning him. That’s what’s going on. Who else is close…JT jokes with everybody. Ozzy has been very friendly to me and Malcolm has shaken my hand twice. Just like reached out and did little things here. But, they’re probably doing it with everybody. Me, Tony, and Brad already have a threesome. Knowing who their enemies are makes me feel good.
Holmes: Game changer!
Wanner: (Laughs) The game starts when we get to the hotel before we even see each other. We stay clear of each other. But when we get a few seconds we give little hand motions. They want to bring in this one, they want to bring in that one.
Holmes: Any twist predictions?
Wanner: I think there are going to be even more epic twists. It’ll be the usual, the mix-up of the people. I expect to see the extra-vote again. There will be idols, they can’t live without idols. I’m expecting something dramatic like a Redemption Island, maybe.
Holmes: Alright, in this deck of cards are seventeen of your opponents. Zeke and Michaela aren’t in here because we don’t know them. I’ll hand you three cards at random. You tell me who you’ll vote out first, who you’ll work with but eliminate, and who you’ll take to the end.
Round One: Hali, Ozzy, and Troyzan
Wanner: You’re the most original. You deserve a raise. I’ve been through 150 interviews and this guy is the best. I’m not just saying that because you’re from Pennsylvania.
Holmes: Sinking Springs, PA represent.
Wanner: OK…Ozzy’s going with me to the end. Hali is gone and Troyzan I can work with. Hali is physically and mentally weak. Couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag. Too sweet. Troyzan is adaptable and older. He can relate to me. Ozzy…why would you get rid of this man unless you’re a corpse. I don’t care if I’m married, I’m not dead. This man can climb a tree like a chimp.
Holmes: How do you beat him at final three?
Wanner: I don’t care if I lose to Ozzy. He’s a good guy.
Round Two: Tai, Aubry, and Sierra
Wanner: This one’s easy, Aubry? Et tu, brute? This is a toughie…Sierra I’m taking to the end. Decent human being, loves horses, I can work with this girl. Tai, I can work with. We both have turtle necklaces.
Round Three: Jeff, Andrea, and Caleb
Wanner: Andrea’s out of here. This girl thinks she’s on a Playboy shoot. She has a bag of makeup as big as my bag of clothing. She’s worried about her hair, her makeup, and her jewelry. Nobody gives a (expletive deleted). Caleb I can work with, but wouldn’t take to the end because he’s got a sympathy vote. This guy I can’t beat. He deserves a million dollars from Cambodia. Love him. Jeff I can work with. Again, the older thing. This guy is a crackpot. We can goof off and have a good time together. Nobody’s giving him a million dollars because he doesn’t have the strategic chops to pull off blindsides.
Round Four: Ciera, Brad, and Sandra
Wanner: Ciera’s gone in a heartbeat. She’s narcissistic, she is really into herself. She’s made no friends around camp. She’s self-absorbed, clueless, I don’t think she’s going far this time. Physical, mental, nothing. Sandra I’m not taking to the end just because; why chance fate? I don’t know what it is about her that she’s won twice. I’m staring at her trying to figure it out. I can’t. She couldn’t run a mile, much less a half marathon. You have no muscle tone, your cellulite is the biggest part of your body. You’re not friendly, fuzzy, lovable, nothing. I don’t get it. But I’d work with her. I’ll take Brad to the end because most people find him abrasive. NFL player, now he’s a lawyer…what do you hate more than a rich lawyer?
Round Five: Tony, JT, and Sarah
Wanner: This is the hardest one. I’ve gotta get rid of JT because it’d be really good to have Tony and Sarah around who have animosity between each other. So, as much as I love JT…he chews tobacco and he’s already won, so he’s out of here. I want to take Tony to the end. And I want to work with Sarah. Wait, I’ll switch that. I’ll take Sarah to the end because Tony’s not voting for this girl.
Holmes: Two left; work with one and vote out the other.
Round Six: Cirie and Malcolm
Wanner: Cirie is gone. I don’t even know why she’s here. If she was really stranded on an island, she wouldn’t last 24 hours. I’ve never seen her get the food, I’ve never seen her get the water. I could be wrong, but I don’t think she’d last a day out here. Malcolm, fun…good…fit…cool to be around. Great hair, good smile.
Don’t miss the two-hour season premiere of “Survivor: Game Changers,” Wednesday March 8, 2017 at 8 p.m. ET.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes