If this season is all about the “old school vs. new school,” then the old school definitely just suffered a major blow. Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Cambodia” had us embracing Fishbach’s “voting bloc,” sending a long-time fan favorite to the jury.
Don’t read this if you haven’t yet seen the most recent episode. Get caught up on Episode 9 here.
Yes, this week we have to say goodbye to Kelly Wiglesworth, one of the most famous Survivors ever to play the game. She was an original cast member on the season that started it all, finishing second by only one vote to Richard Hatch, a name that now lives in Reality TV infamy. That season, she was a challenge beast, and she pretty much won her way to the Final Two despite being Hatch’s target for several weeks.
15 years had passed since then, and the game that actually takes place out on the island is a far cry from what it once was. We knew Kelly would have to adapt. When Wiglesworth’s name was announced among the finalists for the fan-vote this season, she was pretty much the only guaranteed lock, a player that all of us were clamoring to see play again. We all wondered how she would do in a game that she helped put on the map, but that was now a much more complicated, cutthroat game than she could have ever probably envisioned.
And to be honest, it was somewhat of a disappointing second chance for fans, who wanted them some Kelly Wiglesworth. She was inexplicably given little screen time for great stretches of episodes, and all we could do is assume that this meant she wasn’t involved in much strategy. We saw flashes of her physical dominance in challenges, but we saw very little strategy from her…probably not enough to gauge really what her strategy even was. But she was clearly a threat to win, and that’s why she was blindsided. She is a Survivor legend, probably the one player out there that other players were in awe of from the start. As it was mentioned last night, she was on-point with her social game, worked hard at camp, and would have been an ideal person to vote for and give a million dollars to…not just to right the wrong of her Season 1 runner-up status, but to reward an old-schooler who would have somehow navigated her way to the end of a new school game, without giving in or changing who she was along the way.
But Kelly’s second chance fell way short, and her torch was snuffed for the very first time on Survivor. She enters uncharted territory as well, now sitting on the jury with a vote to give someone else the prize. What sort of game-play does Kelly value? Was she a fan of Survivor all of this time?
I had a chance to talk with Kelly today about all of those questions and more. Here is the transcript:
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: Hey Kelly great to talk with you!
Kelly Wiglesworth: You too, thanks!
Tom Santilli: So being on the original season of Survivor, I was curious as to what your relationship has been like with the show in the 15 years since you’ve been on last. Did you remain a fan of Survivor all these years? How aware were you of how the game had changed from the time you played?
Kelly: You know, it was something that I did 15 years ago that was awesome, obviously it was a popular experience because it’s still going on. But I never kept up with the show or with any of the players, or any of that. I sort of heard about it and what was going on through my mom and friends and family who could probably be considered super-fans, so that’s how I stuck with it.
Tom Santilli: But I know that some contestants from Season 1 – Colleen Haskill comes to mind – really wanted nothing to do with Survivor after they were on, and sort of had a backlash from the spotlight of it. Did you feel like that at all, and had you always wanted to come back to play again? How did your Second Chance come about?
Kelly: No, it wasn’t backlash, I just thought of this as something that I did. It was cool and awesome and amazing but it’s not going to define me as a person for the rest of my life. You know what I mean? Certainly it opened a lot of doors and gave me a lot of opportunities and I’m forever grateful for it. But I never hated on it, or despised it at all, it just didn’t become my life. 15 years later, I’ve moved on and have done a lot of different things with my life. My Second Chance was just a very weird experience how it came about. I had literally been talking to one of my sisters the night before and we sort of randomly got on the topic of Survivor, and we said wow, do you think they would ever call you to do it again? And if they did would you do it? And I said you know what, I just have a weird feeling that they’re going to ask me. And she was like really? Would you do it? And I said well yeah, I think I would. I just have this really weird feeling after not having played and not really ever wanting to. And then the very next day I opened my email and there it was. [CBS] was like hey, where are you? We can’t find you! You are not on social media and we don’t have a phone number. So that coincidence was just a little too weird, and I was like, OK, fine (laughs).
Tom Santilli: In all that time then, 15 years, CBS had never approached you to come back and play again?
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, there were several times. But it would just be…the timing wasn’t right, or I didn’t feel the need to do it at that point.
Tom Santilli: So last night, it was shown that you were pretty close with Joe out there. What was it about him that made the two of you bond? Is he the person that you would have wanted to sit next to at the end of the game? Who else were you close to and would have wanted to go to the end with?
Kelly: I had hoped to be sitting with Joe and probably Kimmi at the end. Yeah, I just felt a close connection with Joe. We just were sort of kindred spirits. We are similar people with similar interests and we just got each other. He’s a great guy and a very nice person. Good heart, good soul. But I definitely also felt close to Kimmi.
Tom Santilli: Being close to Joe, were you threatened at all by how much he was winning challenges out there and how big a threat he was? Was that ever a thought, that if you went to the end with him you might lose again?
Kelly: Clearly he was a threat at challenges. He was also very good socially, so I think he would have been able to win on both of those merits. And yeah that was something I thought about, but I would have been happy to go to the end with him, and maybe lost to him. But I would have been happy to have sat next to him, and I would have never written his name down.
Tom Santilli: Stephen Fishbach writes a Survivor blog for People.com and in it, he describes you as follows: “In the past few days, Wigles had also become strategic – almost too strategic, like she was overcompensating for the first few weeks.” What was he referring to there and do you agree with that assessment?
Kelly: No not necessarily. Everyone’s got to think strategy at some point. At that time it was definitely time to start thinking about what to do next. I wasn’t trying to take any leadership roles or really spearhead anything. That’s kind of interesting that he would say that. He was sort of the one who came to me trying to spearhead a smaller alliance, of him, myself and Joe.
Tom Santilli: You were blindsided last night. Who did you feel the most betrayed by at the time?
Kelly: Probably the vote that hurt the most was probably Jeremy. I wasn’t surprised that the three girls voted for me, I wasn’t surprised about Spencer at all. Fishbach I didn’t think he was going to vote against me, so that was a shock and sort of hurt. But Jeremy’s vote was a bit hurtful.
Tom Santilli: There was obviously a lot of talk this season about old school vs. new school Survivor game-play. How do you define “old-school” game-play? What is the major difference in your opinion?
Kelly: Basically I define old-school as people who take the actual survival aspect of the game a lot more seriously than the new-school players do. Old-school is like, let’s get some food, let’s build a shelter, let’s get a fire going. Let’s be strong as a team so we can win challenges and we don’t have to go to Council. The new-school thought is like, eh, we don’t need fire. We’re going to get flint from Jeff in a few days anyways. Eh, we don’t really need food, if we get hungry, Jeff is going to feed us, the game is going to feed us. I want to win challenges. Others are like let’s throw challenges so we can get people out right now. And that was very shocking.
Tom Santilli: And you are not just any old-school player, you are one of the iconic originals from Season 1. Did you feel a lot of pressure with that coming into the game? Like people would target you early because you’re a Survivor legend? Are you surprised at how far you made it?
Kelly: Yeah actually, I thought I would be the first one out and that nobody would let me get too far. Going as far as you go the first time, it’s really hard to go that far the second time. Everybody knows what you’re capable of. But it was funny being out there. You know there’s Spencer saying, I can’t believe I’m sitting here with Kelly Wiglesworth. So I was sort of surprised that people wanted to play with me. And wanted to see me play. But ultimately the further the game went along it was like, whoah, whoah, whoah, wait a minute. She’s going to win! (Laughs)
Tom Santilli: Well everyone I think was excited that you were going to be back on the show, but we were all sort of disappointed that you did not seem to get a lot of air-time this season. What do you attribute that to? And were you surprised at all about how little you were shown this season? What’re your thoughts?
Kelly: I’m not surprised at how I was portrayed, I was portrayed accurately. But yeah I was a little surprised that I didn’t get more air-time. But at the same time there was a lot of heavy drama going on among other people that definitely over-shadowed myself and some other people that I thought should have definitely been getting some more air-time. At the same time, I’m proud to not be a part of that drama, so that’s OK (laughs).
Tom Santilli: You were one vote short of becoming the first winner of Survivor. 15 years later, fans vote you back on to get a second chance at the game. Did you feel like you had anything to prove this time around, to yourself or to the audience?
Kelly: I definitely wanted to prove that I could go as far, and farther, to ultimately win. Especially after not having played for so long and sort of being out of touch for that long. I definitely wanted to prove that I could do it. And then part of me, being a new mom and all, I really wanted to prove to my son to just go out and do it. To set a good example for him. Saying yes to life and adventure and chances. And even if you fall on your face the first time, you get back up on your feet and dust yourself off. And maybe you fall a second time (laughs), and you have to get up and go dust yourself off again (laughs), and go for number three. But you know, just go for it. Don’t let anything define what you can and can’t do. And I knew it was hard, I sort of knew that I had the hardest game to play probably of anyone out there. And part of me was like well why play if you don’t think you can win? And I was fairly certain that no one else was going to let me win or get to the end. But I was like, you know what? Just try anyways.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday for another episode preview, full recap and instant analysis, and of course, the next exit interview, which because of Thanksgiving, may not post until the following Monday, Nov 30.
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