Although his deep voice could shake the shores in Fiji, Will Wahl left some Survivor fans thinking he was quiet and a weak strategist. But not so fast. This 18-year-old, who just so happens to be the youngest castaway ever, explained in our one-on-one interview that he was playing more strategically than anybody realized. He claimed his plan was strong enough that he believed he had a real shot at winning it all. Plus, find out where his classmates thought Will went when he left high school to secretly compete on Survivor. Now studying at Ohio State University, Will also discussed how he barricaded himself in a room during last month’s knife attack on campus.
SheKnows: Walk us through your elimination. Was it a true surprise or did you sense it was coming?
Will Wahl: It definitely was somewhat of a surprise. I had this bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was a little off, but my arrogance got in the way of that. I really thought, “I’ve got this. I’m good.” On the way to Tribal Council, things started feeling weird. Kind of this weird feeling that something was about to happen, like a flight-or-fight response.
SK: When you were sitting at that Tribal Council, did you think you were going to win the whole show?
WW: I thought I definitely had a good shot. I think voting off Zeke helped build up my résumé and made it so I had something to go off of if I got to the final three. I thought this pendulum strategy I worked up where I would go back and forth between alliances, that it would end up working and I could get to the end and win. Arrogance had blinded me to the fact that people were working to try to get me out.
SK: What was your end-game strategy? Who did you want to go to the final three with?
WW: I wanted to go to the final three with Bret and Sunday. I definitely think I could’ve beaten them. Another backup option would’ve been Hannah or Adam. I think I could’ve beaten them as well. That would’ve been my ideal final five, and then I could pick and choose whoever I wanted to be in the final three. I figured I would have it on lock if I made it to the final five with them.
SK: You had some tough critics who said you weren’t really a strategic player. What’s your response?
WW: I was playing the entire time. I was playing a very subtle, middle-of-the-road kind of game. I wasn’t making these big, tri-force alliances or I wasn’t hooking up in a showmance. I wasn’t doing things that would maybe get on TV, but I was definitely working behind the scenes to set myself up for the merge. I was creating bonds with people like Jay that I could use down the road.
Not everything is seen. Not everything is shown. To be honest, my game was a very subtle game. A lot of it goes unseen. A lot of my game was social and the dynamic of how I conducted myself around people. That’s not something you can see tangibly on TV. Unless you see every second of the game, you’re not gonna be able to get a sense of the connections that I was able to build out there. You can’t really see that unless you’re experiencing it. For the people who doubt I was playing the game, I was playing the game. I just wasn’t playing the crazy game I played the last two episodes. I was playing a very subtle, under-the-radar kind of game for most of it.
SK: If you had made it to the final Tribal Council, what was your winning argument going to be for the jury?
WW: I would point to the subtleties of the game, like the fact I did blow up Jay’s Idol. I would’ve used the fact that I’ve won Immunity challenges. I was a player who ended up voting out Zeke, making big moves and turning on people. I would have also buttered the jury up a bit. I would say things like, “It’s been great playing with you guys.” Little subtle things like that can go a long way. Another thing a lot of players don’t really do in the game is make eye contact. When I first got on the jury, everybody was talking about eye contact. It was a huge thing. A lot of players, especially myself, don’t really give eye contact to the jury. That’s something that’s huge. If you give eye contact when you’re speaking with somebody, they feel like you’re giving them respect. That can go a long way in the game.
SK: You proudly owned the title of youngest Survivor contestant ever, but did that recognition start getting old?
WW: I think in the beginning it was definitely an advantage. People were not gonna vote out the 18-year-old kid, especially on the Millennials tribe. They didn’t view me as a threat, but my age quickly turned into a disadvantage later on in the game because I felt like the jury didn’t respect me. A lot of other people in the game didn’t see my game as something that is worthy of $1 million. It became this thing where, “He’s just an 18-year-old kid. He can’t play Survivor.” It had this whole stigma that young kids are ignorant and they don’t understand life. That young kids need somebody older than them to lead and teach them.
SK: Being a high school student at the time you were selected, how did that process work?
WW: I left school between March and May. They were fine with it. I was able to graduate on time and everything ended up working out. It definitely was difficult making up that [class] work when I got back.
SK: Since you have to keep it a secret you’re leaving to be on Survivor, what did your classmates think happened to you?
WW: I heard all kinds of different rumors. I heard stuff that I moved and going with a family to another country. I heard all kinds of crazy rumors and stories. None of them were true, obviously. But there were a few people who knew how big of a fan I was of Survivor. They were like, “I think this kid is probably just on Survivor.” Yeah. They were right.
SK: What was the reaction like when other students found out you were on the show?
WW: It spread like wildfire. People found the spoiler sites that listed my name, and everybody was freaking out. It was a very positive reaction. A lot of people were very excited for me. I started talking to people I didn’t even know were Survivor fans that I had been friends with for years. It really is a crazy thing just to grow closer together with people over a reality TV show.
SK: How did you get on the show?
WW: I applied on video using the CBS site. I ended up just being very overly confident, very borderline arrogant. I carried myself in a way that other teenagers don’t carry themselves. CBS saw something in that. The producers were like, “Wait. This kid is a little different.” They took my confidence as something they could use on the show and I ended up getting on.
SK: Throughout the game, you were very tight with Jay. What was it about him that made you two connect so strongly?
WW: Jay and I had kind of like this brotherly bond. Early on, we would be the ones staying up late to tend the fire and talk about life. I really misjudged him. I really looked at him as somebody who was this popular kid and full of himself. He’s really very down-to-earth, very humble, very kind and compassionate. He has a lot of good qualities you would want in somebody in a game like Survivor. He’s somebody you could trust. I saw that early on, and Jay saw something in me that he liked, so the two of us paired up and worked together throughout the game.
SK: Looking at the final six castaways, do you feel there are still people in the competition who don’t deserve to win?
WW: I think everyone can be worthy of the $1 million. Your jury speech, in the end, can win over a few votes. I don’t feel like anyone is out of the running. I feel like a lot of people when they’re first voted out get this bitter feeling that nobody deserves to win. I personally believe that anyone in this game can win. To think somebody can’t is to underestimate them, and that is a very dangerous thing to do.
SK: Strange question for you. I apologize in advance for this one. I just have to ask it. Why did you constantly wear your knee-high socks while walking around the beach instead of going barefoot like everybody else?
WW: [Laughs.] Yeah, I mean, I don’t know. I had a lot of bug bites on my legs, so I feel like the socks kind of prevented me from scratching at the bug bites and causing scars. I feel like a lot of times, too, that I didn’t want to step on rocks. I don’t really know what was running through my head. I’ve watched some clips of me wearing the knee-high socks wondering what I was thinking. Those are some possible explanations for what was going through my head.
SK: So you’re attending Ohio State University?
SK: Are you getting recognized on campus?
WW: Yeah, I actually am. A lot of people have recognized me. Just recently, in fact, I was recognized. It’s the craziest thing. There are so many fans no matter where you go across the country. I get recognized at football games a lot too. It’s just crazy to think that there’s so many fans wherever you go.
SK: Here’s a question unrelated to the game. Your campus recently made global headlines for the attack that happened last month. Were you there when it happened?
WW: I actually was. My class was about a block away. I was right outside the area where it was happening. We saw a lot of cop cars. I was right in that area where all the things were going on. We ended up going into a safe room and barricading all the doors and everything. We were OK, but it was a scary situation.
Do you think Will’s subtle strategy would have been enough to win the game had he made it to the final three? Let us know in the comments.
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