She never saw it coming. Despite confidence in her seemingly solid six-way alliance, Debbie Wanner became the latest castaway to have her torch snuffed in a Survivor: Game Changers blindside. In our one-on-one interview with Debbie, she discussed her close relationship with Brad and revealed the real reason she verbally snapped at him earlier this season. She also explained why she had doubts about returning to play Survivor for a second time and talked about hate from viewers who are angry she voted Ozzy out.
SK: You were genuinely surprised to be voted out, so what did you think was actually going to happen?
DW: I thought Andrea was going to go home. It was simple. We were going to vote out Andrea. She was a physical beast. I don’t remember who had originally wanted her gone, but for whatever reason, it was Andrea.
SK: Before getting eliminated, you were very confident in your six-way alliance. That group included Brad Culpepper, who is somebody you clashed with early on in the season. What evolved in your relationship with Brad that made you two such tight allies?
DW: Nothing really evolved. Our alliance was from the get-go. That was because I have a tremendous amount of respect for Monica Culpepper [Brad’s wife and a previous Survivor contestant]. I could relate to her because she was the old woman, thin, and people called her a goat. When she made it to the final three of her season, the jury grilled her. They were horrible to her. I really felt for Monica and could identify with her. I thought she did a fabulous job. I actually called Brad “Mr. Monica Culpepper.” When Brad played, back on Season 27, I could never quite understand why he was so despised. I thought I was missing something. I know it’s heavily edited, but I liked this guy. He’s smart and a hard worker. I wanted to align with him because I just felt like there was something not right about him being edited as this nefarious bad guy.
SK: But what about the moments we saw you angrily yelling at him on the beach?
DW: Even in spite of all that inflated drama, I believe in his heart Brad knew I was acting. I always told him, “I don’t ever want to come across like you and I are as closely aligned as we are.” I needed people to continue to tell me when they wanted Brad out. That is exactly why Ozzy left — because he wanted Brad out. Ozzy and I had a long conversation, and when I asked him who he wanted gone, the first person he said was Brad Culpepper. Of course I immediately went back and told Brad. Even though it appeared to the general public that Brad and I had this on-the-outs relationship, I was never throwing Brad under the bus. It was largely inflated and blown out of proportion on my part. Somebody should’ve given me a Snickers bar because, apparently, I desperately needed one from PMS or something. My actions were partially because I needed people to feel comfortable to tell me when Brad was the target. To do that, they had to believe that I was ready to throw him under the bus.
SK: So your angry outburst was an act?
DW: Well, it was an inflated act. Was there part of me that was pissed at him? Yeah, but not to that degree. It’s a tough game with pressure at so many different levels that people forget to take into account. The 24/7 provocation, deprivation and starvation made me a little cranky. But it didn’t mean I was gonna throw him under the bus, because I wasn’t.
SK: When Ozzy was eliminated, you posted on Facebook asking viewers to lighten up and realize it’s just a game. I’m assuming you were getting backlash for voting him out. What were fans saying to you?
DW: I don’t spend a lot of time reading it, but the few that I did were like, “We love Ozzy. Ozzy is a legend. Ozzy was ripped off again and deserved to win.” Well, you know what? Everybody who plays Survivor deserves a million dollars. It’s that tough, grueling and difficult. It’s a game. The game is to eliminate your opponent. Just like I’ve been taken out, Ozzy was taken out. That’s the game. That’s the way it goes. I understand Ozzy has a huge, probably largely female, fan base with great hair. I like Ozzy, too, I really do. Just like I have no hard feelings about being taken out of the game, people should recognize it for what it is: a game with the objective to be the last man or woman standing.
SK: Is there anybody still in the competition who you don’t believe deserves to win?
DW: I can’t say that because it is so tough mentally and physically playing Survivor that, in my opinion, everybody deserves at least six figures — if not seven — for just going through the highs, lows and lows. I think everybody deserves a million dollars, quite frankly. All of us.
SK: Going into this season, what was your strategy on day one?
DW: It was to try to find one or two people I felt like I could put some faith in. Preferably, a strong guy that I could use as a shield and work to protect. To some degree, I did that.
SK: When you found out the theme of this season was Game Changers, was there any added pressure for you to live up to that status?
DW: Yes. Yes. Yes. Everything is in a name. If your name were Winston Churchill, wouldn’t you feel like you had big boots to fill? What if your name were Elton John and you can’t play piano for crap? Yeah, everybody wants to make big moves. Plus, you’re playing with such good, experienced players. If we were on a poker circuit, these are the professional poker players. These are the people winning the jackpot, and there’s 20 of them. Yes, extra pressure.
SK: What was your reaction when CBS asked you to play again?
DW: My contact there called me and asked me to go out to L.A. I was like, “Oh, my God.” That heatstroke episode from Cambodia was bad. That was really bad. It was like, “Can’t I do The Amazing Race instead?” I threw some names out there for The Amazing Race that I think got some consideration. But in the end, if you can play a game for a 1 in 20 chance at a million dollars, would you play the game? For me, it’s still a life-changing amount of money. I guess that’s what it ultimately came down to. I’m not a lottery ticket buyer, but these are really good odds.
SK: Would you play again?
DW: Maybe if I could bring some love along. The hardest part is not getting the love and just knowing you can never truly trust anybody. I would like to do Blood vs. Water 3.