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James Lim Explains That Intense Survivor ‘Death Glare’

It’s being dubbed the “death glare.” James Lim’s elimination on Survivor: Ghost Island sparked the strongest reaction yet with a powerful stare nobody will soon forget. In our one-on-one interview with James, he revealed what was rushing through his mind in the moment his torch was snuffed. He also explained why Wendell Holland was his target and talked about his desires to compete on the Amazing Race.

SheKnows: You looked genuinely shocked when the votes fell against you. Was your elimination a true blindside, or did you have a sense it was coming?

James Lim: It wasn’t a blindside like a typical blindside. My shock was more the 4-1 result. I knew, obviously, ever since the swap happened, I was on the bottom whichever way you cut it. It wasn’t a true blindside, but I thought I had done a good job trying to flip Angela. My game plan was to stick with Michael and Angela to vote Desiree off. I think that was more or less where my reaction came from.

James Lim voted off Survivor: Ghost IslandImage: CBS

SK: That look on your face is definitely a memorable moment. What was going through your mind? Was that a look of anger?

JL: [Laughs.] It wasn’t a conscious thing for me, so I’m glad a lot of people are talking about it. There are now memes and GIFs about it, comparing it to Michaela’s reaction from Season 33. Jeff [Probst] told me after the game that he saw in my expression, in that two-second span, go from shock to anger to acceptance. I think that’s what happened. The look that I gave to Michael was more of, “You flipped on me.” People are calling it a death glare, but it wasn’t anything personal, obviously. It was more of me processing my game being over. I’m glad I went out with some kind of a memorable reaction.

SK: Michael has been a physical threat with a target on his back for most of the game. How did he get through another elimination? Why was it you instead of him?

JL: It happened exactly because of the way the swapped tribes ended up being. We have Kellyn, the mastermind of the Malolo swap strategy, literally just murdering Brendan and Stephanie Johnson. Then you have Michael, who basically was in survival mode for a long time. He swapped into the minority again with Kellyn. Basically, Kellyn told Michael, “You know you’re screwed. Come with me.” He really was swayed by that. Kellyn saw Michael as more of a number than a physical threat at that point. I had proven my loyalty to Malolo instead of showing a willingness to flip. All these factors ended up creating a perfect storm of things that made me the go-to target. It makes sense.

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SK: What’s your take on Michael today?

JL: He’s one of the savviest 18-year-olds I ever met in my life. Yes, the vote hurt, and it hurt to watch the whole thing play out again. But honestly, it’s a game. Outside of the game in real life, I love the guy as a friend and as a bro. He’s a great dude.

SK: Stephanie also said Kellyn is playing a big game. Would you say she’s dominating the decisions?

JL: She’s not dominating the decisions, but she really is the person that led the Naviti five to steamroll the Malolos on the other side of the island. She’s such a nice person, and she really has great empathy and a big heart. But when she has to play, she plays. I give her a lot of respect. She’s a great player. It’s weird because she’s mainly the reason why I went home, but I can’t bring myself to hate her.

James Lim on Survivor: Ghost IslandImage: CBS

SK: Desiree said you were a target because nobody in the tribe had a connection with you. What’s your reaction to her statement? Is she right?

JL: With all due respect, I will flat-out deny that. You saw a few minutes later, Angela said, “I feel like James and I have a real, genuine bond.” I had an amazing three days trying to bond as fast as possible with Kellyn and Angela, especially with Angela. Ever since the Morgan vote, it was one of my main objectives to share more about me with her and draw her into our side using loyalty. I talked to her about what our veterans mean to me and the respect I have for them. If she helped me out down the road, I would forever be loyal to her and she would never be at the bottom of any alliance that I lead. I really meant it. I would just not agree with that statement [from Desiree], to be honest.

James Lim on Survivor: Ghost IslandImage: CBS

SK: Let’s say the tribal swap didn’t happen. Who was your tribe’s next target?

JL: If I had my way, Wendell would’ve gone home. We would’ve sided up with Chris and Angela with three votes on Dom and Wendell. Dom would’ve played his Idol, and we would’ve flushed it out with Wendell going home. That’s one of my biggest regrets from the game is not throwing the Immunity challenge and going for them after the Morgan boot. We were in such a good spot. It was our plan to branch off and advocate pair potentials and get back together to decide who we wanted to side with. I really wish we had done that. I would’ve gone with the flow. If Laurel really wanted to keep Wendell around, it would’ve been fine. We were put in such a good spot, and ironically by winning, I lost an opportunity to keep on making the big moves. It ended up resulting in my terrible swap at the end of the day.

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SK: Why was Wendell the person you targeted?

JL: I personally would’ve chosen to side with Chris and Angela because Dom and Wendell were savvier players than Chris and Angela. If you keep Chris and Angela, that weakens the Naviti tribe as much as possible. We would take them to the merge and they would get picked off by Kellyn anyway because she hates Chris. That was my plan. The thing with the Morgan vote was to cause massive destruction of Naviti, and I think we achieved that. The next most reasonable choice to keep that going would’ve been Wendell.

James Lim competes in challenge with Domenick Abbate on Survivor: Ghost Island
Image: CBS

SK: Before the game, Probst said you had the highest IQ of any contestant in Survivor history. What is your IQ?

JL: It’s good to be part of Survivor history like that. I think the result came out as 150-plus. I think it was a perfect score, which meant there was no actual number. I think the cap was at 150, so it was like 150-plus. I didn’t expect that, but a lot of pretty brilliant people have played Survivor, so it’s humbling to be the record holder.

SK: How did you get on the show?

JL: I had applied to the Amazing Race in my senior year of college with a good friend of mine and teammate. We got pretty far but got cut before the final round. They put us on this database for other CBS shows. Fast forward 10 months and I got a call from Lynne Spillman. She was like, “I found you on this database, and I think you’d be great on Survivor.” I was like, “I’m in.” I just got incredibly lucky to get the chance to play Survivor. I will never forget that feeling of gratitude that I have toward all of CBS for giving me a chance to do this and become a Survivor castaway.

James Lim on Survivor: Ghost Island
Image: CBS

SK: Were you a fan of Survivor before you landed on the show?

JL: Oh, no [laughs.] I had known the show, but I was a fan of the Amazing Race. I watched my first episode ever, and it was the Millennials vs. Gen-X premiere, and I got hooked. I’m not just saying this. I got hooked. If you know that you might be on Survivor, and you like the show, it’s easy to binge watch. That’s how I got through 14 to 15 seasons in four months before flying out to Fiji.

More: Brendan Shapiro on the “Smart Lie” That Created Survivor Chaos

Brendan Shapiro, Laurel Johnson and James Lim on Survivor: Ghost Island
Image: CBS

SK: If you could compete on the Amazing Race with any castaway from this season, who would it be?

JL: That’s a great one. Either Brendan or Laurel. Brendan because he’s just such a quality guy. We were roommates at Ponderosa and on the pre-jury trip. He’s just an amazing guy, smart, strong and charismatic. I think we would just crush the whole competition together. Or Laurel. I think we really bonded together and she gets me. I get her.

Do you think James would be a good choice for the Amazing Race? Join the conversation and leave a comment in the section below.

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