They didn’t win Survivor: Ghost Island, but they’re very happy Wendell Holland did. SheKnows talked with the five other top finalists on the finale red carpet about their thoughts on Wendell taking the $1 million prize. We also found out if they all truly believed in the curses and superstitions behind this season’s haunted theme. Plus, we squeaked in a few extra questions about the game with each of them, too. Enjoy!
Domenick Abbate (runner-up)
His thoughts on losing to Wendell after the historic tie-breaking vote:
You can’t ask for a better guy to win. He’s such a giving person outside of this game. He has a furniture business. He and his crew are constantly going out and doing work for the homeless. He’s got the greatest heart you’ve ever seen. He’s funny. He’s hysterical. He’s one of my best friends, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
On how he thought the votes were actually going to play out:
I thought I would win 6-4 or 7-3. I knew I didn’t have it locked going in, but I did know that I was really good at articulating a point. Wendell in past Tribal Councils, even though his vibe was chill and everyone loves him, he would struggle trying to get a sentence out at times. Maybe he was just playing me the whole time. He really brought a good game to final Tribal. He was able to speak very well. I thought going in that even the few people I may not have, I thought I can tell a better story than him. If I want to prove to them why I’m better at this game than him, it’s my job to do so. I felt really confident in my ability to do so. I said, “I can articulate a story or a point better than he can, and that’s where I’m gonna win this game.”
On if he was seriously planning on sacrificing his Immunity to face off against Wendell in a fire-making challenge:
I was very serious. The problem is that we had never witnessed the final four fire-making challenge. We heard that we had to do it. We knew that Season 35 did, but we never witnessed it and never knew the repercussions of it. Ultimately I didn’t want to do it. I said maybe Laurel can beat him, maybe Angela can beat him. But when I saw how discouraged they were about going up against him, I said, no one can do this job but me. Am I here to play this game and as hard as I said I was gonna play? Or am I gonna back off and use my ability to speak at final Tribal to see if I can or can’t win this thing? I ended up taking the safe route, and that’s the regret that I have to this day. I should’ve really just hit the gas at that point.
On if he believes in the Survivor curses:
Sure, I believe in the curse. Don’t we all believe in the curse? If you think about it, I chose the Cagayan urn and that’s when Woo decided he wanted to go up against his fiercest competition. Technically, that’s what I did. I got the Cagayan urn and I went up against the toughest competition in the game. I took the honorable route. It’s what I wanted to do. It’s the way it fell into place. I guess I never reversed that curse, so it’s gotta be real, right?
A behind-the-scenes moment we didn’t get to see:
We had a lot of fun. There was one moment that was really fun. In the slingshot Reward challenge where Wendell won the tacos, we all went back to camp bummed we didn’t win. We still had three-quarters of a bottle of rum from the merge feast. I said, “Kellyn, let’s make the best out of this day.” We all went out and got a pot full of crab. We were cooking crab, drinking the rum, getting drunk and having a great time. I remember this really great moment where we were swinging the bottle. As I was putting the bottle down, one of the crabs was running out of the pot. I was like, “Kellyn, your dinner is getting away from you.” We just laughed on the floor. We had these really fun, genuine moments. How do you not put that in? That’s the good stuff, but there’s a story that they need to keep to. It is what it is.
How he got on the show:
I applied a few times. The first two times I did apply, I was kind of treating my application like a job interview. This last one was really good because I was stuck in traffic. In my truck, I have an iPad mount. I just finished watching a finale, and Jeff said, “If you think you have what it takes, send us a three-minute video.” So I was sitting in traffic aggravated, and I hit record on my iPad. I just started saying, “This fucking Long Island Expressway is driving me crazy.” I just was the real me with my frustration and my anger of being in traffic. That’s what did it. I had to do another video after that, something more elaborate. But that’s the one that got me the phone call.
Laurel Johnson (third place)
On why she voted for Wendell to win the game:
Those two guys both made a great game deserving of winning. They were my two closest allies in the game. I saw how hard they both worked. They both deserved it. I gave Wendell the edge for his social game. I think Dom burned a lot of people on his way out and didn’t manage the relationships in the way that Wendell did. Wendell was like a brother to me. It was kind of a toss-up between the two of them.
On how it felt being forced to break the game-ending tie vote:
It was an emotional roller coaster. Going into final Tribal thinking I have a shot at winning the title of Survivor out here and realizing things weren’t quite going my way. Finding out that I lost was crushing. Then to have to cast the vote to break the tie was awful. It wasn’t a moment I was expecting, and it wasn’t a vote I really wanted to make. These guys played a great game. I would’ve been happy for either of them, but I hated that I had to be the one to take it away from Dom. He also deserved it.
On why she believed she had a chance to win going into the final Tribal Council:
I was a bit disappointed in the portrayal. I thought I had a better shot than what came across. I thought I would’ve had Donathan and Angela’s vote, which I didn’t. I thought I would’ve had a few more Malolo votes. I don’t think it came across the way these guys burned some people on their way out the door, the fact they had really pissed off a lot of the jury who wouldn’t be thrilled to vote for them. I knew they played a louder, flashier game. I knew I might be in trouble there if the jury was seeking the big moves. It turns out that’s what they were seeking. I thought I would do better than I did, but I knew it was gonna be tough.
On people who accuse her of riding coattails to the end of the game:
I was frustrated by that. I think you saw I was the one that was deciding the votes in all those moves. I could’ve easily swayed the game in the other direction, but then I’d just hand it to people who are going to turn around and stab me in the back. That vote that was Chelsea and Kellyn, they wanted me to flip with them. Kellyn had just burned me the vote before by throwing two votes my way after spending the entire day telling me she was with me. I thought I would have time to get them later, but I ran out of time to get them. I hate the perception that people think I was riding coattails because those guys wouldn’t have been there without me.
On if she believes in the Survivor curses:
Angela Perkins (fourth place)
On why Wendell was the right person to win:
I think he had control of the game and did a lot behind the scenes. You didn’t see him really building relationships, but he did. He made really intimate connections. There’s nothing that Domenick did wrong, Wendell just played a better game.
On if she believes in the Survivor curses:
How she got on the show:
I applied, but my process was a little bit different than anyone else’s. I had just recently retired from the military, and my kids were getting ready to go away to school. It was like a three-year process. I had a huge turn of life events and it just worked out. I had a few of the producers that believed in me. I had applied.
Why she thinks everybody kept her in the dark when it came to making decisions on who to vote out:
I play the game with loyalty. The majority of the cast was worried if I knew any of the information and somebody else would ask me about it — especially the person we were plotting against — I would tell the truth. They thought I was a liability because I was so loyal. Trust and honesty was a huge value for me out there.
Donathan Hurley (fifth place)
On why Wendell deserved to win the game:
He showed qualities I wanted to show out there. It all ain’t about Idols. Wendell really played a very strong social game. He helped a lot with the shelter, and he was just someone that played the game that I want to play. I always wanted to be second in command, and I couldn’t because I ended up alone at some point. I always wanted to be the glue. He reversed the curse. Winners like him now can win. These guys both played wonderful games. It was just about what kind of game emulated what kind of winner I wanted to see for this season.
His thoughts on that shocking tie-breaking final vote:
The superfan in me comes out. I was like, “Are they going to announce the winner now like they did in Borneo?” Then I realized it was a tie. I was like, “Oh my God, this is Survivor history.” I was absolutely shocked. I could not believe it happened. I think it was neat that you had two big players, and it came to that. It was insane.
On overcoming his early-challenge struggle to dive deep in the water:
I love that moment. I will never back down from that moment. I know a lot of people had a problem with it, but that was me out there. That was something I had to overcome personally. I was a smoker for 10 years before this. I quit three months before the show, so I wasn’t in the best physical shape. I was told to get to the dock and stay there, but I looked back and James was like dying. I had to do something. I took in so much water and I couldn’t catch my breath. That’s the story. I had just had to take a minute to collect my breath because I’m a great swimmer. If I ever get to go back, I will be in more physical shape and not have to have people debate about if I was good or not. I quit smoking for sure last February. I quit the day before I went to finals in casting. That whole week had me tore up, but after that I was smoke-free.
Some behind-the-scenes intel:
Chelsea was a big player out there. She deserves a lot more than what was shown. We had this big threat in Wendell, but we also had a huge threat in Chelsea. She was a player out there, and I wish more people got to see that.
On getting a $10,000 gift from Sia:
I met her right after I walked off the stage, but I was a crying mess. She was probably like, “Oh, this poor child” [laughs]. She was amazing. She consoled me, and after I was finished I told her I was a huge fan of her music. She was like, “I love you on Survivor.” It was an exchange that I’ll never forget. It’s crazy. I’m gonna try to help my mom and grandma out with that money. This is what it’s for. It’s for them. They’re going to be well taken care of after this.
Sebastian Noel (sixth place)
His thoughts on Wendell winning the game:
Wendell deserved it. He played his heart out. He won everyone’s heart from start to finish. He’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet. He built all of our shelters. He was actually a pretty decent spear fisherman, and he was my best friend out there besides Jenna and Chris. We bonded. If he was in the final three and I wasn’t, he was getting my vote, no doubt. Every morning, him and I would take a bath and walk the beaches with these beautiful pieces of coral. We bonded so well out there. It was incredible.
On experiencing the history-making tie vote:
It was incredible just to watch that go down for the first time in Survivor history. As a fan, it was cool to watch, too. Before the final Tribal, I tried to figure out how the votes were gonna go for the jury. I asked around on who everybody was voting for. It kind of looked like it was gonna be a tie, and then it ended up being one. It pretty much shocked everyone. I thought he was going to read the winner right there.
On how he started dating Jenna, another contestant from this season:
Pretty cool story. It started on the flight out there. We’re not supposed to talk to anyone. This beautiful lady sat down next to me in a two-seater in the back of the plane. We talked the whole way, and we hit it off from the start. It carried on through the game. We snuggled every night. She kept me warm, and she was my best friend out there. We didn’t want to show it because every time a relationship pops up on Survivor, they end up going home the next couple of days as a power couple. We didn’t want to do that, but as soon as we got back to Ponderosa, we’ve been dating ever since. She took a trip down to Florida about a week after the show, and we knew we were destined to be together. She’s hopefully a keeper for the rest of my life. She wanted me to announce my love for her in the finale, but I didn’t get to say anything. I wanted Jeff to say something about it.
How he got on the show:
I did an open casting call. I tried out once. Brendan, from our season, tried out for 16 years. I went to it once. I always wanted to be on the show. I thought the open call was my call. It turned out to be amazing. Look where I’m standing right now. I’m on the red carpet at CBS.