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Wendell's Survivor Experience Allowed Him To Cherish The Simple Things—And Pay Off His Student Loans

Sole Survivor Wendell talks about his relationship with Domenick, that historic finale, and what he learned from the experience.
Posted on May 24, 2018 | 12:00pm

In one of the most climactic Survivor season finales of all time, Ghost Island's Jury vote ended in something unprecedented: a tie between Wendell Holland and Domenick Abbate

STREAM: Every Episode From All 36 Seasons Of Survivor On CBS All Access

That means Wendell and Dom had to live in suspense for months, knowing how close a race it was, while Laurel, the tie-breaking vote, had to sit with the knowledge that she'd awarded one of them $1 million—and took it away from the other.

In the end, it was 33-year-old Wendell who took home the grand prize after a game well played. We talked with the latest castaway to be crowned Sole Survivor about what his plans for the cash are, his relationship with Dom, and the importance of family. 

We saw you and Dom work very closely together this season. What made him such a great ally for you?

Wendell Holland: Dom is a tremendous player of the game. It's not like either one of us were carrying the other one to the end. We worked in tandem all the way through the whole game.

It's always good in the game of Survivor to go to the end with someone who feels like they can beat you. Then they won't try to get you out as hard.

With me and Dom, we didn't have the right opportunity to take each other out, but if they feel like they can beat you, then they're willing to sit next to you at the end. And Dom played a great game and felt like he could beat me at the end, so it was good to play with him and get to the end. 

You guys were super tight for the majority of the game, but he did try to take you out with the fire making challenge. How difficult was it, if at all, to separate your personal feelings from recognizing strategy, especially when you're that deep in the game?

Wendell: Personally, I love the guy, but I know that if he could've cut my throat and find a path to the end, he would've done that. That's just being a realist. I think maybe I would've done the same.

Because we're both seasoned and older players—we were older than a lot of the cast—we walked into the game knowing that despite finding friendships and what not, to win the game of Survivor, we might have to make those though calls. 

Why do you think Donathan refused to play ball with you and Dom toward the end of the game?

Wendell: Donathan was ready to swing for the fences. He wanted to make a big move and he understood that going to the end with a Domenick and/or a Wendell, you're probably not going to get a lot of votes. It might have been a little too late for his move, but he was ready to make it. 

At the time it seemed like you tempted fate giving Laurel the immunity necklace in one of those last Tribals, but do you think that move ultimately helped you in the end?

Wendell: Yeah, I think it did help me. I think it was almost like karma. Through the whole season I was trying to show her my loyalty and how much I wanted to take her to the end. That was my whole season, proving that to Laurel.

So that was my final gesture, like, "Look. I told you I would protect you and I will protect you whether you get no votes at all or whether everyone votes for you tonight. I will protect you tonight." 

Describe that last day in Fiji. It looked like you were all a little emotional. 

Wendell: We were very emotional that day. [Laughs] There wasn't a dry eye in sight. We knew that we had established this bond on Naviti 2.0, the three of us. And me and Dom established it on Naviti 1.0. We fought and the three of us got to the end of Survivor.

It was just, man, thinking about back home, thinking about the experience we'd had, thinking about how we're about to leave this place and probably never come back. It was an overwhelming experience and accomplishment to be on the island on Day 39. 

What's it like living in the real world for all this time, watching the season back, and waiting for the the verdict at the live show?

Wendell: The length of time kind of helped me out with my lies and everything. At first when you get back, you wanna explode and tell everyone everything. But you just can't. You can't.

This was such a special ending, so I just kept my mouth shut and I watched Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, and then I was just waiting for my time and my turn.

And finally, when it was my time, the world saw what I could do, what Dom could do, and what Laurel could do. And they saw a tremendous, history-making ending. 

Obviously you won so it all worked out, but did you catch yourself seeing anything you could have, or would have, done differently as you watched the season back?

Wendell: I could've tried to get Domenick out super early and establish a different relationship. [Laughs] But that might not have allowed us to be this juggernaut pushing through to the end. But yeah, I think I played a pretty solid game. 

What are you going to do with the $1 million?

Wendell: With the million bucks I will pay off these law school loans and I might have a couple of dollars left to go to a movie or something, I don't know. [Laughs]

That's the responsible thing to do! What would you say you learned about yourself during your time on Survivor?

Wendell: I learned how much I love my family and the simple things. I've been away from my family for summers in college, I've been away from them [lots of times].

But out there, I was really, really thinking about them and understanding the importance of family. When I got back, I saw my mom every day. I talk to my father all the time.

It helped me really understand the true importance of family and the fact that you won't have these people forever, so you have to cherish the moments you have with them. 

Stream every episode from all 36 seasons of Survivor on CBS All Access.

Plus, stay tuned for more information about Survivor: David Vs. Goliath, coming this Fall on CBS and CBS All Access