After being named the winner of ‘Survivor,’ Wendell Holland Jr. dishes to HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY about that wild final tribal, his alliance with Laurel and MUCH more!
Wendell Holland Jr. won season 36 of Survivor thanks to Laurel Johnson: When the final vote came down to a tie between Wendell and Domenick Abbate, the power moved from the jury to Laurel, who made the final three, but received no votes. She cast her ballot for Wendell, who she aligned with early in the game and stayed loyal to through and through, even when other players begged her to vote him out. “When I looked at Laurel, I saw my big sister,” Wendell tells HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY. “When you’re out there, you look for that kind of thing that will bring you back home and keep you more grounded. I found that in Laurel. She was the hug I needed sometimes, and I was that for her. I was her shoulder to cry on. So because of that, I felt super close to her and thought it would be a great, positive image for her and I to sit at the end together.”
At the end of the day, the tight bond between Wendell and Laurel wound up helping them get to the end…but that wasn’t why Wendell stayed loyal. “It was more on a personal level, 100%,” he says. “It transcended the game. It wasn’t like I was using this awesome player just to get deeper in the game.” Of course, to even get to the point of the tiebreaker, Wendell had to do a lot to prove himself — he only made the final three because he beat Angela Perkins in a fire-making challenge, and he won big immunity challenges down the stretch.
However, there was one move much earlier on in the game that Wendell says really solidified him in going so far. “Finding the immunity idol was a big deal,” he explains. “I knew when I was at Yanuya that it would be my best opportunity to find the idol, where there was only five or six of us on the tribe and it was a new island. Finding that idol did a lot for my game — it’s a tool of power. People wanted to get me out and it showed me as a threat. People were also scared of when I might use it and if I would use it to get them out.”
Did you see the possibility of a tie coming at ALL? I did not plan for it and I did not consider it a possibility. Hey, if I was a different person, I might’ve thought it was a good idea to put Laurel on the jury, because that was a secure jury vote for me, but I’m a loyal person and I wanted my sister to sit next to me in the final. And that worked in my favor.
Going into final tribal, how confident were you that you would beat Dom? What did you think would edge you out? I was confident in the game I played, but I know he was very confident in his game, and that he’s a great talker and a big move make, and a guy with a big, loud New York City voice. That wins Survivor sometimes. But the strategic, social, likable guy wins Survivor also. I played a strong game — I won challenges for my team, I built 30 different things at camp, I made camp life happier and easier. There are things I brought to the table that no one else did. I wanted to stand on those things and just show my social game and the fact that I established true bonds with a lot of people as a serious factor.
What aspect of the game do you think the people who voted for you were rewarding? I think they voted for me because of my social game. I knew going in that if people considered me a likable person, I could use that to my benefit. My thing that I was saying about Dom was that he likes the theatrics and big moves. He’s a showy kind of guy in the game of Survivor and I’m like a silent assassin in the game of Survivor. There are multiple ways of playing, and him and I played two strong games, but very different games.
Do you think you could’ve done anything differently to not deal with the tiebreaker situation and guarantee an easier win? I think I could’ve gotten Dom out a whole lot earlier! But then that would’ve made my road to the end more difficult — I chose to go with a tight alliance through the game, trailblazing and killing everything in our path, and it made the final a lot more difficult. But I might not have made the final without that path I took with Dom.
Did any votes surprise you? Watching the Dom and Chris [Noble] beef play out all game, I thought I would get Chris’ vote. I thought I would get Des’ vote — we stuck by each other a lot of nights. I thought I was going to get Libby’s vote — we made jewelry together, I made her a pantry at camp. I was surprised I got Angela and Donathan’s votes, especially because Donathan said he wouldn’t vote for me if I made it. I would say there were probably a few people who made a gametime decision based on things that came out at tribal.
Anything else you wish we saw? Me and Laurel bonded a lot out there. Even leading into the fire-making challenge — we didn’t know who would win the final four immunity, so we didn’t know who would have to make fire, so I went out and taught her how to make fire and we practiced together. There were a lot of bonding moments between me and Laurel and other people. I had a very deep conversation with Angela about her tours and her family, and I talked about my story, so I think that gave me the edge in getting her vote. In an hour long show, you can only see so much.