Welcome to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers regular season coverage! Every week, we’re bringing you exit interviews with the latest person voted out, recaps from THR‘s very own Dan Fienberg and weekly check-ins with executive producer and host Jeff Probst. Bookmark our season 35 one-stop shop to make sure you don’t miss out on any of it.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for season 35, episode six.
Six players are gone. Twelve Heroes, Healers and Hustlers remain. What does the field look like moving forward into the next phase of Survivor season 35?
That’s the question we posed this week to executive producer, showrunner and host Jeff Probst, now that we’re six Tribal Councils into the season. With a merge on the horizon, how does Probst view the remaining castaways in the hunt for the million dollar prize? Read on for his thoughts on each of the 12 contestants still in the game, in first name alphabetical order within their starting tribes:
Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard): “Ashley started as a quiet one, and she’s still playing a quiet game. If history is an indicator, these types of players tend to last very long. If Ashley has a second gear, she could make a run for it, and with her physical abilities, that could be deadly.”
Ben Driebergen (Marine): “Ben has been a big personality from the get go, but the more he plays the bigger his target becomes. His biggest test will be post-merge. The game changes significantly, and if he continues to steer his own ship, he will remain public enemy number one because other players fear facing him in the end.”
Chrissy Hofbeck (Actual Actuary): “Chrissy is a very smart and very strategic player. I imagine she spends a lot of time thinking things like, ‘Oh these fools have no idea what I am capable of…’ Chrissy has put herself in a really good spot at this point in the game. She has cultivated some good relationships and may be able to drive the game in the direction she wants. Her biggest concern will be others realizing what she already knows: she could win.”
JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter): “JP has played a very subtle game so far. More than just laying low, he’s been invisible at times. At first I thought maybe he just didn’t understand what was happening, but I’m slowly starting to realize that maybe he knows much more than he’s letting on. Sometimes staying out of the way is the single best strategy, and he’s a master — and there is no denying that JP can singlehandedly take over a challenge. People may be underestimating him.”
Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide): “Cole is electric. He is fully committed to playing the game and I really appreciate that from a fan point of view. It’s easy to criticize some mistakes he’s made, but they only come from being willing to try things. His big question seems to center around whether he can learn from his mistakes and remedy them before it’s too late. If so, he still has a shot.”
Desi Williams (Physical Therapist): “Desi is similar to Ashley. She is an excellent observer. She also has great patience and she doesn’t get upset easily. Desi needs to get a stronger alliance built as we are getting to a point in the game where you need some numbers to help drive you to the end. We’re entering the individual portion of the game, and this could be when Desi really shines, especially physically.”
Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner): “I’m not breaking any news with this, but Jessica’s biggest issue is her inability to separate infatuation from strategy. I think the entire audience is yelling ‘What are you doing?’ She continues to trust Cole with information and Cole continues to try and use that information to his advantage. Time to cut the cord and start playing her own game.”
Joe Mena (Probation Officer): “Joe is taking the Tony approach to the game: play wild and aggressively. It’s a super risky strategy, but it can work. There is a turning point where the jury shifts from finding a player annoying to seeing the clarity in their chaos. If Joe can last long enough, he could sway everybody that he’s a mad genius.”
Mike Zahalsky (Urologist): “I am as confused as ever by Dr. Mike. Is he brilliant or is he nuts? He’s definitely playing the game, and he’s playing to win. Mike seems to be a scrappy kind of player, who might be used to being overlooked. If he can remain humble but stay in the hunt he’s the type of player who winds up at the Final Tribal.”
Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor): “Devon is either a likable surfer dude who is just floating by, or he’s a likable surfer dude by day… and assassin by night. Not sure yet. Devon is really easy to look past because you can judge his ‘hang ten’ attitude as being clueless. Devon isn’t clueless. If Devon can stay inside the game enough to be in on the ‘intel,’ then he might find himself with options at the end.”
Lauren Rimmer (Fisherman): “Lauren has surprised me. I didn’t really know what to expect from her game play. She is playing a very different style of Survivor, but it’s working. She’s in this thing. People seem to like her, she’s strong enough physically to be a threat, and just subtle enough strategically that people may not fully see what she’s doing.”
Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop): “Ryan is here to play and here to win. He’s wily and very adept at the social game. If you watch him, he’s often in the background appearing oblivious, but he’s not — he’s zoned in to every conversation and processing all day every day. If people realize that he’s a truly legit threat to get to the end, then he’s done. But if Ryan continues to play the younger brother role and make mentors of his tribe mates, he is in good shape.”
Before we move on into the next phase of the season, let’s look back one final time on the latest eliminated castaway: Ali Elliott, originally of the Hustlers, blindsided by one of her original allies, Ryan Ulrich. Ali’s exit comes one Tribal Council after she lost her ally Roark Luskin from the game, the two of them having bonded quickly on the swapped Soko tribe.
Here’s how Probst viewed Ali in the preseason: “We liked Ali the minute she walked in. Her energy was really contagious because she’s so likable and bright. She has a big smile. Really fast, it becomes apparent that she’s not just a young pretty girl who’s running around smiling. She’s an intense young woman. She really wants to play Survivor and she wants to play well. She’s thinking about the game all the time. Being on the Hustlers tribe, she’s a personal assistant, and that’s everything you need to know. Those guys work all day trying to figure it out. Ali, I keep going back to this intensity to her that I don’t know if it’s just intense because ‘I’m smart and I’m dedicated and my parents raised me to make the most out of everything,’ or if it’s intense like, ‘I’m going to lose my mind in a minute.’ I don’t know. I’m really curious to see. I think she’s really likable at first glance, and that should put her in a good group. She’s going to make an early alliance, I have a feeling, and try to lead.”
And here’s what Probst thinks about Ali now: “We were already missing Ali before the smoke on her snuffed torch had disappeared. I think Ali is a true all around threat. She can win this game from several different entry points. A lot of young women were sad to see her go because she possesses such confidence and inner strength for a younger person. I hope she’ll play again.”
Follow THR.com/Survivor for exit interviews with the castaways, weekly check-ins with Jeff Probst, and recaps from Dan Fienberg all season long.