HitFix Interview: Wendy DeSmidt-Kohlhoff talks 'Survivor: Nicaragua'
The season's first 'Survivor' castoff discusses the importance of being yourself
Wendy DeSmidt-Kohlhoff left a lot unsaid when she became the first contestant snuffed out on "Survivor: Nicaragua."
The 48-year-old goat rancher from Montana -- and retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army -- admitted early on that she feared elimination because of her chatty personality, so she attempted a more subdued approach with her Espada tribe.
Instead, Wendy ended up with only a hastily discarded alliance with Holly and, at her only Tribal Council, she was left frantically trying to justify her value to the tribe. Her only regret, she told the camera, was not just being herself.
When HitFix caught up with Wendy the morning after her elimination, she was definitely being herself and she had a ton to say about her elimination, her disappointing "Survivor" experience and tribe celebrity Jimmy Johnson.
Click through for the full interview.
HitFix: So is there some weird honor to being the first person out on "Survivor"? I mean, nobody remembers the second or third or fourth person out, but sometimes we remember the people who went home first...
Wendy DeSmidt-Kohlhoff: Well, I don't know. I don't think they really remember the first eight out, but that's a really good outlook to have and maybe I'll start taking it. I like that idea. The first one out! That's kinda a nice thing? I guess it's no different being the first or the eighth. But you know what? Being the eighth person, you really get to experience the "Survivor" experience. You get to go hungry. You get to try all of those Tribal Councils. You get to go to all the challenges. So technically, you can look at it two ways. Yeah, I guess I guess I can say it's an honor to be the first one out, but the truth of the matter is that I would have rather been there for the eighth one out, if I had to be one of the eight. Once you're nine, you're in the jury and everybody wants to make it to the jury, at least. Then you're still in the game to the very end.
HitFix: How much of that "Survivor" experience did you feel like you still got?
WDK: I don't feel like I got nearly enough. I never got to feel hungry. I never got to do two individual challenges. I really only got to do two, that's it, and the first one was not the norm, the Power Medallion. So I can't look at someone and say, "Yes, I truly had the 'Survivor' experience," because I don't feel like I did.
HitFix: The editing of last night's episode made it seem like your Tribal Council speech may have sealed your fate. Do you feel like that was the case, or do you think you were going home anyway?
WDK: Oh, I know it was already decided. It doesn't matter what it made it look like, because I know that it was already sealed. People had their minds made up. Absolutely. I was told by someone that I was the one going.
HitFix: In your exit interview, you said that you big mistake was simply not being yourself. How could you have played the game differently by being yourself?
WDK: Well, I could have gone out there and I could talked about myself more. I could have talked to the group, rather than to one person here or there, more when people were sharing information instead of waiting to be asked, which nobody asked me. The age thing was a really stupid thing to bring up. I was trying to bring an easy example up. People were asking, "Oh, what do you do?" or "What do you think you're good at?" Or "Hey Marty, what are you good at?" or "Hey Jimmy..." They would ask the person their name and say, "Tell me this and that" and ask all kinds of questions from their age to what they're good at to what they've experienced, why they think they have good leadership. Nobody asked me that. Now, I could have interjected. And being me as I normally am, I would have. And I didn't. I chose to stay more laid back and not talk a lot, not ask a lot of questions, not be gossipy or chatty. And I think if I had tooted my own horn and I'd done that stuff, I think it would have served me better.
HitFix: Were you surprised by the speed with which you initially aligned with Holly? And then did you feel like she betrayed you, to some degree?
WDK: First of all, yes I was shocked. I wasn't expecting someone to say that right up front and I think I handled it poorly. I should have said, "Oh, OK." Instead of saying, "Wow, we need to start this now," I should have said, "Let's talk about this later." I should have just left it at, "Great deal, I trust you too. Let's move on." But I thought, "Oh my God, do I need to starting this now? What do I also need to do to get in an alliance?" I was shocked at how fast. But as far as her betraying me? No. It was clear to me that she did not want any part of me after the first day or so. Things were happening fast. There were a lot of alliances going on very fast. Before Holly came to me, I saw Marty and Yve together and it was clear they were not just talking. And then Yve would go to the next person and the next person and I saw her doing this and it wasn't to say, "Hi, I'm Yve." She was was getting everyone's back. She told everyone that, including me. And so, I felt like... No. Holly refused to talk to me, so I don't believe that she betrayed me, because it was clear to me that she didn't want an alliance with me anymore. Now she could have told me that. It would have been nice for her to say, "Changed my mind!" But she just said, "I don't want to talk to you." Period. So doesn't that tell you that you're not in an alliance anymore?
HitFix: One thing that never came up in the episode that I'd already noticed in your bio was your military background. Could you talk about that and what it might have done, under different circumstances, to help you in the game?
WDK: Actually, in the beginning, I planned on not saying a lot about myself. I wanted to stay laid back. I wanted to come in and just slide right in, like other people have done in past shows where they just slide on through as friendly, helpful, nice and not let them know too much about my background, because in later time when they tend to find all that experience, they might then say, "Oh, this person is going to be a threat, let's get rid of them." So I thought the less I told them, the better off I was. Then when I realized that everybody had all of these things that they could put into the pot and I didn't have a lot, and I didn't really have a lot, it was a little bit too late to saying thing. It's like Jill said she was a nurse and everybody was like, "Oh, a nurse!" And I would say, "I'm a nurse, too" after that, it was too late. And to say I was in the military at that point, I just felt like I missed my time and it would have hindered me more and they would have been like, "Why didn't you tell us that before? Why's it coming up now for?" So I should have done it right off the bat and I just thought it would be worse to tell people that, because I would be more of a threat, I thought, if I made it longer than the first [elimination]. If I knew it was going to save me for the first episode, of course I would have done it, but I didn't think I was gonna necessarily be voted off first, because I was planning on not annoying people, not talking up, not being a chatterbox and everything. But then it was too late when you figured it out. Does that make sense?
There's definitely a time factor when you have to tell people. And that's why I didn't bring it up at Tribal Council, because why would I bring it up after the fact? They'd say, "What is her problem? Why is she telling us this now?" But what I brought up, I don't know how that helped either. It really didn't. I was just trying to say that there was a lot I had to offer. But what kind of examples did I give them really? Nothing. Know what I mean?
HitFix: In the episode, you made yourself look kind of sheltered and meek, I guess. But obviously, given your background, you're clearly not so sheltered at all, are you?
WDK: Well now that's a matter of opinion. Sheltered is a big, broad subject. You can say I'm sheltered. I can be sheltered to the most popular singers who are out there, pop singers. I don't have a clue. And that did come up in our tribe, because I didn't know who Beyonce was. Well, OK. But that to me, they might call that sheltered and clueless. And I didn't know Jimmy Johnson. The thing is, I don't consider that sheltered, per se, because I can look at you and say, "Do you know Kathleen Battle?" And if you don't know Kathleen Battle, she's a famous opera singer and I did bring that up to the group and said, "Do you know who Kathleen Battle is?" and nobody knew. How does that make me any different? So as far as sheltered, I'm not hip on the new lingo or the new famous singers. I listen to country. I like opera. I like show songs. I don't listen to the popular music or the rap and I don't know a lot of lingo. So that might be considered sheltered or clueless or whatever you want to call it. I don't know what you want to call it. But I don't think I'm clueless at all. I'm pretty smart. I just have different interests. And that's what makes a good team, people from different backgrounds, with different interests, different knowledge, different levels, it makes for a better team. I think that's clear. People should know that. You don't want everybody with the same personality, same interests and the same background. You want people diversified to have a diversified group. It works better.
HitFix: So you had no idea who Jimmy Johnson was? Were you surprised by how famous some people thought he was?
WDK: Oh no, when I found out who he was, of course I knew he was famous. But there were people there who made like they knew who he was and they didn't know who he was, but they made believe they knew who he was. And they didn't. And they went, "Oh. Jimmy Johnson!" But they didn't know. They didn't know him. They even told me, "I didn't know who he was." I'm the type of person where I am who I am and if you don't like it, well, I'm not going to try to change for you. It sounds like I'm contradicting myself. I changed, because I wasn't myself. But I mean that if I don't know something, I'm not going to make believe like I do. I'm not gonna be something I'm not, meaning hide the fact that I'm not aware of something. Not everybody knows everything and that doesn't make them a bad person or a dumb person. That's why I was surprised by the people in our tribe who were supposed to be such leaders and so knowledgeable, how you judge how to take out a person, to me you look at their actions and you look at what they say and does it match? To me, if you give out guidance and nobody's following, I mean how do you judge a person who does what they want when you say, "We should do this" and then they don't and they go on their own and they do whatever they want. So to me, that's the kind of thing you look at to judge people. You don't look at what they say. You look at what they do. And I don't think that was done too much, I my opinion.
HitFix: So, in your opinion, would the tribe have been better off voting Jimmy Johnson out and keeping you?
WDK: Yes, I think they would have, because I think I'm stronger than him, not for any reason other than age. There's a 20 year difference there and that makes a pretty big difference when you're our age. He turned 68 out there, you know.
HitFix: From here on, who do you think has the advantage, young or old?
WDK: Oh, I think old people will have an advantage because of life experience. I think really makes a different in life, the decision-making and everything. When you're older, you're supposed to be wiser and therefore, I think that the older tribe has more of an advantage as far as not being... Like Jimmy T, last night, surprised me when he said he had to go calm down. Generally older people stay calmer and don't blow up like younger people do, because they've been there and done that and learned how to control themselves. Young people, they just blow up without thinking a lot of times and they make enemies really fast and they don't think before they talk and older people generally don't do that. So they should think smarter and I think we had a better chance of going further because of our age.
"Survivor: Nicaragua" airs on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on CBS. Stay tuned for a full season of "Survivor" exit interviews going up late Thursday night on HitFix...