Wendell, a 33-year-old furniture company owner from Philadelphia, PA, won by a single vote, defeating the runner-up, Domenick Abbate. But the one vote that put Wendell over the edge was actually a tie-breaker vote cast by the season's third-place finisher, Laurel Johnson.
After the 10-person jury split their votes right down the middle between Domenick and Wendell -- which marked the first time this has ever happened in 36 seasons of Survivor -- Laurel became the eleventh member of the jury and cast the sole vote for the season's winner. (She received zero jury votes).
Reality TV World: Heading into Final Tribal, how confident were you that you were going to win the game, and did your perspective change at all once the jury questioning was completed?
Wendell Holland: Heading into Final Tribal, I was confident in my game, but I knew I was going in against two strong competitors -- one of whom could have pulled off a big surprise and shocked us, Laurel, and Domenick, who played a very, very strong game and established a lot of bonds. So I knew going in it was going to be a dog fight. I knew it would be tough.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised to receive a vote from anyone in particular, and were you surprised NOT to have received a vote from anyone?
Wendell Holland: I was surprised to receive a vote from Donathan because he told me a day or two before that if I sat next to Dom in the end, he was going to vote for Dom. And I later learned, "Okay, that's part of Donathan's strategy, to kind of get me to go against Domenick."
And I thought I was going to be able to get Chris Noble's vote because him and Dom were beefing earlier in the season, and I didn't get that vote.
I was surprised I didn't get Libby's vote, because I thought her and I were close out there, but I guess Dom put in a little more work. And I thought I was going to get Desiree's vote, but that didn't happen either.
Reality TV World: Did you ever envision you could end up with a tie vote at the Final Tribal, and were you aware of the Survivorrule Laurel would be the tie-breaker vote in that case?
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Wendell Holland: I never thought that we would go to a tie. No I didn't. I've watched Survivor for so long, and we haven't seen a tie. So I was under the impression that those things won't happen.
With that said, we go to a tie and I knew that Laurel would be the tie-breaking vote, and that really was the best case scenario for me, because Laurel and I got so close out there.
Reality TV World: Do you think half the jury voted for you to win because they truly believed you had played the best strategic and social game, or do you think they were bitter against Domenick and didn't want to reward him for personal reasons?
Wendell Holland: I don't think that -- I think they were upset that Domenick made a couple of moves, yes. But I think that they thought I was the better player. Like, there was a questionable Tribal Council that Domenick pulled out his idol and started saying things to Donathan, and Sebastian kind of talked about that at the Final Tribal.
And Donathan said this also, that they were kind of hurt Dom did that. But I think they were also rewarding my strong social game alongside my strong physical game. I was a physical threat out there.
Reality TV World: What was going through your mind when Jeff Probst started reading the votes at Final Tribal instead of waiting for the live reunion show? What did you think was happening in the moment?
Wendell Holland: I thought he was playing a joke on us! Because Jeff is a funny guy. I thought he was playing a joke with us. He was like, "I'll read the votes," and we were just like, "Yeah, yeah, okay, Jeff."
And then he starts reading them! You're just in shock as he's reading one name and then the other name, one name and the other name. You know what's happening and you're in shock because, like, you're ready to get off this island already, (laughs) and you're witnessing history!
So it's like, "Man, this is incredible. This is an incredible moment for Survivor." But I also knew I've got my sister sitting two people down from me and she's going to be the tie-breaking vote, and I had a lot of faith that she was voting for me, and I was so thankful that Laurel voted for me.
Reality TV World: You looked like you were getting emotional at Final Tribal when Jeff announced Laurel would cast the deciding vote. Was that because you knew Laurel was going to give you the $1 million or were you just wrapped up in the electricity of the game at that point?
Wendell Holland: I had my face in my hands... I wouldn't be surprised if I was crying, but I think it was in more shock and amazement. I don't think I was crying, but if I was, it would've been because I knew what was about to happen.
Reality TV World: Laurel did everything she could to argue she did not ride your coattails to the end, nor did Dom carry her there. Would you agree with her? Do you think she hasn't received enough credit for her game? Or would you admit, "Yeah, she can thank us for that Final 3 spot."
Wendell Holland: No, Laurel got us to the Final 3. Laurel is the reason why we sat there. There were so many times she could have changed the outcome of the game, and she stayed loyal to her alliance.
We stuck our necks out for her, but she saved us so many times, and that shows the bond that we made with her. And it shows -- the way I view it, is if Laurel chose to take one of us out, then the other one would have been eliminated shortly thereafter.
And then Laurel probably would have been eliminated. But the three of us made a super tight connection at Naviti 2.0 and we decided to ride that wave to the end together.
So yeah, it would have been a great game move and it would have garnered her some jury votes had she gotten rid of us and somehow made it to the end, but the probability of her making it to the end without us -- or us getting there without her -- was super slim.
Reality TV World: So it sounds like you are not shocked she never flipped on you guys.
Wendell Holland: No, no. No, no, no. I was not shocked. The way it was shown on TV looked like she was willing to pull the trigger a lot, but the vibe I got from her and our connection and our bond out there -- outside of her bond with Domenick -- was so rock solid that I kind of knew what was coming.
Reality TV World: Given your support and admiration for Laurel's game, can you believe she did not receive a single jury vote to win?
Wendell Holland: I am kind of surprised, because she was very close with Donathan. So I thought that he might vote for her, but Donathan is a Super Fan and I think he was more concerned with rewarding the best player out of the three instead of his bestie that's sitting within the Final 3.
Be sure to check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of our exclusive Survivor interview with Wendell Holland.