Debbie Wanner may not have won Survivor, but she went out like a champ.
The 51-year-old Pennsylvania native was blindsided on Wednesday’s episode of Survivor: Game Changers, but instead of going off one of the Debbie rants we’ve all come to know and love, she delivered a cool, calm and collected “Good luck to you all!” as she watched her torch get snuffed.
The smiling, even-tempered Wanner is a departure from the scrappy, confident player fans watched this season — and who even declared, “We have complete control of this game. There is not a line drawn in the sand. There is a land drawn in concrete,” before being voted out. But as Wanner explained to ET over the phone on Thursday, once she saw her name written down at tribal, she prepared for the end.
“The first time that you see your name pop up on a parchment is when you think, ‘Ah, yeah. Probably me,'” she explained. “In retrospect, hindsight being 20/20, I’m just one of those people who goes out and I’m like a thoroughbred in a Kentucky Derby. I am going for broke. My heart’s on my sleeve.”
“A couple of days prior to that vote, I had gone to Brad and said, ‘Look, you know, when this group of six, which I had perceived to be very tight, when this breaks, it’s going to be Sarah, or it’s going to be Troyzan.’ Sarah, because she’s constantly playing both sides, speaking to everybody, which we all do, so you have to take that with a grain of salt, and Troyzan, because he wasn’t an original Nuku, I didn’t get the warmest and fuzziest [feelings] about,” Wanner continued. “Brad said, ‘OK, when it comes down to it, I trust Troyzan completely, so we’ll take out Sarah first.’ She just made the move first, and, you know, congratulations to her.”
“I regret not winning!” Wanner joked when asked if there was anything she would have done differently, before admitting that she was sometimes overconfident.
“That confidence and security [can] come across as cocky and arrogant,” she agreed. “For every clip where I come across, ‘There’s a line in the concrete,’ there’s probably a clip saying, ‘Well, I’ve had my doubts. It’s never good to be overconfident. Could I have been a little more laid-back? I guess it’s just not my nature.”
Wanner, who was present at the shocking tribal council in which Jeff Varner outed Zeke Smith as transgender, instead lists another incident as the most memorable of the season: when she was exiled to a yacht in the middle of the ocean, treated to unlimited snacks, a meeting with Cochran and an advantage in the game.
“[I’ll never forget] when I’m in my little dinky boat, when I’m thinking I’m about to go starve alone on some desolate, godforsaken, outcropping of hell, and I get exiled to a yacht, stocked with food and then Cochran popped up with a selection of goodies for me to choose,” she recalled. “I got the best exile in Survivor history.”
Wanner definitely got the best exile she could’ve hoped for — in addition to possibly the best piece of advice she should have taken more seriously, when Cochran advised her to never feel too comfortable. The moment that stuck out from that visit, however, was not Cochran’s tips on gameplay — it was the long, drawn-out hug between the pair.
The first thing I say to Cochran is, ‘I don’t want to slime you. I’m filthy,’ and he just starts laughing. He said, ‘I know, I know. Remember, I played twice too.’ It was just so nice to have some peace out of the cacophony and the frenetic pace that is Survivor,” she said. “Cochran showed up and he was the only person not trying to stick a knife in my back, that I could truly say was there for me. That was just really neat. And he’s a great guy. I loved Cochran when he played, and I loved having that meeting with him.”
As for what’s next for Wanner, who has had seemingly every job — and experience — under the sun?
“I actually did ponder tackling something insane like Mt. Everest,” she said. “Wouldn’t that be so cool? But, you know, I really don’t know. I’m just riding this out, and I’ve yet to truly make a decision. What do you do when you’re 51 and you’ve already played Survivor twice? I’m honestly not quite sure.”
Playing Survivor a third time is a likely suggestion, and though Wanner’s two daughters, Jade and Crystal, were the ones to suggest their mom audition for the reality competition — “My daughters are proud of me. I think there’s a few things they wish wouldn’t have made it, but overall, they’re proud of me,” she confessed — the two-time player’s got another possible ally in mind.
“I would love to do it like a Blood vs. Water and take some lovely young journalist like yourself along for the ride. Perhaps [I would play again] if I could get the right partner. Or maybe The Amazing Race with someone like yourself,” she mused. “I would love to do something like a Thelma and Louise part two, with some cool chick.”
“CBS is listening,” she joked (though it really was true). “We got you on the record.”
For the remainder of Game Changers, however, Wanner hopes to see Sierra Dawn Thomas make it to the end.
“She isn’t getting the credit she deserves for some of these big players being taken out. The girl was instrumental in some very strategic moves, so she’s a good girl, hard working, and loves animals like I do,” she shared. “I’d love to see her win.”
Survivor: Game Changers airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.