Atlanta's Davie Rickenbacker has his torch snuffed during the finale of "Survivor" season 37 finale. He finished sixth. CREDIT: CBS

Atlanta’s Davie Rickenbacker had a blast on ‘Survivor,’ wouldn’t mind doing it again

Originally posted Saturday, December 22, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Atlanta resident Davie Rickenbacker wasn’t even supposed to be on the 37th season of “Survivor.”

The eventual sixth-place finisher was originally given the dubious honor of being an “alternate.” In Davie’s mind, that was a lame consolation prize at best given that he has wanted to be on the show since he was a wee child. 

On the bright side, he was still a potential candidate for the 38th season. (CBS shoots the two seasons back to back). So he stayed prepared - just in case.

Then the call came in early March. Someone had dropped out of the cast 40 hours before shooting was to begin. Could he fly from Atlanta to Fiji within 24 hours and hit the beach immediately?

Though he had a job he really liked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a health communications specialist, “Survivor” was an opportunity he couldn’t say no to. 

So he quit his job, packed up and left. His former boss didn’t begrudge him, aware that he was a huge fan. “She 100 percent understood,” Rickenback said. “She told me, ‘If you didn’t do it, we’d fire you so you could!’”

Suddenly, he was on the David team with the likes of former Georgia Tech post-doc student Christian Hubicki and eventual winner, Kentucky attorney Nick Wilson. And it was clear that he really enjoyed the experience, no matter how difficult it was at times, battling cyclones, a monotonous rice diet and Jeff Probst’s “ball” jokes.

 “I got to catch octopus, catch lizards,” he said rapturously. “Hunting for idols felt nostalgic to me. It brought me back to home in South Carolina in the woods searching for things, finding things and getting in trouble.” 

Davie watched the early episodes and was a little disappointed. “I came off more as comedy relief,” he said. But after the merge, he got more screen time. 

The best moment was when he found an Idol clue and ended up in a spot where he could break open some urns and extend the power of the immunity Idol. He spent a long time talking out loud all the potential scenarios if he did so, then ultimately chose to do nothing because the wind was blowing away from the urns. A man of faith, he saw that as a sign from God.

In fact, he said he had no regrets in terms of how he played. 

“Survivor” producers (including host Probst) ultimately gave Davie plenty of love. When he was eliminated this past Wednesday and finished in sixth place, Probst did a surprisingly long interview with Davie during the live reunion describing some of Davie’s journey to get there. (Note: the less interesting fourth and fifth place finishers got almost no airtime in comparison.)

Davie said he deliberately kept Christian around as long as possible. He knew Christian was a shield for him. And not surprisingly, once Christian was gone, Davie was the next one voted out. He also felt Christian made an earlier strategic mistake by voting out Davie’s close ally Carl and giving the Goliaths the opportunity to take back power - which they did. 

He otherwise imagined the final five potentially being him, Gabby, Carl, Nick and Christian. 

Also noted during the live reunion: Davie lost 36 pounds from 36 days on “Survivor” and has largely kept it off. He did remember his first meal after getting eliminated fondly: lobster and pizza. He said while on the island, when he got hungry, he focused on the fact he was losing weight, which is something he needed to do anyway. And he did eat plenty of hermit crabs, which most of the others avoided.

He also admitted that the toll the show took on him mentally hurt his ability to solve puzzles near the end, puzzles that helped Nick win the $1 million. Davie had more time, for instance, to finish a 63-piece puzzle during the second-to-last immunity challenge than Nick but Nick beat him big time. 

“All those pieces were a bit overwhelming,” Davie said. “At one point, I had let some puzzle pieces fall on the ground and Probst said, ‘You’re going to need that!’”

Davie helped his buddy Nick’s cause at the final tribal council by asking what made him think he was a Goliath and Nick rightfully noted his puzzle-solving prowess. 

He also said Nick ultimately outplayed him. Davie rconsidered him more of a threat than Christian. 

“We were best friends,” he said. “We were seeing each other’s moves.”

At one moment near the end of the season, after Davie found out Nick had created a fake idol and hadn’t told Davie, Davie considered taking him out. Then Nick did tell him and Davie backed off. That was, he realized, a super smart move on Nick’s part to keep Davie in his confidence at that crucial moment. 

After Davie was eliminated, he told the surviving final five that he would vote for the person who orchestrated his elimination, which was ultimately Mike White, the “School of Rock” writer and actor. But in the end, Davie chose Nick, in part because he won three back-to-back immunity challenges to save his hide. (The Goliath majority was certain to vote Nick out if he hadn’t done so.)

Davie also had a theory why Mike was not considered a dangerous player to win for most of his time on the island: “We knew Mike was a millionaire. If you get to the end with him, he’s not likely to get another million. I think that protected him.” 

And he felt (as I did when I watched it) that Mike’s final speech hurt him. Mike implied he didn’t need the money while Nick’s speech was far more effective and emotionally satisfying. “I think for Mike, it was 100 percent about the journey,” Davie said. 

Davie also said he was very close to Kara on the Goliath side. (She finished fourth.) The producers rarely showed her actually strategizing or doing much of anything interesting. But this was by design. The final “edit” of the show reflects who the final three will be and Kara was not at all close to Nick. He felt if he had made it to the finale, Kara would have gotten more air time. 

And in an interview with EW, Christian revealed that Davie had built “spy shacks” to listen in on other people’s conversations. This is a concept others have done as well in past seasons. But “Survivor” producers did not reveal this at all. Davie was surprised but he’s happy this was kept under wraps because it’s a strategy he would use again if he were to go back on the show. (It’s not exactly a secret anymore given stories like this, but any future castmates probably won’t know.)

He is natural open to doing “Survivor” again and there’s no doubt the producers will ask. But at age 31, he doesn’t want to do so immediately. He wants to live a little more, get married, have kids. He saw how some of the folks on the island had families and that added to their journey of discovery. So it might not be until season 47 before we see Davie again fishing out idols and making alliances. 

Davie is also looking for another paying job so if you want a social media specialist, he’s ready and willing. 

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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