Rick Devens and Ron Clark at the "Survivor 38" finale in Los Angeles May 15, 2019.
Photo: CBS
Photo: CBS

Interviews with Georgians Rick Devens, Ron Clark on their ‘Survivor’ season 38 experience

Originally posted Thursday, May 16, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Two Georgians provided some of the more entertaining moments on this 38th season of “Survivor.”

Spirited Atlanta educator Ron Clark played hard, fought hard and lasted a respectable 31 out of 39 days on the “Survivor” island in Fiji.

Exuberant Macon broadcaster Rick Devens was actually eliminated from the game early, fought his way back in and almost won the $1 million. In the end, super fan and singer Sia rewarded Devens a very nice consolation prize for his efforts: a whopping $100,000.

Clark won an early advantage, danced a bit, consolidated power on his tribe prior to the merge, then survived six more tribal councils before he was blindsided by some folks he thought were allies on day 31. 

This year had an unusual twist: players voted out in tribal council were offered a shot at staying on an exile island with other eliminated contestants. Those who stayed had two chances to win a challenge and get back in the competition. Every single one chose to go and only two eventually dropped out.

As strong players were winnowed down, two of the final three were what “Survivor” experts call “goats.” They were such weak players, nobody felt threatened to have them around in the final three. The third? Chris Underwood, who only played 12 of his 39 days on the main island yet played a masterful game during his brief return time back. And he was able to pocket the $1 million. 

I spoke with both Devens and Clark the day after the finale. Here are the highlights: 

Rick Devens

“Survivor” super fan from day one: “I was a big fan from from the first episode. I was a sophomore in high school. I remember walking through the living room. My sister and dad were watching. ‘What is this?’ It became a huge family show for us. Throughout the years, I’d be on the phone with my parents after an episode. ‘Can you believe so-and-so did this?’

“When I was in college, I applied for the first time with a video. Heard nothing. I got married. I sent a video. Heard nothing. I had two kids. I was sitting during a commercial break doing our morning show. I just picked up my phone and started doing a video walking around the news station. I was just being me. My earlier videos were so over-produced. Months later, I heard back. I had one casting guy who really believed in me and had to really fight for me. 

“There’s that dad bod. Will this guy be able to compete? Is this guy healthy enough to do this? Jesse convinced them. It was really great to go prove that. When I was able to get in front of the casting people, it worked.” 

His early strategy: “I planned to just slip right through. I’ll be so unimposing. I wanted to get with some strong guys so they’ll be looking at each other. I wanted to play a subtle social game. Then all of a sudden, I’m a huge challenge threat.” 

“House money”: Once he was ousted and came back, he was considered an easy vote. “I wasn’t seen as a big threat. My former three tribemates - Wardog, Kelley and Lauren - wanted to turn on me. I was just trying to find my footing the first couple of tribals back. When David was eliminated, it became clear I was next. There is a lot of freedom knowing you’re on the bottom. I can really start looking for idols. I was more focused in challenges. It really opens up the game.”

“Idol” hunting ain’t so easy:  “People who are watching talk about how easy it is to find idols. Except for the last one that morning, it took me at least six hours for the others. I”m going from tree to tree, root to root, bush to bush. The camera crew has to act like I’m about to find it any second just in case I do.”

Rick Devens during the episode 13 on "Survivor: Edge of Extinction."
Photo: CBS

How was he so peppy?: While it was obvious by the fourth week that the others were pretty spent, Devens seemed just fine. “I was fueled by panic. I knew I needed to find idols and win challenges or I was going home. I had some extra body fat to burn. I was getting a lot of adrenaline seeing them get weaker as I got stronger. I got this third wind that carried me through.”

Was Wardog really that bad at challenges or was he faking it to avoid being seen as a challenge beast? “I love Wardog. He is so hilarious. He’s a good friend. And he is that bad at challenges.”

On entertaining the jury during tribal council: “There’s no place that’s more like a news desk than tribal council. You’re in bright lights. You’re taking to your audience, in this case, Jeff [Probst] and the jury. I felt way more comfortable in that scenario and that allowed me to listen to what others are saying and capitalize on those moments. I definitely wanted to put on a show. I know how boring Edge of Extinction is. I know I was being the class clown. The more they reacted, the more I wanted to do. Aubry [Bracco] and Julia [Carter] gave the biggest reactions every time.”

Bonding with winner Chris on Edge of Extinction: “We had six days together on Edge of Extinction. When I got out there three days after him, he was broken. He was really broken. It showed on his face. I got to sit there and listen, how this was going to affect his family, going to affect his future. But he was big about what I did. He forgave me. He handled it the way you’d hope it would. We became super close even to the point where Aubry  held a mock marriage ceremony for us. 

And that cost Devens $1 million... “I handed him the $1 million by giving that half an idol back to him. If I had withheld that, I believe he would have gone home. Nobody else could have beat me in the fire challenge. I could have told him I’ll give him the idol when we get to tribal council and then not give it to him. But I couldn’t have done that. I believed that would break the guy. Now that I’ve met his support system, I know he would have been okay. I do regret it. I should have withheld the idol. But in that moment, he hit me at a human level. I was super loyal to Chris to a fault.”

Winning $100,000 from Sia: “Holy cow man! No one is more shocked and pleased than myself. My wife was bawling in the front row, just crying her eyes out. I had no idea. I did get to speak to her after the show. She’s absolutely incredible. She gave Aurora [McCreary] $15,000 for getting through foster care. She gave Joe [Anglim] $15,000 to cut his hair and he gave it to charity. She is now my favorite person on Earth!” 

On Jeff Probst pimping him out to bigger employers on live TV: “It’s going to be awkward when I get back on Monday. That question caught me off guard.”

Why he voted for Gavin over Chris and Julie for the $1 million: “I looked at Gavin and Julie. They got to the end of the game without ever being voted on. But I think Chris is a worthy winner. Any one of them would have been deserving. But being on Edge of Extinction is easier than being in the regular game. You can’t get kicked off. I was able to walk away and take a four-hour nap with no fear of repercussions. I wasn’t able to do that in the game... I also didn’t think Chris spent enough time in the game. If Aurora had come back, I might have considered it more. I’m a little surprised it was such a blowout. [The vote was nine votes Chris, four votes Gavin, no votes Julie]

Wooing the jury on Edge of Extinction: “Chris worked the jury on Edge of Extinction for 27 days. The jury had Eric, Aubry, Ron. All that time, Chris is feeding them. They’re in misery because Gavin voted them out. Gavin had so much agency in the game. Chris was an avatar for everyone on the Edge of Extinction. They all had a plan if they got back in. They all had information about everyone. Chris even had a hand-written letter from Ron to give to Julie telling her to trust Chris. He had advantages Gavin and Lauren and I did not have. Plus, he had that idol.”

On the whole concept of Edge of Extinction, which some fans hated: “I’m so grateful. On any other season, I’d be nothing but a footnote.”

Ron Clark

His thoughts on the final three: “It wasn’t my ideal final three not only because I wasn’t in the final three but because I really wanted a final three that felt worthy of sole survivor. There were other better candidates on the jury. I ended up voting for Chris because when he came back, he made some big moves. Gavin played below the radar. He didn’t do anything. Julie was willing to do what others wanted. She had no resume.” 

Other scenarios: “If Victoria had sat besides Devens, she would have lost. If Victoria had sat beside Chris, she would have won unanimously. Lauren would not have received a vote. No one would have voted for her.”

Edge of Extinction advantage: “Once you spend 27 days on Edge of Extinction, you build bonds. Chris was unique. He had the opportunity to hang with the jury and cook for them and build fire and catch stingrays. He gave them rice and coconuts. He was the provider on Edge of Extinction. That boded well for him when they decided to give him the money... When I was on Edge of Extinction, I couldn’t do anything. I was like spit. He took care of everybody. He’s a naturally good guy. He deserved the money.” 

In defense of Edge of Extinction: “Normally when people get voted off ‘Survivor,’ you don’t hear them. You don’t know their story. I’m glad this season, it showed the pain and struggle people go through after being voted out. It’s traumatic. You lost a game you know eventually your friends and family will be disappointed. You saw the anger and the tears. You saw strong players like Kelley Wentworth break down.”

Being painted the villain by Jeff Probst: “I didn’t mind it. My goal was to play hard, play aggressively. If I took on the role of villain, I’m okay with that because it’s just a game. I’m glad I went for it. You have to realize you only see 1/100th of 1% of what happened. Everybody wishes they showed this or that. You’re at the hands of the producers and editors to choose what they want to show. I’m fine with it. I’m glad I got to participate. I got to be on ‘Survivor’!” 

On calling himself the “puppetmaster”: “I didn’t remember saying that. When you don’t eat for weeks, you can’t think clearly. When you don’t have food or family or friends or anything to hold on to, you get a little power and you latch onto that. I became arrogant and overconfident.”

Pure blindside: He had no idea he was being blindsided the night he was eliminated. “I felt 100,000% sae. When you feel that safe, you should be worried. Something is going on. Honestly, before we left camp, Aurora asked me if I was going to pack my shows. I was so confident, I didn’t take my shoes to tribal. She was basically telling me I was going home and I didn’t even listen!” 

Would he play again? Yes. But he doesn’t think he would get asked unless they did a “heroes vs. villains” construct or if they did “Blood vs. water” situation because the producers adored his husband Lloyd. 

Thoughts on Rick: “He’s polarizing. You hate him or you like him. He got too much attention on TV. His comments can comes across as a little annoying. He’s always making jokes. He’s a great guy and a good person. I didn’t take it personally when he called me a villain. You have to separate game play from the person.”

Spent: By day 28, Ron said he was exhausted. “The producers said you might start blacking out when you stand up by day 25. By day 28, that began happening ot me. I’d have to sit back down. Everybody was taking it easy except Rick, who was running around like the Energizer Bunny 10 hours a day. I had nothing left by then. I lost 30 pounds. I was miserable.”

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About the Author

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