Debbie Wanner is one of the four Kaoh Rong returnees on the upcoming Survivor: Game Changers season. She started her first season as part of the Brains tribe, along with her fellow Game Changers castmate Aubry Bracco, and ice cream supremo Neal Gottlieb. Initially, it seemed like the younger four of the Brains tribe had taken control, with Debbie and Joe Del Campo on the outs. But after Liz Markham and Peter Baggenstos started to plot behind their alliance’s back, Neal and Aubry joined forces with Debbie and Joe and blindsided Liz. Even though Debbie and Neal had a working relationship, their personal bond didn’t seem particularly tight, with Neal even questioning some of Debbie’s extravagant claims. Debbie and Neal remained on the same tribe together until Neal’s untimely demise at the hands of a ghastly knee infection at the merge.
Inside Survivor reached out to Neal to get his thoughts on Debbie’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.
1) Hey Neal, thanks for doing this. During Kaoh Rong the editors certainly played up Debbie’s “kookiness,” but we also saw scenes of her talking strategy. How did you perceive Debbie in the game? What was she like to live with day-to-day?
Did they play it up or play it down? Debbie is amazing 24/7. I certainly didn’t think of her as a very strategic player, despite the edit suggesting that she was the Brain behind the Liz blindside. If it weren’t for Aubry and me, that initial vote would have been four votes on Liz, but we convinced Debbie the need to split votes.
Debbie is a kind human being who is mighty entertaining. Sure, she makes you roll your eyes every now and again, but that seems like a small price to pay to be in the company of greatness.
2) It seemed early on that the younger members of the Brains tribe were against Debbie and Joe. But when it came to tribal council, you worked with Debbie to take out Liz. How did that come about? And what was Debbie like to work with as an alliance member?
As was suggested in the first episode, I wanted a Young Bucks alliance, which I thought would give the tribe the best chance of winning challenges by maximizing speed, strength, and agility. However, Liz screwed up and wanted to take me out. And as a result, she needed to be punished. The choice did ultimately come down to whom Debbie and Joe wanted to align with. I was keeping their bellies full, and both Liz and Peter got on Joe’s nerves marginally more than I did.
Working with Debbie was like working with a three-legged rabid kitten with an incredibly low body fat percentage and well-developed abs.
3) In her “Day After” video, Debbie said if she played again she’d try aligning with the more “rude and obnoxious” people. Do you think that is a wise strategy for her? How do you think she should change her game this season?
I think that Debbie thought that she was screwed by the people with good bedside manners and non-threatening gazes, but I’m not convinced that the result would have been different if she went to the dark side. Debbie is a person who can win if she gets to the final and there is always so much stuff coming out of her mouth that you’re never quite sure if she’s speaking in tongues or trying to talk strategy. I think that listening a little more and talking a lot less (most notably about herself) would go a long way to help Debbie.
But then again, given how ridiculous she came off in her edit Debbie may be in an enviable position of not being taken seriously, and she can stealthily move with a purpose to the end.
4) There are four Kaoh Rong members on Season 34. How do you think they’ll interact? Is there still bad blood between Debbie and Aubry?
The dynamics of Debbie and Aubry, Aubry and Tai and Tai and Caleb are interesting ones, given how things went down. After the success of Boston RAmber, one has to imagine that Tai and Caleb would be an easy target if they’re on the same beach, as quite possibly the most cuddlelicious couple in the history of the game (other than Nick and I).
Meanwhile, Aubry and Debbie will probably engage in a staring match. Debbie not trusting Aubry and Aubry staring at Debbie because she likes to stare back, while thinking of coleslaw, because that is often her only care in the world.
Will Tai team up with Aubry after working with her to get to the final and then getting no votes? That might be about as likely as Tai jumping in bed with Debbie thirty seconds into their first date. Or ever. I’m excited to see how these four seek to destroy each other, while the other contestants stand on the sidelines and laugh.
5) Who on this cast do you see as Debbie’s biggest threats and why?
Hold on… I need to actually go to Inside Survivor to see who is on this cast. Aubry is a tricky one. She could be a huge threat to Debbie cause, baby, they might have bad blood even though it used to be mad love. I could see them being each other’s worst enemies simply out of fear.
Andrea is another perfect threat for Debbie. She’ll probably convince Debbie that they’re in a “Boys are stupid throw rocks at them” alliance, use her for a few votes and then dispose of Debbie when her ears start bleeding. Sandra is also one of Debbie’s biggest threats because she is invincible until proven otherwise.
6) On the flip-side, who here should she align with and why?
Who doesn’t need a meat shield? Debbie should find her Adonis and help give one of the alpha males the numbers that he will desperately need. I could see Debbie admiring Brad Culpepper’s tight end, getting into a Foursome with Ozzy, hiding in Tony’s spy shack and swinging on Troyzan’s vine.
7) Putting you on the spot, how far do you think Debbie will make it? And who is your overall pick to win?
I think that Debbie will make it to roughly the same spot, further cementing her career as a professional juror. I’m calling a three-person final with JT, Sandra, and Tony, because that would be ridiculously fun, mostly from the standpoint of the jury being completely perplexed about how they let that happen. At the final tribal, there is a tie for the first time in 34 seasons. Sandra wins because Nick wasn’t in the game to beat her.
8) Perhaps the most important question of all – what is Debbie’s actual, real job?
I asked her what she’s currently doing for work in the green room at the Kaoh Rong finale and got a six-minute answer that told me absolutely nothing. I suspect that she’s independently wealthy and has just been f**king with us this whole time.
9) Before we let you go, what is new in the world of Neal? How has life been since we last saw you on Kaoh Rong?
Life is delightful. I sustained a laceration on my knee while clamming over July 4th requiring six stitches. It looked very much like an underwater volcano, so Mount Saint Neal came to life yet again. Video of that can be found on my Instagram. I also have jury duty next week, which I am very excited about and hoping that I finally get to vote for a winner. Besides that, I am getting ready for Burning Man, am busy growing Three Twins Ice Cream and have been making progress convincing my castmates that I would have won if I hadn’t been pulled.
Thanks again to Neal for taking part. For more on Debbie, you can check out her cast retrospective and official cast bio. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing With Game Changers interviews. Survivor: Game Changers premieres March 8, 2017, on CBS.