Playing with Champions

Domenick Abbate Talks Wendell Holland

Dom Abbate chats to us about his former tribemate Wendell Holland.

Photo: CBS

Back in June last year, while the Survivor: Winners At War cast were battling it out on the islands of Fiji, I reached out to a selection of former Survivor players to get their thoughts and predictions on the returning castaways. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting those interviews here on Inside Survivor.

Today, we’re talking to Domenick Abbate, who played with Wendell Holland in Survivor: Ghost Island. There have been a lot of dynamic duos throughout Survivor history but perhaps none so dominant as Dom and Wendell. Forming a friendship early on the Naviti tribe, the two men worked in tandem to control the trajectory of the game, Dom with his strategic aggression and Wendell with his charming social skills. While they both knew the other was their biggest competition, neither took the shot and instead, ended up sitting next to each other at the Final Tribal Council, where for the first time ever the vote ended in a tie. Ultimately, it was Laurel’s vote which tipped the scale in Wendell’s favor, claiming the Sole Survivor title from his close ally Dom.

Inside Survivor reached out to Dom to get his thoughts on Wendell’s return to Survivor: Winners At War.

Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2019 while Survivor: Winners At War was still filming in Fiji.

1) Hi Dom, thanks for doing this! You and Wendell worked together for pretty much the entirety of Ghost Island, what was it that initially drew you to Wendell and what was it that made him the perfect ally?

Wendell and I hit it off immediately. We both live near major metropolitan cities in the northeast (Wendell – Philadelphia | Me – NYC), we both work with our hands, and we both initially felt the same way about certain players in the game. This made it very easy to decide to work together because most players are just looking for someone that they can relate to in the early stages of the game.

2) On TV we see a lot of the strategizing and “big moves,” but I’m more interested in the general day-to-day. What was Wendell like around camp during the downtime? How did he fit in? Who did he gravitate towards?

People generally gravitated toward Wendell. He was like everyone’s big brother out there. He was always working to improve camp life for all of us. If somebody was uncomfortable, he would always go out of his way to comfort that person. I think it was Kellyn who kept having issues with her pants falling down due to her excessive weight loss. It was Wendell that designed a belt for her to keep her pants up. She and most of the players were super grateful for these small gestures. Was it strategic? Sure it was, but it absolutely reflected who Wendell is as a person in real life. Wendell loves to take care of people and do good for those around him.

3) The edit presented you as the more aggressive side of the partnership, while Wendell came across as the social influence, almost a mediator at times. Is that an accurate representation? How did you view your working relationship, and did it change throughout the season?

The edit is not always an accurate description of what specifics are going on in the game. For the most part, you do see the accurate storyline that is transpiring. So between Wendell and myself, I was definitely portrayed as the more aggressive player. But Wendell was amazing at getting people to see things through his eyes. Just because he was more soft-spoken than me doesn’t mean that his desire to win or make something happen was less aggressive than my strategy. It’s just a completely different approach to the same hopeful result. 

4) You obviously knew that Wendell was your biggest competition, and often made jokes about it at camp and in challenges, but did you ever seriously consider cutting him? If so, when? And what ultimately changed your mind?

I thought about cutting Wendell all the time. The issue was that we were seen as a duo. I would always end up talking myself out of it because I thought of how powerless I would have felt after he was out. Laurel and Donathan would have no longer trusted me, and I was convinced that I would have ended up in a Mike Holloway/Rick Devens situation, fighting for my life each day after that. I was hoping to take a shot at him at the final 6, but he ended up winning Immunity and foiling my plan. So at final 6 is where I made that great/terrible decision in playing the fake idol against Sebastian, with the hopes that I would “out resume'” Wendell with better gameplay in front of the jury.

5) At that shocking Final Tribal Council, early jurors voted for you, and later jurors voted for Wendell. Is that something you noticed? And do you have any thoughts on why that is? Is it a reflection of the way you each approached the game and relationships?

Still not sure what to say about this. All season we had these crazy statistic phenomenons happen. For example, EVERY tribe swap ended up in the favor of the Naviti tribe, which is mathematically unheard of. Seeing the first five jury members vote for me, and the second five jury members vote for him, resulting in a tie, just fit in perfectly with the mathematical theme of the season. Perhaps a lot of the reason I got no love from the second five jury members probably has a lot to do with the final 6 Tribal Council.

6) What do you think Wendell’s mindset will be coming into this all-winners season? Will he be looking for a new Dom (and Laurel)? And who on this season’s cast could potentially fill those roles?

I’m very confident in Wendell’s ability to find a new group of players in a new hypothetical season. His ability to connect with people is strong. I cannot imagine a scenario where he is booted early in the game (other than being considered a major threat). He has such a soft presence at camp, and people will gravitate to him the same way they did in my season. He will find those 2 or 3 people very early on, and that should pay off for him later in the game.

7) How do you think Wendell should or will adapt his game if he doesn’t have a Dom and Laurel this time around?

Like I said, he doesn’t need Dom or Laurel to succeed in this game. His own ability to connect will carry him through.

8) Who on this season’s cast poses the biggest threat to Wendell? Is there anyone you see him butting heads with?

I don’t see him butting heads with anyone, but I would say his biggest threat is either Jeremy or Kim. The reason mainly being that they both share the same great qualities that Wendell has. They’re all super likable, comforting, soft-spoken, and people will gravitate toward them. If the three of them linked up early, they would dominate the game, and Final Tribal would be epic. 

9) What is Wendell’s biggest strength? And his biggest weakness?

His biggest strength is his social game. He picks up on what moves people, and he is able to exploit that when he needs to. An example of this would be when he brought Sebastian the shell that he left on Naviti beach. These subtle moves that nobody picks up on are where King Wendell lives.

The thing that concerns me for Wendell in this hypothetical season would be maybe getting a bit “star struck” or rattled in the early parts of the game because it’s such a big season with such big characters. He has to remember that he is a legend like the rest of them and that it can’t affect his good decision making in the early part of the game. Once he gets his footing, this will no longer be an issue.

10) Before I let you go, what is new in the world of Dom? How has life been since we last saw you on Ghost Island?

I always try to appreciate everything I have been given in my real world and in the opportunities that were given to me in the world of Survivor. I have an amazing family, a great job, and absolutely nothing to complain about. Life is good.

Thanks again to Dom for taking part. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing with Champions interviews.

Survivor: Winners At War premieres February 12, 2020, on CBS.

Written by

Martin Holmes

Martin is a freelance writer from England. He’s represented by Berlin Associates for comedy writing and writes about TV and entertainment, currently for TV Insider and Vulture, previously Digital Spy, ET Canada, and Yahoo. A finalist for the Shortlist Sitcom Search in 2012 for “Siblings,” Martin received his BA in English with Creative Writing from The University of Hull. Martin is the owner and editor-in-chief of Insider Survivor.

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