For 39 days, Will Wahl went from“living in America…to absolutely nothing.” He left simple necessities and all technology at home to compete for a million dollars in Fiji on the television show Survivor.
“It’s definitely a culture shock,” says Wahl, “because we had to create our own culture in a sense. I remember in season one, they would say [that the contestants] have to create. . .a new society and those who don’t adapt to the society would be voted out.”
Wahl and 19 other contestants were divided into two tribes: Generation X whose members were born between 1963 and 1982 and The Millennials whose members were born between 1984 and 1997. Wahl happened to be the youngest contestant and the youngest person to ever be on Survivor, leaving high school during the spring of his senior year before coming to Ohio State this fall to pursue a double major in psychology and political science.
Wahl was first introduced to the show when he he was a kid and met Tina Scheer, a contestant on Season 11, at her lumberjack show in Maine.
Wahl explains how Scheer described Survivor as “more than a show and more like a competition and more of a psychological experiment.” Intrigued by Scheer’s description of the experience, Wahl came across the show on TV a few years later and quickly became connected with its community by reading blogs and listening to podcasts about players’ strategies.
“Trying to understand the game …developed into a passion–or what some of my friends might call an obsession–so I decided to apply,” says Wahl.
In his audition video, Wahl remarks, “I wanted them to remember me in casting, so that when I applied when I got older and when I had a better shot … they would remember my name. So I was just loud. I was ridiculous. I was saying and doing things that were absolutely out there and crazy ”
Receiving the casting call was surreal for him. He says that even though “the show has ended [and] it’s airing, I still don’t believe I actually did it.”
To prepare for the show, Wahl listened to podcasts that focused on the different personalities of people on the show and he took swim lessons in addition to doing a variety of workouts at the gym.
“I knew that the pro [of being 18] would be that people would not take me seriously. They would not want me voted out, but the con would be that they wouldn’t take me seriously,” saysWahl. As a result, Wahl decided to use his age as an advantage. “I wanted to use my age to make people think I was naive and trustworthy,” says Wahl, “and then I would use their trust to blindside them.”
Wahl understood that his age would make it difficult to earn people’s respect,but at the same time, he says, “it definitely create[d] a kind of shield” that guarded him from being an initial target. Ultimately, Wahl believes that the battle between generations definitely helped him get through to the point in the competition where the tribes end and the remaining contestants are on their own, but nothing prepared him for the weather the first night.
Going into the game, Wahl expected the rain in Fiji to cause problems, but he never expected to have to endure a cyclone on the first night before his tribe
had even built a shelter.
Wahl designates that first night as “the longest night of [his] life” and recalls sleeping for roughly 20 minutes.
“There would be times that I would think the sun was coming up and it just wouldn’t be. It was pitch black too. We didn’t have any kind of light,” remembers Wahl.
During that night, he and a few others in his tribe built a burrow under a raft and rested their heads under it so their faces were dry but feet were still exposed to the rain. Wahl remembers being surrounded by palm trees while lightning flashed less than half a second after thunder sounded.
“The whole world would go white for a second. It was freaky and that helped me bond with people,” Wahl says. That night under the raft, he prayed with Michelle, a missionary in his tribe, and he attributes staying hopeful to his faith.
Ultimately, he says, “That night broke us and it really helped us to realize that this is how we’re going to be living” for the next 39 days.”
Throughout his experience, Wahl explains that he was constantly so exhausted that sometimes he could not walk or think cognitively. In addition, it was very difficult to shift from having luxuries at home to lacking necessities and the support of a community.
Wahl says, “In America, we have everything. We can walk to the refrigerator and get food whenever we want. We have a community in family, friends and neighbors, but in the game there is nothing but these people that I know hard yanything about. Nothing that these people say or do can be trusted and that makes it difficult when trying to build a community in which to survive.”
When Wahl came back, he says, “It was kind of like I went through a time warp” Wahl remembers thinking it was March not May. He realized how removed he had been from American culture after learning that Prince had died while he was competing on the show.
For now, Wahl is looking to keep moving forward and find new passions and dreams to accomplish. Whale really wants people to believe that if “a normal kid from a farming town in Jersey” can compete on Survivor and achieve his dream at 18, “anyone can do anything they want to do.”