It’s probably been a while since you tuned into Survivor. Nick Wilson will give you a reason to watch the 37th season of the CBS reality show.
The UK graduate is a cast member on the show tabbed as “Davids vs. Goliaths” that will premiere tonight at 8:00 on CBS. Nobody fits the “David” archetype better than Wilson.
Nick and his five brothers and sisters grew up in Williamsburg, Kentucky. They lived off food stamps and shuffled between a trailer and government housing. “I definitely grew up poor,” he joked. “I guess maybe I didn’t realize how I was living until I went other places.”
After graduating from Whitley County High School in 2009, he took his talents to the University of Kentucky, just in time to see John Wall at Big Blue Madness. Once his undergraduate career ended at UK, Wilson went to law school at the University of Alabama, Upon graduation, he returned home to work for the public defender’s office in McCreary County. His latest adventure took him to Fiji. He spoke about the Survivor experience with KSR.
KSR: When I think of Fiji, the first thing that comes to mind is Appalachia. How much did growing up in the mountains prepare you to survive for 40 days in Fiji?
Nick: I think growing up in the country and doing country things is an advantage. Someone like me has an advantage over someone who’s a Wall Street or L.A. executive or something, because we go camping for fun. We go fishing for fun growing up. I had no problems with fires. I just instinctively know how to keep and maintain a fire. I like sleeping outside.
I think it was an advantage. I was never really freaked out about the survival aspect of it. I wasn’t intimidated or worried about bugs, getting cold or sleeping outside. We’ve been there and done that. I’ve been camping my whole life. It was fun for me to be camping all the time and sleeping outside. There’s nothing like sleeping under the stars. The stars out here in the mountains, the stars in Fiji, it’s beautiful.
KSR: After earning your JD, instead of venturing to private practices in urban areas, you decided to return home to help the people of Eastern Kentucky. Why?
One thing that made me want to be a lawyer was the prospect of going somewhere, making a lot of money and maybe moving to Cincinnati or Lexington or Louisville. But I went to Tuscaloosa for law school and the longer I was away from Eastern Kentucky, the more I realized that this is my home. To go away to law school for three years, that was one thing. It was awesome and I’m glad I did it, but the longer I was away I think the more I felt a sense of community and a duty to the area I’m from.
I’m a person in a unique position where I grew up with these people. I grew up the way they grew up. I live the way they live. Now I have the education and the opportunity to be in a position of power. I could be a judge or in government somehow. I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth. I know what people go through and I know how times can be tough for people sometimes. I just felt like I could use my opportunity in life to help more people than just myself getting rich.
Also, I had some personal struggles with my family. When my mother passed away (suddenly in second year of law school), my family was going through struggles that a lot of people go through in Eastern Kentucky. I think it really opened my eyes up to the drug epidemic that’s going on here, the addiction problem a lot of the community in Eastern Kentucky has and for me to go through that and see how much pain it is, that’s what people are going through everyday here. If I can help somebody, even if I just help a few people along the way, I think it will be worth in a change of career for me to try to do that.”
KSR: Now that you’ve spent time playing Survivor on a deserted island, which former Kentucky basketball (or football) player would you like to have with you on your side?
Nick: Right now I gotta say Benny Snell because he’s a beast. He’s talking trash, he’s getting trash talked to him and he’s just taking it and showing people up. He’s backing up what he’s saying. As a competitor, even if he was my opponent, I would respect that so much and just want him out there. I want to see somebody like that play Survivor.
Who I would want to be with is Big Cuz (DeMarcus Cousins). I would want him to be my No. 1 man. He’s got an attitude. He’s a big, strong guy and he’s a beast. If he was my No. 1 ally — in Survivor you call it a meat-shield — he would be the guy if anybody ever wanted to vote us out, me or Big Cuz, they’re going to take out Big Cuz. You’ve got to get him out of there when you have a chance.
He would be my perfect sidekick to talk trash. Remember call me against Mississippi State? He’s the guy who’s saying call-me when we’re winning immunities. Whenever everybody else is mad at us, they’re going to take it out on him.
KSR: You’ve cheered for the Wildcats forever. When you think about all the great moments, what’s your favorite moment as a Kentucky fan?
Nick: My favorite is not even a game. I can’t even forget it. It’s affected my life. I can just hear “Ice Cream Paint Job” and see the most beautiful dance move I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m talking about Big Blue Madness with John Wall busting out the dance move, the John Wall.
Seeing that at Big Blue Madness…Yeah buddy, rolling like a big shot…and you see this guy with so much swag after we’ve been through so much crap. Pitino left. We got Tubby, he was okay. Then we get Gillispie and it’s terrible. Just watching this dude dance, I watched the Youtube videos non-stop after that because I knew that things were turning around. It was like our savior was up there.
It’s changed ever since. That’s what put Kentucky basketball back on the map was John Wall. I was at Big Blue Madness so maybe that had something to do with it. Now we’re talking. It’s my favorite ball player, my favorite shot (at Lexington bars), my favorite dance move. That right there sums up my fanhood. I was actually there, top row, worst seats in the house, but I’ll never forget it.
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KSR: In Survivor, you not only have to be able to thrive in the wilderness, but you have to outwit your opponents. What’s harder, surviving or playing the game?
Nick: I think it can be different for different people. For me I think how I had the inherent ability to do the outdoors part, so it wasn’t as bad for me. The outwit part, I felt like I was prepared for that too, because I’ve been such a big fan of the show for so long — I’ve watched every season — basically I felt like I would be good at that too. But with the outwit part, it’s tricky because you never know how good your opponents are.
In sports, when you’re Kentucky and you’re going to play Duke, you know you’re going to play Duke. Survivor’s a little bit different. It’s so easy to underestimate the opponents. At this stage in Survivor, we’re 37 seasons in now, the wilderness part is kind of figured out. Outwit is really where you separate the good players and bad players. You can make a fire and be the best fisherman and get voted out day one now a days.