Hunter McKnight shares unseen Nami tribe dynamics in exclusive “Survivor 46” mid-game interview

The challenge beast reveals what really been happened on Nami in the first 11 days.

It’s been a somewhat magical run for Hunter McKnight so far on Survivor 46. Sure, thanks to his discovery of a Beware Advantage and his inability to put 20 Survivor season logos in order, he lost two Tribal Council votes in roughly the same amount of time it took me to type this sentence, but otherwise, he couldn’t really ask for more out of his first 11 days in the game.

For one thing, Hunter found that Beware Advantage, which should likely, in time, grant him an immunity idol. He also appears to be in a sturdy alliance and may have made another secret one with Q Burdette and Tim Spicer on his Journey. Plus, Hunter’s Nami tribe placed first in every single immunity challenge — meaning they never had to attend Tribal Council and vote anybody off (only losing Randen Montalvo due to a medical evacuation).

While all that would seem to indicate that Hunter is in a pretty sweet spot heading into this week’s merge episode, the science teacher’s absolute dominance in challenges may have placed a massive target on both his back and front.

In an exclusive mid-game interview, Entertainment Weekly caught up with Hunter to not only get his perspective on the pre-merge portion of the game, but also get the inside scoop on what was really going down over on Nami, since we never saw them have to shift into hardcore game mode. What were the real tribe dynamics? Who would have been voted out at a Tribal Council? And was Venus Vafa really on the outside as much as it seemed? Or was she even more on the outs? Read on for a heaping helping of insight and intel.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight on 'Survivor 46'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, what did it feel like to make it past the three-tribe potion of the game and on the precipice of the merge?

HUNTER McKNIGHT: It was exhilarating! It was fun to be a part of the camping trip that was Nami — making it undefeated was a nice touch. But, as a player, you are just ready to get this game moving! For me, I was always ready to keep the game moving forward. There was a nice bit of security in just being able to win as a tribe, but everyone knows the game can’t stay like that. So, it was exciting to make it to another milestone! Plus, I felt good with the majority of my tribe and had the connection I had made with Q and Tim on the journey.

Because Nami kept winning, you never had to go to Tribal Council, so we didn’t get to see a ton in terms of tribe dynamics. Take us through what it was like on Nami in terms of the social dynamics at play.

Let me see if I can lay it out for you! (With my 100 percent objective, unbiased point of view.) First off, Tevin and I were able to develop a good relationship early on. We both spent a lot of time building the shelter, and so naturally we developed a pair. He had also developed a good relationship with Soda over singing and just matching personalities, so she was basically a third that we had. I had no issues with Soda and was happy to work with her, but because she had such a big personality, I was worried that my lack of over-the-top enthusiasm would be perceived as a sign of me not liking her (especially the first few days). But she didn’t seem to take it that way. And I kept telling Tevin to “let Soda know I like her if there is ever any doubt.”

Once the excitement of the first few days died down, Soda and I were able to have some pretty neat moments shared while watching the sunrise and stuff. Also, there was a moment where I actually joined in the camp songs when Soda sang my all-time favorite camp song, and I joined in with the male part. So, all in all, at the beginning, Soda, Tevin, and I were pretty locked in. Honestly, for Liz, I can’t remember much from for the first few days. Yes, she said some pretty wild stuff at the beginning, but did a good job of really attempting to join in with the fun that Soda and Tevin led. I think she was more like me in that she wasn’t rushing to “strategize,” but was seeking to make connections for when the time came.

Then, you had Randen and Venus, and boy, were they wild cards. No one really knew where they stood. For a while, they were at odds with each other. They spent so much time away from camp either strategizing or looking for idols. It wasn’t uncommon to look up and both of them to be gone from camp while everyone else was working on the shelter. Randen pulled me aside multiple times and warned me of an all-girl thing that was happening, so it was hard to get a read on where he stood. I felt like I did connect with Randen pretty well and would have likely voted in line with him if we ended up going to Tribal, but he would still make you uneasy because you just weren’t entirely sure.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Randen Montalvo, Hunter McKnight, and Tevin Davis

Robert Voets/CBS

Randen Montalvo, Hunter McKnight, and Tevin Davis

Venus was different. I thought it was strange just how quickly she began to isolate herself. And then watching it back, I didn’t realize the impact the “princess” comment made on her. The intent of the comment that Tevin made was that “princess” shouldn’t be viewed as a negative term, but I think she just heard “princess” and ran with it. So now, it makes more sense the sudden change in Venus’ game style after the comment, because there was a point where I felt a shift in how Venus behaved, and it really seemed to happen after the comment.

Venus and I got to have a conversation one evening alone where she explained her purpose for playing and how she had a hard time connecting with people. After a talk with Tevin, she said that she felt people had the assumption that she expected people to do things for her — you can see part of this conversation in a secret scene. She asked me what I suggested. I was honest in just explaining that the best way to show people that their perception is wrong is by living it out and proving that they are wrong. (I guess it fell on deaf ears because from the secret scenes it seems she was open about the fact that she didn’t want to help around camp and was happy to let everyone else do stuff. Ha!)

Venus and Tevin did butt heads. Venus came across as being very self-focused and not wanting to contribute around camp (which is true according to her own confessionals). Tevin picked up on this and didn’t appreciate that attitude. However, it didn’t mean Tevin wanted to vote her out. Notice you never saw any confessionals of Tevin saying he wanted Venus gone — just mainly that she was hard to navigate around and sometimes difficult to gel with. Tevin and I were still both very open to working with her. Personality wise, they clashed. But that didn’t mean game-wise she had to go.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Soda Thompson, Hunter McKnight, Tevin Davis, Liz Wilcox, Randen Montalvo, and Venus Vafa on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Soda Thompson, Hunter McKnight, Tevin Davis, Liz Wilcox, Randen Montalvo, and Venus Vafa on 'Survivor 46'

Keeping in mind everything changes now at the merge, had you all had to vote somebody out in the first 11 days, what do you think would have happened and who would have gone home?

At first, we really weren’t sure. Keep in mind, a lot of us were pretty content with locking that in when it came time to actually decide. I knew I was solid with Liz, Tevin, and, for the most part, Soda. So, it felt stupid to start just giving out specific names that people could then twist on you. That being said, there was actually some talk of Randen when he was gone so long idol hunting.

Then it was possibly Venus, just because of her being such a wild card, her closeness with Randen, and just her general distain she had for all of us. (And I don’t mean to paint Venus in a negative light, we did have some fun times. But it really did seem like Venus did not want to give much effort in terms of connecting.) It wasn’t so much anti-Venus as it was that we felt good with the four we had.

Then it became Soda. Soda spent a lot of time going between Randen and Venus trying to do damage control with them. She would go, have talks with both of them, come back, and say a lot of what they were thinking. However, eventually, it got to the point that we weren’t sure if she was with us or with them. (Soda was also my competition for closeness with Tevin.) The “Shelter Trio” became Tevin, Liz, and I. This alliance developed after Soda started going off a lot with Randen and Venus.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight, Q Burdette, and Tim Spicer on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight, Q Burdette, and Tim Spicer on 'Survivor 46'

What’s something interesting that happened in the first 11 days that didn’t make it to TV and you wish we got a chance to see?

There was one day we caught 17 crabs! It was so much fun. We (Soda, Tevin, and I) would flip over these big rocks and the crabs would just scatter like crazy. You had to chase them down and stab them with these homemade spears Tevin and I made. We also had another day that we caught a sting ray and tried to eat it. (P.S. To all future Survivor players, do NOT boil sting rays. They just fall apart basically.) I really wish they had more time to show us hunting for crab because it was a daily thing. It was a pretty low energy activity that was just fun. We would usually come back with enough crab for people to have two each.

Tevin and I did most of it first, but then Soda started joining us. Liz was usually pretty worn out since she couldn’t eat coconut, so we suggested she didn’t overdo herself. We would also make sure Liz had the most crab to eat. Venus just chose not to join in — again, not sure why. I vividly remember [on] day nine we were walking back from where we caught the crab. Venus looked at us and said “Oh, is that were y’all catch the crabs?” I was shocked that we had been doing this for over a week and she didn’t even know where we went to catch the crabs. (Again, watching the secret scenes, I guess it was to conserve her energy. But we were happy to share.)

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight on 'Survivor 46'

You dominated individually at pretty much every challenge. While winning was clearly the most important thing to keep everyone safe, how worried were you about setting yourself up at the merge as a massive target due to your challenge prowess?

Very worried. I did not expect to do that well in challenges. I know everyone thinks that I have all these challenges at home, and I practiced them before I came out. That just wasn’t the case. I do have a lot of different challenges, but I only pull them out twice a year when we do our big Survivor event with the students. It’s a lot of work setting up a challenge, and so there was no way I was setting it up just to practice. (Granted, when I am doing the event for the kids, and I was designing the challenges, I would test them to see how difficult they were. But in terms of just practicing them, I never did that.) Plus, building and designing a puzzle makes them incredibly easy to solve, so I got no joy out of putting a puzzle back together that I had made. So, by no means did I know I was going to perform well in these challenges.

Anyways, back to the threat level. I really didn’t think I was developing a large target on my back until after the water basketball one. A few of the Siga tribe members actually looked over at me and did this little bow in my direction after that one. That’s when I knew I had done a really bad job of hiding any challenge ability. But for me, I LOVE the challenges. They are a ton of fun and are really just childhood games for me.

I grew up doing a lot of swimming, playing a lot of corn hole, shooting a lot of slingshots, and playing a lot of basketball. So, it was hard for me to lay off (just because it was so fun.) Also, in the two challenges that I really shined, it’s hard to “hide” ability in those because we were behind when I got to the final stage. During the sandbag tossing one especially, I was afraid of losing, so I wasn’t going to intentionally miss them to lower a threat level. I am not that good as to where I could just miss because I knew I was guaranteed to make them if I wanted to.

Once I found the Beware Advantage, I actually considered throwing the next challenge with one caveat — if there was food, we were going to win. So going into that challenge, I had a mind to throw it… until Jeff uncovered the pastries, then I was locked in. Oh, and one fun fact with the basketball one. Before that challenge, I had taken the pot and a coconut and practiced granny style tossing the coconut into the pot. So that may have helped.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight and Tevin Davis on 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight and Tevin Davis on 'Survivor 46'

What was your favorite moment you experienced this season leading up to the merge?

Oh, we had a lot of fun times laughing. But I think I would have to say, just watching the sunrises. It’s a very human moment you get to share with your tribemates and remember how cool of an opportunity you’ve been blessed with. Everyone is just happy the sun is coming up, and it just feels like some of the most genuine moments before everyone puts their strategy hats on for the day. (There was a deleted scene released of Soda and I sharing a sunrise, and it just reminds you of how cool it was to be out there.)

What was your lowest moment leading up to the merge?

Day 10 (before I found the Beware Advantage) was really tough. It was a down day, and those days just wear you out. There’s nothing really to do except watch the sun moving across the sky. When you go and check Tree Mail and there’s nothing there, it’s just like “Great — 10 hours of just trying to preserve as much energy as possible.”

Don’t get me wrong — there was never any thought of quitting or leaving. Not a chance. But on those days, you just aren’t having fun. I know people watch, and it’s easy to say “Suck it up, you’re on Survivor, you should be excited!” But you can only remind yourself of that so many times in one day when you have no energy and nothing to do. I would not let myself nap during the day because I wanted to be able to sleep well at night, which I did.

So that day was pretty rough. I had already built a shelter, built a bed, made a broom, explored the island. I am someone who likes to keep busy, but I was out of stuff to do that wasn’t just a complete waste of energy. So, I was pretty low. But then I found that Beware Advantage the same day, so it was a boost in morale.

<p>Robert Voets/CBS</p> Hunter McKnight of 'Survivor 46'

Robert Voets/CBS

Hunter McKnight of 'Survivor 46'

Finally, you only got eight out of 20 Survivor logos in the correct chronological order. Explain yourself.

Isn’t that an impressive 40 percent? Honestly, the moment I saw what the challenge was, I knew I was in trouble. Like I mentioned in the episode, I did not watch the seasons in any order. So, I had to use what I knew about when players returned on certain seasons.

The one I was most embarrassed about was Survivor: Caramoan and confusing it with Survivor: Micronesia. Talk about not a great moment. Putting Caramoan further up in the order shifted all my tiles, which made the number I had right drop drastically. I did pretty [well] at getting them in generally the right places other than Caramoan.

If the correct answer was:

What I did was essentially this:

If you moved the four wrong ones, the rest would be correct. So, there is a world where you could say, I only got four wrong. But that’s a delusional world. And even in that world, I lost my vote. So, no need even thinking about that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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