Entering Survivor: David vs. Goliath, pro wrestler John Hennigan was one of the more noteworthy contestants to take part. He had an extensive background in pro wrestling and was easily one of the more physical contestants this season; yet, it feels like his undoing had more to do with his status as a social threat, plus also not having the right strategic connections to benefit him when he needed them the most.
So what happened to cause John to leave the game and in the especially shocking fashion in which he left? (Remember, John went home after Davie played an immunity idol for Christian, and Dan played one for Angelina — though John would’ve still gone home.) John talks about that and a whole lot more in our interview with him.
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CarterMatt – This is a good starting-off point — was you being voted off as dramatic and as shocking for you as it was for everyone watching at home?
John Hennigan – It was dramatic in a sense that I was completely shocked. I really hadn’t thought through the possibility that it was me that could be going home.
Through most of the season, it seemed like nobody really had anything bad to say about you at all and you had a really good social game. Do you think you were almost too good at that, and it made you into a threat?
Yeah, that was it — I was just too good (laughs). I think more specifically, I did get along with everyone, especially in a real-life type of way. More than talking game strategy, it was fun for me hearing Gabby talk about living in Colorado, Christian getting a job at a new university, what was it like for Alison working as a doctor, and Dan, he lost over 100 pounds! That’s awesome to me.
I didn’t really talk strategy as much as a lot of the other players, and I actually think that was the reason I was targeted. Alec and Mike and the Strike Force six, they had created this bond so that when it was time to make a decision as to who they wanted to vote out, there were guys they had worked with strategically, people protected by immunity and idols, and then just a few other people. Of those people, they probably thought that I was the biggest threat. That’s how I justify it in my head.
You made the decision early on this season that you were just going to be John and not try to be the Mayor of Slamtown or any of the other wrestling characters that you’ve been over the years. But, was it in your head at all that there was this expectation for you to be some sort of over-the-top character?
Yeah. A big part of the reason why I was so excited about going on Survivor was that I wanted to do something as me and work on some old-school human skills. Over my whole life, I’ve spent so much time as a caricature of myself with the volume turned up for pro wrestler. I was definitely never planning to come into Survivor acting like a cartoon. I also didn’t want to hype being a pro wrestler coming into Survivor, but I also didn’t want to hide what I do since things come out in the wash. With the level of notoriety that I’ve had in pro wrestler, there were a couple of people who [recognized me on some level]. Nick was a pro wrestling fan and he talked a lot about wrestling. He watched me a lot when he was growing up, he said. I think he would have told everyone that I was a pro wrestler if I didn’t.
Plus, I’ve been a pro wrestler for 16 years. I didn’t want to make up some weird backstory and lie to people. I just wanted to be myself and talk to people about my experience, which includes pro wrestling. It’s hard to bond with people in an authentic way with just lies after lies.
It did seem like the nature of your profession did help you in a weird sort of way. Christian was already making Slamtown mythology up before even meeting you!
Oh, big time. Christian coined the term Slamtonians. I think I’m going to call people who are fans of me Slamtonians from now on – Thanks Christian. Without being the Mayor of Slamtown, there wouldn’t have been a really fun conversation between myself and Christian. I mean, I’m sure we would have talked about some other stuff, but it got our relationship off to a fun start.
Did you know that the David tribe had an immunity idol for sure?
Yeah, we thought that, but we didn’t think it was Christian. We just kind of reasoned it out, which is why we decided to try and blindside him. We didn’t account for the fact that whoever had the idol might play it for him. That was a mistake (laughs).
There are so many weird variables. Like, I could ask you about splitting the vote, but if you did that, it would then be 4-3 and they would have still voted someone out if they voted together. Was that kind of the thinking?
Yeah, we talked that through just like that. If you don’t have the numbers by a large margin, you can’t split the vote because if you do and they don’t, you lose the numbers … unless, you somehow predict that they split the vote so you split the vote. It’s tricky. As soon as you start going down that rabbit hole, the what-ifs spin off into about a million alternate universes in which the Mayor of Slamtown is still on the island.
Was it a surprise that Dan chose to use the immunity idol on Angelina?
I was certain that Dan was going to play the idol for Angelina. We talked that through and I didn’t realize he was on the fence about that. Dan’s a hero. He’s a very loyal guy, he’s in law enforcement, and he is the type of guy who would save someone. That’s exactly what he did. I definitely expected him to play the idol.
What was your desired plan for the endgame?
I had gone into the game just coming off of a lot of wrestling, so I entered the game with low body fat because wrestling is function plus aesthetic. And, Impact Wrestling, which I’m now World Champion of, rearranged my obligations to do Survivor. And, I got married like ten days after I got back (laughs). If it worked out schedule-wise, I guess I would say that they would need to ask my wife. If she was happy for me to go, I would love to go.
Is there any one specific move you wish that you had made?
I think people in Survivor talk about that Malcolm Gladwell book Blink frequently, but I had a conversation with Nick before Tribal Council. He asked me what the plan was and I told him the plan that we were all voting out Angelina — the same plan we were all feeding to the Davids.
I really felt that he wanted me to tell him what we were really doing. I feel like he knew and even in retrospect now, I still feel like he was trying to figure out who to vote for. I told him the same story we’d be feeding the Davids because I was loyal to the Goliath alliance, but I feel like he wanted me to tell him the truth and if I had, maybe he would’ve voted for someone else. That’s the one that haunts me a lot. It’s a feeling — I had that Blink thing where we were saying words, he wanted something more than the words that I was saying. It’s a cool moment.
Want more of John?
Then check out Boone: The Bounty Hunter, one of John’s latest projects, on Netflix.
Were you rooting for John to make it even further on Survivor: David vs. Goliath this season? Be sure to share right now in the attached comments. (Photo: CBS.)