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Erwin's Gavin Whitson a threat to steal the game of 'Survivor'

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 17, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Gavin Whitson, a 23-year-old newlywed program director for the Unicoi County Family YMCA, will be among the 18 castaways vying for the $1 million prize in the 38th season of the hit reality series “Survivor,” premiering this week on CBS.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will host a community watch party for the “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” premiere Wednesday night in the Unicoi County High School auditorium.

Whitson will be on hand for a pre-show party starting at 6 p.m., signing autographs and posing for photos with his fans. The party is free and food trucks, games, and “Team Gavin” merchandise sales will be available for purchase. The one-hour “Survivor” premiere, subtitled “It Smells Like Success” will begin at 8.

Filmed last spring in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji, the new season will bring an all-new twist to the game of “Survivor.”

Unknown to their tribemates, players voted off the island will be given the option of waiting for an opportunity to re-enter the game, alone on a small, desolate island known as the “Edge of Extinction,” where they must survive on their own with even fewer amenities than the lush island they were expelled from.

In preseason interviews, Survivor host Jeff Probst said the “Edge of Extinction” concept was added to bring more psychological and spiritual depth to game and to give players a chance to learn something deeper about themselves.

So who is Gavin Whitson and what are his chances? According to Probst, Whitson is an “understated and underestimated” treat who Probst believes “could steal this game.”

Whitson introduces himself to viewers as another in a long line of Southerners whose mannerism and speech endear them to audiences. What sets him apart, he says, is that he is also a secret “Survivor” super-fan with insight into 37 prior seasons of strategic maneuvering he can quietly pull from.

While vowing to be straight up, honest, nice and respectful, Whitson tells his preseason interviewer that if he sees his good guy strategy failing him, he will do what he needs to do.

“I am going to be straight up with everyone. I’m going to be honest. I’m going to nice to everyone,” he says. That’s what I’ve been raised on, treating everyone with respect. I do think that will take me far in this game. And if I see that it’s not, I do have that super-fan brain to kick in and do what you need to do.

“Well see how it goes, but I do want to play that good guy card as far as a can,” he says.

What Whitson also brings to “Survivor” is a brand-new wife whom he married only days before the filming began.

Called up as a contestant with one month’s notice and a conflicting wedding date at the top of his itinerary, Whitson tells the camera he is fortunate to have “this wonderful, understanding wife” who agreed to move everything forward and marry him two days before he landed in Fiji.

His goal at that time was to make it to the season’s “family visit” so that his bride could come to Fiji as well for a little mini-honeymoon there on the set.

Making the show even more interesting is Whitson’s fellow castaway, Ron Clark, the innovative educator and founder of the Ron Clark Academy, an Atlanta middle school and teachers training center visited annually by hundreds of public school teachers from around the country, including groups of teachers from Unicoi County schools.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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