Survivor season 35 cast: Ryan Ulrich aims to be ‘average enough’

A young bellhop who uses his menial jobs to improve his skills, Ryan Ulrich brings a determined, humble player to Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.

At first glance, Ryan Ulrich gave Survivor fans definite John Cochran vibes. A small, scrawny, nerdy superfan throwing himself against all obstacles in the quest for a million dollars is nothing new to this game, and it’s been a few seasons since we’ve seen that exact archetype shine through. However, there’s a lot more to this player than meets the eye, and he’s saying all the right things to convince me he’s a candidate to possibly go all the way on his first try.

Of course, CBS has been pushing Ryan ever since the season’s theme announcement. The Hollywood Reporter even talked to him as one of six castaways given an early preview last May, and it’s the answers he provides that show he has a level of self-awareness about the evolution of Survivor.

“A lot of people, if you just watched the show, and even if you listen to the podcasts, I think you fall into this lull that everything is about strategy,” Ulrich explains. “And obviously it’s a huge part of the game, but I always thought the most important moments take place off-camera — and in those moments, you’re talking about Game of Thrones, you’re talking about sports, entertainment, movies. That’s where you build connections with people. Then once you have a little bit of a relationship here, then I think you can parlay that into something of strategy.”

I’m convinced it’s less of a slam on Jeff Probst in the big moves era and more about the idea of the most dedicated fans of the show who can’t see beyond the realm of game theory. Ryan Ulrich knows that you have to strive to be “average enough” to make it far, and that’s the kind of strategy he’ll bring to Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers.

Being relatable is a key facet to your playbook; you need others to be able to appreciate you at best and tolerate you at worst. If you read Ryan’s CBS Bio, you’ll see that he has plenty of interests that can bridge conversational gaps going forward.

For example, his biggest inspiration is Eli Manning, quarterback for the New York Giants. Watching sports is one of his biggest hobbies, so it makes sense that he’d be inspired by a football player, but Eli Manning? Noting the “never miss a game” attitude he carries, it’s clear that Ryan Ulrich is a bonafide hustler, through and through.

He may even be the only person to recognize Alan Ball as a former NFL player, as he played for the Dallas Cowboys (a divisional opponent of the New York Giants). I want to live in a world where the turtleneck-wearing Survivor superfan is the only player to recognize an athlete; it’s too hilarious an idea to pass up!

More importantly, Ryan Ulrich compares himself to Todd Herzog of Survivor China; one of the greatest seasons the show has ever produced. He’s sticking to the idea of playing under the radar until the right time to make a move and is dedicated to playing a smart, ego-free game.

What solidifies my notion that he can win Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers is his story. He recalls working through a speech impediment at an early age, going to speech therapy sessions through to his teens and has since dedicated to mastering his communication skills. In real life, he seems like the kind of person who could weasel their way into a seat in Congress someday (he has even interned there), but in Survivor, he has the right ammunition for a convincing Final Tribal Council speech.

The biggest downfall, as is with most superfans cast on this show, is her perceived weakness. He’s a bellhop, so he definitely isn’t the weakest person in the world, but his potential functional strength won’t show on his slender frame. In a tribe with the youngest average age of the season (five of the six are 25 years old or younger, oldest player is 35), he may not have to worry about a tribe loss until the first swap.

Ryan Ulrich seems like a good kid with a good approach to the game. However, in Survivor, sometimes a cruel twist of fate can send you home early. I would like to have a rooting interest in a character that looks like Cochran but plays like someone who isn’t aggressively self-defeatist.