Unicoi County native Gavin Whitson is competing on the newest season
of Survivor. (Photo courtesy of CBS)

By Richard Rourk

For fans of the television show “Survivor,” it’s time once again to “outwit, outplay and outlast.”

For Unicoi County residents, there will be a more personal reason to tune in to the popular CBS show as Erwin resident Gavin Whitson will be a contestant on season 38 of “Survivor,” called “Edge of Extinction.”

Whitson recently spoke to The Erwin Record about his experiences and what drove him to try out for the show.

“I was probably 8 years old when I saw season one, and I knew that it could be me on the show,” Whitson said. “Once I turned 18, I started sending in audition tapes and 5 years later, I’m finally getting that chance.”

Whitson, who is the program director at the Unicoi County Family YMCA and has a background in sports, understands the importance of stamina when it comes to playing the game “Survivor.” “Sports, being outdoors with my family, and working out at the YMCA helped me prepare physically,” Whitson said.

Once Whitson received notice that he had made it onto the show he did not have long to prepare.

“I found out about a month before I left, and instead of preparing for ‘Survivor’ I was actually preparing for my wedding,” Whitson said.

Whitson and his wife Carly had to move their wedding date up so he could appear on the show.

“Instead of learning how to start a fire, I was moving furniture,” Whitson said.

The Whitsons were able to go on their honeymoon two weeks after Gavin returned.

“I’m not sure I was ready to travel to a tropical paradise again, but that is what we did,” Whitson said. “I’m joking, it was great; it’s exactly what I needed.”

The one thing Whitson wasn’t prepared for was dealing with being away from family and loved ones.

“I got married two days before leaving for the show, and being away from my family was a shock to my system,” Whitson said. “Whenever I got back it made me more appreciative of my family because I didn’t realize the support system I had until I lost that.”

The “Survivor” experience for Whitson was life-changing.

“Everyone should have a chance to experience it,” he said. “You come out a better person and you appreciate what you have.”

Whitson said he was humbled by the experience and hopes that he can help other kids achieve their dreams.

“I got lucky,” he said. “I was at the right place at the right time, and if I can turn other kids into ‘Survivor’ fans that would be the greatest thing about the experience.”

Whitson was quick to say “thank you” to those who have made him who he is.

“I would like to thank my wife, Carly, for making this happen, and my mother, father, and brother who are my support system, and also my papaw who is very excited,” Whitson said. “The (Unicoi County) Chamber of Commerce has been amazing as well in supporting me.”

For the latest updates of Whitson and his time on “Survivor,” please follow TeamGavin on Facebook. If you see Whitson, he cannot give out details about the show due to contract restrictions.

The Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce will host a viewing party for the “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” premiere on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Unicoi County High School auditorium. The event will begin at 6 p.m. with a pre-show party including games, food trucks and other activities. Whitson will be on hand for photos and autographs and Team Gavin merchandise will be available for sale. The show will be broadcast at 8 p.m. The event is open to the public. Admission and games are free.

“Survivor: Edge of Extinction” will air weekly on CBS starting Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m.