Anchor Devens Fights to the End on ‘Survivor’

Rick Devens, anchor at WGXA in Macon, Ga., competed on the season of Survivor that ended May 15. As the season wound down, Devens, an affable and cunning contestant, looked like the favorite to win the million.

It was hardly an easy ride. For the first time, Survivor featured the Edge of Extinction--when a contestant was voted out by their peers, they could head home, or go to the Edge, a desolate stretch of beach inhabited by other cast-offs, clinging to a remote chance of winning a return to the game.

Devens did six days on the Edge of Extinction before returning to the game.

He made the final four with at times sneaky game play, planting a pair of fake immunity idols that other contestants, Julie and Lauren, gleefully dug up and assumed were legit. Alas, Devens lost a fire-making challenge to eventual champion Chris, and went no further.

And so he’s back on the job in Macon, anchoring the 6-7 a.m. news for the Sinclair station’s ABC half, and anchoring the 7-9 a.m. program for its Fox half.

Devens arrived in Macon after graduating college in 2006, and calls it a lively news market. “There’s always a lot going on. We have a lively local political system and the local crime stories you’re used to,” he said. “We have an Air Force base that ties you in nationally. There’s a lot of great people doing good things for each other, and that’s our favorite thing to cover.”

Devens spoke with B&C about his time on Survivor, his local news gig and how Survivor has made him a better anchor.

You work for a station that is affiliated with ABC and Fox. How did WGXA handle their anchor starring on a CBS program?

They were very supportive. We worked with CBS to get permission to show everything that a CBS affiliate would be able to. We pretty much just promoted it. Every Wednesday I would talk a little bit about Survivor leading into the show and

Thursday morning I would talk about what people saw [the night before].

Even though it’s on a rival network, we figured if people were watching, they might tune into my morning show to see what was going on.

What made you want to be a news anchor?

I’ve always been really comfortable in front of people; I did well in speech competitions in high school. I kind of fell in love initially with sports and was sports director at our station for a little while. When we decided we were going to add a morning show several years ago, they approached me about it. I’d had my fill of local sports for the time being so I thought it would be a lot of fun to try news, and it has been an adventure.

Did being an anchor help you on Survivor?

It really helped me in tribal councils. That set is the most like being an anchor--you’re sitting in one spot, you’re facing your audience, whether it’s [host] Jeff [Probst] or the jury. I’m used to being in that spot, under the bright lights. Other people were really nervous about what they would say to Jeff, and were just trying to get through it. Because I had a comfort level I was able to listen more, and contemplate the bigger splash at some of the tribals.

Has being on Survivor led to job interviews?

I’ve not gotten any offers yet. I’m very happy in Macon but we’re always open to whatever is out there, certainly. We’re waiting to see how all the cards fall.

Do you think the Edge of Extinction was good for Survivor? Think it will be back?

I’m thankful every day that I was on the Edge of Extinction season so I get to talk about coming in fourth instead of going home fourth. It will be interesting to see if they use it again.

I think Jeff really enjoyed seeing the growth stories of the people that were on the Edge of Extinction. I don’t think it’s something they’ll go to every season but it wouldn’t surprise me if we saw it again.

What was your low moment on the show?

I had two lowest moments. One was Day 11. The Lesu tribe, which was made up of all my original Manu tribe, had to rebuild our camp and we just didn’t have the energy. We got rained on. We were hungry. It was right near the two-week mark and I ended up [getting voted out] that night.

The other low moment was real late in the game. Julie won [a reward challenge] with about five people left. I was really hoping she would take me on the reward because I felt like I’d done some things for her. She was smart and didn’t take me. I realized, I am definitely all alone in this game, and that’s how I’m gonna get to the end. It was a rough afternoon, but by that evening I was back to playing tricks on my other castmates.

When you see Julie and Lauren today, are they still upset with you about the fake immunity idols you hid?

Julie and I are very close. She definitely laughs about it. She said she still gets credit for finding an idol--it’s not her fault it was fake.

Lauren and I, we’ve talked and we’re good. I think seeing [the episode] for the first time was tough. For me, seeing myself losing the fire-making was tough. Probably seeing how much fun I was having in that moment [after Julie and Lauren found the fake idols] just because I felt the world was against me for so long...We might still have a discussion in our future and I hope we do. There are definitely two sides to the coin.

How was Survivor different than what we see on TV?

As a huge fan, I was real worried that it would be a disappointment when you get out there and see behind the curtain. It was anything but. It is absolutely incredible to see the work that goes into it and how many people are involved, and how they can involve all those people and still make you feel like you’re all alone out there.

It really made me want to work harder at what I do, because every person you run into out there cares so much about what they’re doing. I have even more respect now for the show than I did before. I can’t say enough about the people that run it and the people that work on it.

Has being on Survivor made you a better anchor?

I think it has. It’s made me a better listener. I think I can read between the lines now when I’m talking to people and maybe find the more interesting angle, the more interesting question. It’s taught me patience, which I think is good no matter what your career is. Patience is something we can all use more of.

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the L.A. Times and New York magazine.