The Vegas-based 19-year-old knows his arrogance precedes him, but he's looking to be the "likable kid" to learn from his competition.
At 19 years old, Sami Layadi is this season's youngest castaway. But the pet cremator wants to use that to his advantage, looking to learn from the life experiences of his competition to endear himself as a "likable kid." Because beneath a wall of "genetics and great looks" lies someone who is, at his heart, insecure and looking to constantly better himself.
Read on for my interview with Sami, and make sure to check in with Parade.com every day for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 43 premieres on September 21 with a special two-hour premiere on CBS.
Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 43
Why are you here on Survivor?
I'm here on Survivor because I believe I have what it takes to push myself way past my limits. And I want to show myself, and I want to show everybody else back home that there's a lot more to me than we all think there is. There's a lot more to ourselves than we think. We've just got to go out and tap into that potential and just push ourselves as far as we can every day.
What's your history with watching Survivor?
I was an on-and-off watcher of Survivor. I started watching live in San Juan del Sur because my friends and I all hated John Rocker. But then, once John Rocker got voted off, we didn't watch it anymore. And then, when the pandemic came around, I started watching again. I started watching Winners at War and just fell right into the trap of Survivor. I started watching season by season, seeing the game evolve. And I was like, "Bro, I can do that. I want to go out there. I want to do that." And here I am! That's the thing. If I put my mind to something, it's going to happen. But you know, there's a job ahead of me. I gotta go do the job.
Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner you identify with the most.
I would say a Survivor winner that I identify with the most would be–honestly, this is gonna be controversial–but a guy like Chris Underwood. People debate about the game he played; he didn't have to play the game for very long. But the thing was, Chris went into the game, and he used what was in the game to his advantage, and people still talk down on his win.
I think that's something that happens with me a lot. I think if I do something good, or if I do something that people don't think I'm capable of, they'll be like, "Oh, well, Sami, you wouldn't have done it if this happened." And so I kind of resonate with him in that way that I think that my success dwindles. People try to rain on my success sometimes. And that's the same thing that they do with him.
A non-winner that I identify with, I've always said David Wright. Because David had a lot of insecurities. He had a lot of things that he didn't really like about himself. And I'm kind of the same way. I think I sound like a really confident and happy guy, and I am! But there are a lot of things I don't like about myself. There are a lot of things that I want to better myself in, and guys like David that were able to do that throughout the entirety of the show, it's the same thing I want to do.
What's your favorite moment in Survivor history?
My favorite moment in the history of Survivor would have to be when JT gives Russell an immunity idol with the handwritten letter. I feel like that changed the entire course of Survivor. It was really just devious gameplay by Russell, just mastermind. And I think JT really was one of the first people–along with Erik, who gave the immunity necklace to Natalie for whatever reason–to show you can really make the dumbest mistakes when you're not eating, sleeping, and all this stuff on the island. So that's my favorite moment. I have no words. Like I have no words. I wish I could go back in time and see that live as a viewer because I didn't watch back then. But man, I was shocked.
What's one life experience you feel has prepared you most for the game?
Being able to integrate myself into situations like my job. I always say people are at their lowest of lows when they lose a pet. And so, being able to conversate and talk with people in these negative and dark times, I think I've really been able to tap into people's emotions.
The other thing that I think is such an important thing to note is that I don't have a lot of life experience at 19 years old. There are not a lot of things that I've done in my life in comparison to some of the other people out here. But something that separates me from other young people is I'm willing to learn. I know I don't have all the answers. I know that I'm not out here with the most. I haven't ever seen somebody dying on the floor or ran into a burning building or any of that stuff. But I'm going to be with people who might have before. And so I want to learn from those people. That's what I've been able to do my whole life that's actually helped me to get to this point, is learn.
What excites you the most about the new era of Survivor?
The uncertainty, for sure. You just never know. You don't know what's coming. I don't know what's going to be there on Day 1 or how it's going to look on Day 3. I think the game became almost stagnant when everybody knew what to do. It was no longer really a social battle of sorts; it was strategic. "When hit the beach, we need to do this and this and this. And then, if this guy does this, he's gone. If this girl does that, she's gone." And so something in the new game that really excites me is that we don't know what's coming. We don't know what's next in front of us, and we've just got to adapt to it, or else we're gonna be swimming right on back home.
What do you think people will perceive you as?
I think that at first glance, you can perceive me to be a maybe self-centered and arrogant person. Thanks in due part to my self-righteousness sometimes. I love my eyes. I love my smile, my pearly whites. I love my hair. I love all that stuff. But I think when you talk to me, you can find out really quickly that there's a lot more to me than just the wall that might be put up just by my genetics and great looks. I really care about people. So I would hope that, by the end of this entire game, people can perceive me as one of the more likable kids that they've ever met. Because that's all I am in their eyes, probably a kid. But I gotta prove that I'm a lot more than that.
What type of player are you looking for in an alliance?
Honestly, for an alliance, I'm really just looking for somebody that is willing to give their all to me like I am to them. Because in this game, it is really hard to come across loyalty and respect for everybody else. That's something that I just carry with me. I wear my heart on my sleeve. And so somebody that's willing to give me their all, I'm willing to give to them. That's somebody I want to take to the end. Also, it will help if they're funny. It'll help if they're cool. I like being around good people. If I have to drag somebody along, but they don't want to be there, and they hate the sand and fish, and everything sucks, I don't want to be around that all the time. So it'd be nice if I could get a positive person willing to give me everything I have to them.
How eager will you be to look for advantages in the game?
I think that advantages in this game are more important now than ever. It's such a freaking slippery slope, though. You can't go out and look on your own, or else you're hosed. You're done. As I said, we're swimming back; we're done. So I think the eagerness is going to come from my position in the game. If it's apparent that people aren't talking to me and I'm not getting what's happening at Tribal, you best believe my butt's going to be out there knee deep in the water, knee deep in the dirt, whatever it is, looking for advantages. I'll be ten feet up high or down below. I'll look everywhere if I have to. I want to stay alive in this game as long as I possibly can.
Next, check out our interview with Survivor 43 contestant Owen Knight.