Meet the 'Survivor 45' Cast! School Principal Sean Edwards Has a Doctorate in Human Connection

As students make their way back to class, elementary school principal Sean Edwards is entering Survivor school. The 34-year-old is a lifelong fan of the show, but only gained the confidence to apply a few years ago after nearly a decade of self-discovery and living his truth as a gay man in a conservative Mormon community. And today, his truth is that he's got what it takes to go all the way and make his dreams come true, namely his expertise (and a degree) in human connection.

Read on for my interview with Sean, and check in with every day for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 45 premieres on September 27 with a 90-minute premiere on CBS.

Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 45

Interview with Sean from Survivor 45

To start, tell me about yourself.
My name is Sean Edwards. I'm 34 years old. I live in Orem, Utah. I am an elementary school principal. This is my first year as an elementary school principal. Prior to this, I was a high school vice principal for five years.

So what brings you out to play Survivor in a very different, but perhaps just as unruly, environment as the classroom?
Yeah, I'm sure it's gonna be totally crazy out there. Survivor has been a part of my life ever since season one, episode one. I follow the show. I've been a superfan for so long. I've wanted to play Survivor ever since I was a teenager. And for the longest time, I just never had the confidence in myself to actually apply; I never thought I would get a chance; I never thought I'd be casted. I just wouldn't get this opportunity. Because I grew up in a very kind of conservative niche, and being gay was incredibly complex for me. And so I just really internalized a lot of beliefs in such a way where I just didn't believe in myself. So now, fast forward so many years, I'm at a spot in my life where I'm finally open and free. And I'm just ready to be authentically me. And I finally have the confidence to say not only can I apply, get on the show, but I can win.

How did that beautiful metamorphosis of self-confidence end up happening? Was it about finding the right environment or job?
So, for me, kind of rolling it back a little bit, growing up Mormon and gay was incredibly hard. I started conversion therapy as a minor, which is now banned in so many states, because I was so set on trying my hardest to live a faithful Mormon straight lifestyle. And so that was really, really challenging for me for so many years. I went and did a two-year Mormon mission. So I was in it.

Now, fast forward a little bit to after my mission in 2013. I was really having a hard time just trying to find myself. Who am I? What type of space do I take up in this world? Who do I want to be? And in 2016, after really going through this mental battle, I decided that the best thing I can do for myself, the only way I'm going to be truly happy, is to be authentic and true to who I am. And so that's when I told my parents. I said, "I'm going to start dating men, and I'm going to be committed to being myself and living my truth."

Very soon after doing that, in 2016, I met my now-husband, Matt. And we are huge fans of the show. It was one of our very first connection points when we started dating. At our wedding, we had a soda bar–so Mormon of us, soda bar–but we had a drink at our mocktail bar called "The Tribe Has Spoken." So, Survivor is a part of our lives. And I just remember after watching season 40, Winners at War, Jeff Probst came on the screen and said, "Hey, you! If you want to be on Survivor, all you've got to do is apply." And that was my moment. That was my spark. I was like, "I'm finally at a place where I can do this. I have the support of a husband, of my family. I'm in a really good spot. This is a dream of mine. Let's do it."

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So, to speak to that history, give me one winner and one non-winner who you identify with the most.
Ooo, I love this. The winner that I would compare myself most to is Todd Herzog from Survivor: China. And not even just on a personal level in the fact that he also grew up Mormon, he identifies as gay, he lives in Utah. I mean, there's so many different personal connections. But also in terms of gameplay. I feel like he was able to go out there and create really strategic partnerships with people that he was able to leverage him further in the game. And when someone no longer served his gameplay needs, he said, "Frosti, goodbye, see ya." And I feel like that's totally something I'm going to be able to do. I'm totally going to be able to make and have those relationships to further myself in the game.

Non-winner, so many good options. I mean, the first person that comes to mind is Cirie. I love Cirie. I know she's a fan favorite. I'm sure so many people tell you that all the time. But for me, she is so genuine. And she is able to be a master at making connections with people. And that's something as an elementary school principal that I have to be a master at as well. It's something that I've practiced in my professional life, in my personal life. And so connection seeking and building is going to be a strength of mine.

As a superfan, what has your preparation been like before coming out to the island?
I mean, a lot of preparation. I know it may not look like I've been going to the gym. [Jokingly shows off muscles, then laughs.] But I have been physically preparing for Survivor for sure. It's been a lot of endurance training. You'll catch me on that stair stepper for hours, just building that cardiovascular and respiratory endurance. I feel like that's definitely important. And then I've also been doing lots of mind puzzles. My husband and I found this 3D puzzle that we like building and creating together. And so we've been doing a lot of not only physical, but also mental practice as well.

How do you think people will perceive you in this game?
That is such a great question. I think people are going to view me differently than people that are familiar with me and people that know me in my everyday life. When people first meet me, they really think that I'm just here for a good time. I'm the life of the party. I don't have any agenda. I'm just here to have fun. And another thing people really think is they always assume that I'm younger than I really am. And so when people find out my age and what I do for a living, they always shocked and surprised. And I think people are going to perceive me as someone who's a lot younger than I really am. So, hopefully, I'll be able to use that to my advantage.

Speaking to your occupation, you are in a job where you probably have to put out a lot of fires every day. In a game where fire represents your life, do you feel like your day-to-day will help?
I am going to bring so much of what I do into this game of Survivor. I mean, one thing right off the top of my mind is, again, those relationships. I mean, my entire career is founded on the importance of human connection. I just finished my doctorate degree at the University of Utah as well, and my entire doctoral research was on human connection. And so that is something that I'm very well-versed in, that I feel very confident in. And that is something I'm going to be able to bring into the game, connecting with people on a very meaningful personal level. And those connections, they're going to be real. We're going to make friends; we're going to have fun. But this is a game. This is Survivor. And I'm not here sitting on a beach in Fiji to make friends. I'm here to win a million dollars. So we can be besties after I vote you out, but the connections will still be real.

On the note of those connections, what are you looking for in an alliance partner?
Again, I am bringing my everyday life into the game because it will serve me so well; I am looking for alliance partners who are going to think differently than me. I feel like diverse perspective is very important. Because people who think differently differently than me, they're going to be able to see nuances in the game. They're going to be able to sus people out; they're going to be able to have ideas that maybe I'm not going to readily see, notice, or be able to come up with on my own. So definitely, someone who thinks differently than me is important, as well as someone who's also going to buy into my ideas.

Everything to Know About Survivor 45

When it comes to perceptions, is there anyone in this time before the season that you're eyeballing as people you do or don't want to work with?
Of course! [Laughs.] Seeing everyone here, everyone is looking at each other. You can see people sussing each other out. So yes, I've had that thought, like, "Okay, I'm reading your energy. I'm reading your vibe. I'm right there with you. Let's do this. Let's go." And there's other people that I'm like, "Okay, are you going to be someone I'm going to be able to get along with? Your body language is telling me you're closed. I don't know; I'm a little hesitant." At the same time, I also want to be very cautious and careful. And I want to think about implicit bias and how that's influencing my thoughts about others. So, really, truly, I do want to come into this game, and I want to give everyone a fair chance, a fair shot. Even though I may have some preconceived ideas, I'm going to try my best to give everyone a fair chance.

Let's say a boat shows up at your camp on Day 2, asking for one person to go on a journey. How would you approach the situation?
That is such a good question. I mean, watching the show, you never know what's going to happen when you go on this journey by yourself. Not only is the person going on this journey to possibly gain something good, or maybe something bad's gonna happen, losing a vote, who knows. But the key is that that person is missing from the tribe. The tribe is still moving; they're still talking and having conversations without you. I don't know if I want to initially put myself out there and have that target on my back of, "What if he comes back with something and doesn't tell us? We're all going to be talking about it." So I think my approach would be the "let's draw sticks, let's draw rocks, let's have it be randomized, and whatever happens happens."

What is your hottest Survivor take?
[Groans.] Oh, Mike. There are too many hidden immunity idols now. And then also production giving people fake idols, like…no. I definitely have questions about that.

Is that going to influence how you find advantages in the game? Knowing that you could find something, and it may very well be fake?
Yes, 100%! I'm already thinking, if I find something, how do I even verify it? The only way is to be like, "Jeff, tell me," at Tribal Council. So, I'm definitely going to be having questions about anything and everything that I find out there.

What celebrity or fictional character would you want to come out for a Loved Ones visit?
1,000% Keke Palmer. I love Keke Palmer. And when she revealed herself a few years back as a Survivor fan, I was like, "Yas, Keke, okay." And I honestly, truly thinking about it, Keke has such a great magnetic energy about her. I would love to bring her out as my loved one and pick her brain and be like, "Hey, put yourself in my shoes. How would you play this game? What would you do next?" Because Keke is a social human, as someone with this positive energy that she just radiates, I mean, I feel like she could win the game. So that's my choice.

Next, check out our Survivor 45 interview with contestant Sabiyah Broderick.