Joe Dowdle: “I wouldn’t want to do this thing if I had to abide by my ethics because it wouldn’t be fun”

Joe Dowdle is a 26-year-old real estate broker from Austin, Texas, and I left our conversation truly ambivalent about him. He was low-key but not with an edge like Tyson Apostol; he was alternately boring and interesting, a nice guy but not very memorable.

There were bits of all kinds of personality traits, from arrogance to self-deprecation, but all were kind of on mute. For example, he said that he was on Survivor Tocantins “to win a million a dollars, for one. Bet you’ve never heard that before. To have the experience; that’s what you take away if you don’t take home the money.” It’s starts somewhat cliche, quickly turns when he acknowledges that, but ends up kind of boring.

Joe was recruited, although he said “I wish I would have” applied because he has “always kind of followed” the show and “really enjoyed every episode that I had caught.” When I asked if he was recruited, he said he didn’t know, but apparently was just unfamiliar with the process (all those who are recruited create tapes, regardless of where they are in the casting process, as casting director Lynne Spillman told me back in December). “I don’t know exactly how it took place; I sent in a tape but I think Lynne had contacted me to send in a tape,” he said, adding that a “friend of a friend was a casting director.”

Joe’s “persuade and evade” strategy is the most interesting and different strategy anyone told me about, although I can’t quite decide if it’s either smart or ridiculous. “My catch phrase has been flying under the radar in kind of the easy-going, kind of fun-loving guy until I can get to a certain part of the game and then start making moves. I thought I would do what’s called persuade and evade, you know, try to get a lot of invitations out there and see who comes, as opposed to trying to trying to focus on one or two people to make an alliance with. Does that make sense? And evade premature alliances. I want to make sure the people I’m aligned with are going to be around.”

It makes sense and it doesn’t; he seems like he plans to align with everyone while not aligning with anyone, and the strategy sounds kind of like keeping one’s options open. The type of people Joe sees himself aligning with are “not too strong; I think that puts you in a focus position. But I think somebody maybe like myself, who has the same type of mentality of, they’re a strong player but they’re also going to be smart about it. If I can catch on to two or three people in the very beginning to get that firm foundation and then add however many else as you go along.”

While Joe didn’t cite anyone specifically, he summed up his competition like this: “I think about half the field is below average competition for me, and about half the field is right on the average, maybe right above average.” He said that his biggest competition comes from a “couple of the fellas in there, probably three guys” who are “physical, athletic-looking dudes.”

Joe acknowledged that he couldn’t judge his competitors yet on their “social game, and strategy-wise, I haven’t had the opportunity to see what everybody’s made of,” and said that ultimately, “I’m going to improvise; it probably won’t go any way I expect it to.”

His biggest challenge is not being noticed. “If I can stay under the radar, I think I can do well, and I think that’ll also be my biggest challenge, is to not have a bullseye on my back. I asked if that’s because he appears to be one of the stronger men, and he said, “I consider myself to be one of the stronger competitors and so I imagine I’d be a marked man.” He cited his good hand-eye coordination and balance, in addition to the fact that he plays football and basketball.

Joe told me that id some intense physical preparation for the game; starting about a month before leaving, he quit drinking and eating fast food, and began an exercise regiment and diet that involved running three miles a day and eating only white meat and vegetables. “I did a lot, actually,” he said, in part because “I don’t want to look like a chunky tuna on national TV, man. I’m not going to lie; a little vanity in there. But mainly it’s just for being able to perform well.”

While that’s impressive, he also was preparing in an usual way: Joe was walking around Ponderosa, a safari camp with permanent tents but dirt everywhere, barefoot. “It’s kind of like, you might not want to get too warm and comfortable before you go do something that’s going to be harsh,” he said, adding that “everybody [else] is wearing shoes; that’s kind of surprising.”

Joe had a tendency to say some odd things like that in a perfectly agreeable and sensible way, like when he volunteered that he didn’t plan to quit the game. “As far as winning the game, it’s not even an option for me to go home early and quit or anything like that, so the biggest challenge for me getting to the end is going to be getting that bulls eye off my back.”

As a Texan, Joe said he values things such as “respecting others and keeping your word and all of that kind of country western, old western movie kind of stuff,” but said “I have no problem giving myself a check to go cash in this game, so to speak. It’s a game and I’m cool with that. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to do this thing if I had to abide by my ethics because it wouldn’t be fun, wouldn’t make good TV. I’ll probably catch some flack for it.”

Likewise, Joe told me that he doesn’t anticipate his religiosity to negatively impact the game; instead, he said it will help him. “I don’t know what type of situation would present itself to me where I’d have to bend that; I don’t think anybody’s going to ask me to forsake my savior, and if so, I will be out of the game. My relationship with Christ is really important to me.” He said that, “in those times when I feel weak or I feel tired and I feel like I don’t want to go on, that is a huge resource to go to. Not only is it a resource, but it’s everything. Being able to appreciate the sunny side of things and also get out of the dark, when that comes, quickly, is something my relationship with God has developed into.”

Joe has a 28-year-old cousin who is battling terminal esophageal cancer, and was wearing a bracelet to acknowledge that, although he wasn’t sure if producers would let him keep it on during the game. “If I win, I’m going to give a lot of it away to cancer research,” Joe said, adding that he’s close to his cousin. “She gives me a lot of shit, a lot of crap, just for thinking I’m too cool. She just tells it like it is and feed me some humble pie.” He also expects her to critique his performance on the show. “Warranted or unwarranted, she’s going to tell me what she thinks she would have done. ‘Even me, I’m still sick; I’ve got cancer and I could have done better than you.'”

Hear Joe discuss his physical preparation for the game and what Texan culture means to him:

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.