A second look at Survivor Tocantins’ final five and jury’s initial interviews

Late last October, I talked to the Survivor Tocantins cast members in Brazil before the game started. I published highlights from those interviews and analysis of each contestant before the season began–but that was also before we really knew who they were or what they were going to do during the game.

So let’s look back at those interviews with the final five and the jury:

Benjamin “Coach” Wade: I found this season’s break-out star/douche to be “impossibly arrogant,” but I was also swayed by his argument about changing the game so that the strong stayed around. My bad. I had no idea that he’d be such a ridiculous and predictable player, more concerned with himself than with strategy–one he abandoned that quickly but that he continues to rationalize, which fits in with his pattern of lying. The most ironic part of the interview: Coach told me JT was “pleading at [Coach] with [his] eyes to take [him] into the fold.”

JT Thomas: JT clearly didn’t need Coach, although I would never have predicted things ending up the other way around. I’ve decided there’s a certain type of contestant who doesn’t interview well and/or I can’t read, but does well in the game. In Gabon, it was Matty; in Brazil, it was JT, who was kind of dull and didn’t come across as smart as he thought he was, bragging that girls did his homework for him in college and that his mom filled out the application for the show. But he did say that “everybody likes me” and that he was a fan of the show, and that’s clear since, in the game, he’s been pretty damn brilliant.

Stephen Fishbach: JT and Stephen’s alliance and friendship has been on of the more interesting yet completely unexpected parts of this season. I like Stephen in the game for all the same reasons I liked him before the game: He’s smart, thoughtful, and amusing. Although he was worried about his physical abilities, he’s done quite well, and last week’s immunity challenge–when he memorized symbols by creating a system–was nothing short of amazing. He told me he “might backstab someone just for the fun of it, rather than for the logic of it,” but so far, his game has been pretty logical.

Taj Johnson-George: For someone who responded to an e.mail looking for an NFL wife to appear on the show, Taj certainly has done impressively well. Taj told me she planned to “kill them with kindness” and use her “nurturing personality,” and that has happened. She also told me, “I’ll probably gain respect once I win–because I’m winning this.” She may not win, but she certainly has gained respect, starting with her awesome Exile alliance, even if it didn’t quite pay off.

Erinn Lobdell: That Erinn is still around is amazing, considering that she was an early Timbira target, but I’m glad because she was one of my favorite people. She talked about her “lost confidence” due to a break-up but also her preparation for the game; I’m not quite sure if either came into play during the game, because she remains a bit of a mystery as a player, but she adds a strong personality to a largely likable final group.

Debra Beebe: Despite being a middle school principal, Debbie told me, “I want to play an exciting game, and if that means manipulating, I will.” She didn’t do much manipulating until the end, when she and Coach lied about lying, and ultimately was probably more of the “clown,” as she told me she intended to be.

Tyson Apostol: I found Tyson to be engaging and amusing, and he certainly was that way on the show, although many people found him to be too aggressively mean (his post-show response: “Jesus was loved and hated, too”). During our conversation, he predicted he’d be aggressive and hostile toward people that rubbed him the wrong way, which happened with Sierra, and also said, “I don’t want to be the top dog.” He wasn’t, serving as Coach’s number-two, which ultimately led him to get voted out. I’m sure he’ll give us a memorable final Tribal Council speech, though.

Brendan Synnott: Brendan was friendly, thoughtful, smart, and articulate, yet a bit too cautious even with me–and ultimately, his unpredictability led the merged tribe to get rid of him. He knew everyone else knew he was a multimillionaire, thanks to his casting video being accidentally leaked, but that didn’t seem to have an impact as much as his leadership–he said, “if I need to be [a leader], I will; I don’t have a problem with it,” but others did. He also said he “[doesn't] want to seem threatening,” but that his cautiousness apparently led his tribemates to be concerned enough to vote him out.

Sierra Reed: Annoyed me then, still annoys me. I think my analysis (I called her the most aggressively obnoxious person”) was validated when, within the first few minutes of the game, her team voted her out without having even spoken to her. Still, she didn’t deserve the abuse Coach and Tyson gave her, and Coach ultimately proved himself to be more obnoxious in the game. But when someone recently asked me why her tribe dislikes her, I pointed out that I didn’t like talking to her for 30 minutes, so I couldn’t imagine living with her for 30 days.

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.