Dave Ball: “my mouth is going to … get me in trouble, not thinking before I speak”

This is the sixth in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Dave BallDave Ball got on my nerves about an eighth of a second after we met. But once he dropped his trying-to-be-funny shtick, I found him to be really engaging and likable–at least until when the subject of women came up, when he turned instantly stupidly sexist. I kind of expect that his attempts at humor and sexism will get him voted out of Survivor Samoa before his intelligence gives him the chance to play.

Fortunately, Dave doesn’t care what people like me think. “What do I care what some obese dipshit from BFE Idaho–or BFA any random area–who owns a laptop and has an opinion thinks?” he said when I asked him if he was ready for such criticism. But then he offered a more nuanced appraisal: “Partially, I’m interested in this as a sociological experiment to see how it changes it me, to see what it’s like being on the other side of the experience. It’ll be interesting to see what is said to me, or about me, or around me, and then to analyze how it affects me, to see how it changes me.”

Dave lives in L.A. (“everybody takes themselves too damn seriously there”) and teaches fitness boot camp (“come on bitches, give me a lap”) and also “spend[s] a lot of my time daydreaming and goofing off and wandering around and enjoying myself.” He also writes “really funky, dope hip hop lyrics” and was “on stage with a member of the Wu-Tang Clan last summer,” he told me (See his web site for more on his work.)

He applied a few years ago and was an alternate for Survivor China, but is on the show now after being recruited by an intern of his who also works for casting. He was “glad” for the delay “because it gave me an extra couple years to get in better shape, I’m stronger now that I was then, I’m a far better swimmer, and I understand the game a lot better … now, I know that it is a very social game.” And that’s a game he’s enthusiastic about playing. “I wanted to play the game bad enough that I decided, I’m just going to trust that I can handle whatever what come my way because I really want to get out there. I want to test myself physically, mentally, emotionally, strategically. This is really exciting for me,” he said.

He talked intelligently about the game, walking through an elaborate version of how the Jalapao tribe members should have played to defeat Timbira on Survivor Tocantins, even though, of course, they eventually did that. Dave said, “If they’d done it my way, it would have been a lot less iffy.” Talking about being “interested in that kind of war theory” that Coach talked about last season, Dave disclaimed that by saying that he “hate[s] to say things that make me end up sounding like Coach,” because “virtually everything he said was like he was misquoting a bad pamphlet. … His notion of honor was created as an artificial construct 100 years after the samurai became … obsolete.” (Of Coach, he also said, “People make think he’s a bozo, but he’s got a good heart.”)

Overall, Dave said, “I’m going in with a strong sense of game theory, and also a strong sense of, anything can happen, and be open, because changes will come, there will be unexpected stuff. It’s kind of like Bruce Lee’s theory of, learn the form, then forget the form, because the best form is now form where you are free. … That’s going to be the key, I think, to a really good game.” As to his strategy, Dave said, “I definitely want to be a provider, primarily, because I want to eat, and more food is better. … Under the radar, I will try and throw some of that in, just because my mouth is going to be what’s going to get me in trouble, not thinking before I speak. Becoming frustrated with people that I judge negatively.”

While everything from his strategy to his assessment of Coach is really smart and even made me laugh, I don’t disagree with his assessment of not thinking before he speaks. He confessed that he’d never done interviews before, which may explain why when our conversation started, he was kind of an ass, trying too hard to be funny by answering questions like, “What brings you to Survivor?” with “a couple of planes.” When I introduced myself as, among other things, a critic for msnbc.com, he started saying something as if I could pass along his thoughts to Keith Olbermann, and I explained that the cable network MSNBC is editorially and otherwise independent from the news web site for which I write. But Dave went off anyway, riffing on Rachel Maddow’s tendency to laugh at her own jokes and talking directly to her, as if, again, I could communicate with her. “For Rachel Maddow, she needs to lose the guy at the end, because he’s not funny. I know gay people think he’s funny, but gay people don’t know what the hell’s funny. To them, gay shit is funny, get the fuck out of here.” He disclaimed that by saying, “I live in West Hollywood, my roommate’s gay,” but insisted “gay is not funny; it’s just too easy, it’s like toilet humor.”

Those kinds of thoughts and/or jokes may explain why Dave said, “I find I get along best with the people who take themselves the least seriously. People who take themselves extremely seriously, I have a tendency to lambaste or lampoon.”

Dave said that if he wins, he may give the money to charity, in part because “I believe that it will lure untrustworthy, low-character women to me.” He has a fraught relationship with women, and would constantly make comments about the women citing little more than their appearance (“smokin’ hot” is how he described his castmates) and their viciousness, and continually suggested that girls are pretty, frequently dumb, and out to get men. Eventually I asked him if he worried about coming off as sexist.

“I’m very mixed about women. I love them, and they frustrate me to no end,” Dave told me. “They’re the center of my universe that I can never touch, only orbit because they’re repelled by me, I’m sure. Well maybe if you acted nicely–women don’t want nice guys, man. They say they do.” He said that part of the problem is that he lives in L.A. because “every psychotic woman who’s spoiled because she’s beautiful” lives there, and said “beauty can really screw up a girl’s head because she doesn’t have to build character, because she’s been given so much.”

He brings that attitude into the game, and basically expects women to band together and castrate him and his fellow penis-wielding tribemates. “As a youth, there’s no way I could have made eye contact, much less held a coherent conversation with them. But now that I’m older, I’m a little more relaxed, and I recognize that girls are not a threat, unless they outnumber you in a tribe, because you are fucked because they will turn gyno-tribe on you and boom, you’re doomed. Can’t let the women outnumber the boys–can’t do it!”

I thought he was joking but he seemed absolutely serious, because when I asked him to elaborate, Dave said, “The issue is the total number of women. … Ideally, I would like to have one man greater than women, even for my piece of mind.” That said, he does think that “some of the smokin’ hot, pretty girls are going to surprise us. I have a feeling that at least one or two of them might be pretty sharp.”

How Dave comes across is a function of how he ends up acting and responding to others, and he knows that “patience is going to be a character-builder out there. That’s definitely going to be my Achilles heel is patience.” During the casting process, Dave told me that producers “kept saying, don’t be too actor-y” but eventually realized “that’s just how you are.” The big question for him is “how much do I want to dial it back?”

But unlike most other cast members I’ve talked to, he was hesitant about the idea of unloading during his interviews. “I’m concerned about how much of the stuff in confessional is going to make it back around to Tribal Council. If I feel like I’m giving the confessionals gold, really powerful, strategic stuff, but then it gets around to Jeff, and then Jeff blurts it out and ruins my shit, than I’m obviously going to clam up in confessional and go, ‘You know what? Screw you guys. I’m going to give you deadpan, one-word answers, and blow me, because I’m here to win, I’m not here to make you happy.'”

In one of the moments that demonstrated how smart and thoughtful he is, Dave said, “I just do comedy but I’m not interested in being on stage in front of a room full of people and receiving their adulation. I’m interested in comedy as power. If I make you laugh, I have power over you. … It’s a social crutch I’ve been working on for 30 years.”

Hear Dave discuss why he moved to L.A., why he’s “tired of being a lonely and unhappy asshole,” his ideal tribe configuration, and why he doesn’t “care what the producers want … fuck ‘em”:

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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.