Jaison Robinson: “not having any control, I want to see what it’s like”

This is the 11th in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Jaison Robinson Jaison Robinson is probably the most intelligent, most accomplished person on Survivor Samoa, at least when it comes to things that fit into a bio. While he acknowledged having a “controlling, somewhat anal self,” he’s on the show because “I need a break. Life just seemed like it was moving too fast.”

Jaison is a fan of the show but was recruited because a friend knew someone in casting. Having just graduated from law school, he’s taking a year off, and anticipates working for a non-profit during that time, and he has an offer to work at a law firm in 2010. He’s excited about the game itself: “It’s one of the more unique reality games in that it’s not really based on ability–well, I guess it is, in some way, based on ability, but not physical ability or intelligence or your ability to finish physical challenges, but your ability to interact with people in a very stressful, wild situation and survive, not just physically but within the game and the social structures that are created.”

His strategy for dealing with that game involves “having a core group of two or three people … that you can trust more than anybody else” and “engineer a plan together.” He called that a “scheming brain trust,” and said that “the most successful players are usually the ones that aren’t on either extreme: they don’t seem to weak, they don’t seem too strong.” So, Jaison, said, his “desire would be to just blend in” and “worry more about the people aspect and the behind-the-scenes negotiation, alliance brokering instead of getting things done.”

But his type-A personality might make that difficult. “I’ve always been very much about setting goals and getting there,” he said, “pushing forward with those objectives and trying to organize people to get that done.” So he’s going to try to “kind of withdraw and let the game play out in front of you instead of trying to move straight through it.”

Jaison fears being blindsided in the game more than anything else. “I just don’t want to be blindsided–which may happen, which probably will happen,” he said, citing the odds of winning. That’s because “I need to have some sort of knowledge of what’s going on at all times.” He came back to that often: “I’m a guy who likes to have at least some element of control or foreknowledge of what’s going to happen.”

But he also said he was attracted to Survivor because “you really don’t have any control over anything. I’ve endeavored in my life in so many ways to make sure that I had complete control that not having any control, I want to see what it’s like. I want to see how I react in an environment that clearly is absolutely nothing like what I would have planned for myself or put myself in that sort of situation.”

Jaison worries about how others might perceive him, particularly because of his accomplishments. “My fear coming in is that I might give off too much of a–I don’t think I’m an elitist guy, but I don’t want to give off any air that I think any degree I have makes me feel more deserving or entitled. I came in with the express purpose of, downplay everything. Of course, then I take out an 840 page book on FDR, right? But I needed something to do for three days.” He said he was previously nervous about his academic resume, but Stephen’s example last season proved someone from an Ivy League school could go far.

Jaison doesn’t have a problem with lying or backstabbing, but pointed out that “the more lies you tell, the greater the chance of getting caught in your lie and it working against you, so I’m going to try to play it as straight up as I can,” and that includes about his bio, so he’ll be honest if people ask questions.

Although he’s very smart and very nice, he kind of hovers on the edge of being boring, and even called himself “traditional” repeatedly. I asked what that meant, and he said, “by traditional, I just mean, you won’t find me with a tattoo or an earring or any of the things that people might see as not traditional. I’ve followed a more traditional path.” He added, “I stick more to that middle path.”

Yet he also has a side that’s not just about being an “achievement-oriented guy.” For example, he said that he and his friends “like to do things that are off the beaten path. We’re going to go on safari after this, and climb Killy [Kilimanjaro?], and try to swim with the great white sharks in Africa to try to get out of that mode” that he’s usually in.

But Jaison was the most animated talking about Star Trek (listen to an example below). “I can’t even overemphasize how much of a Trekkie I am” he said, and when I asked if he’d seen the new Star Trek film, which opened up a whole different Star Trek universe, he said, “I feel like I might know what it’s like to be a social conservative now. I just want my traditional definition of Star Trek, and what I should really do is just be more open to change and be willing to see what the future brings and all that,” he laughed.

Hear Jaison describe why going on Survivor is a break with the more “traditional” path he’s followed, and why he’s a Trekkie:

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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.