John Fincher: “some may see right through all the bullshit and think I’m a really smart dude”

This is the 16th in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

John FincherJohn Fincher was recruited and cast on Survivor Samoa despite never having watched the show. “I think I can honestly say I hadn’t seen one episode in its entirety prior to meeting the casting director and getting plopped into this process,” he told me. But he did it because “potential to win some cheese” and, perhaps surprisingly, has a strong handle on the game, much like non-fan Liz Kim does. “I’m really playing this thing to win,” he said.

John is clearly very smart, and was friendly and animated at times. But he has an extremely laid-back, sometimes cocky, somewhat dismissive attitude. For example, he called Survivor a “constant game of perception management” and said that it’d make sense for him to align with “the other sort of young professional, good looking, handsome young buck” because of the tendency to gravitate toward “people that are somewhat similar to you,” although he noted that it “may not be as beneficial to us” to align.

Sometimes his attitude came off like a false humbleness (compared to, say, Jaison’s actually humble nature) such as when he said things like this: “I’m not going to be the person whose feelings are hurt if you vote me off. At the end of the day, every single person has to go but one. Hopefully, everyone else is like minded and has coping skills and can deal with that like I can.”

After being recruited, John did some impressive preparation, telling producers “gimme game tape” and and doing things like “starting fire with a machete and a flint using coconut husk as tinder in the rain. There’s some things you do to prepare. Definitely stopped boozing for a little bit, stopped drinking soda, tried to get a little healthy for a few weeks, tried to pack on some pounds, although it didn’t really work. Lots of salmon, drinking whole milk. And then just trying to come up with a social strategy for navigating your way through this game and the different stages of it, and setting yourself up to be flexible but ultimately succeed in the end.”

His strategy is to “fly under the radar initially,” although he said that might be tough at “6’2″, 180″ pounds, even though there are other men who are “monsters that make me look like a twerp.” John plans on “making some good alliances up front” and said “the smaller the better,” “three or four of us with a few hangers-on.” He plans on “letting other people drive. … I don’t think you can win this game by calling shots the entire way, by picking people off and telling people who to vote for. I don’t think that’s going to be successful. You gotta put it on cruise control for a little bit” because “you can’t be this overtly, conniving player like Kenny was in Gabon,” John said.

Talking about both his career as an aerospace engineer (“I don’t think anyone on planet Earth actually has their official title as rocket scientist, but people at CBS and Survivor thought it was quite catchy,” he said) and the way he almost played pro soccer, he said those are “definitely something I hope to keep under wraps a little bit. … The overtly strong alpha male dudes seem to get axed. But the beauty of it is, I feel like I can go head-to-head with any of these guys any of these challenges and beat them on any given day.” However, John also said “there’s no such thing as a physical threat in this game. At the end of the day, it comes down to jury votes. It’s not a physical challenge; it’s a social game more than anything else.”

He did have a good grasp of the general game pattens, saying “the annoying and the weak go first” and then the “big physical threats,” and “then it’s kind of a crapshoot after that.” John will “plan ahead but not too far ahead” because “idiots making moves trying to get themselves something down the road” is “ridiculous.” Instead, John said, “you also have to create relationships with people” and “be friendly to a lot of people and put yourself in a position where you can do something for someone else. I think that flexibility is going to be key.”

John expects to do well because, as he told me, “these multi-dimensional challenges are going to fit me really well” and “I have an arsenal that can enable me do that between being physically adept and having some social skills, and maybe some good looks might not hurt–maybe they will. I think I’m justifiably confident, not cocky.”

Talking about how others perceive him, he said, “they could think I’m some dumb model,” “some dumb surf bum,” or “some could think I’m cocky.” On the other hand, “some may see right through all the bullshit and think I’m a really smart dude and someone to be feared,” John said.

Hear John explain why his bio describes him as someone who “will not apologize living a privileged life,” and his thinking about different types of lies:

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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.