JT Thomas: “I feel like they’re targeting me because they don’t know me yet”

This is the first in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members. These were conducted in early August in L.A., the day the cast flew to Samoa. Thanks, as always, for not copying and pasting these around the web, but instead quoting and linking.

JT Thomas JT goes into Survivor Heroes vs. Villains with two targets: He’s the one person who’s played a perfect game, at least in terms of votes cast against him (no one ever voted against him, ever), and he’s also, of course, a winner, which during the first all-star season wasn’t at all helpful. JT is acutely aware of this, and didn’t bullshit when it came to handicapping his chances. “I think my chances of making it to the merge are not too bad,” he said, but added, “that’s when it’s going to get really tough for me. The odds of me going far after the merge are not good, but the odds of me winning last time were 50 to 1, so who knows.” He also said, “I may cry if I see my name written.”

I asked him how he’ll avoid being a target, he articulated a strategy that you may hear from other winners in the coming interviews. “I’m going to start out immediately the same way I did last time, building good relationships with these people,” JT said. “The way I’m going to present my case to these people is, if I was sitting in the final two with you, no one’s going to give me another million dollars. And also, you’ve just seen that I’ll take anybody to the final two. You can trust me.” (Anybody? Oh, poor Stephen Fishbach.)

Speaking of Stephen, JT said that he’ll retain pretty much the same strategy as he did during Survivor Tocantins. “I’m going to try to pick people I think are my biggest competitors and join forces with them rather trying to go after them or them come after me, and one of us is definitely going to be gone–maybe both of us,” he said. In Brazil, he aligned with Stephen because “I could use his knowledge and mine together,” even though his initial impression was that “Stephen was the one person I figured was not going to be able to hack it on our team.”

He thinks his “biggest competitors” are Cirie, Parvati, and Sugar, and said, “deep in my mind I know who is going to turn on me first … that’s those girls, man; they’re crazy.” (And to think, it was just a year ago that JT was saying he was having girls write papers for him in college.) So even while trying to align with them, JT also plans “to attach myself to these guys to start with” to try to dump Cirie, in particular. The guys in question are Rupert and Tom Westman, who JT was “excited” to see because they played “straightforward games.”

That said, JT is not overly concerned with pre-preparation.”You can’t make any strategical plans until you actually meet these people and see what their cruel intentions are,” he said, acknowledging that he only knew many of them from what he saw on TV. “If they’re all targeting me, than I’m just going to go crazy. That’s when I’m going to break down and tell everyone that this is my dead sister’s dream, just play off anything I can,” he said.

Once again, JT prepared by reviewing footage: “I watched every episode I could get my hands on,” he said, and also “made my own list of who I thought would be on all-stars,” and then studied those players specifically (“I was fairly close,” he said of his list).

The other contestants, JT told me, may change their minds about him. “I feel like they’re targeting me because they don’t know me yet.” He won’t try to be anything other than who he is (“after nine or 10 days in the game, you’re so stressed out, your true colors are going to show”) and said that “all you have in Survivor is trust” and “you have to trust people in this game,” so he is “going to try to build these strong relationships with people.”

Last time he played the game, JT said, “I was never put in the position where I do anything evil.” But two seasons later, “I’m prepared to do whatever I can to win this game. If it takes playing down to some of these guys’ level, I can do it.”

Hear JT talk about how this experience compares to his previous experience, what makes him nervous and excited, and who he has to get rid of immediately:

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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.