Interview: Survivor Tocantins winner

2011-09-27 17:13
He came, he saw and he conquered! As seen on Monday on SABC3, with an overwhelming 7-0 victory, JT Thomas became the 18th millionaire on the popular international reality TV show, Survivor. The Survivor: Tocantins victor outwitted, outplayed and outlasted New Yorker Stephen Fishbach and the rest if his competitors with his sheer strength, "nice guy persona" and his solid alliances to not only make it all the way to the very end of the 39 days, but to also convince his peers to award him the title of Sole Survivor. Channel 24 caught up with JT via telephone in Alabama, to hear all about winning this game.

It was a tough and intense Tribal Council which saw JT not only being crowned as the latest Survivor winner, but also saw him taking home the Sprint Player of The Season award – along with an extra $100 000. But it was all part of a grand master plan that JT concocted the moment he landed in the Brazilian Highlands - where the show was filmed two years ago.

Being a country boy, Thomas was the ideal candidate for Survivor. He said he had "the perfect" survival strategy heading into the game. "When I got the call to say I was picked for Survivor, I knew I would have the upper hand in this game. I am very accustomed to hot weather and I had an advantage in that the actual survival part was a way of making sure that my tribe depended on me for things and not the other way around."

He added that he wanted to be seen as invaluable to the tribe. "I didn't want them to get rid of me easily. I also didn't want to be the guy that stood out like a sore thumb and who took complete control, so I became a team player who worked very hard at camp, who got along with everybody and who also helped our tribe win challenges."

Physical threat

The odds were, however, stacked against JT, who was seen as a clear physical threat from the beginning. The original Jalapao tribe member was physically dominant in every immunity challenge and became a threat amongst all the castaways. 'It was a tough one to play out but I played the fact that I was just happy and grateful to make it through one more Tribal Council. I had a suspicion that everyone was going to try and get rid of me after the merge, so my main goal was to make the merge and fight it out till the end. I was sitting pretty comfortably in that I got along with the boys and the girls, and when Spencer didn't want an all-guy alliance, I could choose to form various other alliances with people too."

During episode five, JT faced the most defining moment of the game where he lost a tooth during a challenge – one which he still hasn't replaced to this very day.
"Our tribe really needed to win that day and I am the type where I would do almost anything to ensure that our tribe was in tact and that we were safe from elimination. The challenge had us catching balls on the beach and I had almost single-handedly won the challenge but because no one was trying hard to win I became too determined to win and got physical. Physical, in that I ran after every ball and before I knew it, my tooth was out. It wasn't painful at all and the rest of the tribe made a fuss out of it when we got back to our camp. That's when I realise my whole tooth was out, but it didn't phase me," he explained.

One of the highlights came when the Jalapao tribe were competing for immunity and JT had to carry 220 pounds in an endurance challenge, which he says was "tough".

"The winning tribe of the challenge could raid the other tribe's camp and we didn't want to lose our tarp and rice. We had so little rice left and I didn't want the other tribe to take that away from us, so it got to a point in the challenge where I had to balance 220 pounds to avoid us losing everything. What most people don't realise is that the challenge didn't just take five minutes, we where up there for a long time as well."

'Quite explosive'

One of the most important aspects which JT attributes to his success was making an alliance with runner-up Fishbach early on in the game. So, being the strategical player he was, were you worried about Stephen throughout the game?

"I came across Taj and Stephen's alliance early on when I discovered they had an immunity idol. I must admit, I was initially worried about him but he was carrying the most weight over his shoulder. I looked to him as a best friend, especially since the other guys didn't like him out there and wanted him sent home. I started to look out for him and myself and I knew it was an alliance that was going to take us all the way to the end. I knew him and Taj were close so it led me and Taj to start talking to each other about game strategies."

While Thomas admits that the Final Tribal Council was "quite explosive", he said he didn't expect people to attack Fishbach the way they did, about being weak and a coat-tail rider.

"I was really nervous going into the Final Tribal Council but I had no plans to play innocent with the jury at all. I knew people would attack Stephen because of how he played the game, but I didn't expect it to be that brutal. I did play it up as well and I let him do most of the talking that evening. It helped me out in my case of proving why I deserved the money."


So what does it feel like to be a millionaire? "Firstly, it's an honour to have won, but also another complete honour to have won by such a margin! I didn't expect that outcome at all, since I thought he'd get at least two votes. I felt bad for Stephen, seeing that we were together for the entire duration of the game but I think he played a little too aggressively at the end – which is what put people off from voting for him," JT explains.

While the show was filmed over two years ago, a lot has happened in JT's life. In fact, last year he returned to compete in Season 20 of Survivor (Heroes versus Villains). "I had an amazing time playing the game in Samoa. Other than Survivor, I went back to my life as a cattle farmer in Alabama and I am still enjoying what I do. I haven't used my Survivor fame to make a career in acting or TV, because it's not what I enjoy doing. I'm a country boy at heart."

The humble Survivor victor admits that he did do "some good" with his winnings and did manage to "splurge out a little".

'I bought my sisters some new cars and some of my sisters' kids; I decided to help them out with their school tuition costs. I also gave my mother and father some money to help them out, and the majority of it, I invested. I wanted to help my family out and because I have a lot of nephews and nieces, I promised my family I'd pay for my nephews and nieces to go to college one day. I'm just trying to invest in their future and give back to my family.'

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