Confidence can be a dangerous thing in the game of Survivor. For James "J.T." Thomas Jr., that became painfully apparent on Wednesday's episode of Game Changers when he was sent packing despite having an immunity idol... which he didn't even bother to bring with him to Tribal Council.
But will it also come back to bite J.T.'s (now former) tribemate Michaela, who flipped her hair and literally poured herself a drink, "sips tea" style, as J.T. was voted out ahead of her?
TVGuide.com caught up with J.T. the morning after his ouster, when he revealed the real reason he didn't bring the idol with him, whether he regrets trusting Brad last week, and his unfiltered thoughts on Michaela.
First question: why did you not bring the idol with you to Tribal?!
J.T.: Obviously I thought I was safe or I definitely would have brought it. But there was an aspect to it that does add to the situation. Immediately when I found it, I hid the idol right away. I was caught with an idol in Heroes/Villains, and basically, when someone knows you have an idol, it's more of a liability than an asset. So, my main thing was, OK, I've got this thing, I've got limited time, I've got to get it out of my possession. So I took it up to the top of what I call Lookout Mountain there on the island, which was really remote and kind of hard to get to, and buried it, so I knew it would be there. Because Sandra and Varner, those kind of castaways, will search your bag, search your pockets, whatever they've got to do at all times. ... So basically, I would either leave it at camp with the tribe or I'd have to hide it. I hid it a very short time before Tribal, and we were talking and I thought about it and I said, well, if I get a chance, I'll go back and get it. But instead, I ended up talking to Varner and Sandra and everyone more, and it was almost going to be obvious I was up to something, or just leave it. And I obviously felt safe. But it's a regret I definitely have.
What about at Tribal? Did you have a moment where you thought, "Uh-oh"?
J.T.: Right before the vote, I felt funny at Tribal. I was like, this just doesn't seem right. But I don't know that I would have played [the idol] if I had it, because it just made no sense to me for Sandra or Varner, for their long-term game, for them to vote me out at this point. I have all the connections. At this point in the game, I've slept at camp with everyone out there except Hali and Troyzan, so therefore I had more contacts than anyone else in the game. So, to me, it wasn't a good move at all not to take me to at least the merge. But you never can see the whole picture, you know? ... I'd love to say, if I had had it, I'd have played it, but I really don't know if I would have. I had a bad feeling, but until the first time I saw my name... and then the second time I saw my name, I knew, oh no. I've been duped. But you have to try.
You had to have known after the previous Tribal that there was a target on your back. Did you just feel like you had done enough to remove it?
J.T.: I think so. I never thought that I had won them over 100 percent. But I really put a lot of stock in Sandra's previous gameplay, and of course I felt comfortable with Aubry 100 percent. ... Sandra was upset, but she immediately came to me. "Hey, I hate what happened, but we need you. For us to not go to Tribal every time, you've got to be here." And I was like, "Well, you know, I appreciate that Sandra. But, not only that, I'll help you all after the merge. I'll be there. I have a lot more to offer than Michaela." And that was clear, but then at the challenges, Michaela really began to rub everyone wrong. She just had her temper tantrums and things. It's almost like it was a no-brainer. Everyone was ready for her to go. That's really what sold me, was that, man, I wanted her gone so bad, and so did Aubry, and even Sandra and Varner did. But they took advantage of that and got her on board to get revenge. So I never saw that coming. I mean, Malcolm was ready to vote Sandra out right away. So Sandra was essentially getting revenge for someone who was going to vote her out first chance he got. I just didn't see that coming.
Let's talk about last week's Tribal. What was your motivation to give Brad that information?
J.T.: I said, well, maybe if I tell Culpepper, we're tight, he'll return the favor and vote Sandra out. And that would give me control of this tribe. I'd have Aubry and Malcolm and the numbers. So, it was a chance for me to take control of my own destiny. Unfortunately, I had too much stock in Culpepper. ... That was a move I felt like was a "now or never" kind of thing. Why couldn't I trust Culpepper to do this? I've given them free intel. They'll at least vote out the person I want. But that's not how it goes. Not how it went. ... Brad knew who I wanted him to vote for, because I made sure he did. What really made me nervous after I told Brad was that Hali kept bringing up the physical threats. "It'd be crazy to get rid of anyone but physical threats right now." And I was like, oh no. immediately I'm thinking, this'll be me or Malcolm. This is not looking good. and I started telling Malcolm, "Hey, I don't know Hali. What is she talking about, physical threats? What is she talking about?" He's like, "Just let it go. Let it go." So I started getting nervous at that point.
You looked distraught after Tai played the idol for Sierra. Did you realize then that Malcolm might be going home?
J.T.: When Tai gave Sierra the idol, I was almost playing that up a little bit, because I expected that. I actually expected, if anyone had an idol, it would be Tai, because of how he played when we were on the same tribe. He was always looking, and that was his game. So I tried, at first, to get Sandra and everyone to vote for Tai. Because then he would play his own idol for himself, and ... I wouldn't have to say anything. I didn't feel like they would vote me out. They would go after someone else. ... So, when I looked really distressed about the situation is once I knew it was Malcolm. I was like, wow, I'm in trouble. The main reason is because, I don't think we were going to lose any challenges with Malcolm and I on the same tribe. We weren't going to Tribal, at least not every time. But without Malcolm, I'm left with Michaela, who's a challenge beast in her own mind, and then Sandra, Varner and Aubry — who are all going to give it their best, but we don't match up against Ozzy, Culpepper and some of the other athletes, as far as physicality goes.
What's your biggest regret about how you played this time?
J.T.: I definitely regret not winning and I regret not taking the idol [to Tribal]. There's definitely things that I regret. But I played the game just like I said I would when I left home. Play to win, and give 110 percent no matter what. I think it shows. I mean, I really play with all my heart. So does Malcolm. It really hurt me when Malcolm went home. It hurt the rest of my game for sure, but I feel the same about Malcolm as I think he felt about me at the time, which was that, hey, he deserves to be here. He plays really hard and he's straightforward and he's an honest guy. That's hard to find. And we played our hearts out. But unfortunately it didn't work out. I think the point in the game that I really regret the most is when Malcolm went home, and also the swap. The swap killed me. I was pretty much in somewhat control of the Nuku tribe, and my alliance was the complete majority and we had the first couple to go in line if we were to ever lose. It was as good as it could get for us. We had plenty of food, had fun. It was all going our way, so the swap killed me.
Let's talk about the sugar controversy. Did you have any idea Sandra was behind it before you saw the episode last night?
J.T.: When I saw it last night, it really hit home. Because I didn't really understand about the whole sugar [thing]. Sandra kept bringing it up, kept instigating it, and I didn't realize it was because she originally instigated it. I just kept thinking she was mad at Michaela, but just wanted me to be the one to ... say something. I didn't really get that, because Sandra always says it herself. But then, after watching it back, it all made sense. She instigated the whole incident, and it was kind of just to more sell the fact that Michaela was going home to me, and she did. It worked. Unfortunately it didn't work in my favor.
Was there anything we didn't see in this episode or last week that you think is important?
J.T.: There's so much gameplay that goes into it. So many hours of filming and life out there that go into each episode. You never really know exactly what's going to be shown. ... Michaela — her company was not enjoyed by any of us. That was one thing that kind of looked like it was just me against her. It was one of us going home, obviously, so that's kind of why it seemed that way. But for Varner and Sandra to bring Michaela in with them and vote out me, they may have sacrificed themselves, because I know how bad she irritated everybody. I mean, it was tough. We had to work around her and baby her and make sure she was OK with everything before we did it as a tribe. So, that's another thing that really helped sell me, was that there's no way anyone would want to spend the rest of their time out there with Michaela. It was kind of like, why would they keep Michaela over me at this point? But it was all about revenge and payback, and I just didn't see that in Sandra. I thought she was a deeper player than that.
I'm interested to see how that plays out, because it seems like Michaela now thinks she and Sandra are really solid, and I'm not sure anyone should trust Sandra.
J.T.: No. Michaela actually wanted to be with Malcolm and Aubry and myself and vote out Sandra, and I was like, oh, OK. As soon as Michaela walks off, Malcolm and Aubry are like, "Dude, she's all over the place. We can't trust her." So we were like, OK, back to three. Because I didn't know Michaela, and they knew how she had been previously in the game. So, she's all over the place, but a lot of times that benefits persons to be all over the place, because people pick them up and use them when they need them.
You mentioned that you've spent the most time with the most people out of everyone out there now. Who do you think other people need to look out for?
J.T.: Obviously Cirie. She's always a big threat. But one person that stands out is Zeke. Zeke is very smart and very strategic, and slow playing the game. On our first tribe, he was in my alliance, but he was also always open. He was always available for whoever's alliance, but smartly so. I think he's a very, very good strategic gameplay person. And I think he's a threat as well as Cirie. And Brad. Brad looked like he had complete control last night over his tribe. That can be dangerous. As long as he's with that group of people, he's gonna be in complete control. So it all depends on if he makes the merge and who he's merged with, as far as he goes. But for me, I would look at Zeke and Cirie.
It looks like the tribes are going to get shuffled again next week.
J.T.: A shame I couldn't make it one more week to get a new draw.
Overall, how did you feel about this season?
J.T.: It was great. I enjoyed every minute I had, but obviously I wish I had a minute longer.
Would you play again if asked?
J.T.: I think for sure. No doubt. I love the game, and I'm so competitive, but the survival part of it is just so fun to me, as well as the strategic part. It may look like I'm reckless with my strategic play, but I'm actually going to always make the move. If there's a chance to take a chance and go for the win or sit back and be someone else's pawn, I'll always go for the win. So, I can't regret that.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on CBS.
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