Jeff Varner is the most old school contestant on Survivor: Game Changers, having originally competed way back in Survivor: The Australian Outback, the show’s second season. He recently returned for Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance, where he started as a member of the Ta Keo tribe and was caught between old school and new school alliances. He initially played the middle, along with his fellow Ta Keo member Peih-Gee Law, booting out Vytas Baskauskas at the first vote before jumping back with his old schoolers. Both Jeff and Peih-Gee were swapped to the Angkor tribe on Day 7, and it was the start of the downfall for the two of them. Jeff was called out by Tasha Fox at the immunity challenge for trying to communicate with another tribe. He managed to survive the vote when Tasha turned it on Peih-Gee to appease Abi-Maria Gomes. Jeff voted out Peih-Gee to save himself, but it only bought him three more days before his torch was snuffed.
Inside Survivor reached out to Peih-Gee to get her thoughts on Jeff’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.
1) Hey Peih-Gee, thanks for doing this. Survivor: Cambodia was full throttle strategy from Day 1, and we saw Jeff talking about how he had to adapt to keep up with it. Just how crazy were those first few days? And what was your opinion of Jeff initially?
Everyone knows that seasons with all returning players are extremely cutthroat, and Cambodia was no exception. Everyone who comes back is a full on gamer, everyone is trying to preserve or surpass their legacy, and we were all desperate to make our mark. Even I was surprised at how fast the game went – hardly any time to socialize and get to know each other before people are already off whispering in the bushes. And I was last on Survivor eight years ago. Jeff was on 15 years ago – but I think he adapted very fast and started playing both sides right away.
First votes are usually pretty easy ones – the minute a name is thrown out, everyone piles on it because they’re just happy it’s not their name. Our first vote was so chaotic because we immediately had two very obvious alliances in our tribe between the old schoolers and new schoolers and no tribe unity. And Jeff was solidly in the middle between those two alliances.
I was drawn to Jeff right away. He is catty, funny and good hearted and reminded me very much of my best friend at home. We get along very well, and I felt like we had a real friendship.
2) It seemed like you were also in the middle with Jeff, at least on that first Vytas vote. Did you talk a lot of strategy with Jeff at this time? Did he have an alliance and plan going forward? Or was he just flying by the seat of his pants?
Jeff is a new school player in the body of an old school player. This actually gave him TOO many choices in the beginning – both sides thought they had him on their side. Jeff had been waiting 15 years to play Survivor again, and this time he was playing in an era of Survivor that welcomed cutthroat strategists like him. Even though he had an alliance with the old school players (the “shelter people”), I think he felt really impatient because they weren’t really playing the game and he was itching to start strategizing right away. So when the new school players aligned and approached him, I think he felt drawn in by their new school approach. That’s what caused so much chaos for him in the beginning probably.
I was a bit of a swing player myself – didn’t quite fit in with the old schoolers, and yet I didn’t really agree with the strategy of the new schoolers. In those first few days, I think Jeff could see that I wasn’t firmly planted on either side yet and that’s why he would talk to me about what to do at the first vote. I was really torn as well – the old schoolers wanted Abi-Maria out, and so did I. But the new schoolers offered me an alliance, and the old schoolers didn’t. So ultimately I decided to vote with the new schoolers, and Jeff told me he did just to give the old schoolers a wake-up call even though he was supposed to be aligned with them.
Jeff is kind of a fly by the seat of his pants kind of guy – that’s one of his strengths.
3) His game hit a roadblock once you guys were sent to the Angkor camp, culminating in the now infamous “We’ve Got a Rat!” moment. What was your reaction to that situation? And how did Jeff manage to recover?
Ugh, EVERYONE’s game hit a roadblock at Angkor – that camp sucked! Conditions were so bad that it really brought down everyone’s spirits. I hated being stuck there with Abi-Maria, she had such a negative attitude that it was very difficult for me to want to stay loyal to my original tribe mates. Worse, I could see that Jeff was still very friendly and loyal to her and that made me feel insecure about my position with him.
So I started becoming close to Woo, and when Woo told me he was interested in joining up with Tasha and Savage, I initiated a conversation with Savage feeling him out. Well, I didn’t realize it at the time, but apparently, Jeff overheard my conversation with Savage and could sense his game and alliances starting to crumble.
I think the infamous “We’ve Got a Rat” moment came out of desperation for him – something born of frustration and a last-ditch effort to shake things up. He knew that his name was being thrown around and he was frantic to put some heat on the rest of us.
I was pretty upset after that speech – I felt like he threw me under the bus in that moment and I couldn’t really trust him anymore. However, I also couldn’t afford to vote him out before Abi-Maria because I trusted her even less. Jeff was actually supposed to go home that night instead of me; he got saved because I was so insistent on voting Abi out instead of Jeff. They all changed their vote to me because Tasha knew she needed Abi, and Jeff was willing to vote for someone else (me) to save himself.
4) Jeff is clearly very passionate about the game, and he played hard in both his seasons, yet he’s never made the jury. How do you think he’ll change his game in his third season? What advice would you give?
Jeff came into Cambodia just roaring to play. This was his Second Chance – one he’d been waiting 15 years for. He played hard and fast, scheming and schmoozing from the get go. He loved talking strategy. I think that was his undoing – just trying to play too many sides and losing trust because of that.
I think in his third season, he’ll have learned to calm down a little. I think Jeff needs to find a good alliance and stay loyal to it unless it’s absolutely necessary to jump ship. He is infamous for causing chaos and starting fights between people, but he’s also really good at making friends. I think he needs to lay low and just use his charisma to charm people.
5) What is his most negative attribute, and his most positive attribute?
I’m going to get really geeky here and say that Jeff is classic Chaotic Neutral. This is based on the old school role playing game Dungeons and Dragons character alignment system. You can either be Lawful, who is someone that plays by the rules, or you can be Chaotic, who is someone that believes in personal freedom over following rules.
Then you can either be Good, Neutral, or Evil. “Good” characters tend to value the benefit of society over personal benefit. “Evil” characters value gaining personal power. “Neutral” characters tend to value both, depending on circumstance.
Chaotic neutral people are free spirits but tend to be extremely impulsive – and I think that’s Jeff’s most negative attribute.
Jeff’s best attribute is his personality. He is very entertaining, funny, and warm, and he makes friends easily. He needs to focus on his social game out there, prove his loyalty and I think he can really go far. He’s like Varys from Game of Thrones. People tend to tell him things, and information is power.
6) Who on the Season 34 cast do you think will be his biggest threats and why?
Well to keep using my D&D alignment chart, I think anyone who is Lawful Good will probably see Jeff as a threat because of his scheming and flipping. Lawful Good tend to be people like Brad Culpepper or JT. Lawful Good people value stability and loyalty, they want good little soldiers, and Jeff isn’t good at being someone’s soldier.
7) On the flip-side, who here should he try and align with and why?
Jeff should probably align with other Chaotic Neutrals like Sandra and Cirie. These are other players that are good at manipulation. They will probably find it in their interest to align with someone like Jeff, especially since he will probably recognize their value to him, as opposed to some of the alpha males who might think them “weak” or “dangerous.”
8) Putting you on the spot, how far do you think Jeff will make it?
I think Jeff can make it really far this time. We spent a lot of time on our pre-jury trip reflecting on mistakes and what we could have done differently. I think he’ll have learned to lay low and be more relaxed. There are a lot of alpha male heavy hitters on this season, but I think by now seasoned players know to get rid of them fairly soon and that is good news for Jeff.
9) Lastly, before we let you go. What is new in the world of Peih-Gee? How has life been since we last saw you in Cambodia?
Thanks for asking! Life has been great – I’m running my jewelry business, you can check out my website at www.loradorjewelry.com. I have a section on there where you can order Survivor memorabilia such as signed photos, a video message and even a replica of the necklace I was given by production when I played in Survivor: China. This is the direct link: http://www.loradorjewelry.com/store/c4/Survivor.html I’m about to start a series of YouTube videos on how to buy gemstones and jewelry, and that’s kept me pretty busy lately.
I also occasionally stream live on Twitch when I play video games like League of Legends – it’s really fun interacting with fans there, and you can sometimes catch random Survivors popping in like Kenny from Gabon, Jeff Varner of course and also Brice from Cagayan. People can add me on Twitch – my handle is @peihgee.
I also recently started working with my sister Jade to help businesses with UX design, branding, and social media, so I’ve been busy in the best way possible!
Thanks again to Peih-Gee for taking part. For more on Jeff, you can check out his cast retrospective and official cast bio. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing With Game Changers interviews. Survivor: Game Changers premieres March 8, 2017, on CBS.