JT Thomas has competed on two seasons of Survivor, his first a dominant, winning game in Tocantins, and his second a losing effort in Heroes vs. Villains. JT was joined by soccer coach and symphony conductor Benjamin “Coach” Wade in both seasons. While their paths never crossed in Heroes vs. Villains, the two men played an important part in each other’s games in Tocantins. JT came into the merge down in numbers, but Coach, the self-professed “dragon slayer,” was attracted to JT’s warrior spirit, and the two formed the “Warriors Alliance,” blindsiding former Timbira member Brendan Synnott at the first merge vote. Due to his relationship with Coach, JT and the old Jalapaos were able to dismantle the Timbira tribe, with JT never losing Coach’s trust despite voting out some of his closest allies. When it came time to eliminate Coach, JT smartly never cast his vote towards the dragon slayer, knowing that doing so could potentially lose his jury vote. At the final tribal council, Coach, along with the rest of the jurors, voted for JT to win the game.
Inside Survivor reached out to Coach to get his thoughts on JT’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 Coach, thanks for doing this. Firstly, you’ve played Survivor three times. Your third attempt was the most successful – coming dangerously close to winning. This will also be JT’s third time. What are the advantages of having played twice before, compared to those that have only played the once?
I think every time you play you become more aware of the game, the circumstances, and the ability of those around you to cause ripples in your strategy.
2) You played two seasons with JT, although you were never on the same tribe in Heroes vs Villains. What was your opinion of JT and his game in Tocantins, and did your opinion change in HvV?
Public opinion might have changed but mine did not. He is a great person, in the game and out of the game, and he has a big heart, is believable, great in challenges (he slammed the heck out of me in Heroes vs. Villains during battle ball or whatever it was…) and I hope he does great in this season.
3) JT was the first person to win Survivor with a “perfect game” (no votes against him at any Tribal Council, and a unanimous victory at the Final Tribal Council). A lot of this is credited to his incredible social game. What was it about JT that made people like him so damn much, to the point where they wanted to give up their spot for him?
JT is one of those rare individuals that does not garner enemies. Some people, like Russell Hantz, you automatically get a bad taste in your mouth when you meet them, other people you are attracted to them like a moth to a flame (I.e. the dragonslayer in Tocantins). It’s just something that he was born with. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is not arrogant, seems shy, humble, and gentle, and is easy going with his speech. He always looks to those around him like they are in the driver’s seat.
4) He went from a perfect game in Tocantins, to making a huge idol blunder in HvV. Handing the idol to Russell is considered by some to be one of the dumbest moves ever (although in my opinion, it made sense in theory). Do you think JT will come into this season with a point to prove?
I don’t think it was one of the dumbest moves in Survivor history. I think it was a move with the biggest heart behind it… the greater the risk the greater the reward. I was actually very proud of him when I saw what he did. I think that he will be a little more calloused this time around, which could be good and it could be bad.
5) Following on from the previous question, does the way JT went out in HvV work to his advantage? Will people now see him as less of a threat because of that?
It depends on how he plays it…. if he says that he is stupid and just wants to follow everyone else’s strategy it will be positive. If he plays too hard to make up for it then it could be a negative.
6) A large part of that idol blunder was because none of you had previously seen Russell’s game in Samoa. With that in mind, do you think JT will be extra wary of the two Season 33 people that are on this season? Will he automatically distrust them because of the unknown factor?
I think everyone from now on will be wary of newcomers they haven’t seen.
7) Speaking of this cast, who do you think are JT’s biggest threats? And how do you think he and Cirie Fields will get along, given that JT took her out in HvV?
Bad blood always comes back in all-star seasons, so yes, I think JT and Cirie will be out for each other. If they are naive enough like Francesca Hogi was with Phillip Sheppard then the shame is on you. JT’s biggest threat will be himself.
8) And on the flip-side of that, who on this cast do you think JT should align with?
JT should align with Brad Culpepper to take some of the heat off of himself, and also Sandra, since they have both won previous seasons and everyone will want Sandra out.
9) Putting you on the spot here, how far do you think JT will make it? And who is your overall pick to win?
I think JT has a chance to win it. He will make it to the merge, and probably at least final five.
10) Lastly, before we let you go, what is new in the world of Coach? How has life been since we last saw you on South Pacific? And most importantly, are there any plans of a comeback tour for The Dragonz?
The Dragonz are waiting for CBS to release the rights to produce an album and have a live concert in Times Square. Meanwhile, the Dragonslayer is busy being a daddy, the mother of dragons is preggos again with a baby boy due in October. Coaching soccer, conducting the symphony, and filming a pilot for a new show called In The Arena.
Thanks again to Coach for taking part. For more on JT, 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.