‘Survivor’ JT: “The Last Thing People Remember Is, ‘He’s So Trustworthy, He Trusted Russell Hantz.'”

JT Thomas (CBS)

QUICK NOTE: The good folks at XFINITY sent me deep into the Fijian wilderness to bring you an exclusive look at “Survivor: Game Changers.” While I was there I conducted interviews with “Survivor” host Jeff Probst and the entire 20-person cast. I also captured exclusive photos and other behind-the-scenes tidbits. So, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for up-to-the-minute updates.

Name: James “JT” Thomas Jr.
Age: 31
Hometown: Mobile, AL
Previously Played On:
“Survivor: Tocantins” – Winner
“Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” – Finished 10th and Jury Member
Best Known For: Receiving Every Vote at Final Tribal Council. Giving Russell Hantz more ammunition.

Gordon Holmes: What’ve you been up to since we last saw you on “Heroes vs. Villains”?
JT Thomas: I bought a farm, I used to manage an angus farm, but now I own it. I got married a year ago.
Holmes: Congratulations, sir. And Stephen Fishbach officiated your wedding, correct?
Thomas:  Thanks you, and he sure did.
Holmes: You couldn’t find anybody better than that?
Thomas: (Laughs) Stephen’s the best. He’s the best I could find. He’s a great friend of mine. I love him to death. He’s like a brother to me.
Holmes: Did he give you any advice before you came out here?
Thomas: He tried to, but I reminded him that he didn’t do better than me his second time around.
Holmes: What about Tyson and Coach from Tocantins? In their most recent runs they were able to win and make the final Tribal, respectively.
Thomas: I wasn’t able to talk to either one of them, but I know they’ll be rooting for me. I’m a very unplugged guy. I don’t talk to that many people.

Holmes: Why do you think you’re a Game Changer?
Thomas: I think I did a number of things. In Tocantins I changed the game by the way I attacked the challenges. I played the challenges with all my heart.
Holmes: And all your teeth.
Thomas: (Laughs) That’s right. I think when people saw me lose the tooth in Tocantins and keep playing the way I did, it really changed the way people approached the challenges. I attack everything in life like that. And people really started attacking these challenges harder after Tocantins.
Holmes: When I heard the title, I wondered if it meant these were people who were going to change how they played in their previous season. Because there were some changes in your game from Tocantins to Samoa.
Thomas: I think I made a big move in Samoa that didn’t work out. I just as easily could have won the game with that same move. I don’t have any regrets as far as that goes. The one regret I do have is the challenge in Samoa where I went home, I don’t think I gave it 110%. But, I don’t think I’ll change my game too much. I’ll use the same southern-charm, country-boy role that I did before. And I think I can fly under the radar and before anyone realizes that this southern charmer is smooching his way through the game, it’ll be too late.
Holmes: Literal smooching?
Thomas: (Laughs) No, I’m not going to be doing any of that kind of smooching. Moreso, just smooth talking.

Holmes: You brought up the Samoa moment where you gave Russell Hantz an immunity idol. At one point there was even a vote to see if that was one of the dumbest moves in “Survivor” history. I always hated that they used the word “dumb” because a dumb move doesn’t have a chance of succeeding. I thought that move was risky.
Thomas: It was risky.
Holmes: But if it pays off, you have a clear path to the end.
Thomas: Right.
Holmes: Do you think that move might help you now? Because coming off of Tocantins you’re a likable challenge beast who won, but coming off of Samoa, you’re the guy who made a big mistake.
Thomas: I think the Samoa move definitely works to my advantage. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. And the last thing people remember is, “He’s so trustworthy, he trusted Russell Hantz.” So, they’re not going to be concerned with how strategic I am or how hard I play the game. They’ll just be thinking, “Oh, he’ll trust anybody.”

Holmes: When you played against Russell, you had no way of knowing what kind of player he was. This season there are two players that you’ve never seen before. Are you wary of them based on what happened with Russell?
Thomas: I’m not making any assessments. The only thing I know is what I know and that’s I don’t know anything about those players. Will I trust them? No. Will I trust anybody? No. Not until they prove that they can be trusted. When you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

Holmes: What are your early thoughts on this cast?
Thomas: I’m excited to be in this group. I think there are some really competitive challenge players like Ozzy and Malcolm. I can’t wait to go against them. One person I’m definitely going to keep my eyes on is Tony. He has an amazing read on people. And immediately when something is not going his way, he gets rid of people. I can’t find myself on the wrong side of any of Tony’s reads. I gotta get rid of Tony first chance I get.
Holmes: Anyone else you’re looking to target?
Thomas: The new players I know nothing about. I’m going to be ready to do what I’ve gotta do.

Holmes: Who are you excited to work with?
Thomas: I think I can work with just about anybody. I’m excited to play with Ozzy and Malcolm and Caleb and some of these guys that really give it their all and compete in these challenges. I think strategically, I can outplay any one of those guys.

Holmes: You voted Cirie out of “Heroes vs. Villains.” What’s your take on her?
Thomas: Cirie is a wild card to me. The last thing I did was vote her out single-handedly. I went against my alliance and I voted her out. I knew she was going to be a strong threat. But, I’ve thought about that. I can go to Cirie and say, “Hey, I voted you out and I paid for it. I lost too. You can come after me and I can come after you and one of us is going home tonight, or it’s water under the bridge and we can work together.”
Holmes: You faced Sandra in that season too.
Thomas: Sandra, I can work with Sandra. No doubt. She doesn’t play aggressive early on. She’s a tell-it-like-it-is kind of person. People aren’t threatened by here. They’ll keep her around, which is good for me because I’ll have someone to work with. I look forward to working with her.

Holmes: With returnee seasons, there is always talk of pre-season alliances. Are you a part of any?
Thomas: I don’t have any pre-season alliances. I think that’s a liability to have any commitments before the game starts.
Holmes: You’re all being held together, but you can’t speak. Are you winking or smiling at anyone?
Thomas: I try to wink and smile at every person I can.
Holmes: Or smooch.
Thomas: (Laughs) No, no. But I want everybody in there to feel comfortable with me. That’s my goal. I’ll work with anybody.
Holmes: Have you noticed any people specifically sitting together or interacting with each other?
Thomas: Not really. They keep a good watch on us. Obviously Caleb and Tai are going to be friendly.

Holmes: Speaking of those two, is it a concern that you have four people from the Kaoh Rong cast?
Thomas: All four of those people are dangerous. I’m going to bring it to everyone’s attention if I need to. They’re fresh out of the game, they’re still in the mindset of day 35. I remember what it was like to come into the game having just been in the game. Not only that, if you get three people on one tribe? That’s a third of a tribe.

Holmes: If there is a twist, what do you think it could be?
Thomas: I don’t know. I just look forward to one hell of a competition.
Holmes: I’m going to mention a twist, you tell me if it’s awesome or awful. We’ll start with hidden immunity idols.
Thomas: Awful. I’d rather have a game with no idols.
Holmes: Redemption Island.
Thomas: Awesome.
Holmes: Exile Island?
Thomas: Awesome.
Holmes: Medallion of Power?
Thomas: Awful. (Laughs)
Holmes: (Laughs) Not expecting a lot of awesomes on that one. The extra vote?
Thomas: Awful.
Holmes: Steal a vote?
Thomas: Awful.
Holmes: Eliminate a juror?
Thomas: Awful.
Holmes: Sounds like you like a clean, old-school “Survivor.”
Thomas: Yeah. I want to know what I’m getting.

Holmes: Next up, I’m going to use some logic that I think people might use to get rid of you. I’d like you to defend against it.
Thomas: Sure.
Holmes: JT is a challenge beast. I don’t want him getting to the merge and then going on a challenge streak.
Thomas: If you want our tribe to stay together and not go to Tribal Council, we’ve got to win these challenges. Let’s get to the merge, then you can worry about me.

Holmes: JT is too likable. He got every vote in Tocantins against Stephen Fishbach, and Stephen Fishbach is a wonderful guy. I don’t want to face him at the end, let’s get rid of him.
Thomas: Do you want to worry about the end or do you want to get to the end? I’ll get you there.

Holmes: JT already won a million. He had his shot.
Thomas: We’re not out here to judge everyone’s banking account. We’re here to play a game. If you deserve to win, you win.

Holmes: Alright, I have cards with each of your competitors on them. Our two friends from season 33 aren’t on here because we don’t know anything about them. I’ll give you three cards at random. You tell me who you vote out first, who you’ll work with but eventually eliminate, and who you’ll take to the end.

Round One: Aubry, Hali, and Malcolm
Thomas: I like these games! I’ll vote Hali out first. I don’t remember a lot about her, but I feel like she’s going to not be as loyal to me. Malcolm I’ll align with. He’s trustworthy, but I wouldn’t want to take him to the end because he could beat me at the final challenge. And Aubry I would take to the end, she makes good, educated decisions, but I feel like I could beat her in the end.

Round Two: Sandra, Ciera, and Cirie
Thomas: Get rid of Ciera as soon as possible because she’s anxious to flip. She can’t wait to make a bad decision. She appears to be trustworthy, but you can’t trust her. Cirie, I would align with Cirie. I’m going to give her an ultimatum. If you come after me, I’m going to come after you. Or, we can work together. And Sandra, I think I can beat her in the end.
Holmes: What argument do you use against Sandra?
Thomas: Sandra has already won two of these by floating around, she’s not going to get another. Pick someone who made educated decisions to get here and who deserves to win.

Round Three: Tony, Sarah, and Debbie
Thomas: (Laughs) I would get rid of Tony as soon as possible. If he sees a hole, he plugs it. I need him gone before he calls my number. Debbie, she makes good decisions. She’s smart. I think she pays a good deal of attention to what’s going on. And Sarah I would take to the end because I feel like she’ll play an honest game, but I think I’ll play a better game than her.
Holmes: You think you’re socially stronger?
Thomas: Oh yeah, people underestimate my social game.
Holmes: It’s that smile, man. I’m ready to vote for you.
Thomas: (Laughs)

Round Four: Brad, Jeff, and Troyzan
Thomas: I’d get rid of Varner first. He’s a strategic player and I might work with him in a different set of three. I think Troyzan is more solid to align with because I think he’ll stick to his word. And I’ll take Brad to the end because he’s going to piss some people off.

Round Five: Tai, Andrea, and Caleb
Thomas: Tai, I really like Tai. But in this group of three, I need to get rid of him first. He’s such a great guy, but he leaks information. He’ll accidentally tell the whole story to someone. And he could beat me. Caleb, he’ll be loyal and stick to me. But, I wouldn’t take him to the final three because he could beat me. Whereas Andrea, she’ll be loyal and I think I can beat her.

Round Six: Ozzy and Sierra
Holmes: Alright, there are two left. Work with one and boot the other.
Thomas: I’ll work with Ozzy. I feel like we’re going to be tight. We’re going to be each other’s rock. Sierra, I don’t know enough about her and I’d be scared to work with her. Ozzy is my man.

Don’t miss the two-hour season premiere of “Survivor: Game Changers,” Wednesday March 8, 2017 at 8 p.m. ET.

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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