Survivor: South Pacific - Coach's exit interview
I've been "Coached."
When I asked Edna last week why Coach had so much influence on his Upolu tribe, she said it was his ability to make people feel important (and I never got time to blog that interview, so apologies to Edna).
The first thing Coach told me when I interviewed him this week was that he'd been reading my blog throughout the season. So guess who was feeling kind of important? And then my next thought was, oh crap, what unflattering things did I write about him that he might have read?
Anyway, it was clear that Coach, a.k.a. Benjamin Wade, 40, artistic director and conductor of the Susanville Symphony in California, was still feeling the sting of losing the 23rd season of Survivor to Sophie Clarke, his third time playing the game. Here's an edited version of our chat:
DY: Hi Coach, how are you doing today?
CW: I'm good. I read your stuff every week, I want you to know.
DY: Did you really?
CW: Yeah, it was one of the ones that always came up, Toronto Star ... every week, Toronto Star would do something and I'd check it out.
DY: You were one of the stars of the show from where I was sitting. I think you're one of the more interesting people to have played Survivor over the years, but I understand you say this is it, you're done with it.
CW: Yeah, I'm done with it, so I don't know if you really like me or if you don't like me, so I guess we'll have to just make sure we’re good on this last interview that we do, for Survivor of course. I expect you to be chronicling my exploits when I go and do my new show and all that other kind of stuff that's gonna be happening this next year, but we can get into that later.
DY: Okay, that sounds good. Let's talk about what we saw going on on Sunday. At the very end of that final tribal council, I thought that you looked really almost crushed. What was going through your mind?
CW: Those people out there, I had really given everything that I had to those people. It was a beautiful experience those 39 days. You know, the game play, the whatever, that's all secondary to me. It was the real life bond I thought I had formed with those individuals and it was really just a beautiful experience to lead people. Those people wanted to be coached, they looked to me, even from the first day on how to build shelters, how to approach the challenges, and it was really cool to have that. And I gave my heart and soul to those people and there were people that were ostracized, there were people in our own alliance like Edna and Brandon, and even Sophie and Albert, they all turned on each other. And I was the glue that held it together, I was very positive, very reaffirming....
This journey was a lot less about me. In the past, it’s been my personal journey or going out into the woods and getting lost for a couple of hours like I did in Tocantins. On this trip, I was really there for those people. I told them from Day 1 I want to make this experience the best that I can for you guys and I want you guys to truly appreciate every second you have out here because every new day is a gift and so to do that, and to see how quickly they became embittered at me and the resentment that I felt that they had towards me was a difficult pill to swallow. That's the third (final) tribal council, I've been on the jury twice; I know how those juries can get and I could just see - and I don't care what the people have told you. It's very easy for Ozzy to say, "You know, if Coach would have just admitted to strategizing I would have voted for him." That's just not true.... It's like nothing short of me saying, "Look, I'm the devil and I used you guys, I don’t care a rip about you guys. I did it for a million dollars," which is totally far away from the truth. If I had said that they would have given me the money. I could just tell at tribal council that nothing I could say or do, short of completely compromising what I felt in 97 days of playing the game, nothing was going to win the game for me.
And you can look at that ... with Whitney. Whitney didn’t ask me a question, so obviously there's no way I can get her vote. Dawn, again, didn’t ask me a question. All she had was a comment toward Sophie. Keith asked me, "Coach, did you have the immunity idol? Was it for yourself or was it for the tribe?"
"No, it was for the tribe."
"Yeah, Keith, it was for the tribe."
"Yeah, Keith, it was for the tribe."
Keith still votes for Sophie. It's kind of like Ozzy, you know: "Sophie, you’re a pretentious bitch. I'm jealous that I'm not the one who got to the final three" is what he was really saying, so I'm not gonna vote for Coach 'cause I kicked his ass every step of the way. I mean I out-led him, I out-built shelters. The only thing he did better than me was catching fish. So I just felt that really that bitterness permeated the jury and there was nothing I could do.
The next day at Ponderosa (the place where voted-off contestants stay during the game), not that you guys could see this, but the next day at Ponderosa, I walked into Ponderosa everybody's such a hard ass, basically saying "Hey Coach" and that’s about it. Within 24 hours, they're all coming up to me, they were all coming up to me, doing the same thing that they did in the game and that is, "Coach, did I play a good game?" "Do you still like me?" "Can we still be friends? What's your number?" And then they were just so desperate to seek my approval, I was thinking to myself, "Where was that 24 hours ago when it counted most?" So actually, the day after I was even more despondent because it's just so easy and human nature how people can use you when they feel as if they've been duped or used or they're made to feel foolish or they're just jealous of your success.
I didn’t play a perfect game. By no means did I go out there and completely compromise who I was.... Anyways, it was just tough to see all of a sudden that hey, guess what? When it's all said and done, they're not going to give me anything, but now they need to use me again and they need to feed off of me, empowering them. That was the trick to this year.... But you take anybody this year, after (a returning player) winning last year, Boston Rob, Cirie, Amanda, Parvati, Rupert ... nobody would have been able to get to the end and the fact that I did it is because of one reason and that is because I empowerd people, and I graciously and compassionately led them from Day 1 and made them feel good about themselves.
Edna came into the game and she was completely ostracized by the others. I studied her for two days and watched one thing I could bring before the others, "Look at how valuable she is." I watched her on the beach sharpening a machete. I've been on there three times. Nobody's ever been able to sharpen a machete.... Edna sharpened the machete, must have been, I'm not kidding you, an hour straight sitting in the sand with a rock in the ocean.... And that night, I said, "Feel this machete, that's incredible. How did you do that? This is a machete that Richard Hatch used. It's so dull you can't cut anything with it." And she said, "Well, you know, when I was 6 in my parents' restaurant, they had a Chinese restaurant, they took me in the kitchen and had me sharpen the knives." Then, all of a sudden, she became a real person.... Sophie, same thing, the first day total fish out of water, couldn't connect to anybody because she is a different person. She can be very magnanimous in victory, but she really had a tough time out there connecting to everybody. She had very little social game. I took her under my wing.... It wasn't about the money. I was going to donate it to my symphony. I was going to put up a perfoming arts centre in a rural area of northern California. I don't care about the money, but it was just kind of really, really difficult to not kind of cement my third and final time in this trilogy.
DY: Yeah, but at the same time, you told Jeff that you felt that you'd redeemed yourself by playing and how so?
CW: As I told him, I felt gutted that I didn’t do the business out there and I didn’t win. Any competitor worth his or her salt is going to go to the national championship game, that final round, and hope and pray for the victory. So it was so gutting on one hand and on the other hand, I do feel like I’ve won. Just because of the sting of defeat is kind of coming through my pores in the last 24 hours and I have to lick my wounds a little bit, but I was so close. On the other hand ... for the last six months, or however many months, it has just been a beautiful memory. It's why I'm never playing the game again. With the exception of two more votes on the final tribal council, you cannot get a better game from somebody like me from start to finish. I connected with the audience in a way I never had before.... People have always emailed me from the very beginning. I would have thousands of people say, "Coach, man, we really appreciate you trying to play with honour and integrity. We really appreciate the example that you set for our kids. We really appreciate you being very genuine out there." .... Now this time it was like, "Coach, hated you the first time; second time I felt sorry for you; this time, I really hate to admit it, but I absolutely love how you're playing the game." So that was really fulfilling.... I wanted people to see that I was simply a regular guy and that I had feelings and hey, guess what? I did it. I said I'm gonna go out there and I'm actually going to play this game and quite possibly in a situation where anybody else would have failed coming back on the heels of a returning player win I made it all the way to the end and so close, almost won it, so obviously I played a pretty doggone good game.
DY: What can you tell me about your new show?
CW: There's like a couple of things coming up. Of course, the movie 180, in which I have a lead role and that's coming out in February. I've got a new show next year. I can't talk about a lot of the details, but you know, Coach loves the outdoors. I love culture, I love travelling, I love going against the elements, I love nature, I love the animals in the wild and I love to coach people, so a new version of Coach. I can tell you it's fall 2012.
(The photo of Coach is by Monty Brinton for CBS. And here's a mini trailer of 180 for you all to enjoy. Merry Christmas.)