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Exclusive: James "J.T." Thomas talks 'Survivor' blindside: It made no sense, I regret leaving my idol but no one will ever find it


By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/30/2017 

James "J.T." Thomas was booted out of Survivor: Game Changers' Nuku tribe during Season 34's fourth episode Wednesday night on CBS.

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After losing the season's fifth Immunity Challenge, the new Nuku tribe -- which had just lost Malcolm Freberg a couple of days beforehand -- split down the middle and eliminated JT with a 3-2 vote at Tribal Council on Night 13.

Going into Tribal Council, JT -- a 31-year-old from Mobile, AL, who previously won Survivor: Tocantins and also placed tenth on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains -- thought the tribe was voting for Michaela Bradshaw because she had a bad attitude and needy tendencies. However, in attempt to seek vengeance for Malcolm's vote off, which JT was ultimately responsible for, Sandra Diaz-Twine devised a plan to take out JT for his "dirty deed."

Sandra therefore voted for JT along with Michaela and Jeff Varner. JT and his ally Audry Bracco voted to oust Michaela from Survivor: Game Changers.

In an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, JT talked about his Survivor: Game Changers experience. Below is the first half of what he had to say.

Reality TV World: I think it's safe to say you were blindsided. Going into Tribal Council, whom did you think was voting for Michaela with you? And what made you confident enough in your tribe's target to leave your idol back at camp?

JT Thomas: Okay, obviously I thought Michaela was going home, and I thought it was going to be a unanimous vote. I think in most cases, it would've been. But Sandra, surprisingly, was trying to get a revenge vote.

Because Sandra knew, as well as Varner, that the only chance we had going forward was to win challenges and also, if we merged, to have connections on the other side. They were way better off to have me in the game. So that being said, you never want anyone to know that you have an idol.

So when I found it, I immediately hid it and buried it away from camp so that I wouldn't be caught with it. And then after talking with them for most of the day, and Michaela kind of showing out most of the day, I thought it was going to be a cut and dry vote.

But I just didn't take into account that Sandra would try to take a vengeance vote, you know, because Sandra usually plays a deeper game than that, especially since Malcolm was just as ready to vote Sandra out as I was -- Sandra just didn't know that. So she got revenge for someone who was potentially ready to vote her out as well.

Reality TV World: Are you surprised that you fell for Sandra and Michaela's ruse at Tribal Council? They laid it on pretty thick, with Michaela acting like she was definitely going home.

JT Thomas: I was a little surprised, but immediately that night at Tribal, I recognized that as soon as I was voted out obviously. It was basically that, you know, I knew there was a chance they could get Michaela and vote me out to get revenge and whatnot, but I talked with Varner and I talked with Sandra, and there was no good reason to expect revenge.

You should never hold grudges in the game when you're trying to win, you know? But I didn't want Malcolm going at all, and it was just a bad situation that turned for the worse.

And yeah, I regret not taking the idol, but I don't know if I would've played it even then, because I was basing my vote and everything on, "What would I do if I was in Sandra's position? What would I do if I was in Varner's position?" And I wouldn't be holding a grudge.

I'd be thinking, "How can I get further in this game?" And that's basically how I made my decision and why I believed their ruse so much. I just bought into it -- hook, line and sinker -- and Aubry did too, but it just made no sense otherwise.

And, you know, I said, "Well, I could bring my idol out and play it tonight, but it would be a waste. If I had it going into the merge..." Obviously I was looking past that one vote, and I shouldn't have. To me, it made no sense to do that, but Survivor never does make sense. (Laughs)

Reality TV World: Do you think Sandra and her group suspected you had an idol? Because that would seem to be the only reason why they'd keep up with the elaborate act at Tribal Council. Michaela even announced at one point her vote wouldn't matter.

JT Thomas: Yeah, I think she did. They didn't know I had one but there was always that option. Because that first day, they were there. I really spent all day looking for an idol because I knew how much trouble I was in.

So I know they knew I looked for an idol quite often, but no one had any suspicion with evidence that I had an idol. They had no idea that I actually found one, but they thought if anyone had one, it had to be me.

Reality TV World: You said you hid your idol far away from camp. Could you elaborate on that location? And what's the status of the idol now? Do the rules say someone at camp can find it where you left it and take it, or is the idol considered dead now?

JT Thomas: I believe the idol would be dead in the water, but I know this basically because I don't think anyone could ever find the idol where it's at, except for only one person, who had ever been to the place I was at, which was on the top of a mountain called "Lookout Mountain."

Brad Culpepper and I on our original Nuku tribe, climbed to the top of this mountain and there was this beautiful view up there. It's pretty remote and hard to get to, but as far as hiding an idol, it's the safest place as any.

So if Culpepper ends back up on that island and happens to go to that little spot we had -- and happens to dig -- I mean, I definitely think it's going to be dead in the water.

And maybe I shouldn't have hid it so good, but I had to hide it when I was out of sight and out of mind because obviously everyone was watching everybody's moves, and it was just a decision I made quickly. And it would be suspicious if I went and got it, so I didn't want to go get it unless I knew I was going to use it, but obviously I regret that now.

Reality TV World: You felt on the outs of your tribe when you got back to camp after Malcolm's vote-off at Tribal, so much so that you went looking for an idol the next day. Sandra was throwing accusations at you about leaking Sierra Dawn Thomas' name to Brad. So when did the mood at camp change? At what point did you feel cohesive and safe with your tribe again? What was the turning point?

JT Thomas: Well, Michaela was really tough to deal with on normal occasions, but it got really bad at the challenges. She threw, like, a temper-tantrum at the Reward Challenge, and it just became really, really hard to deal with.

I would say by the next day, we became a little closer, and then by the next Tribal, we spent three days all agreeing that, you know, Michaela was driving us crazy. So I would say the day of Tribal is when I realized I think I may not need the idol.

It just made all the sense in the world to keep me, even regardless of the Malcolm thing, just because of the fact I had all the connections if we were going to merge or swap back again. I had slept at camp with everyone out there in the game except for [Hali Ford] and [Troy "Troyzan" Robertson].

So there was no one out there who had more connections or more "ins" to save us if we were to merge or swap than me vs. Michaela, who was someone that had nothing to offer. So, it made no sense to me. I was trying to make my decision based on whether Sandra was playing to win or not, and the same thing for Varner. I didn't take into consideration the payback vote.

Reality TV World: How do you feel about the fact Sandra was actually the one who cleaned out the sugar jar in attempt to heighten tension between Michaela and yourself? Does that really frustrate you, and do you feel guilty at all for giving Michaela such a hard time as a result?

JT Thomas: No, not at all. I don't feel guilty at all. Michaela was -- she had done enough without Sandra instigating the sugar thing to really get under everyone's skin. But Sandra was definitely playing it up there, and I mean, that's Sandra. That's typical Sandra to do something like that.

And it all made sense to me at the end; she was really instigating the sugar thing, like she would bring it up just to hear us talk about it, you know? It didn't make sense then, but it does now. Good for her! It did help sell the fact that I may not be the one going home, which in turn made me leave my idol at camp.

Reality TV World: So when you said at Tribal Council that Michaela was just "filling up space" in the Game Changers cast, it sounds like you really meant that, that you weren't just trying to rattle her cage or let off some steam. Is that right?

JT Thomas: Yeah, that's true. I mean, I really held back as much as I could, like in challenges. She would really talk badly towards people, not just myself. She really felt like she had something to prove. Throughout the game that I played with her, it was really tough.

She just, I mean, laid around camp a lot and just really filled space, basically. She may make it far in the game because she's not going to be a threat to anyone who's playing the game. She's got a chip on her shoulder for some reason or another, and it just got in the way of the game to me and to most people.

Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of our exclusive Survivor interview with JT Thomas.


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