But the plan backfired on the 36-year-old professional poker player from Las Vegas, NV, who was instead the one who got blind-sided and became the eighth castaway eliminated from Survivor: China during last night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality competition series.
On Friday, Jean-Robert talked with Reality TV World about how he liked his odds of claiming the show's $1 million prize; why he thinks Todd Herzog might over think his way out of the game; what caused him to initially miss the Hidden Immunity Idol bus; and why he's still convinced the wrong castaway was blind-sided.
Reality TV World: How did you end up being cast for Survivor: China? Had you applied to the show before?
Jean-Robert: I had never applied to the show before; never thought about doing it. In fact, I thought the people that had done the show were probably a little out of their minds.
Reality TV World: So how did you end up being cast?
Jean-Robert: Casting approached me and said, "Hey, you know what? We think you'd be pretty good for the show. We think you got a good shot to win it." I was like, "No." And then I started thinking about it. I was like, "I make a living trying to be 400-500 out in a poker tournament -- one person's going to win $1 million -- but I've got to get through 400-500. In [Survivor] I've got to get through 15 other people -- I have a one in 16 chance to win it."
Reality TV World: Had you watched a lot of Survivor before going on the show?
Jean-Robert: I had watched the first season, and then I hadn't watched anything. When you're about to go on the show -- in the preliminary process when you're going through the final cuts and all that -- they have you study-up on a couple of the seasons. So by the time you actually get on set, pretty much everybody's seen like two or three seasons.
Reality TV World: It was no secret that you and Courtney Yates didn't get along too well. Why do you think that was the case?
Jean-Robert: Well if you notice, the dialogue between us, it was mostly her having ill things to say about me. I really didn't have anything to say about her; I didn't have anything to say to her. I just thought that she was somebody who wasn't that capable in the challenges and didn't really give it 100% -- regardless of her size.
So I was the guy that was audibly talking about how [Fei Long] should use her in the Reward Challenges rather than the Immunity Challenges, that way we could sit her out in the Immunity Challenges. Basically, where could Courtney do the least damage to us. Everybody else was feeling it, but I was the one saying it. That kind of rubbed her the wrong way.
She and I never got into any kind of fight about anything. It's just that type of thing, me being not dancing around and trying to be politically right, that bothered her and rubbed her the wrong way. She started brewing more and more hatred towards me. That's basically what happened, and then I stopped talking to her altogether because she's got such negative energy from her, and that probably got her even more upset.
Reality TV World: On the flip side, you seemed to get along quite well with James. Was that the case or was it simply strategy?
Jean-Robert: I really liked James. I got along with him great. I want to continue to get along with him long after the show. He's a good guy and I really liked him -- even though I was trying to blind-side him [during last night's episode]. Part of the reason I was trying to do that is because the guy's so likable!
I pointed out to Todd, if it came down to the Final 3 being you, me and James; James is going to get the votes. He's just so likable. Now you've to add that to the fact that [James] is probably favored to win every Individual Immunity Challenge from here on out -- and then any that he doesn't win -- he could pull-out one of his TWO Hidden Immunity Idols.
Right now at this point, he is such a big favorite to win the whole thing. I'm thinking, "We've got to get rid of this guy. We've got to get rid of him now -- because if we wait too long -- he may never be in jeopardy again. And there's a possibility if we convince him that we're going to vote [Peih-Gee Law] out or whoever we're going to vote out, he may not pull the idol out. So tonight's the night to blind-side him."
It was a really good plan... When you're making moves playing any kind of game, you're got to make your moves assuming everybody else is going to make the optimal move for [themselves]. And the optimal move for everybody in this game at this point was to get rid of James. I'm playing the game not for second place -- I'm playing the game for $1 million -- and the biggest obstacle between me and $1 million was James. As much as I liked him and I would've loved to have him stay around, I knew it's going to be hard for me to win this game -- almost impossible -- with James still in this game.
Reality TV World: After you read the final Hidden Immunity Idol clue during last night's reward, you commented how you were shaken-up that you weren't aware there was a Hidden Immunity Idol out there. Why didn't you ever think there would be a Hidden Immunity Idol?
Jean-Robert: I had NO CLUE whatsoever that there was a Hidden Immunity Idol in this game. Each season... You know, they had Exile Island, this game we had [kidnapping]. Normally, I'm going to receive some sort of clue -- some sort of information -- it just was never presented to me.
As far as I'm concerned there isn't one. I'm not saying there isn't one, but it's just like if I don't know about, there isn't one as far as I'm concerned. I never had one clue. And you see what happens! Those guys had those clues for who knows how many days and it took them like four or five days -- maybe a week -- to figure out where this thing was. For me, I got the clues and I was right there within hours! As soon as we got home that night [from the Reward Challenge], you see me digging around and figuring out it was up there in that pagoda, taking off the plaques. The plaques that I had were like the faux idols, but it's like I'm right there.
Right away in the morning I have that conversation with [Erik Huffman] where I'm fishing around, saying, "Hey, I think I got the idol." Obviously I didn't really believe I had the idols -- I was just bluffing -- but I wanted to get information from him, which I got.
This is part of the thing that freaked Todd out. He's like, "This guy went from not even knowing there was a Hidden Immunity Idol to coming up with a plan to blind-side James and get rid of him. That's some scary stuff!" That freaked Todd out, and Todd decided, "Hey, we better get rid of Jean-Robert."
But Todd organizing this move against me, yeah, he perceived me correctly as a serious threat in the game. But at that moment, James is a bigger threat than I am and it's actually a big mistake on his part.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised that James never told you that he had both the Hidden Immunity Idols in his possession?
Jean-Robert: I mean why would he tell me?
Reality TV World: So you don't hold it against him that he didn't tell you.
Jean-Robert: No... Why would he tell me? Everybody's got to play the game to win their $1 million. I chose to confide in him. To be honest with you, that's another dumb move that Todd made, giving [James] the Hidden Immunity Idol in the first place!
Reality TV World: Do you think will come back and bite Todd in the butt?
Jean-Robert: It seems like it. It is right now. He thought that James was going to give him back the Hidden Immunity Idol!? Where do you come up with these ideas Todd?
That's one of the things with Todd. He's got so much information on this game; he knows the game so well; he's studied it so hard, it's like he tries to make moves and cause drama when it's not even necessary. It's almost gratuitous. He'll do backstabbing that's not necessary. It wasn't necessary to have me voted out right then. We could have just gone with the plan and got rid of James. But I think it just brings[Todd] extra joy just to be extra sneaky and extra backstabby. I think it's going to come bite him in the ass; we'll see what happens.
Reality TV World: When you learned James had the Hidden Immunity Idols, you confronted him about it. What did you hope to get out of that confrontation?
Jean-Robert: A couple things. I wanted him to know that, "Listen man. You knew all along that I was going to figure things out." He had me pegged as the smarter guy in the group. He keeps referring to me as, "Jean-Robert dumb. Jean-Robert whatever." But part of that is because he knew that I was like the smart one. I was going to figure things out.
Part of it was, "Listen. I'm hip to what's going on. James, you going to bring me in on this? You've been holding me out of the loop -- and yeah, I'm a little disappointed that you haven't included me -- but where are we going from here? Are we the [Final 2] or aren't we?"
Really... I'm not worried if he's going to go with me or not because at this point I'm thinking he's the biggest threat. If he denies this in any way, shape or form, now that gives me the justification in my heart to go ahead and blind-side him.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. Following your conversation with Todd about James having the Hidden Immunity Idols, how confident were you heading into Tribal Council that James would in fact be "blind-sided?"
Jean-Robert: I had the votes! I had Todd, [Michael "Frosti" Zernow], Peih-Gee, Erik and myself. I had the votes to get rid of him! And Todd and Frosti went and flipped on me... So I got blind-sided by Todd and Frosti. Peih-Gee, Erik and I still voted for James and it was Todd and Frosti that flipped on me. What could I do?
Reality TV World: Getting blind-sided aside, were you surprised to be eliminated before the remaining original Zhan Hu members?
Jean-Robert: Well I was surprised to be eliminated period, so [yes,] absolutely. The plan was to get rid of one of the Zhan Hu members, but the thing is that Todd was able to use the fact that I was lobbying against James to get me out. Because now he's able to go to James and say, "Jean-Robert's lobbying to get you out."
The funny thing is, any of us could have went to James and said, "Todd's been lobbying to get you out." But Todd was able to do that and orchestrated this vote against me, which again, I thought was a bad play. They could have tried to vote me out the next week maybe. I wasn't worried about me going home because the right play was to send James home. He's the big threat! How the heck are they going to stop James right now?
Reality TV World: You told Todd that if he ended up "screwing you over," you would lobby hard against him as a jury member if he makes it to the Final 3...
Jean-Robert: Isn't that more of a reason that Todd screwed up!
Reality TV World: Yeah, that's what I was going to ask you...
Jean-Robert: You don't even need that factor to know that he screwed up because James is a bigger threat than I am! Now, you have to add the fact that [Todd's] sending a 100% big-time enemy to the jury to lobby everybody he sent there! What's this guy thinking? How's he going to get past James and now he just sent probably the most politically-savy person to get out and lobby against him. I promised him I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure you don't get nay votes on that final [Tribal Council].
Jean-Robert: If you noticed, my reaction came long before the votes [were revealed] because I know that I'm the one who's going to get the second [highest] number of votes every single time. So if that was indeed the Hidden Immunity Idol, which up until that point... That was the first clue that I got that there might be one in the game was when [host Jeff Probst told Jaime], "This is not it." Then I'm like, "Oh! That means there is one!"
Reality TV World: Did you get to see what Jaime's fake plaque looked like before Jeff threw it in the fire?
Reality TV World: Okay, so that never impacted your analysis of the clues?
Reality TV World: When you finally decided to retrieve the plaques, you only retrieved the three that were still mounted on the pagoda. What did you think had happened to the fourth one?
Jean-Robert: I was thinking that there's a good possibility the fourth one is going to be the Hidden Immunity Idol... But I'm still going to go fishing for it, that's why I had that conversation with Erik. I said, "Hey, I think I have them." I never believed that I had them, obviously.
Reality TV World: Were you aware that some of your original fellow Fei Long members had you targeted as one of the first people they would try to eliminate -- but because the tribe rarely went to Tribal Council -- they never had the chance?
Jean-Robert: That was the kind of the plan. I came in there being the big jerk. My strategy was to barely avoid going home, but as long as we won the challenges, I didn't even have to worry about that. If we had lost the challenge, I think you would have found me lobbying pretty hard to stick around.
But as long as I'm being affective in the challenges, the tribe is probably going to keep me around because we want to win the challenges. We weren't like the Zhan Hu tribe. They didn't care about who was helping them in the challenges. They just cared about who they wanted to have around. They sent [Dave Cruser] home because he was annoying them (laughing). Never mind that, "Fei Long's kicking our butts regularly and we need a big guy on our team that works hard." Never mind that. "We're not getting along, he's annoying us, let's send him home. " You know let's send [Steve "Chicken" Morris] home. Let's send [Ashley Massaro] home." All their strength, they're just sending them home!
Reality TV World: You bickered with Aaron in-front of Jaime when Fei Long kidnapped her. Seeing as how she subsequently told her fellow Zhan Hu members about the tiff and they targeted you as someone the rest of Fei Long didn't get along with, do you regret the argument?
Jean-Robert: That bit of information, [Zhan Hu] is going to find-out about that anyways. They're going to find-out that I'm the guy that's annoying people.
That's my plan. I don't mind them finding it out. My plan is to be the jerk, and then become more and more likable as we go. At this stage, this was still kind of Phase II of my plan. Right now, I'm just like being less-hated and starting to work on jury management and charming the people going onto the jury. I think I had a pretty good relationship with Jaime -- who we sent over there -- and I had been working the last few days on [building] a good relationship with Peih-Gee and Erik.
Reality TV World: So you're saying the playing the role of the "local jerk" part of your strategy was over and you were now starting to focus on assuring you had jury votes if you made it to the Final 3?
Jean-Robert: It wasn't over, it was just a process. You can't go from being a jerk to being an angel overnight. It's a process thing we're all of a sudden now I'm kicking in a lot more at camp, helping build the fires, I'm cooking, doing whatever...
Reality TV World: Were you confident that process would have eventually taken shape and you would have had the jury votes if you made it to the Final 3?
Jean-Robert: I loved my strategy. I loved my strategy. And when I got to the Final 3, and I was presenting my strategy -- this was all part of the plan, you know, me being the lazy jerk at the beginning, and you can see me kick in -- I think I would have gotten a lot of respect from the jurors and you'd of seen me get votes from people you'd never expect.
Reality TV World: You were one of the most physically imposing Survivor: China castaways at the start of the competition. How much weight did you lose during filming and did it affect your strength?
Jean-Robert: I lost 30-pounds. But I don't think it affected my strength at all. When I went out there, I wasn't particularly fit. But I got more and more used to the elements as the days went by. I really think that I left there just as strong as when I got there -- maybe stronger.
Reality TV World: Courtney's been looking more and more dangerously malnourished with each passing episode and even before the season began, there was talk about how someone as obviously underweight as Courtney could even get on Survivor. I know she passed the show's physical, but do you think the producers did the responsible thing in allowing someone who was so obviously underweight to compete on the show?
Jean-Robert: I'll be honest with you. In my opinion, Courtney does not have an eating disorder. She's just a skinny girl. She ate just as well as anybody else on the show. She definitely ate more than I did. I say that feeling pretty confident that the girl's not bulimic either. We were a pretty tight-knit group out there. I would have seen any kind of craziness.
Just now you made a comment about how she's looking more and more malnourished each show. At this stage, I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't think she looks any more malnourished on this episode than she did last week or the week before. The first few episodes, I would say that's true. But now that we'd started more of a regular eating regiment -- where we're eating two or three times a day -- I think that's not as true right now.
Jean-Robert: I hated it. One of the things they didn't show on TV is that Aaron and I actually had a hidden alliance.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Aaron following his elimination, he said he really didn't have any alliance with you. I was going to ask you about that. What was your relationship with Aaron?
Jean-Robert: He denied that?!... He and I had an agreement that we would protect each other until the merge. We didn't have an alliance per se, but we did have an agreement that he and I would protect each other until the merge.
Reality TV World: Did you ever suspect Zhan Hu of throwing the Immunity Challenge that led to Aaron's ouster -- and if so -- did Fei Long ever consider a similar strategy to get rid of Sherea Lloyd or Frosti?
Jean-Robert: Fei Long never considered a similar strategy to get rid of Frosti or Sherea. However we did believe that there was a good chance that Zhan Hu was throwing the challenge... I will say that [Amanda Kimmel] was lobbying for us to throw a challenge. I vehemently fought... I didn't like the idea of throwing any kind of challenge. I thought there's got to be a better way for us to move forward than to deliberately lose.
Reality TV World: Is there anyone you would really like to see win? Anybody you don't want to see win?
Jean-Robert: I definitely don't want to see Todd win. I definitely would love to see James win -- and if James doesn't win -- I'd love to see [Denise Martin] win.
Reality TV World: Did you have a good relationship with Denise?
Jean-Robert: I did. I think we had a great relationship.
Reality TV World: When we spoke to Jeff prior to Survivor: China's premiere, he said you, "didn't have a clue about Survivor but was so certain that the fact that he's a professional poker player would take care of itself." Do you agree with that or do you think Jeff underestimated you?
Jean-Robert: I'm going to tell you if you look at Jeff's interview pre-game and post-game, you'll see that his attitude towards me has completely changed. Before the game, it seems like his comments were like, "Pfft! This poker player, wait until he sees what he has in store!" (laughing) But in the end, it's more like he respected my game and what I had to contribute. The funny thing is, he and I went from not really caring for each other to liking each other and having a mutual respect.
By the way, he is super, super talented. Nobody tells him what to say or lines or anything, he just produces things on the cuff. He is an amazing, amazing individual. I really hope to do stuff with him again in the future.
Reality TV World: So what's next for Jean-Robert? Back to poker?
Jean-Robert: Yeah I'm right back in it. Last week, I was in-line to win a $1.4 million tournament. I was the chip leader out of 200 people left. It didn't work out, I cashed out, $20,000 instead of $1.4 million.
Reality TV World: Not bad.
Jean-Robert: I'll be right back playing another $1 million tournament at the end of this month, and then another one in December. So yeah, that's what I'm doing... I travel around the world playing in these poker tournaments.
(Photo credit CBS)
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