Exclusive: Ben Browning talks about 'Survivor: Samoa' experience
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/02/2009
If Ben Browning could do Survivor: Samoa all over again, he claims he would have just slept the entire time.
That's because the 28-year-old Los Angeles mixologist's unapologetic attitude and direct comments caused him to become the fourth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Samoa during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Friday, Ben talked to Reality TV World about how he understands why some viewers might take his calling Yasmin Giles "ghetto trash" as potentially racist and his explanation about why the comment wasn't racially motivated; how his argument about it with Jaison Robinson sealed his Survivor fate; how he and Russell Hantz made a good team; and what he hopes will come out of his dubious honor of being the first-ever castaway thrown out of a challenge.
Reality TV World: You seemed to be aware that some of your comments and behavior out there wasn't being appreciated by your fellow tribemates. Did you ever think about toning it down heading into last night's Tribal Council or were you really just that over-confident about your place in the tribe?
Ben: Actually, I had a pretty good feeling I was going home after a conversation I had with Russell and [Mick Trimming].
Reality TV World: Okay, what did that conversation entail?
Ben: I was wearing the flint around my neck because everyone else kept trying to practice with it and kept chewing it up. [Host Jeff Probst] had made mention of it at the previous Tribal Council. He said, "That's really not fair. You shouldn't be wearing the flint around your neck because if you were to go."
So Mick and Russell came up to me and were like, "Hey man, everybody's freaking out about the flint." Mick asked me for it, and I'm like, "I'm not going to give it to you because you asked me for it." So I gave it to Russell... kind of an escrow kind of thing. (laughing) I was pretty sure that my head was on the chopping block.
Reality TV World: Did you understand that the social game is a big part of Survivor, especially early on?
Ben: You only see what they edit. I was very direct. I was the only one that was 100% direct with people. If I said, "Hey, if I hear your name I'm coming to you," then that's exactly what I did. So I would always go up to people and go, "Hey, this is what I heard." It's funny because the way they edit it, it's usually when people are defending themselves it gets a little more heated as opposed to the very first, "Hey, this is what I heard. What's your take on this?"
I was very direct with people. Obviously that doesn't work. A lot of the people are way to sensitive. When you're playing for $1 million, the last thing they want is somebody asking them why their name's being brought up.
Reality TV World: Your Yasmin comments obviously really offended Jaison and you seemed to have recognized that, so did you ever try to simply make peace with him for the sake of your survival in the game?
Ben: Not at all. He was a big -- big -- crybaby. He threw a lot of temper tantrums that they didn't show, which I wish they would have because I've very rarely seen an adult male whine and whimper and throw temper tantrums like he did. It was amusing to a point, but it was also very annoying. Like, "Is this kid for real?"
It was funny because he pulled the race card and said I was a racist. I actually -- what they didn't show -- is I said, "So, [Yasmin's] talking like she's from the ghetto. She's telling us that she's from the hood. Would it make a difference if she was white?" And he didn't have an answer. He was like, "Uh... Well she's not white." Well what if she was? Would I still be a racist? I said she was "ghetto." I never said anything about her race. I was basically repeating what she had said.
If a white girl eats ketchup sandwiches and drinks Kool-Aid in the ghetto, then I'm a racist I guess. That's the funny part about it.
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Reality TV World: So if those comments about eating ketchup sandwiches and drinking Kool-Aid weren't intended to be references to race, where did they come from? Did Yasmin actually say that?
Ben: No, no, no. Part of it was an Eddie Murphy comedy skit I saw once. He talked about the ghetto.
Reality TV World: You just talked about how those comments weren't racially motivated, but do you see how people could take those comments to be racist?
Reality TV World: Could you elaborate on that?
Ben: People are going to interpret things different ways. Here's the thing man, people can always take something out of context. They don't know the whole story. Unless you were there you don't really know, and even if you were there you might interpret it as racism. It's not. Anybody that knows me -- all my friends of all different ethnicities -- I'm just not that guy. We're a human race.
Reality TV World: Regardless of your intent, Jaison commented that the fact you threw those comments out without any apparent thought to the context of who you were saying them about indicates you're just as "ignorant" as you accused Yasmin of being. What was your take on that? Did you agree?
Ben: I just had to laugh because it was basically that nobody got it. Nobody could look past the fact... It was like, "Oh my god! Oh my god! He's a racist! He's a racist!" Nobody would look past it to the realism of it. People were just being overly sensitive.
It just kind of made me laugh that they were the ones being so ignorant. And yeah, I could see how some people would say, "Hey man, this Ben guy must not know what the hell he's saying." I know exactly what I'm saying, and what I said was meant to be hurtful.
It wasn't meant to be racist. It was also meant to tell [Yasmin] to shut the hell up because she came into our camp and tried to cause a bunch of trouble. You don't go to somebody's house and start barking orders at them and telling them what to do.
Reality TV World: In hindsight, would you change anything or handle anything differently if you could do it all over again? Any regrets?
Ben: No regrets. (laughing) If I got to do it again I would definitely learn from my mistakes. I would pretty much probably sleep the whole time I was there. All I did was work, and it didn't get me that far.
Reality TV World: Do you think you'll ever bury the hatchet with Yasmin or Jaison?
Ben: Yasmin and I have already buried the hatchet. We're completely cool. I've talked to her. We joked around, we've hung out. It's totally cool.
Reality TV World: How much of a role do you think Jaison's "it's either him or me" stance played in your elimination? Do you think that played [any] role in your elimination?
Ben: Sure. If he wants to play that role, he played it well. I don't have any hard feelings towards anybody. It's a game. However people interpret me is how they interpret me. If they can't deal with it, than that's really their problem. I know who I am. I'm very secure with myself. I really don't care what people think about me. The people that I do care about, they know me. They know how I am.
I've gotten a million messages saying, "You were great. You were funny. You were so you. People don't get you." I have "Love me or hate me" tattooed across my chest because that's pretty much how it is -- people either love me or hate. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Reality TV World: Do you think there's anything you could have said at Tribal Council that would have changed your fate?
Ben: I think it was pretty much done.
Reality TV World: What made you decide to chop wood in the middle of the night on last week's episode?
Ben: What they didn't show was that nobody that day had gone and gotten firewood. I had been out hunting and gathering food and I had been running around doing all kinds of stuff. Everybody else just sat around.
You're in a jungle and it's very wet and humid and there's not a lot of dry wood. I had some wood that I had brought up previously. But nobody had taken the initiative to cut it, and our fire was about to go out. With Mick destroying the flint, it was imperative that we keep the fire going. People didn't realize that.
It wasn't that late when they were showing everybody. I mean, everybody was sleeping all the time. It was kind of a creative effort.
Reality TV World: How did it feel to be the first person to ever be thrown out of a challenge?
Ben: Hey man, hopefully I make the Survivor board game.
Reality TV World: You seemed to think that Jeff wasn't really justified in making that decision -- you even made that comment to Jeff at Tribal Council about his "sissy rules." Do you still think what you did to Russell Swan wasn't really that bad based on the physicality of the challenge?
Ben: Yeah, I didn't do anything bad at all. If they would have said, "Hey, you guys go balls to the wall" -- you would have seen some mud and blood and people losing some teeth. That was some sissy crap man.
There was so much other stuff going on, I got singled out. I'm the tallest guy out there, I'm definitely sticking out wearing yellow underwear and cowboy boots. Yeah, Jeff totally singled me out. Even before the challenge he was warning me. He'd be like, "Don't punch anybody." They thought I was really going to try and kick somebody's ass.
Reality TV World: You had a good relationship with Russell in the game. Were you aware of all the alliances he was making with everybody while you were out there? If so, what was your take on that?
Ben: He and I were actually really, really good buddies on the show.
Reality TV World: Talk a little bit about that. Why did you trust him? Were you aware of all his other alliances?
Ben: Oh yeah, he told me what was going on pretty much the whole time. He said, "Man I'm going to talk trash about you and see what I can come up with." I was like, "Cool. Do whatever you've got to do man."
Reality TV World: Were you ever aware that Russell might have had the hidden Immunity Idol?
Ben: Oh yeah, he showed me right off the bat.
Reality TV World: What's your take on Russell? Any ill will since he's still there and you're not?
Ben: Russell's a smart guy and he's playing the game. I don't hold any ill will towards anybody in that game at all -- not even Jaison. I really don't hold any kind of grudges whatsoever. I just kind of let it go. I'm not going to sit there and dwell on it and think about it, be upset about it. It powers that whole negative thought process... That's not me man.
Reality TV World: Besides Russell, exactly what alliances did you form while you were out there?
Ben: [Natalie White] and I had an alliance. She's from Arkansas and she knew my cousin -- they went to church together. We were kind of talking about that. I had a couple of alliances with other people, but everything's so wishy-washy. The game should be called Backstabber, not Survivor. (laughing)
Reality TV World: When we talked to Marisa Calihan, she said Russell was mostly responsible for her elimination but used your conflict with her to his advantage. Is that the way you saw it?
Ben: What you didn't see was her laziness and her spouting off towards me. We were going to have to go to a challenge, and -- since Russell poured out all of our water -- we didn't have water. So I had gone and gotten water early in the morning while everybody else was asleep.
But it takes a while to get it boiling. So I was like, "We've got to fill these canteens." She started being like, "You don't have to be in such a hurry." Well it ended up we didn't get our canteens filled and we didn't get to eat because production called us to a challenge. It really sucked, so I was like, "You know what? She's out of here." I told Russell, "She's got to go." We made it happen.
Reality TV World: You voted for Mick to be Foa Foa's leader on Day 1 and -- based on the way Foa Foa has performed so far -- is that a decision you regret?
Ben: Here's the thing they didn't show. I originally did not vote for Mick. I voted for Mike Borassi. Then it came to a tie between Jaison and Mick. So I voted for Mick.
Reality TV World: So what's your take on the way Mick's leading the tribe?
Ben: What are you talking about? There's no leading going on from Mick. (laughing) Absolutely not. He's not a leader whatsoever. He doesn't have any leadership skills.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. Marisa told us you had sort of assumed the leadership role around camp because of your "bossy" nature. Would you agree with that -- do you think you were Foa Foa's leader at camp?
Ben: I wasn't bossy. I was a leader by example more than anything just because I knew what to do. Mick -- right off the bat -- said, "Does anybody here know what they're doing?" I grew-up in the woods. I'm right at home there. So that to me was no problem. I spoke up and said, "Yeah, I'm a hillbilly. I can do all this stuff -- I've done it my whole life."
That's why I assumed the leadership role at camp. People just had no idea that you had to get water and get firewood and get food. These people are so used to going to McDonald's and feeding their fat asses that it's ridiculous.
Reality TV World: When we talked to both Betsy Bolan and Mike, they said you were basically a young kid who didn't know when to keep his mouth shut. Based on the way your Survivor journey ended, would you agree with that?
Ben: You know what, I am a young kid and I do like to run my mouth. I'd say that's probably pretty accurate. I don't really hold back by any means. Anybody that knows me will say that. My dad used to always say, "Boy your mouth is gonna get your ass beat one of these days." It hasn't happened yet, so...
Reality TV World: Last night's episode also showed you insisting you weren't a bully while you were out there. In hindsight, do you still agree with that?
Ben: I'm a caretaker. If you ask anybody that knows me, I take care of all my people -- from my family to my friends. Will I be an enforcer? You better believe it. If somebody messes with any one of my friends or family, I'll be the first one kicking some ass. I do not take any sh-t from anybody.
More importantly, if somebody messes with somebody that I like or love you better watch out because you're going to get more than a little trip.
Reality TV World: Have you learned anything about yourself from Survivor?
Ben: I pretty much know myself pretty well. I learned that people are very overly sensitive when you're stuck in a random situation like that. There's just not used to people being raw and direct and in their face. But I pretty much knew that anyway. Most people hide behind this little mask and say, "I'd never do that. I'd never say that." That's all bulls--t.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for Survivor: Samoa? Was it your first time applying for the show?
Ben: I was discovered in Venice, California walking on the boardwalk. I didn't even apply. This dude said, "Hey, would you be interested in being on Survivor?" I said, "Sure." Six weeks later, I was in Samoa.