Exclusive: Brendan Synnott talks about his time on 'Survivor: Tocantins'
By John Bracchitta, 04/17/2009
Brendan Synnott knew that he would be in for a wild ride at some point following Survivor: Tocantins' tribal merge, but he didn't think it would be this soon.
However after 24 days in the Brazillian highlands, the 30-year-old entrepreneur from New York, NY who had orchestrated the complex "Exile alliance" with members of the opposing Jalapao tribe in the competition's early rounds fell victim to a blindside that was so effective that he didn't even bother to use his hidden Immunity Idol to save himself. When all was said and done, Brendan became the eighth castaway to be eliminated during last night's broadcast of the CBS reality series.
On Friday, Brendan spoke to Reality TV World about why he had chosen to not use his Immunity Idol at the Tribal Council he was eliminated at, what he regretted doing that could have kept his Exile alliance intact longer than it did, and why he threw so much of his support behind James "JT" Thomas Jr. following their white-water rafting trip together.
Reality TV World: You announced you had the immunity idol but then decided not to play it last night. Based on that, is it safe to say that you were 100% sure that Coach was going home right up until Jeff began counting the votes?
Brendan: Yeah. If I knew there was a bigger chance I definitely would have played it myself. I thought the Exile alliance was gonna kinda remain strong but clearly it didn't. If I knew I definitely would have played it.
Reality TV World: It didn't seem to be the reason why you were voted off, but what was the point of announcing you had the Idol right before the vote? It seemed to be a decision that had little upside and could have caused people to turn against you.
Brendan: I think that one of the mistakes I think I made in the game was not letting people know that I did have it, because [Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George], she turned on me and basically sold me out. But once you have the Immunity Idol, and considering I was pretty strong in challenges, that makes the target on your back that much bigger. So when Jeff started talking about it I was like I might as well bring it up now and put in on the table, because with one more vote the Exile alliance should've controlled the game, I might as well let everybody know at that point.
But obviously I didn't make Taj and [Stephen Fishbach] feel loved enough (Laughs) so they went to the dark side.
Reality TV World: You said in your post-elimination comments that you thought you would become a target but were surprised that it happened so quickly. How far did you see yourself going before you would run into trouble?
Brendan: I thought that as soon as we got to the merge that there was the potential, but I thought that I had Stephen and Taj in the bag. Along with [Sierra Reed, a 23-year-old from Los Angeles, CA] we would've had a great, great alliance. I was really comfortable with that because I had spent so much time at Exile along with Taj and Stephen that I thought we were good.
Reality TV World: The last couple of episodes have seemed to show [Benjamin "Coach" Wade] keep talking repeatedly about how you were the "Dragon" and he was the "Dragon Slayer" and how he was going to take you down. Had you heard any of his talking or suspected that he and [Tyson Apostol] were out to get you?
Brendan: I kinda always knew Tyson was out to get me, and with Coach I had heard him get called "Dragon Slayer" around camp but I thought it was because of the dragons on his shirt or something, I just didn't pick up on it. So they clearly wanted me gone for a while. And what was so odd is that I tried to make Coach the leader of the tribe. When we first did our initial walk I named him "Coach." He introduced himself as Ben Wade but you're a coach? Do you mind if I just call you "Coach?" That would immediately put him in a leadership role.
But the guy just pissed people off and they wanted him to leave the tribe so I ended up kinda being nominated by default.
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Reality TV World: Kind of going off of that, what was your opinion of Coach -- was he really as strange and ridiculous as he's looked out there or have the producers just been editing him to look that way?
Brendan: No, I think what you see is the dead truth, but I think Coach is a very smart man. I think that he is a voracious reader, particularly of fantasy and fiction, and for whatever reason the definition of what he reads in books and his own life has blurred. He fundamentally believes what he's saying, yet he can't prove any of it. But he's smart enough to know that he can't prove it, so that's the world he lives in.
But I think he's a totally harmless guy, I think he's actually a pretty nice guy. And I think he makes excellent television.
Reality TV World: Yeah. Going off of that, you seemed especially skeptical about Coach's claim that he had a military helicopter drop him in the middle of the jungle for one of his "adventures." Do you believe any of his stories or do you think there's some middle ground there where he believed them?
Brendan: I think he totally believes them, and I would always try to just ask questions that were pretty factual and say "How do you answer this?" And he could never really quite answer them.
The thing with Coach is he talks about stuff that nobody can prove, one way or the other, so it's kinda not really a logical conversation to have. But that's Coach's world, that's what he believes.
Reality TV World: Do you think any of it could be an act or is that all [really] him?
Brendan: I really don't think it's an act just for the show. I think it's him. I really think it's, like I said I think he's totally harmless, but I just think that's the way he sees the world. He just has this wonderful skill set and can blend what he reads in fiction into his real life.
Reality TV World: Do you think your delay in talking with Taj about the Exile alliance after the merge happened played any role in her willingness to turn on you?
Brendan: Totally. But the thing is I talked to Taj and Stephen explicitly, I was like 'Listen, when we get to the merge we can't be obvious about this. We need to get one or two votes off and than we can take control.' So I kind of removed myself from them and tried not to talk to them too much in public. But in hindsight I should've just given her a hug and whispered "We're still cool right?"
Reality TV World: We saw Taj telling everyone about her background and how she obviously didn't really need the million dollar prize while she was out there. Did you ever tell anyone about your Bear Naked Granola success, or did anyone catch onto that?
Brendan: I didn't tell anybody, but my name got leaked prior to the season, and basically if you look "Brendan Synnott" up you see a whole bunch of stuff about Bear Naked, and so everybody knew at the beginning of the game who I was.
Reality TV World: What was the reaction from the other castaways about that?
Brendan: You know, at first I think it showed that I have somewhat of a good head on my shoulders. It also created a very easy reason for them to vote me off because I don't need the $1 million.
But other than I thought it would be a bigger deal than it actually was. People knew about it so I tried to be honest about it. If you start lying about it than they start to put the target on you. At the end of the day you get out there and who you are outside of that little tribal campground doesn't really matter that much. It's more about how you act inside it that's more important.
Reality TV World: When were you envisioning actually playing the idol -- did you think you wouldn't need it until after Coach, Tyson and [Erinn Lobdell] were voted off?
Brendan: You know, I don't think I even necessarily needed it. I thought that with the Exile alliance we were good and we would've just started eliminating everybody. If I had any feeling that wasn't gonna go right I had the ability to play it. But hindsight's 20/20.
Reality TV World: You seemed pretty awestruck by JT -- why was that, what did you find so compelling about him?
Brendan: JT, he just speaks about his life in a honest way that you just don't hear that often and it's really refreshing. And to hear how the $1 million could potentially change his life and his family's life and what he wanted to do with it was just an inspiring story.
And that was the first time I'd gotten to spend any time with JT, and doing something like a white-water rafting trip, which was his first experience on something like that, it was great bonding time.
Reality TV World: Did you think that JT would be the next one going home? You seemed to go to great lengths to try and formulate a plan to "save" him.
Brendan: That was the original thought, because everyone from the Timbira tribe wanted him out and so I wasn't necessarily gonna go against that. Because everyone from Timbira wanted JT out, or at least that's what they were saying to me, then the Exile alliance would still be intact, which was why I wasn't gonna fight it.
Reality TV World: Last night's episode also seemed to show you making some comments about how you didn't plan to win the competition but were aiming to help JT win. Can you explain a little bit about that?
Brendan: Yeah. I loved the beginning part of the game of leading your tribe, and that whole team element. As soon as it became all about the individual it wasn't quite as fun for me, I don't think. So it was probably a natural coping mechanism where I [wanted] to bring someone else in who deserves it with me because it kinda makes it more rewarding that way.
Reality TV World: Did you still continue rooting for JT to win after you got voted out or did that all change once you realized he'd been part of the plan to vote you out?
Brendan: Yeah. You know, I don't really hold grudges about how people acted in the game because there's no rules and everybody signed up for it. Every single person in the game lied and cheated at some point, and so to hold grudges, to me, is not really the best. I want the person that plays the best game to win, and that's what I'll root for.
Reality TV World: What was your own reaction to hearing about Taj's background? Did it make her a more attractive ally in your eyes?
Brendan: Yeah. As soon as I heard about that background and the fact that we both went to Exile together we both kinda bonded over that. So I think we were both approaching the game the same way.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for the show?
Brendan: I'd gotten a phone call about kinda potentially doing the show and went out there and interviewed and eventually got on it. I was recruited.