Exclusive: Jeff Varner talks 'Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance' (Part 1)
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 10/15/2015
Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance's Angkor tribe snuffed Jeff Varner's torch during Season 31's fourth episode Wednesday night on CBS.
Varner, who previously competed on Survivor: The Australian Outback, became the fourth castaway voted out of the game. His Angkor tribe ousted him via a 4-1 vote instead of Yung "Woo" Hwang at their second Tribal Council session on Night 11 of the game.
In an exclusive interview with Reality TV World on Thursday, Varner talked about his Survivor return and overall experience. Below is the first half. Check back with us soon for the concluding portion.
Reality TV World: Why do you ultimately think your tribe decided to vote you out instead of Woo? Was it as simple as it looked, that they needed Woo for challenges in the near future?
Jeff Varner: No, I don't think so. I mean, who knows, you know? Because they didn't show it and I didn't see it and [Abi-Maria Gomes] told me after the game that it was all about my injury and that we could've done something more about it if I hadn't gotten hurt.
But that injury was so much more intense and involved than the editing showed. I was on crutches for two-and-a-half weeks after it was over with. I went to the hospital, my foot was huge, my toe was hurting, and it was black. I lost my toenail last week.
I couldn't walk in front of them the whole way to Tribal Council and back. I'm dragging my foot. They go off and leave me. I'm all on my own and that injury was a big deal. To [Tasha Fox] and [Andrew Savage], challenges are everything. So for them, probably, but who knows. We'll never know unfortunately.
Reality TV World: So did you kind of know going into Tribal Council then that you were going to be the one voted off or did it not really hit you until Jeff Probst read the votes?
Jeff Varner: No, I knew I was gone. It was obvious to me. The doctor had just told me that he thought my foot was broken right before we went into Tribal, and they all knew that. So, I knew it.
I knew it when I went in. I just did not want to give up and I didn't want to NOT fight because millions of people put me in the wonderful position, and I really wanted to deliver for them from the minute I hit the beach to the minute I left. And I feel confident I did that.
Reality TV World: Yeah, I was going to ask you about why you seemed so focused on talking to your tribe about how you were not a physical threat because of your toe and everything before Tribal. It's like you didn't recognize the fact they'd view you as a huge liability until Individual Immunities start up, which would be more reason to get rid of you.
Jeff Varner: Yeah, you know, I couldn't say to them, "I'm not really a liability," because I was. I knew I was. I was without the injury, you know? And for Andrew and Tasha, they really had no social game. Their game was all about win challenges, win challenges, win challenges. And that's the opposite of the game I respect. To me,Survivor is ultimately a social game.
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And if I'm ever on the jury in the future and I'm fortunate enough to go back, I will always vote for the people who had the best social game. It's not about challenges. If you want to just win challenges, go play America's Ninja Warrior or whatever. This is a social game.
Reality TV World: So if you were in your tribe's shoes -- putting aside your own feelings about being voted out -- do you think they made the right choice in keeping Woo?
Jeff Varner: Well, if their goal is to win challenges, yeah. I think yes. But you know, I would not have been that focused on the challenge and I would've gone a different way.
Reality TV World: You appeared to form a close bond with Abi-Maria during the game, but you seemed to waver on the sincerity of that relationship. Did you genuinely love Abi as a person and ally or did you pretend to so you could pull her along through the game as your goat?
Jeff Varner: Yeah. Both of those statements are true. Abi was a firecracker. She was a problem for everybody, and I learned very early on that if you cater to her insecurities and tell her how beautiful she is and how wonderful she is, whenever she starts acting up -- which is inevitably every hour -- she will aim all of that to everybody else and not you. So, I loved Abi. Abi was entertaining. I still love Abi today, but I was absolutely using her as a tool.
Reality TV World: Did you really see yourself taking Abi all the way to the end or did you start worrying about how unpredictable she was? Because clearly the rest of your tribe feared that as well, that she can switch things up and change her mind at the drop of a dime.
Jeff Varner: No, I didn't. I mean, I was as unpredictable as Abi, and I had things working in all corners. So, you know, I never really did. Abi made it to the end of her game the first time around and she was much worse then I think -- I think. So, I figured, you get to the merge and people like Abi are the ones who float to the end, and I was going to float with her. That was my thinking -- as flawed as it may have been.
Reality TV World: How do you think the tribal swap affected your social and strategic game? Do you think it basically screwed you?
Jeff Varner: You know, I'm not going to blame the swap. Abi screwed me. She flipped on us and threw everything up in a tizzy and then things just sort of happened from there. That swap had us four people ahead of them, so we had the numbers. If Abi hadn't flipped, I'd still be in this game and Tasha and Andrew would be gone. You can leave it all to Abi. I give her all the credit for that. (Laughs)
Reality TV World: In last week's episode, you were shown whispering to Kelly Wiglesworth at the Immunity Challenge. What exactly were you saying? Any why in the moment did you think that was a good idea?
Jeff Varner: Well, this is a long story, but that whole situation started when we first swapped. I dropped -- [Kimmi Kappenberg] took her little box with the bucket and threw it at my feet, and I saw that as a clue. So, I dropped mine and when she bent down to get hers, I bent down to get mine and she whispered to me, "Don't trust Andrew. He can't keep his mouth shut."
So when I got back to camp, I made a beeline for Andrew and got him to reveal all of the secrets of the Bayon tribe: Who was aligned with who, who's on the bottom, who's going next, who think they're safe when they're not.
And our goal as a foursome was to vote out Andrew and Tasha, and at the next challenge, I was going to reveal to everybody what they had told us. I was going to blow the whole thing up, but then Abi switched and went with Tasha and it threw a wrench in the mix.
So, I had to pretend to go with her for a little while. But when I saw that opportunity to tell Kelly Wiglesworth, who I was very much aligned with and very loyal to, everything I knew -- because that's what you saw me mouthing, was, "These people are on the bottom and these people are on the top and do this."
And she's looking at me and shaking her head, and I thought she understood me, but Tasha just happened to turn around in that one moment. That part that Tasha caught was the end of that, but I almost got away with it.
But, you know, I went back to camp that night and the editing makes it look like I went to sleep, when really, I fought to keep myself in there. I knew all those votes were for me and all I had to do was get the heat on [Peih-Gee Law] because Abi hated Peih-Gee.
And so you see Peih-Gee go to Abi and then go to Tasha and all of this stuff to get the vote on Peih-Gee and not me. But what you don't see is, I'm the one who orchestrated that whole thing and set it into motion.
It was a little frustrating to see [the editors] portraying it as if I just went back and went to bed. I don't know why they did that. Either way, I was in a pickle and I had to find my way out of it.
Reality TV World: Speaking of going to bed, viewers saw your tribemates complaining about how you sat around and slept a lot at camp. So was that accurate in general, that you didn't do much to help out?
Jeff Varner: No, not at all. I mean, in the beginning with Ta Keo, yeah, I didn't participate like everybody else because the game was happening in the jungle -- not at the shelter. So I was trying to stay onboard with the new-school kids so that I could make sure my old-school alliance members knew everything that was going on. I'd go and tell them everything.
Check back with Reality TV World soon for the concluding portion of Jeff Varner's exclusive interview.