Exclusive: Joe Dowdle talks about his 'Survivor: Tocantins' experience
By John Bracchitta, 04/10/2009
Survivor castaways have had a long history of having their fates taken out of their own hands at some point in the competition. For Joe Dowdle, his fate on Survivor: Tocantins was placed entirely in his left leg.
After flying under the radar and developing several alliances during the 21 days he spent in the Brazilian Highlands, Dowdle, a 26-year-old commercial real estate broker from Austin, TX, had a wrench thrown into his plans when his swollen left leg needed attention from the show's medical staff. When all was said and done, Dowdle had to withdraw from the competition after it was revealed that a scrape on his left leg had developed into a staph infection that needed immediate medical attention.
On Friday, Joe spoke to Reality TV World about how his meetings with the show's medical staff -- and the ensuing surgery he required once he had been flown off-site -- had transpired, whether or not he knew if his Immunity Idol was a fake, and which contestant thought was a "jackass."
Reality TV World: The show made it seem like your leg had only begun acting up as a serious problem after the 18th day or so. Is that when it really started acting up or did they just not show you struggling with it before then?
Joe: It was a process for sure. That's when it really started giving me fits, but it started to ache and just be more of a nuisance more than anything about a week before that.
Reality TV World: Just to confirm, that same Episode 5 challenge where [James "JT" Thomas Jr.] lost his tooth is where you injured it, right?
Joe: Actually I scraped it at the block challenge where we were rolling the blocks and stacked them up to the balcony or whatever. I scraped it there on the block when I was rolling it, and then in the [Episode 5] challenge is where I fell and I felt some stuff go in there and I almost felt it get infected. You know what I'm sayin'?
Reality TV World: Oh okay. Was there any back and forth between the doctors about whether there was any chance you would be able to continue in the competition or were they adamant from the beginning that you were not going to continue no matter what?
Joe: It was pretty much an executive decision at that point. They took footage of me getting shots and they didn't show any of that, so up to that point I had been in basically a back-and-forth with the docs about what's going on and what are my chances here. They gave me four different shots, and on the fourth one they can't do any more -- it's some policy they have -- and so they did everything they could as best I understand.
Reality TV World: Could you talk about what happened after you were transported off the island? Where did you go, what was the diagnosis and what procedures did you end up undergoing?
Joe: Yeah, they took me to a hospital and they confirmed that it was just a heavy staph infection, which required surgery. And after surgery, it was relatively minor surgery, but after the surgery I was in the hospital for I guess another 4-5 days just resting. I got on some antibiotics and it healed up great.
Reality TV World: Do you know where the hospital was?
Joe: I think it was Brasilia if I remember right. It was a private hospital there.
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Reality TV World: And then you said you spent four days in the hospital or so, and after that were you just cleared to go?
Reality TV World: And how are you doing now, is there any recurring things?
Joe: No man, it's fine. It's back to normal for sure.
Reality TV World: Okay, moving on to the show now, clearly you didn't seem to think that [Tamara "Taj" Johnson-George] had the Immunity Idol already, but did you have any suspicions that the one you found may be a fake one?
Joe: Absolutely. And I did have suspicions that [Taj] already had it, but I didn't wanna put it past her to maybe not follow one of the clues or whatever. So I was about 10% sold that the Idol was real. I wasn't very convinced. When I recovered it my adrenaline is pumping and all these crazy thoughts are coming in on how to take the world over. Once I had a little more time to really just sink into that situation I really didn't put too much stock in the yarn with beads on it.
Reality TV World: So how long until you were kind of doubting it?
Joe: Shortly thereafter. I treated it like the Idol just in case. Shortly thereafter I kinda realized, I had a plan to show up to Tribal Council and act like I was gonna play it but toss it in the fire. I forgot to do that.
Reality TV World: Well I was gonna say, you found the Idol right before the Tribal Council where [Sydney Wheeler] went home. Seeing as she was an ally of yours, is that why you didn't think about giving it to her to try and save her?
Joe: Right, yeah absolutely. I just didn't have faith in it man.
Reality TV World: At the beginning of that episode where Sydney went home you had told her that you thought she was going to be safe, where were you getting that information from? Why'd you think that?
Joe: Well because based on my discussions with JT and [Stephen Fishbach] really. We were going back and forth with Taj versus Sydney and there was an upside to keeping Syd and an upside to keeping Taj. We actually told Sydney before that Tribal Council, I told her that I was gonna vote for Taj because I trusted her and wanted her around but I couldn't say the same for JT and Stephen.
She was aware of it, and ultimately it's because Taj had the Idol, one, and two she was a pretty good player at the challenges too. At that point we weren't sure if it was a merge or it was another challenge and we really wanted to keep four and not lose somebody else.
Reality TV World: Going back to that Immunity Idol for a second. Obviously it turned out to be fake, but once you were airlifted away what was the status of it? Did [Erinn Lobdell] have it, or was it some place she knew she could find it? Was it lost?
Joe: It was in my pocket at that challenge. I just dropped it out, I think [Survivor host Jeff Probst] asked me about it and I even said, I think I said "I don't think it's real," or "Is this real?" or something and he said he couldn't answer. I left it with them and that's all I've heard about it.
Reality TV World: So just to clarify another thing from last night's episode, you had a scene where you and Erinn were talking about how you'd found the Idol, and you said how you "had to get back to camp." What did you mean by that?
Joe: I don't know.
Reality TV World: Okay, just an offhand comment?
Joe: Yeah, no. I really don't know why I woulda said that because I had that fake Idol on me. So I don't know why I woulda said that. Maybe it was taken out of context or something.
Reality TV World: What was your plan if you hadn't been forced out of the game? Were you planning on trying to do some kind of alliance with Erinn and Taj, Stephen, and JT?
Joe: Absolutely man. I had played under the radar up to that point in which things were just getting good and just starting to shake out. So I sold Erinn to the alliance of JT, Stephen, Taj and I. Basically she was all about it because, like we thought, she was kind on the outs over [at Timbira].
So, again, I think it played up that I was definitely on the outside of Jalapao, but I think more than anything we were tight going into the merge together. If anything I was out of the Immunity Idol alliance but I was in the Jalapao alliance if that makes sense.
So I trusted those people, and that could've been dumb or whatever, but I did.
Reality TV World: How much of the scheming that we saw last night were you aware of while you were still in the game?
Joe: Well honestly I think the majority of that happened after I was gone because I was pulled off I think [one] day after the merge. So to my knowledge a lot of that happened afterwards and I figured that there wasn't too much discussion going on the day after the feast. So I really wasn't aware of a lot of it, if it did happen while I was there.
Reality TV World: Do you think the fact that your tribe had already gone into the merge at a numbers disadvantage made it easier for you to follow the doctor's suggestion that you leave the game?
Joe: Well it wasn't really a suggestion, it was more of a "We gotta get you healthy."
Reality TV World: Okay, well I guess did it make it any easier to leave?
Joe: I had no choice. They were just like "We gotta get you outta here."
Reality TV World: Were you expecting that you might be the target at the upcoming Tribal Council? Joe: Yeah, yeah. I think JT and I both kinda saw that possibility and we wanted them to kinda think that we were thinking that we were up next [so we could] pull off a potential blindside at the time. So yeah.
Reality TV World: Who did you regard as the biggest threat in the game at that point ?
Joe: I think you gotta look at [Brendan Synnott]. He's been to Exile as many times as Taj has and there's a good possibility that he's got the Idol. So you gotta look at him, and then from a physical standpoint going into individual Immunity Challenges I think you have to look at [Tyson Apostol]. So those two guys and then I obviously I knew Stephen was a really smart guy. I knew JT was great at challenges. So all of those guys, I would say.
Taj too because I felt there was a good possibility she had the Idol, so I knew that and I also know that she'd be ability to kinda pull off some strategy.
Reality TV World: Were you aware of Taj, Stephen and JT's cross tribal alliance [with Brendan and Sierra] at all while you were on the show or did you only learn about it after?
Joe: I suspected it but I wasn't aware of it. I figured "Hey, if I'm in her shoes and I'm at Exile as many times as she was, there's gotta be something going down." So that's what I was thinking.
Reality TV World: [Benjamin "Coach" Wade] seems to be a pretty polarizing figure in the competition this season, what did you think of him?
Joe: Honestly I didn't think much about him because I didn't have a chance to get to meet him and get to know him. I did meet him but I didn't get to know him too well. But I kinda thought he was a, well, kind of a jackass.
There were some things he said after the challenges that really just came off the wrong way, and we all kinda thought he was full of himself. He didn't really add much to the physical challenges and everything, so we were kinda scratching our heads saying "Where's all this perceived confidence coming from?" Those intense meditations, you know.
Reality TV World: How were you cast for the show?
Joe: Oh, I just sent in a video and they invited me out to L.A.
Reality TV World: Did you apply to previous seasons at all?