Jon Dalton, aka Jonny Fairplay, recently spoke to reporters about his brief return to Survivor. When I sat down to consider the puzzling performance of Fairplay on last night’s episode, what I wanted to know most was this: is Johnny Fairplay a character played by John Dalton? I’m still not certain, after hearing his answer.
"As far as Jonny Fairplay the over-the-top character, and Jon…whatever, [Note: has he forgotten his last name?] …yeah, there’s a difference. The Jonny Fairplay character is me turned up to 11. It’s ridiculously over-the-top, but I think that makes for great television. I think there’s a reason that Survivor Micronesia was the fortieth different television show I’ve done. People like these over-the-top characters, and the fact that I embrace the bad guy role, whereas someone like Jerry and Omarosa think that they get a bad edit. I love it! When I watch Batman I root for the Joker."
At the same time, he wants to pass along this legacy to his newborn daughter. He’s already having his name legally changed to Jonny Fairplay, and he and his fiancé – who happens to be another reality TV alumnus, Michelle Deighton of America’s Next Top Model – decided to use Fairplay as their family name. Michelle plans to take Fairplay as her last name when they are married in June.
When questioned about his relationship with Jeff Probst – which has historically been contentious, as Probst has made no secret of his disgust for Fairplay in the past – Fairplay thinks showing his kinder, gentler side to the world has made a difference. He thinks that the tension between himself and Probst was the most compelling storyline of his season. “You know, I sent Rupert home halfway through. The only constant during the show was Jonny Fairplay versus Jeff Probst. We would go at it tooth and nail. We weren’t scared to be honest, and I think it really made for great television,” he says. The evolution of his relationship with Probst came to a surprising conclusion in last night’s episode, which he described as “round two.”
“I think it’s only fitting that in the final chapter of Fairplay versus Probst, it ends in a hug. I thought it was beautiful television.”
But was he really a nice guy, or was this Fairplay Redux feeling his way into a new strategy? “I don’t think it was necessarily a ploy by me to make this change,” he says. “I think it was just a maturation process of the circumstances around me. It’s like, hey – you are about to have a little girl. What is the smartest thing you can do for you and your family?”
Fairplay may not have been told who his fellow “favorites” would be, but he’s a savvy fellow who reads message boards – much like any of you reading this article, so pat yourselves on the back. “I pretty much knew all ten people and knew we were playing as favorites just from going on message boards,” says Fairplay.
A hot topic on the message boards is how sincere he could have been when he said he wanted to leave the game to be with his then pregnant fiancé. Most fans of Survivor know that the show goes to great lengths to preserve spoilers from leaking out, and if he had been spotted back home a week into filming, it would have been obvious he had been given the boot right away. Still, when asked whether it was disingenuous to talk about going home when Survivor fans know he would be stuck in Loser Lodge for the same amount of time, he ducks the question. “It may or may not have been the case. This was a very special circumstance.”
He reminds viewers that when filming started for Survivor: Micronesia, he had been body slammed by Danny Bonaduce only one week prior to leaving for the show. Seriously. Bonaduce tossed him over his head onstage at an awards show; Fairplay landed on his jaw and was hospitalized. But don’t worry, Leif Garret brought him soup the next day.
“That week I received fifteen hours of dental surgery, four root canals, and my top jaw was completely shattered. I’ll continue to have braces for four more months. That was the week that I left. Going out there, you’re not allowed to have medications even with three doctor’s notes saying that I needed it. They told me basically, either you go without it or you can’t go…I felt pretty invincible at that time, and I knew the pain was horrendous, and I thought to myself, ‘I think I can fight through this.’ Five minutes in, getting blindsided by Yau-Man into the side of that boat, I was in a world of hurt right there – just excruciating pain.”
When filming started, he and his fiancé agreed that if something went wrong with her pregnancy, she would not tell the show so that he could remain focused. Not to mention, his fellow players wouldn’t believe any news from home after lying about Grandma. But once he was back in the game, he felt he had made a bad decision. “If something bad were to happen, I wouldn’t know, and all you can do when you’re out there is think the worst,” says Fairplay. “A big thing they didn’t show in Tribal Council was that Yau-Man and Johnathan, both parents, both said that in all honesty that if their wives were seven months pregnant, they wouldn’t be out there.”
Adding to his low morale was facing what he knew would be the aftermath of being on the show. “When you get back, you’re a mess, dude. Mentally and physically you’re destroyed. You’re not right for a while. And I’m sitting here as a soon-to-be parent, and I start thinking maybe this isn’t the best idea to go home to an over eight months pregnant fiancé and prepare to raise a child with this psychological stress. Everything seemed good on paper and there was no way I wasn’t going to take this opportunity, but with all those obstacles, finally I reached a breaking point.”
Still, he admits if he’d grabbed the idol before Yau-Man, he would have been in the game longer – if only because he would have avoided the jaw crunch and ensuing pain.
Fairplay doesn’t think that the favorites underestimated the fans in the challenge. “I don’t feel as though they beat us,” saying their first crash bent the axle and made the cart wheels unable to turn. “I feel as though if you can’t push the cart, you’re not going to make it to the end. That was it.” But he adds that he was signing autographs for some of the favorites at the start of the game – it wasn’t only the fans who thought it was thrilling to be on the show with him. “I don’t want to be egotistical, but I’m one of the greatest reality stars ever. I have a full resume.”
He had an immediate alliance with Yau-Man, Jonathan, and Eliza, but also says that he didn’t like them personally because they were all business, all the time. He felt that they played a similar game to him strategically, but they just weren’t any fun. So he ended up befriending Ozzy. “I liked the kid. I liked him a lot.” He also got along with Amy and Eliza. “The move that you saw an hour before Tribal Council was that I was going to go after Parvarti first to break up that strong four, then go to Ozzy afterwards and tell him it was nothing personal. You four together is too much power in one group. You, me, Amy, Eliza – bam. Let’s do this. I think it would have worked great.”
He wasn’t surprised by the immediate pairing off of James and Parvati, Ozzy and Amanda. “Pavarti – ick. But the crazy thing was, I thought James and Ozzy both had girlfriends going into this game, so I’m very curious to see how that’s going to play out.”
Before Tribal Council, he pulled Ozzy aside to give him some last-minute advice. “It was very emotional; we were both in tears. He was like, ‘Don’t do this,’ and I was like, “I have to. But here’s the deal. Here’s the alliances, here’s the pecking order, here’s who they’re coming after, here’s who you should come after and in what order. I like you, but your social game is lacking. When you go out fishing…bring people with you because when you go out there alone, they’re talking about you. Essentially I told him, ‘Here’s the keys to the car, kid. Don’t wreck it.’”
Since James and Amanda’s season was airing just before the Micronesia season was filmed, they could have had an advantage in that the other favorites wouldn’t have been able to watch their complete season. But Fairplay says that from reading message boards, he knew about James’ double idol disaster -- and that all the players out there had read up on their season. Amanda and James weren’t allowed to tell what their final positions were, and the other members of the cast weren’t allowed to ask.
When asked if he gained anyone’s trust, Fairplay turns the question around on the reporters. “Do you guys see me as more of a good guy or the same evil guy you despised before?”
After some awkward chuckles, one reporter tells him he’s a nice guy. “I don’t think I’d trust you though,” someone else adds. “It’s not hard to say we like you better because you have to consider where you’re coming from,” this reporter adds inarticulately. You get what I mean, right? It can only go up from his dreadful persona in the Pearl Islands.
Fairplay protests, saying he never betrayed his Pearl Island alliance, Burton and Lil. Furthermore, he hadn’t been the one to claim his grandmother had died – that was his friend visiting from home! As for saying “don’t trust anyone” so much on the show, he chalks that up to his wrestling life, where “DTA” is a catch phrase.
But for now, he’s happy into settle into his new gig – fatherhood. “I’m very happy with the decision I made. It was the smartest decision I could make. If you have to call it quitting, then I quit for love.”