The Heroes Tribe lost another one this week. New York fireman Tom Westman won’t be adding a second million dollars to his Palau winnings. To find out Tom’s thoughts on Amanda’s strategy, how his opinions of James and Rupert changed, and if he’d do it all over again, read on.
When James went down, why weren’t you allowed to sub in?
Not my game, not my rules, but you know I guess you could have an unfair advantage. Whoever had a deeper bench would have an advantage, could be an unfair advantage cause you can go to Tribal and vote people out. I guess we just played the way they call it.
Since everyone focuses on strength for the challenges but it all comes down to puzzles for you, why do you think they kept James?
You know they kept James because they got the numbers’ strategy going. They would have kept James, if he’d broken his back they woulda carried him there on a gurney to have him cast his vote the way Amanda tells him to vote. It never came down to strength or what kind of challenges we were up against. You know JT had a choice there to flip it to a foursome of Tom, Colby, Candice or to stay with the foursome of Amanda, James and Rupert and at the end of the day the Amanda James contingent they have friends on the villains side so they’re just looking to make it to the merge to join up with their friends with Parvati Courtney and that crowd. So JT’s choice wasn’t this four or that four it was our four or their four possibly turning into a six or seven when you get to the merge. A little different than normally the tribe plays it, you know decimate the other tribe and go in strong to the merge with more numbers then pick off the people one by one but some different dynamics at work in all-star season.
You got JT to flip to get rid of Cirie, why couldn’t you get JT to stay on side to get rid of James?
Yeah, I don’t know, he was back and forth so many different times, I got him on the wrong night I guess. [laughs] He was on their side, he was playin’ for them that night. Yeah, I tried to get Rupert over too, I was goin’ “You gotta see the light here.” I almost felt bad for him; Jeff called him out on it. “You know the way you’re gonna be portrayed just spinning the game just being led around by Amanda is that okay for your legacy?” but he was just adamant about stickin’ with that group in spite of the injuries and trying to make it to the merge with the numbers. JT, he’s a young man and I can see how Amanda’s got some influence over him that I don’t but that’s for him to answer I guess.
What do you think Colby has to do to break up alliances?
Yeah, Colby’s in a tough spot. Yeah I was actually thinking that has to be a long lonely dark walk home from tribal council for him that night. I don’t know what his chances are with the group that they’ve got and the way that they’re playing it. I would that the only shot he’s got in the immediate future is that one of the future challenges doesn’t have a puzzle in it that we actually get to win it.
When you’re back home watching it on TV, what surprised you most about the Villains’ tribe?
Surprises: oh, I guess the animosity of Russell and Rob, or I guess that should be the animosity of Russell towards Rob. That should be the guy he’s allying with, but his ego won’t allow him to do it, you know. God forbid it’s not the Russell Show, so he’s gonna go after Rob when the two of ‘em could be natural allies I think and play this game well together. And you know, not that Rob isn’t playing as villainous a game as he has in the past but if you do have the villain role you want another villain across from you in the final vote, so I’d say Russell’s a perfect guy to jump on and play the game with because you’ll beat him in the end. I think that might be my surprise is how wrapped up Russell is in the image of Russell and the strategy of Russell.
Tom, I wish you were there longer.
Yeah, the last time I did these interviews it was ‘hey, what are gonna do with the money’, and now it’s ‘hey, what are you doin’ home so early?”
Other than winning, what’s the biggest difference between this season and Palau for you?
You know, Palau was just a more organic experience where it was twenty strangers and it was a lot of sitting around getting to know one another and this one here everybody came in and had already decided chopping block for you and we gotta get rid of Steph and you know all that stuff being preplanned and being around some of these people the only conversation they have is what they did on their season of Survivor. To listen to one more conversation about the weather in Panama or what it’s like in Pearl Islands or what appearances they’ve done or where they get free food in LA. You know, you just go ‘has anybody got anything interesting to talk about out here?’ It just got old, and being on the outside of that alliance, they don’t wanna hear from you anyway. They have their agenda and they’re just holding a temporary spot on the beach, you know?
With that in mind, were there any people from the older seasons of Survivor that you would have wanted to see in there versus the younger ‘let’s all hang out in the LA bars’ people?
Yeah, I would have actually wanted to see some of the people from the earlier seasons and maybe see some more former winners and people I just think the fans connect with, like a Tina Wesson or even a Gervase from season 1. There were some really good characters I think would have been fun for the fans to see back there again and it would have been a more even balance, than, you know, the new style of play and kind of maybe just left a more even field to the game.
We’ve seen enough of Amanda lately!
Yeah, it’s the third season in a row and you know for some of these young kids it’s some way to live your life you know it’s three years, three seasons of Survivor, it’s kind of, yeah, what else?
This is a kind of scenario, just want to see if you guys ever thought about. It’s kind of JT flipping one way one week and another way the next. Did you guys ever think about just getting rid of him and all the flip-flopping confusion?
You know what, I always keep a positive thing going with JT because I realize he is swaying back and forth and if you can time it right and he’s swaying to your side, that’s great. I was never gonna have I’m not gonna say I was never gonna get in with Amanda and JT because I did get them on board when I did have the idol until Cirie came in and rocked my boat and throw my playing pieces in the water. JT is still I thought the whole time he was gonna come around. He talked so glowingly about Colby and I and the way we played and the way we were portrayed by our teammates and by the public after our seasons that he wanted that. So I just kept holding out that he was going to come our way and play our way on our team, but like I said I think at the end of the day Amanda had more influence on JT than Tom did.
Do you regret not eating the chocolate now?
That’s a funny thing. I did eat the chocolate. They didn’t show it but the plate came down and it had a lot of chocolate on it. I was tyin’ my shoe or something; I didn’t see the mass refusal of chocolate so when Jeff gets the plate back and there’s what seven pieces of chocolate, six pieces, he’s like ‘Nobody ate the chocolate. Wait, nobody ate the chocolate.” He’s like “Tom.” I didn’t get the memo; I didn’t know what that was all about, somebody decided you know a macho-fierce competitor ‘we will not eat the chocolate’ but, whatever.
You were talking about the merge and people having previous alliances on the other side?
If a tribe doesn’t get along as soon as it starts going to tribal council, once you expose those divisions you know now it’s all fractured and just keeps getting worse. There was definitely, I never felt like I was in it or that anybody cared that you were there or was happy to be playing the game with you. You just, Colby and I would be out and we would have to go and do our own thing, just take a break from camp just to get away from it. It wasn’t a pleasant thing. I really didn’t care for a few of the people there and it really made for a long day.
That was all kind of decided before you ever got there?
I don’t know, you know, it was maybe a spur of the moment decision to stick together the people who’d all played together before or maybe it was something they had planned months in advance. You know, that’s for them to say.
Stephenie was saying that Rupert was particularly hard to get along with around camp?
Rupert is the most self-unaware person I’ve ever encountered. He’s the most annoying person; he has no idea that he’s just kind of clueless you know hammin’ it up for the face-time and playing the role of Rupert from Survivor it’s embarrassing. He’d stay up all night long burning all the wood that had been collected through the day, snapping logs. We’re all barely getting any sleep; everyone gets to sleep and he decides that it’s time to start splitting wood about three feet from your head. He just doesn’t get it. I have to point out to myself why people who play the game don’t care for him. Coming into the game he and James were people who I saw were gonna be on my tribe and boarding the helicopter with them I was thrilled. I like the way they were perceived through their previous seasons, kind of created a character that you root for and then when you go out and meet these two tools it’s like, ‘oh my God, you gotta be kidding me; I gotta stay here with these people?’
Can you explain how James treated Stephenie? It looked really vicious on TV. Was that accurate?
It was actually even worse than it appeared. It was bad enough that two guys who were trying to play a game had to intervene even though it was against our better interests. Colby and I, there was a point where, as a man, you couldn’t sit there quietly and let anybody be treated like that, in your alliance, out of your alliance. It was pretty ugly and this was a girl who basically knows she’s going home. She’s been told what the votes are and so her dream’s over. She wasted a big chunk of her life and she’s out second vote, someone who made if very far in both her seasons, very well respected and your gonna go after her in such a vicious way. As I said “All mass, no class.” That guy’s got no class.
Everybody’s criticizing schmergenball as being too violent. When I’m watching James get hurt, it looks like nobody’s touching him and it was just his inability to jump in the air.
You know what? My memory was that somebody caved in his knee but it wasn’t; it was just him planting his foot wrong and going down and once again being too fragile. He’s been put out of the game before for medical reasons. Yeah, there wasn’t the fight there; that could have happened in any challenge doing anything. Is it more violent? I think when we originally hit the beach and jumped right in to digging for the bags and playing ‘kill the carrier’ I thought that was even more vicious possibly. And the fact that we had full bellies and had been sleeping well right before that. At least by schmergenball it was a couple of, we’d been out there for a week and had some of the steam taken off of us. The original challenge everybody’s strength and adrenalin was flowing.
You were with James after he hurt his knee. How bad was it and could Jeff Probst’s niece really beat him in a race?
I don’t know how old Jeff Probst’s niece is, but if she’s an infant she could have beaten him. Without the leg brace they gave him he wouldn’t have been able to walk to return to the beach or to go to tribal that night. So, whatever, it’s their game, but if you patch a guy up like that just to throw him back in—if you can’t compete without the leg brace, then you can’t compete. He was out of it; it was one of those sickening moments when you see someone with one of their appendages bending in a direction it doesn’t normally go. There was no stability to it. Even Candice was as a pre-med student was telling us what was happening with the ligament. There was no question that he was out of the game and was not coming back, not competing any more. What he was was still a vote and still a loyal vote who would do what Amanda tells him to do so that earned him another night and earned me a vote out.
Do you think the leg brace was an unfair advantage?
I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t whine about the game, it is what it is. I had a bunch of people asking me why was that OK?
You didn’t come back for all-stars and you did come back for this. Would you come back again?
I could lie to you and say, ‘nah, I’d never do it again.’ I don’t ever see myself doing it again. It’s not me. It was easy last time; I said no to Fans/Favorites and it kinda, it doesn’t occupy a major portion of my life and I’d be embarrassed to be one of those people who it does and they become cartoons of themselves. It’s a less than dignified way to live your life. I’d kinda like to be the guy who played one and then walked away and said, ‘I don’t need to be on TV again, don’t need to the game again.’ And then, the sensation kicked in again this time and my wife kinda workin’ on me and saying, “It was nothing but fun for you, nothing but good things came out of this for the family. Why would you say no?” And I’m glad I did it; I had a ball again. Friends and family, we’ve been partying again every Thursday night in a different spot. Just really enjoying the buzz and crazy little things like ‘your dad’s on TV.’ My kids were so young the last go-around that they really didn’t get it. I think it was a little more on their radar this time, so as a family we had fun with it. I loved the trip. It was a thrill being in Samoa. The helicopter ride alone was worth the time I took to do it, but at the same time it’s back to work and back to more serious things. It costs most of us money to go out and take a shot at this so I don’t know if I would financially do this again and put my real life on hold.
You said in your secret scene with Rupert that you don’t think this game changes anybody, but for a million dollars, don’t you think the outwit, outlast, outplay requires extreme out-of-the-box game-play?
I don’t know about the secret scene—I’m not really sure what I said or what the context was, but is the question ‘do you develop skills out there that change you?’
In the secret scene you kind of said who you are really shows who you are out there.
A lot of people come back, ‘Oh, I’m so surprised that I was able to do this.’ Or ‘I never thought I was like that’ and the most pathetic one, ‘I didn’t realize how much I loved my family.” You went on a reality show to learn how much you loved your family? I always think that it’s not character-building. It’s character-revealing. You go out there and you’re kinda stripped bare and you’re against the elements and against hostile relationships and who you are just kinda comes out. I don’t think people who say, ‘oh, I’m gonna play it this way, or I’m gonna let them think I’m another way’; I don’t think people can make it through a cocktail party pretending they’re not who they are. In this environment, when you’re not sleeping, you’re not eating and things really are far more brutal than the average viewer can possibly imagine, whoever you are is right on the surface and it’s going to be revealed. I’m not sure that answers your question, but that’s how I feel about the character issue.
How was Jeff’s interaction with the Survivors different than when you were on last time?
I don’t think it was that different. I think that Jeff’s pretty steady and that his role has evolved in a game. There’s nobody playing Survivor now that shouldn’t be aware that Jeff is a major influence and that the things that he brings up at tribal are sometimes going to help, sometimes going to hurt your game. Jeff’s inquisition is basically spread around pretty evenly so we’re all subject to the same highs and the same lows of it. I think Jeff’s challenge might have been a little more formidable with us because we’ve played it and we’re sophomores coming back that aren’t going to be intimidated by Jeff leaning on us for answer to a question we don’t want to answer. We’ll all dig our heels in and take a little heat from Probst and reveal as much as we want and not as much as he wants.
What was the hardest part of this Survivor experience for you?
Just being the outsider. It was difficult—it’s a little lonely when there’s a group larger than your group and you’re on the outside looking in, so just couple of good relationships, but you’d just as soon not have met most of the people who were there.
What surprised you the most?
Having gone through it once, I was surprised just how difficult it is again. You kinda get through the first 48 hours and go, ‘oh my God, now I remember what it’s like to sleep on bamboo’ or what it’s like not have eaten in two days or to be searching through the dark in the jungle to find a place to use the bathroom. All that, and the rain. You get three or four days of straight rain and you’re sittin’ there going into hypothermia. Maybe just how tough the game is physically.
Did you think someone was totally different than you thought they would be?
Yeah, I was a big fan of Rupert and James based on what I saw on TV from previous seasons and found them both just very difficult men to share a beach with.
How was the cheeseburger?
You said in your CBS exit interview that you were gonna get a cheeseburger that night.
Yeah, you make it back to Ponderosa and there is a pile of food waiting for you and you take a little solace in that. You’re, like, well, at least ‘it’s startin’ to rain again and I’m not there.’ It really is the only salve you have for your wounds is that you’re eating and they’re not, but you’d give a million cheeseburgers for another day in the game and another opportunity to slip through that vote again. It’s a small consolation.
You mentioned speaking about your legacy. When you’re out there, do you guys have conversations about how you’re going to be portrayed, and your edit?
No, I don’t think that we talk about it. I tried to use that as leverage with Rupert, because I do think that—I warned him, “I don’t think you’re gonna look too good the way, the alliances you’ve made and the strategies you’re playing.” I was appealing to his vanity, telling him, “Dude, this isn’t gonna go well for both of you.” He didn’t listen to me and I think I’m being proven that he should’ve. I don’t think, maybe the salvation for Rupert comes later but I think America’s kind of scratching their heads: “What was it we liked about this guy?” The legacy thing, it’s not a legacy in the Survivor world. I play the game concerned on how I’ll appear. I have a, you don’t build yourself over 46 years of life and then let it be torn down on the type of person you are in pursuit of a prize on a game show. There are things that, they might not be good Survivor game-play, but there are things that I would not do and things that I will do based on who I am and the fact that I’d be embarrassed to come home being seen otherwise. Even professionally, it wouldn’t behoove me to go out there and just to be a kind of slippery guy and then come back and try to tell people “Well that’s me in the game, but you can trust me in real life.” At a certain point you’re not willing, I guess I’m not willing to tarnish myself and have to come home and apologize to my family or coworkers or friends.
How does it feel to be worth less than a guy with a broken leg?
You know what? I think that if James’s head had been cut off, they would have carried it there in a bowling bag and still kept him there and sent me home. I know and everybody knows what that was about. It had nothing to do, James is, he’s well-hobbled. His knee is an absolute mess and they know it; I know it. My frustration was, you know, “Don’t sit here and say that James was a better performer than me. James healthy—I’ll let the record of how many immunity challenges he’s won and how many I’ve won speak for itself. JT actually spoke early in the game about how you want James as one of your opponents when you go to final immunity. It goes more to finesse and skill and not to brute strength like some of these team against teams are and he, it’s like JT said, “He’s got no balance; he can’t swim and he’s not smart.” He’s the perfect guy to have against you when it goes man to man at the end. That argument: it was just a matter of keeping their numbers strong and not lettin’ the power of the alliance shift over to us. They’ll keep him in there, get rid of me. Even if he can stay, they’ve still taken one more member out of what could be a competing alliance. I get why they did what they did.