First to find himself on the wrong side of the torch was Steve “Chicken” Morris, a farmer from Virginia. Surrounded by people younger than him with work ethics ranging from lie-around-all-day to bark-orders-at-everyone, Chicken retreated into the safety of being willing and ready to do anything – except for voice a strong opinion. Was it simply that he felt unappreciated by the younger crowd, or were the cultural differences between himself and his tribemates just too much to overcome? In this interview, Chicken gives us his perspective on the Survivor experience in an accent as thick and sweet as maple syrup, while the gentle sound of chickens clucked in the background.
Good morning, how’s things up your way?
Just beautiful, we’re having a beautiful fall day here. Thanks for asking. So, what was the trip like from ultra-modern Shanghai to such a remote area in rural China?
(expansive laugh) Oh, what a question! You got seven days and seven nights? Because it could be a long answer, let me tell you. First of all, when you’ve never been anywhere, the first flight is amazing. Then you get to the first airport, the second airport, then when you go to Asia, it is just – you see the best of the cities and the best of the culture, then you see the worst of the culture. It really was a reality check because we have so many things in the States that these people do not have. These people are relentless workers. I mean, we talk about an eight-hour day here and that’s nothing compared to what these people do in eight hours. It’s a culture shock.
What surprised you about China?
Overall? The people. There’s no doubt about it, the people. These people are hard workers. If I had two of them on my farm I could make a million dollars next year, no doubt about that. (good-natured chuckle)
We watched as you arrived on the back of a truck and it seemed like no one was talking to anyone else. Were you told not to speak?
There’s no speaking whatsoever. Basically in our travels, the first thing I noticed – you know, I’m taking it all in period, I’m amazed to be there, and this is beyond anything I’ve ever imagined. Yet, you look around at fifteen other people and they’ve got iPods in their ears and they’re reading their books. It was a bigger deal for me than for anyone else.
You were there to soak it all up?
Yep. And another thing, too. How you can put four hundred people on an airplane, or on a jet, and fly for four, five, six hours and nobody wants to talk to anybody is beyond me. No one wants to get in a major conversation with you. We’re all on our own trip, you might say.
What did you do to prepare for the experience of being on Survivor?
So you didn’t start a workout program or anything like that?
Nope. My lifestyle didn’t permit it. I had to work up to the day I left. I got back on a Friday night and I went straight back to work Saturday morning. I’ve got to make a living and my job didn’t permit me to get prepared in anyway.
You already seem to be in great physical shape.
I was in the best shape of my life when I left for this game. I’m in remarkable shape today.
Did you have a strategy going into the game?
No, not at all. I figured this out from Charlotte to JFK in New York. I watched a ton of Survivor and I thought to myself, I’m going to do this and do that, I’m going to portray this part. And then I suddenly realized, just take this thing like anything else – one day at a time. Don’t worry about tomorrow, just be yourself, and take it one day at a time. Whatever happens is going to happen. Basically, that’s the way I am every day in real life. Just like today, I’ve got things I want to accomplish before dark, and if I don’t get them all in I’ll start them in the morning, and if tomorrow I’ll have things I want to accomplish, and that’s just the way my job and my lifestyle is.
Let’s talk about what happened when you got there and it was time to build a shelter. It seemed like you were sort of ignored or rebuffed, and after that you seemed reluctant to share your opinion. What were you really thinking about where to put the shelter?
Well, you know, I have more common sense than any of these people. I can honestly say that and that’s what I believe. Number one, this climate. The rain is brutal. Within just a few hours, we’re walking in nothing but mud. We were confined to one area, we’ve got one flat area to build this thing; there really was no choice. You’ve got to build it there. You know, the first day, within the first hour, (in disbelief) they’re swimming. The first hour, swimming! And me and Peih-Gee are thinking to ourselves, we need to be building a shelter, we need water, we need something to eat, and they’re swimming. That’s how far apart we are. That’s how far apart. Within just a few minutes, ten or fifteen minutes, I’m drinking water, I’m eating kiwis out of the woods, and I don’t tell them anything. The way I look at things, it may have cost me and made me the first one out, I don’t know. But when they’re standing in a circle talking about boyfriends and college, music, and who they like, and Britney Spears, and all that stuff — we don’t connect. And that was one of the sixteen chapters of this book, and whether it be good or bad or whatever, it requires a lot of luck. It requires a lot of luck and I didn’t have the luck with me last night.
(clucking in the background)
Did you sense that Peih-Gee was becoming irritated when you wouldn’t state an opinion?
I voiced my opinion Monday. The first day, that we landed, and she didn’t want to hear it; and I didn’t hold it against her, it wasn’t a big issue. Now, she voiced her opinion to me, and I didn’t want to hear it, and all of the sudden it’s an issue. On Monday, I could have called somebody a blankety-blank-blank, and they just laughed it off. On Tuesday, you could have called somebody a blankety-blank-blank, and it would have been an issue. It’s just another one of the great elements of this game that anything can happen at any time. When I voiced my opinion Monday, it was like water off of a duck’s back — no one said anything. But then, when Peih-Gee asked me for my opinion it becomes a really big issue. The same thing happened on Monday, and it wasn’t an issue, but when the exact same thing happened on Tuesday, the page was turned, and all of the sudden it was an issue.
When Jeff said you had to leave all your possessions behind and everyone ended up with just the clothes on their back, didn’t you have some people in your tribe who just had ridiculous clothing, like —
Yes, that was a mental thing for maybe a little bit, but personally I think everyone handled it very, very well. I don’t think that was a setback, I don’t think that cost us the challenge. After a few minutes these people were there to play the game under any conditions. They adjusted very, very well. If I’d had to go down to my underwear I’d have been more uncomfortable than any of them.
Maybe a little cold, though!
What did you think of Ashley’s health right off the bat. Was that a significant factor?
Yeah, big time. Ashley was the first weakest link and everyone knew it. You could look at Ashley, and she was weak. Not only physically, she was weak mentally. If you noticed last night, she didn’t say “Hey, I’ll be alright in a little bit, just let me set here for a little bit, I’ll be along”—you didn’t hear that, she just gave up. She just gave up and she just set there like a knot on a log. She wasn’t even trying to help herself.
Isn’t that sort of surprising for someone who’s supposed to be a pro wrestler and all that?
(flatly) No. It didn’t surprise me at all. Ashley gets paid to play a part, in her walk of life, which is wrestling. (pronounced “wrassling”) She’s not strong, Ashley’s not physically fit, Ashley gets paid to go out and do what she does. When I go out every day, you know, in ten hours — I do a ton of work in a day’s time. I get paid for what I do. Ashley’s walk of life is not hard work. Basically she’s getting paid for showing people entertainment. And there’s nothing strong about that. That’s the way I look at it. But she may be as strong as I am; I have no idea, this is just my opinion—but she’s not a strong person, mentally or physically.
Let’s talk about some of the other tribemates. Do you think Dave will turn out to be a good leader for the tribe?
Like I say, Dave could probably talk you out of your underwear tonight. But Dave didn’t look at everybody as a whole, he deals with everybody on an individual basis. Me and Dave talked, and we talked, and we talked, and he’d turn around and go talk to other people, but what he needed to do—what we needed to do, was come together and talk as eight people. It did not happen. I don’t think anyone could have stepped up and been a leader and brought this group together, that’s how far apart we were. I’m no expert, again; this is just my opinion.
What is your overall impression of Peih-Gee? Was it favorable? Because you seemed to have ups and downs with her.
It’s not favorable at all. Last night in the vote, it just showed how far apart we were, and it’s going to bite them in the hind end in the future, whether it’s tonight, tomorrow, later on in the game — they voted off their strongest person. In this game, in the first few weeks or the first few days, you want your strongest people — that’s how you survive. (emphatically) This is the element of the game; you want to survive, it’s the bottom line. And when you vote off your strongest player, you’re not thinking.
Jeff Probst really seems to come up with questions that reveal what people around you are thinking. Did you feel like anyone gave anything away during Tribal Council?
No, you know. Jeff asked me a question and I told him the truth: these people are not going to come together. Whether it took Tribal Council last night or not, maybe they’ll come closer. As all my teammates watched the other teammates on television last night, they’re all saying, “Boy, I wish we could have come together like that.” I guarantee you that everyone on my tribe said the same thing I did. I wish we could have come together like the other eight people—and there’s no reason we couldn’t have.
Who did you think was the other vote to evict Ashley besides yourself at the time?
You know, I did watch the program last night but I didn’t even see who wrote my name down and who didn’t. I did write Ashley’s name down. I think Ashley had two votes, and I think Dave was the other who wrote Ashley’s name down. I told Dave, “I’m basing my vote on who has done the least for whatever reason.” And believe me, nobody set any records. It basically could have been anybody but me or Dave last night. The first day – (working himself up into frustrated disbelief) We went swimming on the first day! You didn’t see the other tribe doing that. Maybe they did but I didn’t see it. I can only tell you what went on in our camp, and within the first hour they were swimming.
Do you see that as a result of their youth, or what? They just had a frivolous point of view?
To tell you the truth, they were in their element – they were sitting there and talking about the things they wanted to. The reality didn’t set in until everybody had already talked about everything they wanted to talk about. That’s their generation, and we’re just cut from two different cloths. When they voted me out last night, they’re not thinking about tomorrow. They’re just thinking about today, and that’s the problem.
Who were you closest to in the game?
Man, that’s a tough question. I would have to say up until the point last night, Dave, yeah. But I admire Sherea a lot. I don’t know if she wrote my name down last night, and I would guess that she probably did, but Sherea and I kept talking to each other. When nobody wanted to do anything, Sherea sat down and told me this. I said, “Sherea, I’m not going to help anybody that doesn’t help me. If we don’t stand up to eight people and build this thing, it’s not going to get built.” I could have – this is the truth. I could have built fire. I could have fished. I could have fed these people. They wanted to stand around and huddle. The four of them connected right off the bat, because they’re all that age, they’re all in that generation, they all listen to that music, and here I am playing the greatest game in the world and I want to build a shelter. That’s the way it happened, and so be it.
If you’d ended up on a tribe of really well-motivated, hard-working people, would it have been different? You were only going to help people who helped themselves?
Exactly right. If these people had jumped in – I mean, instead of barking orders at someone, you pick up something and say, “Hey, how about helping me with this?” You know, you’ve got to make a move yourself. I can stand there and tell three hundred people how to do something, but if I don’t pick up the other end and help you’re not going to get the results that you’re looking for, you know what I mean?
(clucking in the background)
Yes. Hey, I hear chickens.
I just realized what that sound was.
(apologetically) That’s my cell phone ringing. I left it on again, I’m sorry about that.
You have chickens for a ringtone? Cool. We’re nearly to the end here, I just wanted to ask you, what is Tribal Council like? How long does it take?
Tribal Council – you can say anything you want to about anything or anybody. You’ve got all the time in the world.
Your response when Jeff called your name was passionate. Did you notice how surprised your tribemates looked?
Okay…was there anything that happened that didn’t make it to the edited show that you wished they would have shown?
I wish they had shown me drinking the water in the first few minutes I was there. (laughing hysterically) ‘Cause I was drinking water within about ten or fifteen minutes.
(uncertainly) Yeah, I wonder why they left that out.
(knowingly) Exactly. I wonder. I do wonder.
Is there anything that you want the viewers to know about you?
I just want to tell you that of these sixteen people – and I don’t know some of them and I related very little with any of them – this game, this adventure, this show, this trip has changed my life more than anyone else could imagine. I don’t think it has done this in the past, maybe it has. But I don’t think it changed the fifteen people I was with the way it changed me, period.
With that, we’ll leave Chicken to answer his clucking phone. Many thanks to CBS for giving us access to the contestants this season. Dave, about that underwear thing – call me.