Recently we caught up with not one, but two Survivors who were fresh out of the hospital. Both Chet Welch and Jonathan Penner fell victim to infections while away from civilization – Chet with coral in his foot, and Jonathan having slashed open a knee during a brutal challenge. In this interview, they were relaxed and ready to share a laugh or two, so don’t be surprised if their answers are, well, surprising.
How’s the leg?
Jonathan: The leg is getting better – certainly a lot better as of last night’s episode. It’s getting there. I can’t say it’s 100% but I do believe and hope it will be 100%. They took me to a hospital, then they took me to another Western-style hospital where there was a plastic surgeon. Chet and I were just talking because we had the same surgeon in Micronesia – a bubbly woman who he thought was the receptionist because she was walking around the hospital in flip-flops. Everyone in the hospital chews on this betelnut juice. She was the surgeon at this hospital, and after a couple of days of that, the Survivor folks took me out of that situation and put me into a Western-style hospital.
Chet, if you didn’t have to bow out because of your foot, what was going to be your strategy?
Chet: My long term strategy was to stay on as long as I could, keep our numbers up, basically, a vote was going to keep us in because we were always coming in with the votes. The short term was to vote out Ozzy because that was something that had happened while I was at Exile Island.
How is your relationship with Cirie?
Jonathan: My relationship with Cirie is fine. She and I kind of made up. Neither one of us anticipated as personal or emotional as we did. From my perspective, it happened because she was behaving in an irrational way because she moved from what I thought was a very logical alliance of five to a pretty illogical alliance of four with her as the fifth person in. She saw that she was the fifth person in our alliance which was also true, but there was no question that the five of us could have gone very far together. So I was very upset. She was deflecting away what was really going on, which was that she had a secret alliance with Yau-Man which she thought had been betrayed by him, so she wanted to get rid of him. So whenever I was calling her out why she was doing this, she couldn’t be honest with me because she felt that I was the reason Yau-Man had betrayed her, because he was in more of an alliance with me. When I was like, “Why are you doing this?” She felt that I should know why she was doing it. She didn’t quite understand why the hell I kept badgering her to find out why she was behaving in this way, and it got kind of ugly.
In hindsight, she expressed to me that she later came to realize that maybe she had made a mistake, and that maybe there was a misapprehension about what was going on. I certainly didn’t know that she and Yau-Man had made a secret alliance. Or that she had shared with him all the clues to Exile Island, which she had done.
Chet, why did you leave the way you did?
Chet: I was given the ultimatum that if I was not voted off, I was going to be pulled from the game for medical reasons. I did not want to just disappear from the game, and that’s exactly what would have happened. Producers don’t pull you for medical reasons, the doctors do. I didn’t have an option at that point. As far as blindsiding Ozzy, that came at me after I got back from Exile Island. Basically, I got back that afternoon and it was brought to my attention. By that point a lot of stuff had already gone into play, and I knew I had to go out that night.
Why didn’t you play through tribal council and get Ozzy voted off, and then get pulled for medical reasons?
Chet: (testily) Because, like I just said, I didn’t want to disappear from the game. I wanted to go off where people knew where I went.
What did you think of that reward challenge?
Chet: It was so fast. It wasn’t as bad physically as it looked. The first time we went through, I asked Joel to say “over” “under” or “through” and I would follow him – which he did, and I followed him and we did well. The second time we went through it was a tiebreaker, and Joel had it in his head that to win is all that matters, and all he would tell me was, “Come on!” I felt like I was tied to a Mack truck and dragged through the forest. That could have lost the challenge for us.
The editing showed a lot of you sitting in the water and not working at challenges.
Chet: That was not an honest portrayal. Tracy, Kathy and I were the ones who had the intelligence to build a shelter. We were the ones who were constantly getting all the water and bringing it back because we knew people had to be hydrated. For some reason people didn’t think water was that important. There was a lot that went on that way. (angrily) Of course when you’re looking for fish or clams you have to go in the frickin’ water. And that’s when they would use those shots. No, that was totally an inaccurate portrayal, and when the time comes and you interview other people down the road, they’re going to confirm that for you.
Are you angry about that portrayal?
Chet: I’m not angry, that’s up to them. They did the same to other people as well. There’s so much that goes on, such a long period of time that they have to edit down to 45 minutes. A sentence can change its meaning by taking out the beginning and ending word. A lot of times, that’s what’s done.
The image of you isn’t a very positive one. What do you think of that?
Chet: I thought I looked kind of hot out there for a while, I don’t know. I don’t know about you.
Do you feel like you represent gay males?
Chet: How’d you know I was gay? Do you feel that Jonathan being a heterosexual represents every heterosexual man out there? I went on Survivor as Chet, I didn’t go on Survivor as “Homosexual Chet” which is how Kathy referred to me – which I loved her for doing that. I just went on as Chet who happened to be gay. If that’s what it turned out to be, that’s fine, but that wasn’t my intention. It was my dream to go on Survivor. I’m one of the few fortunate people in the world to have that ultimate dream come true. So no, I didn’t go there to represent the gay community.
Jonathan: I went out there to represent the gay community.
Chet: He did. Jonathan did, and he was wonderful.
Jonathan: I’m a Jew, I can represent anybody. I’m a fan of the show – they didn’t call me a fan. Let’s be honest. It’s not a fair question to Chet, I don’t think. Did I represent the guys with two legs and a penis that hangs to the left? Does that mean I’m –
Chet: A long way to the left.
Jonathan: Thank you very much. What I’m saying is that it’s a ridiculous question. If he’d won, if he didn’t win, who the hell cares? Aren’t we past all that at this point in 2008? Of course he represented gay people, of course he represented all people.
What are your thoughts on the couples?
Jonathan: Chet and I were never shown. This is part of the editing process. Those bastards, they thought it was going to freak out America to have a quote heterosexual guy and a quote homosexual guy clinching up. But if you’re talking about those younger heterosexual couples…yes, it was shocking to me. Then again, I’m a relatively old happily married guy, and the idea of sleeping with someone I met two days ago – yeah, when I was twenty-something that was extraordinarily appealing, but maybe not anymore. If your hormones are going, and you’re hooking up with somebody hot, you convince yourself that you’re not making much noise – you’re like, “We’re being quiet,” right? When the last thing you would hear would be the other people going, “Ahem, sleeping here!” three feet away from you. I thought it was absolutely insane that they were doing this but obviously they didn’t think they were making any noise.
Chet: I was afraid to sleep downhill from them for what was going to run my way.
Jonathan: Listen, it obviously wasn’t such a bad idea, at least relative to way the game is sitting right now. They made themselves incredibly strong foursome, and they locked themselves into each other, but that is a big part of what the early to mid game of Survivor is about. You really need to have a tight, tight set of allies, and you need to have some luck, and you need to win some challenges. If you have those three things, you’ll probably go pretty far. They were able to flip Cirie, which is not easy to do – to being a lesbian, and she had a great time! No, they were able to flip her because she wanted to get rid of Yau-Man who she thought was betraying her and backstabbing her. (laughing) We’re having too much fun here.
What was your impression of the other tribe?
Jonathan: We from the Favorites had no idea what the hell was going on. We couldn’t figure out why they were voting the way they were voting, what the dynamic was, who was running the show there, and it seems like nobody was. They were at a tremendous disadvantage because we had this year’s worth of experience between the ten of us. So we hit the beach and had fire within a day. Yau-Man used his glasses. I wasn’t there, and I came back and there was fire going. It was incredible – we found a cave! We built two shelters before we found the cave. Blah, blah. So we were rested, we were fed, whereas they weren’t. And it sounds like from what Chet’s saying that two hours on the beach, they were saying, “Okay, you’re the old folks. One of you is going first. You decide which one it’s going to be.” This is not how you win the game of Survivor. They may be fans, but we would literally come back to our beach and say, “Fans of what? They watched three episodes and they called themselves fans?” Anyone who had really watched the show would not have conducted themselves that way, I believe.
Chet: I agree. I was on that tribe and I didn’t know what the hell was going on. They never bothered to find out anything about any one of us – what our abilities were, what our negativities were. They just decided right away who was going to go. I think they were so caught up into Survivor and in their mind Survivor was only who was getting voted out. Not who was going to live and stay on. We won the flint in the first day, but we never had fire because they wore the flint down to the point where there was no flint left. (Jonathan laughing) We still didn’t have a fire. It took them four days to build a floor to the shelter. They didn’t realize a floor will keep you dry – a floor goes underneath you. So Tracy, Kathy and I built the shelter, which they turned into, “We pulled ourselves from the tribe.”
Jonathan: Tell them what you were telling me about the machete and the water and the insanity that was going on over there.
Chet: They would sometimes hide the machete so people couldn’t use it. Certain people were like the machete police – if they didn’t see it in their vision all the time they wondered who had the machete. The water – Tracy, Kathy or I would get it together or go separately because we had to get away from that group sometimes. It wasn’t necessarily Joel or any one group. Natalie and Alexis were not involved in that whatsoever. They may have been with their alliances but they weren’t the ones who were openly doing it. Jason, Mikey B, Joel to an extent. People were afraid of Joel. For God’s sakes, look at him! (Jonathan laughing) Whatever he said, people thought that was the way it had to go. But if people had just opened up their minds, and watched what was going on. It’s like when I coach my pageant girls, I say you can tell who wins the pageant if you sit back and watch the pageant. You can tell who’s going to win. And they would not sit back and watch the game.
What do you think of Joel?
Chet: I like Joel. Obviously, you appreciate his brute strength. That’s very obvious. Anything that I could have substituted out a work horse out for, he was great. A lot of challenges, if it involved a brute strength challenge, he was okay in it. If it involved something where he had to move, obviously I wasn’t the greatest person out there, but you know what? I can throw coconuts in a basket. I can probably break a plate with a rock whereas he – even Cirie said, “For as big as he is you’d think he would hit something.” And he didn’t. I don’t have anything against him. He’s a nice guy, but I think there were a lot of problems there. And it turned out that everybody with this brute strength were getting into these mind games, and they all thought I was the one to go, but it turns out I outlasted them.
Chet, where do you think it went wrong for you on the show?
I don't think it did go wrong. You know what? I think you're the first person to ask me that. I think a lot of things went right. I think a lot of people came into play to help me. Obviously if you want to consider having coral embedded in your foot, and having to have it surgically removed—that went wrong for me. But as far as actual game plan, nothing!
The reason I ask that is, from the editing, we really saw a negative side of you. Was that hard to watch?
You know what? I wouldn't say it was a negative side. I never went there as this physically active athlete, and I knew that, and I think everybody knew that; and if anybody expected anything different from that, then that was basically their own ignorance. I went there to play the game, I had to change my game plan, but I wouldn't say that anything went wrong, or that I was portrayed negatively. In some things I think I was not portrayed correctly, or myself Tracy and Kathy were not portrayed correctly.
There were a lot of interviews with other contestants where they were complaining about you. That would have been hard for me to watch.
Oh, no, it wasn't. I brought this up with Jeff Probst at Tribal Council because he could not grasp the fact that I was still there. The fact that in Survivor, the people who were praised for their athletic ability, their agility, their sports-mindedness, their bodies—those people went before me. So maybe it came down to who read the Survior manual a little bit closer, and it may have been me. Because I'm the one who was still sitting there as they went walking off with their torches snuffed, and that is the game of Survivor. I did not go there to make friends. Fortunately I made a lot of good friends, and I made a couple of friends for life, and will stick together with each other, and I'm proud to say that. You know, I don't care what people say about me. People have said things about me all my life. I've been very successful in pageants, where you get a lot of negativity; I grew up gay all my life, which I've received a lot of negativity from some people over—but you know, that's their problem not mine. That just shows their ignorance.
If it was just a game of physical strength, then I'd enter a draft horse! I guarantee that the person who wins this game, and I have absolutely no idea who it is at this time, is not going to be a muscle builder. These people are always the ones to go first, and these people could not grasp that. It may be someone who you would not even suspect could win. If you think back to all the Survivors, it's never an obvious winner.
Joel really screamed at you in some of those competitions. But he said he talked to you and you guys were all cool. What's your take on all that?
Joel and I are fine now. Joel's a good guy, he's a very family-oriented man; he's a great fireman in his community. We did get to know each other better after the show. We talked this week over the challenge in last week's show, and so many people were in an uproar over how he treated me. We had an understanding during that challenge. Even the last few words, where I hit my head, and it sounded like he said "I don't care"—it wasn't how it looked. The fact was just Joel was so driven to win, that that's all that he cared about. And it didn't bother me, and we talked later about that. Would I ever want to be harnessed to him again, I think not. (both laugh) And I think he would probably say the same thing. Joel's okay, he's a good guy. I kind of think at times we'd look out for each other.
I'm really glad to hear that because it was so brutal to watch. And I do wonder, do you think the production went a little too far, considering how many of you got hurt?
There was a lot there that came into play that was out of production's hands. I think the challenge itself was designed correctly by the production team, or the challenge team; whoever does it. But the fact that it rained for a good hour prior to that, and turned everything into a good eight inches of mud that slid off of solid earth as you tried to make any turn or get any footing whatsoever—that's where the elements came into play, and just made that game that much more difficult. Production did not bring on the rain that day.
Thank you to CBS for letting us talk to both Chet and Jonathan!