Russell Hantz is a fascinating “Survivor” character. He’ll stab someone in the back and smile as he does it. If you hate him for it, he doesn’t care. If you love him for it, he doesn’t care. As long as it gets him closer to his goal of being known as the “Michael Jordan of ‘Survivor,’” he’ll do it.
On the opposite end of that spectrum is Benjamin “Coach” Wade. Despite what you may think of his game play, he always thinks he is doing the right thing to uphold his integrity and honor.
I spoke with Coach the morning after he was voted out and got the opposite of what I expected. Usually when I talk to Coach we discuss the game and enjoy some lighthearted banter about the amusing way he is portrayed on the show. This time however, after we discussed Boston Rob, Russell, and the actual game, he opened up about how difficult his appearance on “Survivor: Tocantins” has made aspects of his life, and how he hopes appearing on “Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains” will help change the public’s perception of him.
Gordon Holmes: There seemed to be some back and forth over Russell’s vote last night. In the end, he voted for Courtney. Do you think he was still on your side, or was that vote meant to sway your jury vote?
Benjamin “Coach” Wade: I think Russell was just playing for my vote on the jury. After watching the episode last night I think that he really wanted me out, and once he started that ball rolling he couldn’t stop it. I think a heart-to-heart talk we had made him realize that he should stay truthful, and maybe he went back, but at that point the damage had been done.
Gordon: Your farewell confessional was cut off somehow by the CBS feed, which is a shame because it seemed like you had something colorful to say about your former teammates.
Coach: Isn’t that a travesty? I think on every cable it was. After I saw that I laughed out loud. I had said, “I hope they’re all wiped off the face of the planet.” (Laughs) It was pretty funny. I think I was upset because I was blindsided and I thought there was no need for it. That day Courtney and Sandra had come up to me and said, “Let’s vote Russell off.” And even though I was grieving for Rob and I was grieving for Tyson, I really felt like I could not betray the new alliance. I don’t know if you caught it, but during the episode I was calling it the Forced Alliance of Five, the Forced Five. I didn’t want to be in that alliance, but I wanted to be true to my word. That’s why I was ticked. I was true to my word even though I didn’t want to be.
Gordon: People seem to be loving this season, but I’m finding it to be a bit of a disappointment. I think the best seasons of “Survivor” require some quality nicknames and poetry.
Coach: I went down there prepared. I actually had nicknames based on Arthurian legend for every person in the game from Sugar to James to myself. I really wanted to up my game because I had such a hard act to follow from the first time around with the Dragon Slayer. I had all the stuff I wanted to do. So unfortunately you didn’t get to hear the nicknames of Sir Galahad, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, and the Lady of the Lake. I knew I wouldn’t be the best strategist, I know that I’m not conniving, my mind doesn’t think in those dishonest ways. I just wanted to bring something that I can bring which is creativity and a little bit of fantasy.
Gordon: Last week I spoke with Boston Rob and he felt that your vote for Courtney was taking the easy way out. Do you disagree?
Coach: It was something I agonized over. Russell was bullying me, so to speak. Rob was sweating me. I had two girls on each side trying to get me to jump to their side. When Jerri jumped it made it impossible for me vote for Russell because it would have been a four-to-four tie and we would have had to draw rocks, and there was a chance that I may have gone home. Not a way to leave the game. So with that going around in my head, I started going on a quest to vote out the weakest player. I saw with Tyson gone that it would be a downward spiral. I made that plea, literally begging the two powers, Rob and Russell, to meet in the middle. It could be construed that I threw my vote away, but I didn’t, I made an impassioned plea for the tribe to be intact. And it wasn’t a subtle, minced words kind of way.
Gordon: After Rob was voted out, he gave you a hard time. He wouldn’t hug you and he called you a “Little man.” Did that stick with you at all?
Coach: It makes me think of a quote, and it’s not a slam at Rob, he just wanted to exact some revenge. I remember Jacinto Benavente said, “You meet the warrior when in battle, but it is not until victory that you meet the gentleman.” My exit, both times, very chivalrous. Even to people who slit my throat, I’d turn around, smile, and say, “The best of luck to you and it’s been an honor playing this game.” I think that it was sad that Rob did that because I fought for him all day long and someone like Jerri who votes for him gets a hug. It didn’t seem fair, didn’t seem just. I think it reflected more on his character than it does mine.
Gordon: Now that you’ve had the opportunity to see the full spectrum of Russell’s abilities between “Survivor: Samoa” and “Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains” what are your thoughts on his game play?
Coach: I definitely respect the way he plays the game. I think he’s a ferocious player. Constant energy, constant motion. He was someone who was in it to win it. I think that he is a very good player. He brings an element; I bring a poetic element, he brings a vicious element and it’s what makes the game great. It’s the cast of characters and the variety that really makes the show interesting. As much as I’d love to be sour grapes, I’ve got to respect how he played the game.
Gordon: Earlier in the season you seemed very upset about some comments Sandra had made at tribal council. Afterward, you had a heart-to-heart with Tyson (and it was very nice to see that side of Tyson) where you seemed to have some doubts about playing the game. My question is, were you seriously considering quitting the game at that point?
Coach: I never was considering leaving. But, just to give you a little more detail as to what was going on, last year the things that I hold dear to me, my honor and integrity, really took a beating. If you search for “Coach Wade” on the Internet, the first things that come up are “Crackpot, crook, and liar.” And I’m none of those. I lost my job and even some of the people in the inner circle of my friends would ask, “Is this really you?” So, I faced a lot of adversity. My parents stopped watching the show; it drove a wedge between my parents and I. And I went through a very tough time in my life. I talked about that in my exit interview last year.
Gordon: Did you make an attempt to change your image during “Heroes Vs. Villains?”
Coach: For my second time back I really wanted to change that, I really wanted to go out for redemption. So, when Sandra made that comment and Jeff smirked at me and rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, Coach is going to be the leader again,” in that split second I grieved for the first season and everything that had happened in my life. You don’t spend 13 years as a college soccer coach and have it taken away, literally over night, and not have some type of emotional damage done by that. But at the same time I thought, no matter how hard I try, I’m such a polarizing character that they’re going to cast me in the same light and it doesn’t matter how much good I do out here, or how well I do in the challenges, they’re just going to paint me as a jerk. Which, they didn’t. But at that point I thought they were going to do that. And so I came back to the tribe and I was really having a pity party. I was actually doing that to kind of wake up the producers. Because it started out with me cussing out the cameramen and the producer who was on site. They were in Brazil, and they know all the good I did, and they know all the one-on-one counseling I did, and they know that I didn’t eat any food because I wanted to keep the tribe strong, and none of that made the edit. I said “You guys know what you’ve done to me, and screw you guys.” I was pissed at first and then it became emotional. There were just all kinds of emotions that went into it, and it was raw and it was real.
Gordon: Did Tyson’s talk help pull you out of that?
Coach: Tyson talking to me, I’ve always known that side of Tyson, and that’s why I love him like a brother. It was really great for him to say that, because he was like, “Wake up, you are different.” Even though he was telling me to conform, I thought I’m not going to conform for anybody. I am an individual; God has created me as such, and let’s rock and roll the rest of this game. No matter what happens I’m going to be the warrior that I set out to be.
Gordon: Do you feel better about how you were portrayed in “Heroes Vs. Villains?”
Coach: I think I’ve found redemption. So to answer you, yes.