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Name: Jeff Varner
Season: “Survivor: The Australian Outback”
Finish: Tenth Place
Why You Should Remember Him: Jeff was eliminated from the game because of the old rule where tie votes are broken based on the amount of previous votes that were cast against the tied players.
Gordon Holmes: Now I hear you have a medical concern already?
Jeff Varner: I have COPD. I was diagnosed about six years ago. It’s never been an issue for me. Living at home I had one attack that sent me to a doctor. But, I never need the inhaler. I have no reason to use it. I run, I exercise. The second I got off the plane here and I couldn’t breathe. It’s so thick here with the heat and the humidity. It’s changed my voice, it’s a little raspier. Walking from one end of the camp to the other is a nightmare. Probst was concerned. Sort of on the D.L. he had a doctor walk me around the back. We went way back into the woods. He jogged with me on the beach and made me do all these tests. I thought he was going to pull me out. But when you can’t breathe a lot of other things happen. There’s this claustrophobia thing that settles in, it’s a panic attack kind of thing. I’ve had a couple of those this week.
Holmes: Where does it stand now?
Varner: The doctors cleared me. And Jeff thinks I can. I have to figure out the best way to use this to my advantage.
Holmes: Hopefully this long pre-game will give you a chance to get used to the weather.
Varner: Right. Oh, and another (expletive deleted) thing that happened is I fell in the bathtub when I first landed and dislocated my shoulder. Popped it back in myself. So, for the first four days here I couldn’t do anything. We’re doing swimming tests and everybody is watching. I’m pretending like I’m OK.
Holmes: What the hell, Jeff?
Varner: I know! I can’t breathe, I had the flu before I left. I had a 102 temperature. I did my prep and shopping and everything the day before I got on the plane.
Holmes: So, you’re allowed to have your inhaler in the game?
Varner: I am allowed to have that in the game. They’ve cleared that.
Holmes: How do you play that? Day one, you just tell everyone it won’t be an issue?
Varner: I don’t know. This group is looking for every little thing.
Holmes: Any reason to send someone home.
Varner: And so much is going on out there on that porch already.
Holmes: Speaking of…who’s winking at each other?
Varner: It’s almost become who’s not at this point. You can tell who the better players are by the ones who are completely stone-faced. But, there’s a lot going on. My alliance had a conference call before we left in case we got separated. Who are the early targets? Who do we lean toward? And, we’re all here but one, which is good.
Holmes: Mr. Coy. Who are we talking about?
Varner: Terry Dietz and Wiglesworth and Shane. So having him left behind sucks. Seeing his face is burned into my head. But, because we did all the legwork before that, I feel pretty prepared. And Kelly and I seem to be…we’re passing each other at the right times. She’ll say something and it’s exactly what I’m thinking. We were bringing Vytas in at the last minute. So, he’s on board. He knows to come to me and Kelly as soon as we hit the beach. Although we’ve not had a conversation this connects me to Ciera, which connects me to Monica, because of Ciera’s mother.
Holmes: It’s like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
Varner: Oh yeah, I’m sitting here doing all of this in my mind. We have that Cagayan four, they’re the target. It’s Spencer, Kass, Tasha, and Woo. They’re the only show here with four people. That’s a voting block right out of the gate. They find three other people? We’re (expletive deleted). So, it’s about capitalizing on that out of the gate.
Holmes: Bad news for the Cagayaners.
Varner: Kass is trying her damnedest to make us think that Spencer, Tasha, and Woo hate her. But, I’m sitting here watching them all smiling at each other. You don’t do that with someone you hate. And Tasha is hogging everything. She’s a hammock hog. Watch her spread out on the only place we have to lay down. She’s doing it now.
Holmes: There are quite a few San Juan del Surians here as well.
Varner: Well, I’m tight with Kelley Wentworth, which nobody knows.
Holmes: Holy crap.
Varner: Why would anyone suspect that? Why would I know her? She and I have been communicating for months and she’s hooking me up with Jeremy. I feel good with that group. I feel good with the “Blood vs. Water” group. The singles here are assets. Tremendous assets. Stephen, Peih-Gee, Abi-Maria…already. We’ve already connected. I feel like I’m set up really well.
Holmes: Everyone’s probably thinking, “Oh, Jeff and Kimmi!”
Varner: No. I’m playing that up. Kimmi’s one of my best friends out here. We’ve also talked. And my group out here they don’t know that I’m talking to other people. That’s my strategy. I’m not going to be a challenge champion.
Holmes: Especially with your bathtub gymnastics act.
Varner: (Laughs) I’m a (expletive deleted) nightmare. Sandra (Diaz-Twine) won this game without doing anything physical. So, I called her before I left because I knew I’m not in the shape these people are. And she just rattled off things and I wrote page after page. I think I have my hands in enough pies that it doesn’t matter how well I do in challenges.
Holmes: It’s been fifteen some years since you played. What do you think the other players will remember about Jeff Varner’s time in the game?
Varner: I don’t know. People love me and people hate me. I never understood that. I felt I played an honest game. I think I was a little beyond my time, maybe. “Survivor 2” was very survivalist and I was very strategic. People weren’t playing with me the way I needed them to. Starting the fight with Kimmi and Alicia (Calaway) was one of the things that I did. Gagging at Tina (Wesson) to get her to throw up. These ballsy things that nobody else had the guts to do. This group here? Eats, sleeps, and breathes like me. And I like that I’m being called up for pictures last. We’ll be out there and they’ll be like “Vytas over here, Joe lean down, guy in the blue do this…” It’s a sign to me that these people don’t know who I am. I’m sure they do, but fifteen years is a long time.
Holmes: I was pleasantly surprised that the fans voted you in. I was worried that recency bias was going to leave people like you and Fishbach on the sidelines.
Varner: It changes everything. I can’t jump off a pole for peanut butter because I’m not just letting myself down, I’m letting millions of people down. And that’s heavy.
Holmes: So, you feel the weight of the fans expectations?
Varner: Oh yeah.
Holmes: I never thought of it that way. Once the vote ended, I figured it’d be “Survivor” as usual. Almost two halves to the season.
Varner: When we had our first interview with CBS yesterday, they actually tapped into that. I cried. I’m a (expletive deleted). I don’t know where it came from. But there’s something there and it’s deep. And it’s going to get me far.
Holmes: “Survivor” has changed a bit in fifteen years. Are you on top of all the twists and whatnot?
Varner: Yeah, I’m not a Spencer who could probably rattle off the color of everybody’s underwear.
Holmes: Me neither. This is my job and I have to jump onto Wikipedia every couple of minutes to double check things.
Varner: I’m not that dude. I was for a minute. But, life goes on.
Holmes: Any guesses on twists for this season if there are any?
Varner: I think out of the gate whatever Jeff can do to break up pre-game alliances will be done. Kass is whispering around to everyone, “Double elimination off of the bat. Then we’re breaking into three tribes.” I don’t know if it’s the island talking to her or how she knows this. Maybe she overheard something. That’s her collateral. I don’t trust her as far as I can spit. And I’ve been reading a book on body language so I can understand people. Kass, there’s a whole chapter on people who have no body language. They’re liars, perfect liars. They believe their own (expletive deleted). If your feet don’t do anything, if you don’t do anything with your hands? Kass just sits there perfectly. There’s nothing there. Every word out of her (expletive deleted) mouth is a lie.
Holmes: You need to stick around for a long time. Win the whole thing if you can.
Varner: I’ll do my best. Spencer is a textbook everything. When you defy gravity, when your feet come off the ground and your toes point to the sky, you’re extremely confident. That’s all he does. He takes up a lot of territory, which means, “I own this place.” A lot of crotch framing which is, “I’m the boss.” He thinks he’s got this (expletive deleted) down pat.
Holmes: Alright, we’re going to play “Align or Malign.” In my hand I have nineteen cards featuring your competitors. You’ll go through them and tell me who you’ll align with and who you’ll malign. Trick is, you only get eight aligns.
Varner: I only get eight?!
Holmes: That’s the deal.
Holmes: Because if you got nineteen aligns you might be tempted to say wonderful things about all of these people.
Varner: Wow…I have more than eight.
Holmes: Too bad. The rules are surprisingly strict.
Varner: Kelly Wiglesworth is an align. She’s a good soul, she’s at peace. She’s from my hometown. We have a lot in common. We go way back in the “Survivor” franchise. I can tell by the look on her face that she thinks this pre-game (expletive deleted) is as much (expletive deleted) as I do. She’s a challenge champion.
Varner: People are going to target Joe which is going to protect her. He’s the shield for her. He’s also a lot like her. He’s very feeling, emotional, sweet. He’s communicating to me here, non-verbally, in a way that makes me very comfortable with him. Align.
Varner: Same with Vytas. I can tell Vytas I have COPD. Align.
Varner: Ciera, the other day I had a panic attack because I couldn’t breathe. She wouldn’t give me the time of day. Wouldn’t make eye contact. The second she sensed something was wrong her hand went on my knee and she started comforting me. I like that. Align.
Varner: Kelley Wentworth…align. We’ll go far in this game together and nobody will see it coming. She’s the coolest chick of the group. Her sense of humor is randy. She’s a nasty little girl and I love it.
Varner: Terry…very loyal. He’s going to stick with me. I know that he and Vytas are together. I know that he and Kelly are together. Align.
Varner: Abi-Maria…align. You need your bitch in the group, she is out of control. She’s flipping around. She’s hysterical here. She’s a shield for me. I can be a little bitchy.
Varner: Shirin…align. She went through a lot in her last season. She overcame a personal obstacle and I feel like that is going to be my experience in this show. So, that’s going to bond us together.
Varner: Kass is a (expletive deleted) liar. She’s a strategist. She thinks she’s got it down. She’s making eye contact with everyone. She’s trying her best. That says desperation. Malign. She’s already shown everyone that she’ll make an alliance out in the woods and then come out and tell everyone.
Varner: Spencer…malign. He’s the winner of this game if you don’t get rid of him quick.
Varner: Woo…malign. I don’t even know why he’s here. My niece looked at him and said, “Why is Michelle Kwan running for ‘Survivor’?” Nice guy. He’s not these people. He’s his own thing. I just don’t think he should be here. I find him boring.
Varner: Andrew I like a lot. But he’s desperate because he doesn’t know anybody here. He’s not in anybody’s group. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is desperately looking for someone to align with. You’re making me malign him.
Varner: Monica keeps making eye contact with me like her body is something that is going to turn me on. She’s working it. I love how she’s trying to play me. I trust her…I think. You’re making me malign her, too.
Holmes: I’m the worst.
Varner: Kimmi has had a rough life. Her husband screwed her over. She’s had financial trouble. Her kids are sick. I want her to go as far as she can and I want to help her, but I’m not going to jeopardize my game to do it. Malign.
Varner: Jeremy’s body is sick. He’s in great shape. We’re going to get along well. But, malign.
Varner: Keith is an awesome dude. But, the very first night we were chosen, he came up on stage and I said, “Another old man!” He was offended by that, I could tell. Right off the bat I pissed him off. Malign.
Varner: Stephen knows everybody, knows everything. I also think he’s arrogant. He’s named an award after himself and gives it to people, who does that? Malign.
Varner: Peih-Gee…I think we’d work together well, but I think she’s hard to read. And she seems clumsy and oaf-y, sticking her foot in her mouth already. Malign.
Varner: Tasha is the biggest threat in this game. She’s mean. There’s a mean sort of thing coming off of her. Mean like “I’m going to kick your ass,” mean. There’s an energy coming off of her that I don’t want to align with.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes
“Survivor: Second Chance” will kick off with a special 90-minute premiere on Wednesday, September 23rd at 8 p.m. ET.