In the game of Survivor, the moment you’re comfortable you get the boot. J.T. Thomas is just the latest castaway to fall victim to cockiness.
Following a shocking tribal council, which sent pal Malcolm Freberg home, Thomas, knowing he was on the outs, desperately searched for an immunity idol on the Wednesday, March 29, episode. Mission accomplished.
Except not. Assuming his tribe was voting out Michaela Bradshaw, the Alabama native didn’t play his safety net. In fact, he didn’t even bring it with him to tribal.
“On [season 20] Heroes and Villains, I learned one thing and that’s finding an idol is great until people know you have it,” he tells Us Weekly. “If people catch you, it’s a liability and not an advantage. So when I found it this time, I got to a safe spot up the mountain and hid it. I knew tribal was coming but I was in everyone’s company. I was debating whether to get it or not. It’s obviously a mistake I made. You always want to take it. I play really hard and I play to win and you have to take chances to win.”
Thomas, 31, shares more with Us.
Us Weekly: Why did you think Michaela was going home?
J.T. Thomas: Well, Michaela had been disturbing the entire camp. It was a ruckus. In challenges, we had to please Michaela first and then figure out from there what we had to do to win. It was a nuisance for the entire tribe. To me, it was really a no-brainer. I actually talked to Sandra [Diaz–Twine] and [Jeff] Varner. They didn’t show it on the episode. I gave my case. At this point in the game, I had slept at camp with everyone in the entire game except Hali [Ford] and Troyzan [Robertson]. I had way more connections than anyone else. For an outnumbered tribe like that, the best chance they had at the merge was to work with someone who had numbers. Michaela had nothing to offer except a big old headache. I didn’t think Sandra was playing the payback game. But she was on her high horse. I based my decision on how I thought she would play and it just didn’t work out for me.
Us: Let’s go back to her getting payback for Malcolm. Why did you leak your tribe’s plan to Brad Culpepper the previous week?
JTT: I was able to work over Malcolm and Aubry [Bracco] and get them on board with my strategy. But I had to get a fourth person to get rid of someone in our tribe. The only opportunity I was going to get to do that was at that tribal. I felt like Culpepper and I were devoted to each other pretty early in the game and we planned on sticking it out to the end. It was an opportunity not only to get Sandra out but also take control of my tribe. Culpepper had nothing to lose. It turned out to be a bad move, no doubt. Malcolm was my rock on this tribe. I needed him. It didn’t go my way but you have to take chances.
Us: Malcolm told Us he trusted a “dumb Alabama farmer.” Have you buried the hatchet since the game?
JTT: Yeah, we have. He knows the last thing I wanted to do was to get him out. It broke my heart to see him go. He plays a lot like I do. We give it 110 percent. We put all our heart in the game and we both deserve to be there longer than we were. He’s a great guy and we’ll always be buddies.
Us: Biggest regret?
JTT: Unless I win, I’m always going to have some regrets. I beat myself up but when it’s all said and done, I can’t just sit back and wait for my day to go. I have to try something. I hate that I picked the wrong people to trust. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.
Us: Would you play again?
JTT: There is no way I could ever say no. I’m such a competitor. I was worried going into this season. I’m 8 years older, can I still compete in these challenges? I don’t work out. I don’t run. I just work. You never know what to expect. I think I showed I can still compete just as much as anybody. Surviving is second nature to me. I think I may have gained weight on the show this time. The harder it is, the more extreme, the better my chances are because people start to turn to me. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change much. I was dealt a bad hand.
Survivor airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
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