HitFix Interview: James ‘Jimmy T’ Tarantino talks ‘Survivor: Nicaragua’

10.08.10 7 years ago


Jimmy Tarantino never had a chance.
If you ask Unquestioned Tribal Leader Marty and his Espada Alliance, Jimmy T was voted out during Wednesday (Oct. 6) night’s episode of “Survivor: Nicaragua” because he had a negative effect on tribe chemistry, with his persistent requests to be put in a leadership role and his persistent complaints at being improperly utilized.
If you ask Jimmy T, he was voted out on Wednesday for daring to question why a struggling tribe was refusing to mix up the status quo and let other people — mostly Jimmy T — show what they could do.
HitFix spoke with Jimmy T on Thursday and tried to get to the bottom of his rivalry with Jimmy Johnson, plus his sense of being under-appreciated by his “Survivor” peers.
Click through for the full interview…
HitFix: Last night’s episode ended up being fairly sad in the end, as you realized that if you’d just played it quieter and stopped talking, you’d have been safe. Why couldn’t you stop yourself earlier, do you think?
Jimmy Tarantino: Well Dan, I want you to put yourself on that same bus that I was on, heading for the cliff. Do you sit back in your seat and let Marty drive it off or do you try to grab the wheel, or at least try to tell the other people on the bus, “Hey! We’re going off a cliff! Let’s change the course!”? I’m always one that’s gonna step up and try to turn the wheel.
HitFix: But how about earlier than that? Previous days or weeks?
JT: It’s the same basic scenario. I knew that the tribe was being mislead and I genuinely wanted to try to help put us on the right course. In hindsight, if you don’t buy into the “Jimmy T is an egotist who just wanted more attention” thing — because that’s how a lot of people  will perceive it — but if you go back and watch it, everything I said had merit. If they’d put me in earlier on that beanbag toss, we’d have won that challenge. They didn’t show the 30 or 40 misses that Tyrone made. They just showed it as me crying for court-time, but the fact is, I would have won that challenge if I’d been given an opportunity. And because of my hard work around camp, they knew what value I had, particularly Marty, Tyrone and Jimmy, if they allowed me to lead and succeed, they become more vulnerable and they weren’t about to let that happen. Marty is a very good boardroom conductor. 
HitFix: You mentioned the contrast between the things we saw and the things we didn’t see, what else did we not see that you’d want people to know about?
JT: Me building the shelter and keeping everybody sheltered. The fact that when everybody was shivering helplessly in that cold, rainy night, when I tried to sing and provide distraction for them and try to give them some comfort and distraction from their suffering. There were people who might have packed it in. If I had done the the smart thing — and believe me, when I play again, I’m gonna play with my head and not my heart — but had I done the Marty thing, I’d have sat back and let a couple people bug out of the game and freak out, because they were on the verge of breaking down as a tribe. And I literally, honestly, genuinely wanted to keep the tribe strong.
HitFix: We didn’t see you trying to make any alliances. Was that something you were doing and it just didn’t make it into episodes?
JT: Yes. Early in the game, the Wendy-Holly alliance that was in the first three seconds of the game, they immediately came to me because they recognized me as an honest person. That alliance started to take place, but Wendy got shot down before that could really materialize into a real alliance. I also had an early alliance with Jill, but she became smitten and fell under Marty’s spell and as you saw in several episodes, she’d give him the Idol, give him her vote, she would express an opinion and he would shoot it down and she’d do what she was told. She really fell under Marty’s spell, so I lost that alliance also. That all leads to the frustration and me trying to speak up and say, “Guys, what are you doing? We’re losing, losing, losing. Let’s try something different. Give me one shot.” And everybody was perceiving that as me being the egotistical, needly guy, but I was genuinely looking out for the tribe.
HitFix: Were you a “Survivor” fan before this?
JT: I had caught it and been intrigued with it. I’m not a TV guy, because I have a very busy social life… so I’m not really a TV guy, but the couple times I caught it, I loved it. Then when my sister told me to apply for it, I said, “That’s a good idea” and I went for it and then I studied 10 seasons. So I became a huge “Survivor” fan very quickly.
HitFix: Did you have a strategy going in? And then how did that strategy change when Jeff Probst announced the age twist?
JT: Yeah, I definitely had a strategy going in. I knew that I should slow-play and be quiet. I’ll use that poker analogy now. But as soon as I got in the game,  they do a great job of putting the pressure on and building you up, so when you do get in the game, everybody hits the ground running, because they want reaction. So where my strategy went wrong, like I said, I played with my heart. Instead of slow-playing, I immediately went all-in, because once you’re deprived of food and sleep, you just come down to your core being and my core being was, “I’m gonna show them what a hard worker I am and how I can do everything for this tribe and help sustain it.” So I built the shelter and provided food. You didn’t see any of that. Because I was keeping the fire going every night, I slept probably six or seven hours that first week, so that broke me down physically and mentally. That was a mistake. The one thing I definitely learned is don’t play with your heart. Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. Just play with your head and slow-play a little bit. I didn’t do that, because my 49 years has taught me, “Listen, if you’re a sincere, hard-working, genuine, caring individual, you’re gonna go far in life.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply in “Survivor.”
HitFix: What do you think having a celebrity like Jimmy Johnson did to the strategy of a traditional game of “Survivor”?
JT: What did it do to the traditional strategy of the game of “Survivor”? I don’t know. I think more and more “Survivor” leaning towards, I think the show shows the drama of the social game and that’s a shame, because there’s no longer any value in what I was strong at, like building the shelter and providing the food, being the outdoorsman. All of that stuff hurts you in the social game. For example, there were a couple people who couldn’t keep the fire going. They would lay all the sticks on the fire and smother it. So I would come over and go, “Hey, let me help you out. What you want to do is put it like this so the air gets in there…” And as you’re explaining and trying to sincerely help the people, they’re looking around and saying, “Who’s watching me be weak right now? I can’t believe he’s doing this in front of everybody.” The more you help the people, the more they resent you for it, because it makes them feel needy. It’s a very strange world in “Survivor.”
HitFix: But what do you thinking having Jimmy Johnson and people being star-struck by him did to the game in the days you were there?
JT: There was definitely star-struckness. People even said, Yve said, “I’m totally star-struck with him.” That actually helped Marty’s plan. Marty’s very clever. He would be able to tell Jimmy, “Jimmy, we should do this. What do you think?” And Jimmy would said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” And Marty would let Jimmy lead and give the speech and be the target guy, while he was pulling the strings. Jimmy Johnson helped Marty’s game. I don’t know if he essentially changed the way the game was played. I’m sorry if that’s not the right answer, but that’s how I feel.
HitFix: It just seemed as if people got very fixated on him, early on. Do you think that maybe if you hadn’t been so fixated on him, you would have seen what Marty was doing behind the scenes?
JT: No, I don’t think that. I knew what Marty was doing. I figured it out and that’s why I started trying to provide a little opposition, because I didn’t want to get misled like everybody else, lambs going to the slaughter. So that wasn’t a distraction for me.
HitFix: So there wasn’t any pride you took at least in Jimmy Johnson going out before you?
JT: I don’t take pride in Jimmy Johnson going out before me. I’m very bothered by the fact that I went out so early. It doesn’t matter to me. Again, I was not star-struck by Jimmy Johnson. It seems to me like you want me to say that he had a major effect on me. He didn’t. Sorry. It didn’t matter to me who went out ahead of me. I went out way too early and that’s partly my own fault for playing all-in like that. That’s my fault and I take full responsibility.
HitFix: Do you think your game would have played out differently if the tribes hadn’t been divided by age and you’d been playing with some of the kids?
JT: I’d like to think so. I did hear a lot of positive stuff when Jeff asked the tribes when we first got split, “What do you think of the opposing tribe?” A couple of the kids mentioned that they thought I would be a solid player. They knew I was big and strong. They had seen me around and knew that I appeared to be an outdoorsy guy, so I think I probably got a little more respect from the younger kids than I did from the older people. I think the older people were probably a little more threatened by me.
HitFix: And one of the things you kept wanting to tell your tribemates was about your leadership in the real world. They didn’t want to listen, but I will. Go ahead…
JT: It’s not so much just about my leadership experience, but more about what I should have told them was, “Can’t you see that…” Marty was very self-serving. He didn’t really care about the good of the tribe and I think they’ll see that as the game progresses, I hope. So about my leadership? As a seafood inspector for the department of commerce, I regularly go into seafood facilities and help them perfect their process on how to run their system better. I definitely think that the leadership that was there, they weren’t interested in learning the system, they were just self-serving. 

The full season of “Survivor: Nicaragua” Exit Interviews:



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