You can’t accuse Jonas Otsuji of being unaware of the cause for both his “Survivor” undoing and for the way he’s viewed by fans of the CBS competition show.
“I just wish that I didn’t play the Colton’s B**** Game and that I’d sacked up and gone for the big move,” Jonas tells me.
Some audience members do as well.
For the early portion of the game, Jonas seemed like an unassuming, funny and likable player flying under the radar. Then, he became Colton’s B**** and spent several weeks meekly following one of the most disliked players in “Survivor” history, speaking nary a contrary word as Colton Cumbie badgered and bullied his way through a series of power-plays before exiting the game with a bacteria infection.
The original Jonas returned on this week’s episode, in large part because unlike his relationship with Colton, he was willing to stand up to the increasing unsteady man calling himself “Tarzan.” Naturally, because Jonas had no real enemies and everybody kinda liked him and because he used his skills as a sushi chef to make castaway cooking palatable, he was viewed as a threat and was voted out of the game.
In this week’s exit interview, Colton discusses his ties with Colton, the women who brainwashed his alliance and the “Survivor” culinary concoction he’d eat in his everyday life.
HitFix: The Tribal Council we saw on Wednesday was pretty slash-and-burn. Did you hope to accomplish anything or was it just sorta a Hail Mary play?
Jonas Otsuji: It was absolutely a Hail Mary. I figured I had nothing to lose. I already knew they were gonna vote for me, so yeah, I just thought, “What the hell? I’m gonna do anything I can.”
HitFix: Were you surprised by any of the reactions you got? Or was it pretty much what you expected it to be?
Jonas: I pretty much expected it to be that way.
HitFix: Eventually we’re going to reach the “Is that person as crazy as they seemed to be?” portion of the interview… [Jonas laughs]… Tarzan, was he as crazy as he seemed to be?
Jonas: Absolutely. And that’s the mild version that you’re seeing. Half the stuff that he said, you can’t even put on TV.
[After a brief discussion on the other end, it’s agreed that Jonas can’t even say the other half of the stuff in this interview.]
HitFix: How do you handle a situation where you find yourself dropped down on a tropical island and you’re surrounded by multiple crazy people. Was that what you expected from your “Survivor” experience?
Jonas: I knew that that was going to happen. Basically the goal was just, “Bite your tongue and remind yourself that this is for a million dollars and just deal with it.”
HitFix: Is it comparable to any other experience you’ve had in your life?
Jonas: Hmmm… Marriage? In that it’s difficult, but definitely worth it.
HitFix: But you’re a chef and you always hear stories about the craziness of a restaurant kitchen. Does that compare in any way?
Jonas: I think that did help, because as a sushi chef, it’s a very crazy, hectic environment, but you have to appear to be very calm in front of the customers. So that definitely did help me, I think, just kinda being able to be in a crazy situation and appear to be very calm on the outside.
HitFix: Though, in the end, some of that appeared to be sorta your downfall, that people thought you were maybe too level-headed?
Jonas: Yeah and that’s sorta the biggest regret that I have. I just wish that I didn’t play the Colton’s Bitch Game and that I’d sacked up and gone for the big move. Because either way… What I didn’t realize was that flying under the radar was gonna make me a target. Know what I was saying? I just thought that it would be the opposite, that if I made the big moves, I would have seen as a threat and then been on somebody’s radar. Looking back, now that I realize that either way you’re gonna have the chance of being on somebody’s radar, I would rather go out playing the game with balls and going for it, you know?
HitFix: Was the conversation that Troyzan had with you really the first time your eyes were opened to the possibility you were viewed as a threat?
Jonas: No, I had a very strong inclination when we re-merged. That next morning, I had asked Troy and Jay if they wanted to go crabbing with me and we had always gone crabbing together and they both said, “No, I’m good.” So I knew that there was a crack in our alliance and that they had been brainwashed, but there was a part of me that didn’t want to believe that, I guess? So it wasn’t until I straight-up called out Troyzan and I said, “Listen, you guys are completely lying to me and I can tell by the way you’re treating me.” I said, “You need to tell me what’s going on” and at that point, I had a little more power, because they knew I was going to be a member of the Jury.
HitFix: What was the challenge in getting people to join you in voting Kat out?
Jonas: I knew that that was never going to happen. At that point, Chelsea and Kim had already told me that they weren’t going to vote Kat. Troy and Jay were already brainwashed by Kim, so I knew they were going to vote with her. I knew that Mike was with the girls. We just didn’t have the numbers. Although Tarzan was down for doing that, we just mathematically didn’t have the numbers, it just made no sense.
HitFix: Multiple people people on my recap suggested that Kim, and to a lesser degree Chelsea, are pretty much running things at this point. Does that sound about right?
Jonas: Well, you know, the fact that Kim showed Chelsea the Idol and then basically told her that we’re voting out Jonas? That’s pretty clear that she’s running the show for now, yeah.
HitFix: I know that I’ve been getting a lot of “Why the heck was Jonas just going along with Colton?” questions. I assume you’ve been getting a lot of that as well?
Jonas: Oh yeah. I ask myself that same question. I’ll go down forever in the history of “Survivor” as being Colton’s Bitch. It’s not like I’m proud of that title, although it’s funny. I just have to laugh because it’s so bad. Yeah, if I could do it all over again, I definitely would have played a more aggressive game.
HitFix: Is there a context that you’ve been providing for people wherein it doesn’t seem as bad as it has seemed to us watching it on TV?
Jonas: Yeah, I tell them that pre-Merge, you don’t want to come out as the guy who orchestrates a big blindside, because then nobody’s gonna trust you. I say that it’s way easier to let Colton do all the dirty work and just go along with it. So at the time, it just seemed like a better strategy without putting my neck on the line.
HitFix: You say “the dirty work,” at the time did you realize exactly how nasty Colton was being? Or was was some of that not stuff you were privy to?
Jonas: No, no. I was there when he was going off on Christina, basically telling her “Go jump in the fire.” I was well-aware that he was a pretty brutal character. I honestly don’t think that he’s that brutal in real life. I think he was just being over-the-top for the camera.
HitFix: After Colton’s departure, it looked like you were about ready to take more of a leadership role in controlling things at Manono. Did the abrupt Merge hurt you?
Jonas: Oh, 100 percent. The Merge… At the point, I had almost zero alliances. I had Leif, Tarzan and Christina, but the guys on Salani didn’t believe that Christina was with us, because they hadn’t seen all of the drama that went on with her and Colton and Alicia. So yeah, the re-merge, I basically had zero relationships with Chelsea, Kim and Kat, because I didn’t spend any time with them. As soon as Troy and Jay got brainwashed by the girls to go with them, I was done, because I had no relationships with Chelsea, Kim and Kat and then Troy and Jay were brainwashed, so that was a kiss of death right there.
HitFix: And then you were also hurt by the realignment of the tribes. What did you think when you saw what the colored eggs had given you for a new tribe?
Jonas: Yeah, that was a total fluke. It was just the luck of the draw, the bad luck of the draw. It was just completely random and uncontrollable.
HitFix: We’d never really seen you with food on the show. We knew what your real-world job was, but then suddenly on Wednesday, you were working “Survivor” molecular gastronomy with the young coconut and the salt water. [Jonas laughs.] What other stuff were you able to whip up out there with your limited resources?
Jonas: Oh man, I did this coconut seafood bisque. It was a coconut cream seafood bisque. I grated fresh coconut and made a cream, which I added to fish stock and we also had a little breadfruit in the pot to thicken up the soup. Not to brag about my own food, but it was something that I would actually make at home. It was that good. It was so tasty and everybody in the tribe loved it.
HitFix: Were you able to do things like that on a consistent basis?
Jonas: Yeah, it was sorta a progression. But I figured out, like, OK, because I didn’t have sugar, I used the coconut water which replaced the sugar and then I was able to make the cream, which added the fattiness to the dish, which gave it more flavor and depth. So as the show went on, I got better at being resourceful and coming up with substitutes for things I would normally use… While I was making one of the soups, one of the producers came up to me afterwards and said, “Listen. I’ve been on this show for 10 years and this is the first time that I was legitimately jealous of what you guys are eating.” So… for whatever that’s worth…
HitFix: That seems like a much better thing to be remembered for than “Colton’s Bitch.”
Jonas: [Rueful laugh.] Yup. If I had to choose, I would definitely not go with Colton’s Bitch. But oh well.