His drivers license reads Greg Smith.
His patients call him Dr. Smith.
His “Survivor” nickname was Tarzan.
My recaps called him Muscular Mark Twain.
On “Survivor: One World,” Tarzan was often a subject of mockery. He had trouble with names. His vocabulary stumped Jeff Probst. And in one unfortunately incident he was accused of attempting to clear his soiled drawers in the camp water supply.
But was he also the man masterminding all of Colton Cumbie’s big moves?
Was he the power behind the throne helping Kim and Chelsea advance their “Survivor” causes?
That’s certainly the claim Tarzan makes now, after his recent elimination, and if sheer verbosity equals validation and verification, he may be right. My exit interview with Tarzan was easily the longest I’ve ever done and also involved easily the fewest questions I’ve ever had the time to ask.
He’s also the first interview subject I’ve ever had use the words “epicene,” “hebetudinous” and “kwashiorkor” in conversation.
Click through for Tarzan’s explanation of his subliminal leadership role, as well as his POV on The Poopy Pants Incident…
HitFix: The first question I always ask when somebody is so clearly working a persona is this: How is Tarzan different from Greg, from Dr. Smith?
Tarzan: Well, I think I deserve some thespian award. Having lived my life as a surgeon, I know the mantle I’m supposed to wear, the suit of armor I wear as a surgeon. Also I claim to be, although I didn’t show the romantic side, I am a romanticist, with my wife only, though. And I’m an adventurer. So when I’m not dealing with a patient — in which case, I also understand that they need to see The Surgeon, typified by everything, so I put on the mantle of that surgeon — when I’m outside that arena, I portray what I believe to be the most adventuresome aspects of my personality, which is a little bit chimerical and I never ever have taken myself too seriously, so I don’t mind doing things that are a bit outrageous, ostentatious for the moment, some that would perceive that as creative and ingenious and others who would see that as idiotic and stupid. [He laughs.] I kind of played my free-spirited personality during the whole thing, with the the knowledge I had to be subliminal in my behavior, otherwise I’d get kicked off quick.
So I lied. I said I was a medic in the first half and I said I was 52, realizing nobody would believe it. But if I said I was 64 and a doctor, I’m gone. And if I acted too smart… I mean, we talked physics and chemistry and we talked the stars, cosmology and entomology and primatology. We talked those things, so they knew I had knowledge. I talked parasitology. That’s why I wouldn’t eat any snails. That’s why I starved to death on that island, because I wouldn’t eat the snails or the crabs or some of the fish because of different diseases you get or illnesses or poisons or toxicities you get if you do such a thing, let alone parasitations. But I kept it subliminal. And certainly nobody, nobody knew that I was the primary plotter in this whole thing. They thought Kim was fairly good, but she was mercurial. Colton was not. He was the shield, he was the front man, he ran reconnaissance. And subliminally, behind him, stood me in the shadows, where I ought to be if I want to survive.
HitFix: Explain that last part to me, what you were doing in the background subliminally, plotting-wise, particularly with Colton.
Tarzan: Well, basically, Troyzan and I formed an allegiance like the nucleus of an atom and we needed a coterie of five in the beginning. Since it was Men against Women, we needed five from a mathematical standpoint. So we brought in Jonas and we brought in Leif. We needed a fifth. As you may have deciphered if you watched the beginning, Colton was flailing around. He’s so epicene that he didn’t fit with the girls and he didn’t fit with the guys. I know something about the psychology of his situation, so first of all, I felt sorry for him with all the anxiety he had, so I tried to relieve his anxiety. I said, “Listen, Colton. If you join us, we can use you as reconnaissance because, admittedly, you’re feminine enough to get in with the girls and find out what they’re doing and it helps us. If you will join us and actually be a guy, I promise you, us five, with an allegiance, our coterie will take you down to the five of this game.” And at that point, he would never get that far. Plus, he had one other thing that he did that was silly: He revealed that he had the Immunity Idol given to him by Sabrina and that wasn’t really the cleverest thing for him to do. Both sides didn’t like him, I felt sorry for him, so I thought bringing him would be, admittedly sorta a selfish thing and that he would be helpful to us, because he was so outrageous that it kept us all in the shadows. This isn’t “survival of the fittest.” If you had to synopsize what it really is, it’s “survival of the weakest.”
So he was perfect. It’s too bad he left. I was in the background making it logical for him to do what he did. I could explain it to him, just like in a chess game, what move ought to be done if he wants to survive with us. And he did it. That’s why I thought he was highly intelligent. I didn’t say he was mature. I didn’t say he wasn’t histrionic. I didn’t say he wasn’t a narcissist. I said he was intelligent. And he was. When I explained it to him, it was fairly complicated what I explained that day, but he understood it and I respected him for it. And, by the way, he wasn’t an incompetent player. He fought off one of the giant guys, Jay Bird and Mike, they couldn’t take that basketball away from him during that one challenge. He held onto that thing. He was tough. He sorta hurt my feelings because at the end he stabbed me in the back by saying some denigrating things. He wanted to take full credit. It bruised my ego to see it play out that he was leading us, when actually we were leading him. He didn’t mind taking credit for it. I forgive him. He’s immature. He’s only 20. I forgive him for wanting to boost his ego. But I would rather he say, “Tarzan helped me.” But he didn’t say that.
HitFix: Were you surprised, then you saw the way that the first half of the season was edited together? Or did you always expect that since you were playing a subliminal game, it would end up looking like that?
Tarzan: I’ve been around for 64 years and I pretty much knew. Out of respect for the producers, they’re brilliant and they’re geniuses in their own right, they want to produce a show that people will watch. So I knew. I was denigrated. I caught six chickens with my chicken trap. I wasn’t given credit for that. I saved the pig. It wasn’t Kim. I was me that saved the pig. I made a comb. All they do is show me chewing on bamboo as though I’m starving to death, but I combed Sabrina’s hair with that comb, my own hair, Troyzan’s hair. So I was making a comb for the girls. It took about half a day. What do I get get credit for? Wasting time, because nobody knew what I was doing when I did it. Am I vindicated? No. [Laughs.] So that’s sorta hurtful, not to be shown in that light. They showed me sleeping when, in fact, that day, 80 percent of our shelter had been built by me and that’s why I was taking a nap. But they showed me taking a nap. That sorta hurt my feelings, but on the other hand, out of respect, the reality is… Gosh, how would it go if I kept getting credit for stuff? It wouldn’t go very well. I needed to be denigrated to improve the situation. It was fun, it was an adventure and I respect those guys for making it a good program for people to watch. I knew I was there to be someone who hopefully would be able to help drive the show from week to week whenever they presented me in whatever light they wanted to.
HitFix: If you’re giving your perspective on things: The incident with the cleaning in the shorts in the water with the, um, “microbes.” Care to give your perspective on that?
Tarzan: Here’s what happen: By that time they knew I was a doctor and basically a scientist and God knows I know a lot of microbiology. I’ve done shotgun wounds with an abdomen full of feces and still saved the person without them getting infected. I’ve done a bullet in the heart through the cardiac membrane. I won’t go on with stuff like that, but let’s put it this way: I had been more or less elected the water collector, the water preserver. I was the one mostly filling the canteens and making sure that the water was sterile. And we had decided… See, Chelsea stabbed me a number of times when she saw the camera rolling. As a group, we decided that we would boil water for so many times to get rid of growing fungus in our cloths, as we’d been given a paucity of clothing. That’s why we’re caught in our undershorts and things. So I had prepared the water. I had prepared my shorts. And I offered to let everybody dump their stuff in there to boil it, which would kill the microbes after 10 minutes anyway.
So Chelsea usurps the pot as her own, which aggravated. That was indecent of her to do. That was a group pot and we weren’t going to do 10 pots. It takes 10 minutes to boil the water. It takes a half-an-hour to get the water. Then you have to take an hour or so to cool the water for drinking. It was stupid to make 10 pots for boiling clothes, so we basically had agreed not to do that, to make it a community pot. She usurps the pot by throwing her pants in there before I get the chance to do it and then she accused me of poopy drawers. Now the reality is that I hadn’t pooped since I’d been there. I’m the guy that lost 25 pounds. I developed a problem called kwashiorkor, which is a protein deficiency, because all I had was rice and coconuts, primarily. If you notice, I only won one food challenge and I was smart enough not to overeat during that challenge, otherwise I would have some of the gastro-intestinal problems that some of those people had. So basically I starved, plus dyssomnia the decubitus ulcerations that would occur if you lay on the bamboo too long. Anyway, she accuses me of that and then Sabrina jumps in and she says there’s a brown streak on my undies. The brown streak was soot from the fire that I helped provide. And, by the way, Sabrina had a brown streak on her bikini. Notice I was nice enough not to mention it because I knew the camera was rolling. However [he laughs] if I had been too assertive with regard to being mistreated during this episode, miscast by Chelsea who seemed to be on my back all the time, then it would anger the girls so much that maybe I wouldn’t make it to the point when my wife would make it to the Island, which I was hoping I could last long enough for at least my wife to set foot on that sand so we could be together for a moment.
I could have protested way more than I did, but all I could do, slightly and humbly, was to say to hint that I know something about microbiology. For Christ’s sake, in 30 years there was not a patient who developed an infection because of me. But they don’t know that and I know they don’t know that and it wouldn’t do me any good anyway. The depth of that statement would not be understood. So I just blurted it out and basically said, “Aren’t you gonna tend the fire.” And she acted disgusted, but that’s only because, with regard to this issue, she was totally hebetudinous. She isn’t a microbiologist. She hasn’t been a surgeon. She’s in medical sales, but that has nothing to do with the stuff you see in an operating room or how to take care of infection. So, in a sense, although I resented her with regard to making sure the camera saw the worst of me and having Sabrina back her up and having it edited such that that’s all you saw, that bruised me a little bit, but the thing is that I do understand what’s going on, so in reality, from an empathic standpoint, I’m not really bothered by it. Although… See? I get a question about it from you and I’m sure 99 percent of the people watching that who aren’t physicians would come down on “Gee, that guy’s obnoxious.” “That guy’s rude, obnoxious and vulgar.” That’s how that would come down. I can take it. I’m 64. It wasn’t poop. Let me just say.
HitFix: You mentioned on Wednesday that you were playing the game in segments. But even best case scenario, you were facing a Top 3 situation in which you had to make your case to a jury made up largely of men who you admitted you’d betrayed. How were you planning on winning the game?
Tarzan: The reality is, in all fairness to me, again, I had kept my allegiance with the men as solid as an atom, a quantum atom. And it was I who was betrayed in the middle. When we joined this Tikiano, my primary component of the atom, the nucleus, was Troyzan and I discovered he wasn’t certain he wanted to stay with the guys or Salani, which was a huge mistake on his part. He had been, if this were chess game, he had been the queen. In a sense, I’d lost my queen early enough in the game of chess that now all I could do was try to lose as few pawns as possible. But if you lose the queen in the middle of the game or early in the game, you’ve basically lost it if the other guy’s smart enough. So I knew I was in trouble. I knew we needed six guys at that point and one girl and we had Alicia if the guys would stay united. They didn’t stay united. I sensed that in Mike and Jay Bird and even my pal Troyzan. Of course, Leif and Jonas you could never trust with regard to whether they understood the dynamics of the plots and things. And that’s what made me so angry with Jonas, he couldn’t understand the logic of it. It was infuriating. And he couldn’t even remember what I said, really. I pretended not to remember stuff, but he really couldn’t remember stuff. So I ingratiated myself with the women and I helped plot to get the five guys out. At the last Tribal Council, I had suggested a coterie of three or four that had they stuck with it would have been better for them, because I had actually befriended a couple of ’em and I liked a couple of ’em.
I honestly, honestly did not care about making it to the Top 3, but I certainly wanted the girls I thought deserved it to make it. They were all afraid that since there were five guys on the jury and only a potential of nine, the guys were going to vote for me, because the girls had betrayed them. The guys did not know at that point that I had betrayed them in the mid-game when Troyzan was uncertain, when my queen was lost. I told them, “If you’re worried about that, on Tribal Council, I’m gonna tell the guys that I was partially responsible for them losing. I’m the guy who threw the ring that got Troyzan out, for instance. And I’m gonna tell them that I’m a millionaire.” People hate to hear that. They already know I was a doctor. Production told me, “Hey man, doctors and people who are old get voted off first.” Nina went off first, if it hadn’t been for Courtney’s fracture on the trampoline. So I told them that and I told the girls that I would do that and then they would know that as I had been, my allegiance had been firm, except on betrayal and I didn’t start the betrayal in any of these. They had to betray me first. And once they betrayed me, then I would go as one with any intelligence would do. It’s futile to stay with a sinking ship.
The guys really had lost their compass when we became Tikiano. I keep telling people that probably most of them were under 30 and were influenced by their pheromones and the girls were attractive girls, so maybe that’s part of it, which they ought to be forgiven for, but it’s stupid in this game. So that’s what I did during Tribal Council. And the girls were beginning to worry, “You know? This guy may be a lot smarter than he’s playing,” so then I did something incredibly egregious to try to make them not take me too seriously and I did that prior to the challenge. But wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking what to do to maneuver the psychiatry of the situation.