HitFix Interview: Jim Rice and Keith Tollefson talk ‘Survivor: South Pacific’

We’re now two weeks past John Cochran’s big “Survivor” flip, a strategic maneuver that some fans have celebrated as a brilliant game play and some fans are hailing as an act of betrayal. 
Not surprisingly, the players impacted negatively by Cochran’s move are also still irked by what went down in the South Pacific and although they’re maybe not as harshly critical as they were on the night the alliance shift went down, they’re also not happy.
In a double-elimination Duel that aired this past week, Jim Rice and Keith Tollefson were defeated on Redemption Island and it’s no surprise that much of their paired exit interview involved questions relating to Cochran.
Was Cochran bullied?
Does his flip make any more sense six months and a season of episodes later? 
Would they really have rather gone to drawing rocks at that first post-Merge Tribal council?
And what’s up with Coach?
Click through for all of their answers, some fairly reasonable and some still fueled by a sense of ongoing frustration… 
[I get patched through to Jim Rice and Keith Tollefson, who are in the middle of a loud back-and-forth already.]
HitFix: How’re you guys doing this morning?
Jim Rice: We’re just sitting here arguing, Dan.
HitFix: Over what, exactly?
Jim: We’re just arguing about the game and sending Cochran to Redemption Island versus sending Ozzy two episodes ago.
HitFix: Good to know the wounds are still fresh in your minds.
Jim: It’s tough! We had to relive this thing every Wednesday, for better or for worse.
HitFix: So let’s start there. For the past couple weeks, how have friends and loved ones been responding to what happened with Cochran and all the rest?
Jim: Well, we’ve had had six months to deal with this, between taping and airing. They haven’t, so these are all really fresh wounds. I know that I’m getting text messages and emails and phone calls constantly from friends and family about how they can’t believe what happened, some comments not as nice as others. But they’re having to live it for the first time and I’m having to relive it.
Keith Tollefson: It’s kinda the same thing. My family expected me to do very, very well and I was trying to play that game and then to have, in a sense, one person basically take your entire game away from you is very, very frustrating and my family and friends have definitely expressed that to me, their feeling about that one person whose name shall not be mentioned.
HitFix: When you guys look back, is it as simple as a one-word answer for why you went home when you did? Is it as simple as “Cochran” and nothing else?
Jim: No. 
Keith: Absolutely not, no.
Jim: I think there are a few things in there. I mean, that’s a big one. But you can’t blame anyone but yourself. I think that there are things that we didn’t do. I blame the fact that we didn’t go in strong and say “Hey, we’re sticking together. We sent Ozzy out to beat Christine. He’s coming back and we’re drawing rocks.” I think we should have went in strong. As I look at it in hindsight, I think we should have protected Cochran like they protected some of the players they thought were some of the weaker players on their team. I almost said we should have kept him in the middle of us as we walked around, nobody leaves Cochran’s side.
Keith: I honestly agree with that. That’s what Rob did last season. He kept his tribe like a little military unit. Nobody’s allowed to cross the line and just like Coach said, if you cross the line, you’re out of the family. So that was our mistake. We looked to Ozzy a little bit for some advice in that area, having played before, like “What should we do?” And the best idea that we collectively was… [Jim interjected and I lost both of their words.] We should have kept it like nobody crosses the line and we don’t even talk to them. That means you’re forced to go… because no one has a chance to give up any information to them, which Cochran gave up everything, but he never would have had the chance and we would have had to have drawn rocks, because you couldn’t converse with your quote-unquote enemy.
HitFix: Can I just point out that you guys used very different language there. Jim talked about “protecting” Cochran, while Keith gave an answer that was about “forcing” Cochran. Does it seem like that may have been part of the problem, not knowing how to handle Cochran at all?
Keith: It wasn’t blocking Cochran away from the other tribe. Not at all. It was basically being smart enough to realize that none of us would have a chance to flip, because we’d all be collectively solid as one unit. That’s what Coach kinda did, was running it in a sense as a general. If I see anyone talking to them, then I have them coming back and reporting to me on what they talked about. It wasn’t protecting Cochran. He’s his own person. He can go and talk to them, but if we were smart as a tribe, we’d collectively agree that no one goes and talks to them, because then we’re all in it together.
Jim: Your question originally was “What else was it?” and I think there were other things we could have done, too. I think we needed to make a more concerted effort to go over and try to make plays on each of those people. I tried to make a pretty big play on Rick, but I wasn’t able to get him. I think we should have been a little bit harder in going after them, as opposed to just being so willing to just go to rocks. Cochran sucks, but there are a lot of variables in the game of “Survivor” and we were putting all of our eggs into one basket and I think we should have gone around and tried to do a few more things.
HitFix: But how would you guys be talking to me today if everything had gone according to plan and one of you had gone home totally on rocks? If it had been nothing but random chance or luck that eliminated you?
Jim: You know, I put it this way: Drawing rocks that day, there’s a 14 percent chance of going home. If you flip, there’s a 100 percent chance that you don’t win the game, in my mind at that point. And so, I was playing to win. If we would have drawn rocks and I drew the rock, I would have been fine with it, because it was my best chance of winning. It’s like if you’re in a poker tournament and somebody says “Would you go all-in with aces versus a pair of kings?” Well heck yeah I would go all-in with aces versus kings. I might get unlucky, but I would definitely risk my tournament life on aces versus kings at the final table at the World Series of Poker. Would I do it here for a million bucks? Heck yeah. And I was willing to.
Keith: I was kinda excited to draw rocks, in a sense, but apparently that’s not the way people are supposed to play “Survivor,” from what Coach says, but I believed that we were a very, very close family. That’s kinda what we had portrayed to each other and, in a sense, we were so tight — which obviously wasn’t true — that we were willing to do that for each other. And one person basically said, “I don’t believe in the rest of my tribe and my chances are better with the other tribe,” which is extremely disappointing, because I don’t play my game that way and I don’t live my life that way. It may sound stupid…
Jim: You had one person playing for another day. He wasn’t playing to win.
Keith: Yeah, and that’s what disappointed me. I thought we were all in it to win it, but apparently somebody just wanted one more day, which is understandable in the game of “Survivor,” but…

HitFix: Well, you’ve guys have had six months to think about it and you’ve been able to watch the season play out: Does what Cochran did or why he did it may more sense to you now than it did at the time?
Jim: Not at all.
Keith: Absolutely not.
Jim: I think my analysis is right on. I want to start by just saying one thing: Every one of us on our Tribe had a Final Three scenario with Cochran in it. You can call that a slight against Cochran or you can call it whatever you will, but flipping at a Merge, you instantly alienate five people. So he had an 86 percent chance of going to the Final Three, or he had a 14 percent chance of going home or he had a 100 percent chance of not winning if he flips and he’s going out somewhere between 12th versus 7th is what I was feeling at that time.
Keith: Not only that, but in the game at that time, we had the odds and if there were better odds to flip, the other team would have contemplated it easily. I contemplated flipping, just because you have to contemplate everything. But the fact that we had both of the Immunity necklaces, Ozzy and Dawn, and we had the Idol and we were going to play it for somebody, that decreased the odds of one of us going home so significantly that in my eyes, it would never make sense to flip, because if you flip, you’re basically guaranteeing yourself seventh and I thought all of us wanted to be one-through-six. You’re guaranteed one-through-six, more than likely. Obviously things can change, but that’s putting yourself with the best odds for the end.
HitFix: Watching the season, some people have felt like you guys came across as bullies. How do you guys feel about that perception?
Jim: I think that really, if you step back… It’s easy to believe.
Keith: It’s what they showed!
Jim: The reason why it was easy to believe is because of what Coach did. Coach was the one that looked looked at Cochran and said, “Hey, you’ve been bullied.” He was the one who made that assumption. The truth of the matter is that Cochran was never bullied. We had a great time. I considered Cochran to be my closest friend on the Island.
Keith: Yeah, everyone assumes that me and Jim are extremely close friends. We were not considered, in my eyes, friends in the game. I, just the same way, considered Cochran a friend. I respected him as a player. I knew that he had so much love for the game and I wanted him to be able to play. That’s why a few of us had saved him. Me and Whitney had saved him. Jim had saved him. We’d done that three times. But… Yeah. What was the question?
HitFix: It seems that you guys are both giving a solid “No” answer to the “Did you feel like you bullied Cochran?” question.
Jim: It is a little bit frustrating, because of the reality behind it. I understand the storyline and I understand why it went that way. Coach is the one that assumed that. And you know what? I question the viewers. You’re assuming Cochran got bullied because of the way he looks to you. People should really evaluate their preconceptions of people based on their appearance, because that’s what viewers are doing as well and that’s why I think so many people believe that he was bullied, because they’re the ones with their own misconceptions and their own pre-judgements of him.
Keith: Yeah, there were multiple times that I stuck up for him and I considered him to be a valuable member of our tribe. If there was this huge case of bullying and all of these things that people keep bringing up over and over and over, it would have been shown. People would want to see that. If this was actually true, why was there nothing on the show about it? Because, from me, there was no bullying. I considered him to be a friend. He didn’t flip out of revenge, he flipped out of self-preservation.
HitFix: You’ve referred to Coach as a general and referred to how he helped craft the narrative around Cochran and on Wednesday’s show, you compared him to a cult leader, Jim. What would have happened if Coach had ended up on your tribe instead of Ozzy?
Jim: I don’t think he would have made it to the Merge.
Keith: I totally agree.
Jim: And here’s the reason: With Redemption Island and you have a guy like Ozzy on your tribe, there are two pieces to it. One, if you send him to Redemption Island, you know he’s probably coming back. And two, you want to keep a guy like Ozzy, because post-Merge, he is a huge target. And that’s where I think it would have been different if we’d had Coach. Coach didn’t really offer that much in challenges. Coach didn’t offer much other than providing sermons and that wasn’t something we were gonna do. It’s very interesting when you look at both tribes, because any time anybody got close to Ozzy, we got rid of ’em, but any time anybody got close to Coach, they let him keep them. They let Coach build his army and build his army and they even recognized that he was building his army and they still didn’t do anything about it. It’s hard to say that we had a savvier game, considering we’re sitting here talking to you right now, Dan, but I think that we were thinking about the game a little bit more. But hey, things change and Coach did a masterful job of flipping Cochran and hats off to those guys for it.
Keith: I pretty much agree with Jim’s comments. The whole Redemption Island thing throws a huge twist in it and that’s that you can’t necessarily get out players you want at a certain time. Obviously Ozzy was that main player, because you know that he’s so strong at challenges more than likely he’ll come back and he will never be on your side. Coach really wasn’t, in my eyes, an asset to their tribe in team challenges. He never stepped up and proved to be like Ozzy was with us, as a very valuable asset. And in the sense that Jim is a very smart player and I feel like I’m a very smart player, we would have seen all these little things that he does trying to get emotionally attached to players and kinda just some of these things that make me sick that Coach does — the constant shoulder rubbing and those things — and just been disgusted with it and said, “You know what? He doesn’t help our chances of winning, there’s no reason why we need him to be on our tribe anymore” and we probably would have sent him to Redemption Island before the Merge.
HitFix: As a last question: Jim, you made that impassioned speech at t Tribal Council about teaching future generations that the game can be played a certain way, with integrity or honor and whatnot. Did you actually buy a word of that? And as a fan of the show, would you want to watch a game that was played that way?
Jim: No. I was completely pandering to the Upolu tribe, 100 percent. I was saying what I thought was the best shot we had to maybe try to flip one or two of the votes and unfortunately the Upolus found out about my plan to give Ozzy the necklace before going to Tribal and told me that I would go home if, indeed, I gave my necklace up, so that kinda threw plan out the window. But no. It was complete BS. I think was trying anything I had in my hat.
Keith: I don’t remember it word-for-word, but…
Jim: I was pandering to Coach’s “honor” thing and trying to expose Coach for the sham that he was and I was hoping to do that for a play that I was going to make over the next three days, but I couldn’t wait to call Coach out…
Keith: Yeah, it was Jim’s best move at that time, to try to get some people on his side. It was obviously a last-ditch effort, which is all you can do when you know that the knife is literally at your back, you’re gonna whatever it takes and it was definitely a good move to say that at Tribal, to try to get some people to flip. That’s all you have left.