Interview: John Rocker talks ‘Survivor: San Juan del Sur’

The following exit interview contains more expletives than most of my “Survivor” exit interviews.

I sensed how things were going to go from John Rocker's cheerful response to my “How're you doing this morning?” greeting.

“Horses***! How you doing?”

In retrospect, “Survivor” fans should be less amazed that John Rocker's “San Juan del Sur” run ended this week in the aftermath of a post-Immunity Challenge shouting match with Natalie Anderson and more surprised at how little John Rocker needed to be bleeped during his three episodes.

While John Rocker frequently seemed to be a physical asset for his Coyopa tribe, that merely meant that he was a physical asset on a tribe that has started the season losing five-of-six challenges, including all three Immunities. And on Wednesday's episode, led by Josh and Wes, Coyopa decided that removing the John Rocker-sized target from the tribe was better strategy than maintaining strength.

Or is that not what happened? John Rocker still isn't sure. The former Atlanta Braves closer doesn't know why his tribe chose to vote him out rather than old-and-not-always-useful Dale, especially since his fellow castaways had gotten past the stigma attached to him since a 1999 Sports Illustrated article included racist, homophobic and xenophobic quotes. Or that's how John Rocker tells it.

“All you've gotta do is get to know me and you're gonna like me,” John Rocker says.

There's little doubt that when you talk to John Rocker, you're getting John Rocker Unfiltered, whether he's giving the background on his shouting match with Natalie or trying to justify why and how he went home with an Immunity Idol in his pocket. 

John Rocker is so very much John Rocker that I got to fewer than half of the questions on my tip list, despite going a few minutes over my regular time. He just had plenty to say. 

And only some of it is suitable for small children. And I have to admit that lots of John Rocker's confusion at being voted out is similar to the confusion I expressed on his behalf in my Wednesday recap.

Check out the full John Rocker Q&A below…

HitFix: [After John Rocker's answer for how he was doing.] So I guess it was a fun evening for you last night watching and reexperiencing this?

John Rocker: It actually was really f***ing funny. West Coast, Drew Christy and Natalie Anderson and Nadiya Anderson, we're all big buddies now and whatnot, they Skyped me while I'm in LA and they're watching it three hours ahead of me in Orlando. They Skyped me and I got to watch that episode with them while they're watching it at Drew's house. And Natalie's just eating my a**. I'm like, “Natalie. See yourself there? You proud of yourself talking to me like that? You see that? You see that?” It actually was pretty humorous.

HitFix: You went out on a blindside, obviously. Did watching Wednesday's episode tell you anything that you hadn't previously known about the forces behind your exit?

John Rocker: Yeah, obviously I figured that I got a vote from Josh, but I didn't really know that Josh was the ringleader behind creating the rest of the votes. I knew that trying to get Jaclyn and Baylor, trying to influence their votes, probably wouldn't be that difficult, but I did think that trying to get Wes' vote and Alec's vote probably would be a little more difficult. And yeah, from what I learned last night, it looked like Josh was the instigator to bring Alec and Wes in and set up that five-vote blindside.

HitFix: Where is your Idol now?

John Rocker: Production took it from me.

HitFix: Did they say they were going to give it back at some point?

John Rocker: They say I'm gonna get it back after the show, but ummm…

HitFix: You said you were taking the Idol to Tribal and that you'd use it if you sensed you needed it. But what were you actually waiting to hear or sense out there that you didn't get?

John Rocker: I was just playing on basic logic. The game is played, you do your best to win challenges so the other tribe has to axe their f***ing people. It's just pretty simple. Obviously there's a lot more stuff going on behind the scenes and alliances and yada yada, but at the core root of the game, one of the most basic concepts is “Let's win so our folks don't have to go home” and we weren't doing a lot of winning and we weren't even coming close to a lot of winning. The closest we got was that very first challenge and after that we weren't even close. You've got me, a retired professional athlete, and a lot of challenges do require physical skill and strength and speed and yada yada. And you've got the other side of things: Drew Christy played quarterback for a couple years at Georgia Southern. Jon was a linebacker at Michigan State. I think Drew's 25 and Jon was 24. And then you've got Val's husband Jeremy. Jeremy's 31, 32-ish, ran track at University of Rhode Island. So you've got three D-1 athletes against me. The basketball challenge, they edited a lot of stuff out in the basketball challenge, but you sit there and watch that and it was almost like watching a puppy get beaten to death when I'm sitting there watching it. I love Josh, he's a nice guy and whatnot. But I think Josh and Baylor were teamed up and watching Josh and Baylor try to sink that ball in that cylinder? Literally, the ball was not coming three feet from that cylinder. It was painful to watch. 

So you go from being that bad at challenges and having to go back to Tribal Council and get chastised by Jeff, day after day after day. And you've got  Dale and, I like Dale fine, but the rest of the group found Dale a little bit verbose, a little bit irritating. So that's a strike against Dale and he's arguably the weakest link in challenges which we already were getting our a** kicked in and you've got three D-1 college athletes that are in their mid-20s to early-30s and I'll be 40 in two weeks. Why would you pull out your ex-pro athlete that's still 250 pounds, 6'6″ with 7 percent body fat and can still run a 4.7 or 4.8 40, why would you vote that guy out and keep a 62-year-old man? It just didn't make sense to me. And a 62-year-old man that four or five of the folks in the tribe found a bit irritating and would constantly complain about Dale being an idiot. So with that logic, I knew that Jaclyn and Baylor were gonna try to break up our alliance and I knew they were trying to work with somebody. I thought me and Josh were pretty solid and I thought that Wes and Alec, their desire to win a challenge in hopes that it wouldn't one day be them getting voted out and going home, that they would want to keep me around and not have to replace me in challenges with Dale. I just always thought Dale was gonna be almost like a security blanket for me and once he was gone, I better watch my a**, but until then I thought was probably pretty good.

HitFix: But then at Tribal Council, Jaclyn and Baylor both said that the vote might not go the way some people are expecting. Do you pay any heed to that? Or do you assume they're just bluffing?

John Rocker: Yeah, I definitely should have. But honestly? I don't know if you get this from others, but dude when you're out there and you're averaging three or four hours of sleep a night and you're not eating for s***. Your brain doesn't really that good. You're kinda stuck on “stupid.” You're doing a good job to perform any kind of rational thoughts or use any kind of logic, anything you can muster is quite a task. But yeah, if I had been sleeping eight or nine hours a night and I'd been eating good or whatever? Yeah, my brain would probably be able to decipher and discern a little better than what it did out there. But yeah, I definitely noticed that. But then I just kept thinking, “We haven't won a challenge yet. We haven't gotten close. If we ever want to win one again, there's no way in hell you can f***ing vote me off. No way!” But it was just kinda odd logic. Those four votes, I can't wait till the finale when I see some folks and I see Jaclyn and I see Baylor or whoever and say, “I wanna know the private conversations, the ones that got edited out, I wanna know when three or four of you came together and that decision was made, I want to know what your logic was, why you voted out your strongest guy over a 62-year-old man that nobody really likes anyway. I wanna know what the final deciding factor was.” To this day I'm still confused.

HitFix: You mentioned the physical conditions when you're out there. Go back to the fight with Natalie after Immunity. If you're in normal condition, if you're properly rested, if you're properly fed, do you rise to her bait in the same way?

John Rocker: Well, obviously you're a little more grumpy. I'd probably come up with something a lot funnier to say than just something f***ing stupid like I did. But there again, the edit and how much the audience doesn't get to see, is amazing. There's 72 hours worth of footage for one 45-minute episode. There's a s***load that gets cut out, obviously. And what you're not seeing there is you're not seeing the previous challenge where Natalie's obviously pissed off that Nadiya got voted out and it's that water challenge, so she jumps off the platform and she's got about a 45-second swim back to her boat and she flips over on her back and the entire 45-seconds that she was swimming back to her boat, she's flipping our tribe off and using some of the most foul, vulgar just mother-f***ing language you can come up with for the entire way back. All cussing for a good 45 seconds. And it's like, “You just beat us and now you're gonna cuss us out too? That's really f***ing cool, Natalie.” So that kinda sticks in everybody's a** right there and then fast-forward three days. So it's another challenge and we get our a** f***ing beat again. Well, it was her and her partner that sunk the last shot. So she sinks the last shot and they win. She climbs on top of the apparatus and I can't remember last night, I was actually on the phone with Jeremy when I was watching it, but she's walking across the wooden apparatus and as she's walking across that, with both hands she's flicking us off and “Motherf***er” and “Goddamn” and “You guys are f***ing pussies. You're horses***. F*** you.” And, again, for like 45 seconds or a f***ing minute, she's talking to us like this, gets back to where the rest of her tribemates are and whatnot. Then she gets them all f***ing riled up. Then, for whatever reason, f***ing decides to single me out and that point go, “What the f*** did I do? You were cussing and now you're just cussing me out.” I'm like, “What the f***?” So at that point in time, you're talking a minute-and-a-half to two minutes of just getting motherf***ed and it comes to a point where I have two choices here: Either I say nothing and look like a f***ing pussy because I'm just sitting here just taking just a verbal a**-whooping, or I f***ing say something back like an a**hole. So what're you gonna take?

And another thing, you wanna talk about edits, what I said was intended to say, “Knock your teeth out if you were a man because you look like a f***ing man,” to add an insult to it, because I was doing a sarcastic insult. What you're not hearing there, what production cuts out, is you've got Alec next to me, he's screaming out, frigging called her a “f***ing c***.” He said that two or three times, but you're not hearing that. At least I had enough couthe that I wasn't screaming the f***ing c-word. But yeah. You're not seeing a lot, so you say, “If I wasn't tired there, would I have…” But, I mean, it definitely went above-and-beyond to deserve not only that reaction but probably a lot sterner, stiffer reaction.

HitFix: Since it sounds like you guys are friendly now, do you give Natalie some credit for manipulating the situation that led to your exit, to some degree?

John Rocker: No. Honestly, knowing her and Nadiya as well as I do now, they're not the skillful tactic manipulators. Those girls are both just… mock a woman with her hair on fire. [I'm not 100% sure on that last bit.] That wasn't strategy. That was “I'm pissed off and when I'm pissed off, here's how I react. I cuss and yell and f***ing talk like a f***ing sailor.” That's them. I spent 13 years in a professional baseball clubhouse and I've heard as much vulgar s*** as you could ever imagine and I spent a lot of time with Nadiya and I've heard Nadiya say s*** that'll f***ing make even me blush. That's 13 years of being around pro athletes. There's no strategy to that. That's just f***ing the way they are.

HitFix: Going into this “Survivor” experience, what was your best case scenario and what was your worst case scenario regarding how much people would or wouldn't know about your past?

John Rocker: Best case is I could fly under the radar the whole way, just wear my hat low and keep my chin down and just kinda sneak through incognito. Worst case? It's not really “worst case,” but I would say probably the most likely case is what happened. You don't have the kind of exposure that I had way back in the late-'90s, early-2000s with that SI thing and then you don't play for the Atlanta Braves for five years on TBS every single night 162-games-a-year and then another 20 games of the postseason and World Series, things like that, you don't do that, especially as a closer where you're getting a lot media attention and whatnot just for your job, you do that for as long as I did and expect to come out… This happened probably last winter, I walk into an airport in Missoula, Montana and probably had two or three recognize me simply because of TBS. It's very illogical to think that you could be dropped into a situation like that with 17 other people, with as much as I was on TBS, I don't care where you're from there's Braves fans all over the place, and then you've got Wes there from Shreveport? His favorite team was the Braves because of TBS. I was foolishly thinking that maybe I could fly under the radar and not get noticed, but realistically that just wasn't gonna happen.

HitFix: Did you know going in that you were going to try to use John Wetteland as your code name?

John Rocker: No. That caught me so totally off-guard. Why the hell would I say I'm another big league closer? [He laughs.] No, he kinda just caught me off-guard and that was honestly the first thing that popped into my head. And after the fact I was like, “Why the f*** did I say 'Wetteland' for?” I have no idea where that name came from or why I said that. No clue. I'm sure I'll probably hear from John at some point and he'll be like, “What were you thinking?”

HitFix: Did you ever consider, for a second, sitting down on that first night out there and saying to everybody, “OK. Here's who I was. Here's what you might have heard that I said. Here's who I am now. Let's get this all in the open”?

John Rocker: No, not really.

HitFix: Why not? Did you think it was going to be inevitably a negative if people knew?

John Rocker: That's what I've always lived with for the last 15 years or so. The stigma that was created about me has been created by one facet and one facet alone: The media. And for years and years and years, the media has gone above and beyond and well beyond their call of duty to find anyone that actually knows me to echo the sentiments that they have spent many years to create. It's been really exactly the opposite. The people that know me have always come to my defense. When this article first came out, my little small town of Macon, Georgia where I grew up in was just inundated with reports to interview my ex-teachers, my ex-coaches, classmates, my former minor league teammates were interviewed, my current big league teammates were interviewed and to a man, from guys of multiple nationalities, multiple races, the whole nine yards, exactly disagreed with what the media was fishing for. Like, “No, he's not like that.” so you take like Jeremy and Val and whatever, going into it, I saw some of Jeremy's comments last episode and me and Jeremy are buddies now, because Jeremy got to know me. Same thing with Natalie. You saw the s*** she was yelling. Now Natalie got to know me and we're buddies now. You'll speak to these people at some point and ask them. “What do you think about John?” I guarantee you not a single one of them will have anything bad about me. So my play was basically, “You may have the negative stigma, negative stereotypes that I'm gonna carry into this game, but if I get on the show and with my tribemates, if I'm just myself, if I'm just nice, if I just behave cordially, help 'em out, just be who I am…” Then just like Jeremy, he's a friend of mine now, but he originally wasn't because of the negative stigma, negative stereotypes. All you've gotta do is get to know me and you're gonna like me. So I didn't really think that that was going to be necessarily, basically just let actions speak and in a couple days, these folks will get to know me and they'll like me, which was exactly what happened. I think getting voted off is just how the game is played and, like I said, I can't wait till December gets here and I can talk to a couple of them and just be like, “What exactly was the conversation to vote me out over Dale? I want to know exactly what the defining factor was.”

HitFix: Just to duck in with my last question, the one I've asked of everybody in these Blood vs. Water seasons. Had you and Julie discussed, before the season began, when it was going to be OK for one of you to write the other's name down?

John Rocker: Not really. I don't think there's anything that I could do or anything that could happen where I would write Julie's name down, but I think we discussed it a little bit. I honestly can't remember how that conversation went. Yeah, I don't know. Yeah, I can't give you a good answer on that.

Other “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur” exit interviews:
Val Collins
Nadiya Anderson