Throughout his three seasons competing on Survivor, James “J.T.” Thomas has dealt with a wide range of castaways, but none of them frustrated him as much as Michaela Bradshaw. During our one-on-one interview with J.T., he explained why his time with Michaela on Survivor: Game Changers was more unpleasant than any other experience he’s had on the show. Plus, he revealed why he didn’t bring his Immunity Idol to Tribal Council and where he believes it can still be found to this day.
SheKnows: Once you got to Tribal Council, did you know you were about to be voted off?
James “J.T.” Thomas: No, I definitely did not. If I did, I would’ve taken the Idol and played it. I actually thought from the last Tribal to this one that things were a little more solid. I had made it clear to Sandra and Varner that it was in our best interest to get together to the merge. Nobody liked the fact Malcolm went home. I definitely didn’t. Unfortunately, it happened that way and we had to move on. I thought we were more solid than we were. I didn’t really expect it to be a personal vengeance vote. I didn’t really see that coming from Sandra. I thought she was playing more to win the game.
SK: But in a game like Survivor where things change quickly, why not bring your hidden Immunity Idol just in case something goes wrong?
JT: That’s definitely a mistake I obviously made. I found the Idol not long before Tribal, and I had very little time to get it out of my possession because people go through each others’ bags and clothes like it’s clockwork. We didn’t have swim shorts or anything at this point in the game, so my pants were always left at camp no matter what. There was nowhere to hide this thing other than to get rid of it. I immediately ran up to a good spot on top of a place called Lookout Mountain and hid it up there. I got back just in time. The rest of the evening was basically talking with Sandra, Varner and Aubry while Michaela was around doing her thing. It was to the point where I had to go get it now [the Idol] and come up with a reason why I was going to this remote location all of a sudden before Tribal. I risked blowing my cover of having the Idol, but I felt confident and safe due to our conversations. Michaela had clearly rubbed us all wrong. It was tough to deal with her and do challenges with her. She was always contradicting everything anybody wanted to do at challenges. She made it very difficult to work with. Everyone portrayed disgust in Michaela’s actions so far that it was like a no-brainer everybody was on board. I kept trying to run it through my head if I were Sandra or Varner in this situation, and the only thing I could come up with to get me farther in the game was to get rid of Michaela. People don’t make logical decisions on Survivor, and I just left myself vulnerable because I wanted to use the Idol later in the game.
SK: So you’re saying that hidden Idol is still buried atop that mountain in Fiji?
JT: It’s still there today. I’m sure.
SK: Shortly before you were voted out, you made a statement that some people in your tribe aren’t game changers. Instead, you felt they were there taking up space. Clearly, that was a shot at Michaela. Do you still feel that way about her today?
JT: No doubt, unless we’re trying to change the game for the worst. She’s a very selfish person and it was very tough to play with her. She might be a great person, but she just has a horrible way of showing it. She’s very rough and abrasive in conversation and everything. Varner felt the same way, and so did Sandra, but they thought there was a better chance getting rid of me and putting up with her attitude. My thoughts were looking forward and beyond the merge. To go forward in this game, you’ve got to have some connections. I had a lot of them. I just based my decision on the wrong thing. You can’t expect everyone to make the smartest decisions.
SK: Would you go as far to say Michaela is the least enjoyable person you’ve been with on Survivor?
JT: No doubt. No doubt. She’s just the least pleasant. She’s extremely selfish, and she had a chip on her shoulder from Day 1. I don’t know where she got it from. Before she met me she had this chip. I don’t know what her deal was. I hate it because she seemed to be a solid athlete if she wanted to be, but she never really wanted to be.
SK: Is there anybody else this season you don’t believe is truly a game changer?
JT: A couple, but I haven’t played with all of them. I had seen most all of them play, and unless you’re there you never really know what went down. I honestly didn’t know who Sierra Dawn Thomas was until she told me. I could kind of place her. I was surprised to see her there. I had no idea what Michaela done on her season [because it hadn’t aired yet]. Same with Zeke as well, because we were not able to see them play. We had no idea what to expect from them. Culpepper was kind of shocking because I really didn’t remember much about him. To see him play, I think he’s deserving of being there because he is a hard player. Hali, I still don’t know what season she was on. But with Michaela, there’s no doubt she’s gonna be somebody’s pawn for the rest of the game, however long she’s there.
SK: At the previous Tribal Council, which is one of the craziest we’ve ever seen, you walked over to Culpepper and essentially told him your tribe’s plan to vote out Sierra. Your conversation backfired and Malcolm was blindsided big time. That being said, you can’t be surprised they quickly voted against you for betraying them, right?
JT: I was never worried about making the whole tribe mad at me because I actually had Aubry and Malcolm on board with me if we could get the numbers. Without one more person coming aboard, then we were never gonna have the numbers [to vote off Sandra.] I did make a mistake, because it ended up burning me and getting rid of my closest ally, Malcolm. He was a competitor that would’ve helped keep us out of Tribal Council. Me and Malcolm together were a hard team to beat at physical challenges. We would bring it on and give 100 percent. Malcolm deserved to be there longer. He put his heart on the line. So did I. We both deserve to be there, and I hated to see him go. Basically, I was betraying Varner, Michaela and Sandra, not so much Malcolm and Aubry. I screwed up when Malcolm went home. That was the worst part about it. Culpepper was one of my tightest allies from the other tribe. Him, Sierra and Ozzy were all really tight. I didn’t think I was asking much of Culpepper here. I was sticking my neck out to help him out, and I thought surely he would at least vote Sandra out. She was somebody that needed to go soon, so why not vote her out? I didn’t expect Culpepper to be intimidated by competing against me and Malcolm. Come on, he’s a football star, right? Turns out, he just really didn’t want to lose anymore challenges. He did what was best for him in the short-term moment there, which was to get rid of Malcolm. With that, he basically got rid of both of us. It was a great move in that respect for Culpepper if you’re scared of physical threats. He was just playing a different game than we were. It cost me my game, no doubt about it.
SK: What was your plan to make it to the end?
JT: I obviously was hoping to make it to the merge or another swap soon. In order to do that, I had to survive this tribe. Aubry was solid with me 100 percent. With Varner and Sandra, we could work together. I didn’t mind taking that group to the end, but I knew I had people I could trust more on the former Nuku tribe. My goal was to make it to the merge or swap at any cost. That was my original goal, but I definitely would’ve been able to help Sandra and Varner. If not secure them a spot in the end, I could at least buy them time to build up their own relationships on the former Nuku tribe. My goal was to just make it to the merge to see who was still gonna be true to the former Nuku and who wasn’t. I would’ve used Sandra, Varner and Aubry however I needed to. It gave me more options for later in the game.
SK: This is the third time you’ve competed on Survivor. Is the the first time they’ve asked you to play again since we last saw you way back on Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains?
JT: Yes. This was the first opportunity I’ve had to come back. I’ve been waiting for it this whole time. Despite not winning Season 20, I felt like I was a strong competitor up until the time I left. There was a lot that went wrong, but I’m never gonna be scared to take a chance to win the game. If you want to win the game, you’re gonna have to take chances and make moves outside the box that separate yourself from the pack. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out in Season 20, and I’ve been dying for an opportunity to change opinions about how I play the game. More important than opinions, I wanted to prove it to myself. All I think about are the times I didn’t win. I don’t ever think about the time I won [Season 18]. I was very excited to play this game again. I was really expecting the game play that was on Heroes vs. Villains in this game, which surprisingly is not anywhere near the caliber of game play. It was more of everybody getting rid of anybody they’re scared of right away. It’s kind of how everybody voted the entire time. If it works for you, then it’s great. It just never would work for me.
SK: Would you say this group of castaways isn’t playing a smart game?
JT: It’s a great, smart game for the people who make it to the end. I don’t think Sandra is playing a smart game at all. Can she make it to the end and win? I don’t know. It’s gonna be interesting to see how she could. When she voted me out, it was strictly on vengeance. Malcolm was ready to vote her out. She was making vengeance decisions vs. a smart one, in my opinion.
SK: Would you ever play the game again?
JT: Definitely. Man, I want to play more now than ever before.