The ‘Dragon Slayer’ on ‘Survivor’ is voted off
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The Dragon Slayer has been slain.
Benjamin Wade, the memorable “Survivor: Tocantins” contestant who calls himself Coach, Coach Wade, Dragon Slayer and Maestro, was voted off the tribe on Thursday night, failing to make the final four. “Coach,” as his tribe members call him, may not have reached the $1-million jackpot, but it’s safe to assume he will be an unforgettable member of the jury in Sunday night’s finale.
With his Steven Seagal look and Zen approach to life, Wade (pictured), 37, managed to make it to the top five of the game mostly by talking. He was rarely seen working at camp, and hardly made a dent in the competition’s physical challenges, despite the fact that he laid claim to incredible physical feats.
But love him or love to hate him, Wade survived 36 days of taxing conditions in the Brazilian jungle, even though his tribe members often questioned his sincerity and sometimes thought he was just plain crazy. Among the stories Wade told at camp was one about being dropped off in the Amazon in Peru and being kidnapped by indigenous people, who tied him to a stake and beat him repeatedly until he was able to escape on a kayak.
During an interview Friday morning, Wade said it was painful to watch the episodes and realize what the other contestants thought of him.
“It was gut-wrenching,” he said. “In fact, that part was harder to watch than the parts where people were betraying me because I am who I am, and for people not see that. I know that I’m subject to ridicule. Let’s be honest: if somebody were telling me this stuff, I would say who is this guy? I’d have the same reaction. I don’t tell it for myself and I don’t tell it to vault myself over other people. I tell it because I’m trying to make an impact on people.”
Host Jeff Probst, also an executive producer, said he empathizes with Wade’s feelings of being misunderstood, but understands why the rest of the contestants and viewers question who he is.
“I’ve said this to Coach: When you come out and talk about breaking world records for a kayak trip and being captured by indigenous people and the latest one he told me is that the movie ‘Castaway’ is based on his story--when you make those kinds of claims, if you can’t back them up with full-on proof, then you’re inviting skepticism,” he said. “That doesn’t mean they’re not true. There’s just no proof that they really happened.”
But there is, in fact, at least evidence that Wade kayaked 6,100 miles from San Felipe, at the northern tip of the Gulf of California, to Punta Charambira, Colombia, in 24 weeks. The Times interviewed him in 1997 when he returned from the journey, though Wade did not break world records, as he has stated.
Probst admitted to having a “soft spot” for a player that is sure to go down in “Survivor” history as one of the most polarizing members in the game.
“I feel for Coach because people have such a strong reaction and so many people have come up to me and said, ‘I don’t like Coach’ or they’ll say ‘I hate Coach,’ and that’s the part I don’t get,” Probst said. “He’s harmless. I don’t have anything against Coach. I’m not certain I believe all his stories. But he is not harming anybody. Even if he embellishes a little bit, oh, we all do.”
On camera, Wade often spoke of himself in the third person, as he did, for instance, in Thursday’s episode when he decided that he was going to spend 48 hours without food or water to prepare himself mentally for the immunity challenge.
“Coach Wade’s foundation is built on a rock. Inside here: unbreakable, unbending, unyielding, immeasurable, immovable, invincible,” he said on the show. “I can stay out here for a week without any food. It will make me a better stronger person.”
Although that self-sacrificing side of him was real, his “Survivor” persona was not, Wade explained in the interview. Wade said he was disappointed that producers did not show him mentoring other contestants one-on-one on a daily basis, or giving away his food so that others could be stronger.
“You see a two-dimensional person on the screen: the Coach part, the intense part,” he said. “The competitor whose body is failing but mentally tries to keep himself in the game. And, of course, the stories that I told. Those are all very much a part of who I am and my character that was forged over many years of adventure and being out on the front line.”
The other side was the “Dragon Slayer” persona, which Wade says was created by a producer — not him — when he referred to another contestant as a dragon and a producer said that made Wade the “dragon slayer.”
“Of course, I ran with it and came up with the wizard, and the warrior and myself as a dragon slayer,” he said. “That part, obviously, I don’t actually think I’m a dragon slayer. I’m not going to switch my name to be slayer. But I had a lot of fun.”
Serving on the jury however, and deciding who wins on Sunday night, was not.
“It was devastating,” he said. “Are you kidding me? I’m no longer out there. I’m no longer doing my thing. I’m no longer the dragon slayer. I’m a piece of dragon meat that’s left rotting out in the open and I’m nothing but a carcass.”
--Maria Elena Fernandez