What a difference a year makes. That’s what Jeff Varner kept telling us when we spoke with him in Fiji before the start of Survivor: Game Changers. It was just a year ago when he returned after a 15-year absence to play Survivor: Second Chance, but he says now he was an emotional, mental, and physical wreck. But after finding love, peace, serenity, and CrossFit, Jeff says he’s a completely different man this time around.
Don’t worry, the fan favorite has not lost his mischievous edge. Just check out the video above to see for yourself. Also, make sure to read the Q&A below where Varner sizes up the competition as well as his own state of mind. (And follow @thedaltonross on Instagram to see exclusive on-location photos, including one of Jeff casting his pre-game vote for whom he’d like to vote off first.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why will you win Survivor: Game Changers, Jeff?
JEFF VARNER: I will win Survivor: Game Changers because out of this entire family, I have been here the longest. I know what I’m doing. I’m seasoned. I’m not emotional like last time. I am ready. I am focused. This is my time.
It’s easy to say you’re not emotional before the game starts.
Well, I’m comparing that to Cambodia, because in Cambodia, I was a basket case.
Are you saying you are not a basket case now?
No, I’m not at all a basket case now. I feel like a million dollars. I’m walking around Ponderosa in pre-game like I’m on a cloud, like nothing matters. I sit and color all day, I’ll write letters, I’ll read. I can be looking down at the table writing something and am completely aware of everything around me. It’s odd. My instincts have kicked in. I just feel great. This is night and day. Cambodia, I was a wreck. Fiji, I am ready.
You studied everyone’s body language before the Second Chance season last year. What are you seeing this time?
This cast is very different. I’m trying to pay attention to the body language of people like I did in Cambodia, but here I’m not seeing a whole lot. And it’s different. Like Day 1, Tony, for example, was very withdrawn. He slept. He kept to himself. The second day, Tony was very anxious. He’s walking around like he can’t sit still. J.T. is a little anxious too. Third day, Tony is walking around with a stick, like a big pole, walking right through the middle of the restaurant. And I don’t know what he’s doing.
So I’m watching crazy stuff. I can tell, Tony’s crazy. Debbie’s crazy. Debbie and Brad are whispering. Tony, Debbie, Brad — can you imagine that alliance? That’s horrifying! I’m seeing stuff like that, but I’m trying not to focus on who can we get out and who is a threat. They’re all threats. But I need them all to be my buddy so I can vote them out without them seeing me coming. That’s how I viewing this, this time around.
How is the crotch framing from this cast?
I have not seen any crotch-framing. Although I’ve seen a few crotches. People need to sit with their legs closed — especially some of these women. I’ve seen a little more than I care to see, honestly.
Who do you want to play with when the game starts?
I’m trying to set myself up so I can work with everybody. I really like Malcolm. Malcolm’s a good guy. He’s an honest person. He’s a savvy player. He’s strategic but he’s loyal. Same with Andrea. She’s smart. She knows what she’s doing. I like her. I love Aubry. I feel like Aubry and I are kindred souls in a way. I like Sandra. And I’m scared to death of that. I didn’t know why I love her so much. I would love to cause some trouble with Sandra. I would love to be Sandra’s devil’s right hand. But I’m probably going to end up getting rid of her quick because she’s terrifying. I forgot what you asked me.
What do you think people make of you?
I think if they’re judging me based on my past performance, I’m not much of a threat. I’ve never made the jury, so why worry about me?
How much alliance-building did you do before you came out here?
Zero. I did zero.
Come on, Varner!
No! In Cambodia, I was set up with an alliance and a group of people I felt comfortable with. And I showed up on a beach with all of them. I was screwed right from the beginning. And the people I ended up voting with were the people that I was not aligned with. I screwed over my alliance in the beginning. And so next Tribal I had to figure out a way to get back on the other side of the fence, and I screwed those people over and I instantly revealed myself as a massive player. And I never could shake that, so here my goal is to show up a free agent.
I’m trying to be friendly and accommodating and nice to everybody. And then when I land, go where I need to go. I feel nervous because I know they’re all aligned and I know they’re all buddy-buddy, and I’m not. I’m just hoping it just works in my favor. If I fall on my face, then let it be known to every Survivor in the future, you must pre-game to survive in all-stars. I’m hoping that my choice to not will be a positive lesson.
For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.