Survivor: James Lim explains that 'death glare'
James Lim experienced a lot in his brief Survivor stint. He experienced the highs (orchestrating the vote-out of the season so far by blindsiding Morgan), and he experienced the lows (being unable to dive down more than a foot or so in the second immunity challenge). He went through two tribe swaps. And now he has experienced being voted out.
James was on the wrong side of the numbers after the latest Survivor: Ghost Island swap put him back on Malolo, and while he tried to flip the script by bringing the woman he saved a few weeks ago (Angela) over, it didn’t work, and he was unanimously booted. Why didn’t his sales pitch stick? What does he think of Michael even voting against him? And is he still having nightmares involving water after his challenge debacle? We asked James all that and more when he called into EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) Thursday morning. Here are some highlights from our chat.
EW RADIO: You looked pretty surprised by the vote last night. What were you thinking when you went into Tribal Council? Did you think you had flipped Angela?
JAMES LIM: I think my reaction was a genuine one once I saw it was a 4-1 vote. I remember walking to Tribal, thinking in my mind I had flipped Michael and Angela, so my hope going in was it was going to be a 3-2 vote for Desiree over myself. Part of me knew that I was one of the main targets, obviously. I was down in the numbers on that tribe in two different ways, but the 4-1 result, I was obviously kind of shocked to see that. I think that’s where the reaction of calling it a blindside came from.
You looked like you were about to say something after that vote came down and then thought better of it. Was that the case or not?
Once I realized that I was booted, I kind of just blacked out, but my reaction and that look that you’re talking about, it was just more of a reaction of looking at Michael like, “Okay, so this is what is going on, huh?” It was just an immediate reaction, and people are calling it a death glare. It was more a mixture of shock and disappointment. But I’m glad that I went out with a memorable moment like that. Some people are calling it the Michaela moment of the season.
Michael’s vote was the one that really surprised you though, right?
I think so. At the end of the day, the image that I got was that me and Michael were going to stay Malolo strong, and the point was for me to get Angela to our side. So the Kellyn and Desiree versus me and Michael dynamic was correct, and Angela was in the middle. But to see that even Michael had voted me off — kudos to him. For him, it’s a way to stay loyal to Kellyn and Desiree and prove his “loyalty” to Naviti. But, for me, it was a little bit of a shock, to be honest.
Did you think it might help when Jeff Probst called Desiree out for being the caller and kind of losing it for the tribe?
Going into the challenge, we had a discussion on who should be the caller, and obviously, I was like, “Kellyn is the puzzle person.” We all thought she should do it, but Desiree was very adamant that it was her time to really step up to the plate. So we let her do it because my thought was, even though I was down in numbers, if she steps up and fails, then she paints a target on her own back, and that’s what happened.
Standing there blindfolded with Michael and hearing Yanuya and Naviti get closer to the finish, and the way it worked out was that Des — no offense to her — she wasn’t as calm and composed in her directions to Kellyn. It wasn’t shown, but Kellyn started crying because Des was just screaming at her, like, “What the hell are you playing?” I was just standing there helpless, and I wish I were the caller or I was on the puzzle portion. I’ve thought that a thousand times.
That’s so odd Desiree was adamant about doing it because we saw her at the very start of the season talking about how bad she was at puzzles, and then she was beaten by Laurel in the first one of the season.
We all thought that the caller job would be fundamentally different from the actual puzzle job. But you have to somehow guide a blindfolded teammate to solve a puzzle, and if someone like Kellyn had been the caller, maybe she doesn’t have as loud a voice as Desiree, but once we got to the mat, maybe she could have guided me and Michael to solve that puzzle faster. But at this point in time, I was more than happy to let Desiree step up, because I knew that if she does a great job that we’re safe, and if she chokes and fails, then I have another target besides myself.
Let’s rip the bandage off and talk about that water challenge where you could not dive down. Clearly, you were struggling. Tell us about that moment and what was happening there.
It was a combination of a lot of factors, but I think the main thing was being so amped up. I started swimming, and I realized the adrenaline was coursing through my veins and making it hard to take deep breaths, and so I knew as soon as I hit the water that this was going to be a little bit difficult. Before flying out, I had a friend who was a varsity Columbia swimmer and diver train me. So I got to a pretty good level of freestyle sprinting and diving down to about 12 or 13 feet in a pool, which is why I originally thought that I could get the job done. The adrenaline and trying to go feet down first was just not a good idea when there are strong currents in the ocean, unlike the pool.
I got about halfway down on the first try, and I had to come back up, and Jeff goes, “James really struggling!” and all those thoughts came together. I choked, and I still stand by that. It was definitely the lowest moment of my Survivor journey, but at the same time, I’m glad I was given a second chance by the Malolos and was able to own up to it and not just shake off that responsibility.
Have you taken some heat from your athlete buddies?
Absolutely. My Harvard track teammates have reached out and said, “Maybe you’re fast on land, but buddy, you got to take some diving lessons.” It’s all good trash-talking and all in good fun.
Jeff Probst told us that he was worried you would not be able to make personal connections out on the island and recommended in casting that you listen to a Tony Robbins podcast to help with that. And he feels you were able to use that and make connections because of it. What can you say about that?
What really happened is when they interviewed me, they already had my bio, my psychological evaluation, my IQ results. And the story I got was that when they saw my IQ results — which , as Jeff said, were the all-time record and all that — their impression was that “This guy is just the smart robot of the season.” So when I walked in, the entire team sitting in front of me wouldn’t budge from that “this guy is just a smart analytical robot,” like a gamebot image. And I wanted to disprove that. Jeff recommended that I go watch Tony Robbins. And my question was: Who the hell is that? I had never heard that name. So after the interview, I went back to the room and did Google who he was and was watching some videos. Casting came down to check on me, and I told them, “I’m watching Tony Robbins like Jeff told me to.”
And I think in terms of the actual relationship part, I think that was never a weakness in my game. In fact, I really cherished the opportunity to build bonds with the 19 other castaways and to share my own stories and hear where they’re coming from. One of my biggest appeals of Survivor was the chance to meet such a cross-section of America. I would never have met someone like Donathan or Angela if it were not for Survivor, and I think I left the game having built some deep, personal bonds that helped me strategically, but also emotionally and personally. And that’s a facet that I will be forever proud of.