The Dragonz: An oral history of the greatest Survivor rock band ever
Heroes vs. Villains is considered by many to be the best Survivor season ever, but what happened in the game is nothing compared to what happened behind the scenes on the jury.
For Survivor’s 20th season, the reality franchise brought 20 former all-stars to the island of Upolu in Samoa for the ultimate battle between good and evil. Airing in 2010, Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains quickly established itself as a landmark installment filled with epic moves (Russell Hantz taking on Boston Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow playing two idols at the same Tribal Council, Sandra Diaz-Twine becoming the show’s first ever two-time winner) and equally epic blunders (Tyson Apostol inadvertently voting himself out, the Heroes tribe sending a hidden immunity idol over to the Villains…which was then used against them).
But what happened in the game is nothing compared to the majesty and peculiarity of what transpired outside of it. Jury members that were voted off the tribe found themselves suddenly immersed in a new adventure — an adventure that would completely consume them. For Benjamin “Coach” Wade, Courtney Yates, James “J.T.” Thomas, and the rest who followed, having their dreams dashed on TV quickly gave way to a new dream. A new obsession. A new pursuit that became bigger than the game itself.
That pursuit led to stratospheric highs (an epic music video that has to be seen to be believed) and crushing lows (one jury/band member almost boycotting a Tribal Council appearance in protest). From reality TV stars to international rock stars, three crazy kids and their entourage managed to somehow put past professional disappointments — not to mention what some may describe as a general lack of musical talent — aside to record a five-song magnum opus that the general public has never heard in full… until now. This is their music. This is their story. This is the tale of the greatest Survivor rock band that ever was. These are the Dragonz.
PART I: THE ORIGIN STORY
“Head is spinning
My hair is looking good
Got on my makeup
Take a picture if you could
Stuck in the fast lane
So much money and fame
Wave my hands in the air
Better do the same”
—“Dancing All Night” by the Dragonz
After players are voted out of Survivor, they are sent to local lodging which the show calls Ponderosa. All the contestants that are voted out before the jury eventually leave for a trip to a neighboring country, while folks that are voted out once the jury begins not only stay until the day 39 final Tribal Council, but — starting in season 16 — are also filmed for a web series titled Survivor: Ponderosa that chronicles their adventures in paradise as they bide their time and wait for more people to be voted out of the game and join them. Benjamin Wade (a.k.a. Coach a.k.a. the Dragonslayer) was the first person voted out for the Heroes vs. Villains jury. When he arrived at Ponderosa, he was greeted by two things: Ponderosa director Norwood Cheek, and a lot of rain.
NORWOOD CHEEK (Ponderosa video director): Ponderosa is a really interesting environment, especially when you're the first jury member, because, really, it was just Coach. And I was there, documenting his lonely life. We had met and worked together on Tocantins, so we already had this relationship, and we instantly got along. It's a few days before the second jury member arrives, so we're sitting there for a few days.
BENJAMIN “COACH” WADE: There's a great amount of boredom and restlessness that settles in at Ponderosa. So, you're looking for things to do.
NORWOOD CHEEK: And it's raining. The weather at Samoa that season was horrible. It was just pouring down rain.
CAITLIN MOORE (contestant manager): It was raining so much that season. We really were stuck inside.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Fortunately, there was this little cabin hut where there was a TV and all sorts of DVDs, and Coach and I notoriously watched every season of Lost over a course of a few days.
COACH: They have movies there, and we blew through Lost and we've watched the entire series and now we don't know what to do.
NORWOOD CHEEK: So in this little hut at Ponderosa, they had a Rock Band system that was part of a PlayStation. Coach started playing it, and he was really good at it. He was good at the guitar parts and really good at the drum parts. Then there was even a microphone that somehow judges your performance on the microphone, and he was really good at that too! And then Courtney gets voted out. She arrives, and, of course, she's really pissed at first and is bummed. But then, after she's had some food and after a day or so, she's up for hanging out and doing stuff.
COURTNEY YATES: Coach was playing Rock Band. Then J.T. got kind of roped into it.
J.T. THOMAS: Obviously, no one's happy to be voted off, so when I got voted off, I was like, "Oh no, what am I going to do with myself?” I think we had maybe 12 days left, or something. It seemed like an eternity when you're still locked down. You can't do anything. You can eat, and then you just sit around and gain weight. So I was like, "Man, I hope we can find something to do."
COACH: We started playing Rock Band. I jumped on the drums, and J.T. jumped on the guitar and we did vocals and we were kind of passing it back and forth.
COURTNEY YATES: I used to play Rock Band with friends of mine, and then I was like, "I don't want them to know that I'm good at this game because then I'll never leave that room again as long as I'm there." Because Coach is competitive. So finally, one day I was like, "Oh, screw it," and I sang one of the songs.
NORWOOD CHEEK: She started performing on some of this Rock Band stuff. And her vocals were great! I was like, "Wow, you've got a great voice."
COURTNEY YATES: Norwood was there filming us, but then there was the problem that we couldn’t actually use any of that for the Ponderosa show because the music has to be licensed. The song that I was actually singing was “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. So Norwood and Coach were like, "We'll just make our own songs and we'll make a fake band!"
While the creation of the band was originally born out of necessity to create a licensing-free soundtrack for the Rock Band footage in the Ponderosa videos, it soon grew into something much bigger, and all encompassing.
NORWOOD CHEEK: We were laughing at how we can just form a band. I played in bands and still play in bands and music is a big part of my life. So I said to Coach, "We should just write some songs, because what else are we going to do?" Right? Apart from just watching TV or playing Rock Band, there's nothing to do.
COACH: All of a sudden, I thought, "Hey, man, I write music in the real world."
COURTNEY YATES: And so then overnight, Coach wrote all the lyrics and Norwood made music on GarageBand. And then we started recording it and then it became, like, very serious, very fast.
NORWOOD CHEEK: We literally took the microphone from Rock Band and plugged it into my computer and started recording songs. I had my laptop there and I’m pretty adept at GarageBand, so I recorded a few basic tracks in GarageBand and said, "All right, let's just make this into a song." For the most part, I was writing all the music. I was playing keyboard on my computer, and then Coach mainly wrote all the lyrics, and I kind of worked with them on what the melodies could be. And we just started recording.
J.T. THOMAS: Norwood told me they had a guitar there. And I said, "Well, I'll play that a little bit."
NORWOOD CHEEK: J.T. was pretty adept at playing guitar. And so I wrote a few songs where he could play guitar and I just kind of showed him what he could do on it and then he took the reins on that.
J.T. THOMAS: I can strum a couple of chords, so, not really that great. I probably played as much at Ponderosa than I had played in the past five years at that time. But I knew enough to play the right chord, anyway.
COURTNEY YATES: Coach was actually fairly musical, and J.T. plucks the guitar. So this joke ended up actually taking on a life of its own.
J.T. THOMAS: It went from playing Rock Band to playing around as a real band.
Of course, every great band needs a great name, and the story behind the fledgling Ponderosa musical outfit’s moniker was wonderfully haphazard.
COURTNEY YATES: Coach’s band on Rock Band was called the Dragons, with an S. But when we started making music and wanted to make sure we could use the name on the show, it turned out the Dragons name was already taken.
NORWOOD CHEEK: I went online and looked up to see if there was another band called the Dragons. Whether it was the Soup Dragons or whatever, it was reported back that there was another Dragons.
COURTNEY YATES: We couldn't use Dragons with an S, so it had to be Dragonz with a Z.
PART II: THE OBSESSION GROWS
“My name is Coachizzle
Ladies all up in my bizzle
I travel round the world
And my chest gets chizzled
They call me Cortex
Chew you like a T. Rex
When I stand up at the mic
All my lyrics I flex”
—“Dragonz Rap” by the Dragonz
The band may have begun partly as a lark and partly as a solution to a music licensing issue, but the three voted out contestants and their producer soon became consumed with the project, spending all their time writing, rehearsing, and recording what would end up being five original songs (now included here in full in the finally released The Ponderosa EP). The joke band was a joke no longer. At least not to some.
NORWOOD CHEEK: We all know Coach is a musician. I mean, he is very serious about music. So he and I certainly bonded over that. So for Coach and I, it was like, “Hey, let's make these songs sound as good as we can.” And so Coach and I were actually kind of serious about it.
COURTNEY YATES: In order to have something be really funny, you need to have a good solid skeleton of something underneath it for it to exist off of. So I do think that the two musical people were perhaps a little more serious because they were actually creating it and making the music. And then J.T. is just a good sport, and I like to do stupid stuff.
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach was definitely the leader of the band. Coach made this happen, 100 percent. He put in the hours. He sat there. I remember he had this little notebook and he was writing all day, trying to come up with his lyrics. And Courtney kind of thought it was just kind of silly and fun. But it turns out Courtney kind of had the best voice out of everybody, which I think maybe made Coach a little bit mad. But Courtney was really good at stroking Coach's ego and letting him still take the reins.
COACH: In that moment, it became our lifeline. It became our goal and it started out as just screwing around and then, “Hey, this is pretty good.” If it hadn't been for Norwood and his experience in this, then it would've just tanked.
CAITLIN MOORE: Norwood is the technical mastermind behind the whole project. He had the skills to put the music all together. He created the beats. He knew how to record everything for them. They had their own music producer in Norwood. And so once this thing started catching some speed, it was like a runaway train between Norwood, Coach, Courtney, and J.T. It just was all consuming. That's all we did. That was literally everything that we did at Ponderosa. It was all revolving around the Dragonz!
COURTNEY YATES: Norwood got so wrapped up in our nonsense that he ended up getting another PA to cover the other contestants. So when Jerri and Colby showed up, he was like, "Handle this. I'm making music."
NORWOOD CHEEK: We all just kind of each had our own little pieces of the puzzle that we could contribute. I was writing and recording music, and they were writing the lyrics and adding the vocals. And it was just a great way to spend our time instead of being depressed that they were out of the game and being bummed that it was just raining so much in Samoa.
J.T. THOMAS: I'm not a big reader, so just having an option of making and playing music was a lot better than just sitting around. So, I was definitely open to anything. And Coach was wanting to hang out, so he found a way to keep us all together and participating.
COACH: You're out there playing the game, trying to win challenges, and making great confessionals. And when that's taken away from you, what do you have left? As far as the game, you know that you're still going to have a Tribal Council coming, but you know that you're only going to get a second or two of airtime as you're walking into Tribal and you're sitting down, and that's all you have left. And so, as the band started taking off, we thought, "This is something that we wake up and breathe like a regular rock band. We want to breathe in the life that could be this band."
COURTNEY YATES: We even invented our own backstory. The Dragonz were huge in Samoa. We decided we had many albums and it was just a joke that we kept feeding. In the mythology, we had imagined that we were one of those weird bands from the early ’80s where there was a new wave chick singer. And the three of us were full of drama. And then I had a solo career, Coach had several heartbreak songs, and J.T. we imagined would leave and come back to the band.
And, basically over breakfast and hanging around, we'd just invent more and more details onto the Dragonz. And this fake shared history that we all had was really just to pass the time and be goofy and funny. Because we couldn't go anywhere! They didn't take us anyplace. There was only one television. There was really not a lot to be doing. So this ended up being a time-consuming fun project for all of the losers of the camp.
J.T. THOMAS: We were at it all day. We literally were. We had nothing else to do.
But as the threesome and their producer went down a rock and roll rabbit hole, other eliminated players — starting with Amanda Kimmel, Candice Woodcock (now Candice Cody), and Danielle DiLorenzo — began showing up at Ponderosa in need of their standard post-game mental, physical, and emotional rehab.
COURTNEY YATES: We were all so invested in this nonsense, that we no longer cared about anything else that was happening. And so people would then get voted out of the game, and they're all traumatized and invested in Survivor — which is what everyone's supposed to care about — and we'd be like, "Yeah, yeah, that's terrible. You want to see our music video?"
CAITLIN MOORE: I felt bad for the people who came one by one down to Ponderosa, because typically, they're all wanting to hear, "Hey, what's going on in the game? How did you get blindsided? What happened to me? How did I get voted off?" And this was like a completely different Ponderosa. They were like, "We have a band." They didn't give a s--- what was happening in the game. This is like, "Welcome to Ponderosa. We are in a band. This is about the Dragonz. If you're lucky, we're going to try out your voice. Maybe you can get in for a background vocal of this new song that we're working on."
COURTNEY YATES: They're filthy, and so upset. And we'd be like, "Aren't we hilarious?" We terrorized everybody with the Dragonz for, like, two weeks, basically. Because it became invented as soon as J.T. got there, and then everybody else who got voted off had to deal with us.
COACH: Now we have people that are coming in from the outside and looking at it and they're thinking, "Hey, this is kind of a cool thing, and this is a way for me to get my mind off of just getting voted out." So, the people that came off would either be fit into, "Well, can you rap, or can you sing?" Rupert had a really deep voice, so we used that on “Dragonz Rap.”
COURTNEY YATES: We got Rupert to do the chorus, which is, "We are the Dragonz," and he did it in his growl. He was very sincere about the whole thing. He was like, "Thank you for letting me be a part of this." And we're like, "Okay, buddy."
CAITLIN MOORE: It was almost like they had to audition for the background vocals for the Dragonz. but everybody wanted to be part of the band because that's what Ponderosa was. It was just a band! It was the Dragonz!
J.T. THOMAS: Coach was just dying for somebody new to come listen.
COACH: How did everybody feel coming into it? They freakin’ loved it, man! The synergy between the three of us really forced people coming out of the game to be into it. You set something in motion that has magic, you set something in motion that has that little bit of sizzle, and you start that train rolling, and people want to jump on.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I was like, “Really? A band? Like, do they have any musical talent?” I was kind of intrigued, but concerned. Like, what am I going to walk into here? Are they at all decent with this or is this going to be a total “Oh, God, what are you doing, please stop” moment?
J.T. THOMAS: When Danielle joined us at Ponderosa, she was participating. Coach was in the process of making a complete album. He had it in his mind to get it done before we left Ponderosa. And I was like, "Coach, that's a lot."
NORWOOD CHEEK: After Amanda got through her disappointment of being voted off, she really came around and she thought it was hilarious and fun. She even wrote those lyrics for her part of “Dragonz Rap” and I was really impressed at her rhythm and her ability to deliver. I think we just did that in one take and she nailed it. She didn't necessarily participate as much as we wanted her to. We really wanted her to become a bigger part of it.
AMANDA KIMMEL: I thought it was cute and silly, and after playing the game, you just want to zone out for a bit and do fun things.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Once Candice came, Candice was actually a little more interested in being a part of the Dragonz.
COURTNEY YATES: Candice was very pro-Dragonz. She was really there for the fun.
CANDICE CODY: I thought it was ridiculous, but as I got to know Coach, I realized that this was not a joke to him. This is actually very serious to Coach, and he was taking his role as the lead singer in the band very seriously. It was all silly, but we needed to pass the time.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Candice didn't really want to contribute her own vocals, but she would really get Coach amped up to participate and really deliver the vocals the way they needed to be delivered.
CANDICE CODY: My role that I jumped into was Coach's voice coach, because I can't sing and I can't write. So I did a lot of voice coaching sessions with Coach to really getting him to feel the lyrics and lean into them. They were trying to record the song, and I just felt like it was flat. I know that the Dragonslayer is a very passionate guy, so I just needed to drag that passion out of him.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Coach was really pushing himself, and Candice definitely inspired him and encouraged him to push himself.
COACH: Candice was like, "Come on, Coach!" And, she would sit there in the recording sessions, even though she wasn't recording herself, and just be super supportive. You always need to have that when you're doing a musical project or any project, somebody on the outside that is lifting you up.
COURTNEY YATES: I have to give it to the other contestants. When they're arriving from having their torch snuffed, and they walk in expecting us to really care about what happened in the game, and instead we just pounce on them with our complete left field nonsense — they really tried to be good sports about it, but you could tell they didn't care. It was patronizing, like we were children. You know? They were like, "Yeah, good. Great job, you guys." But it was also a situation of nobody thinks you're as funny as you think you are. We thought this was the funniest thing that had ever happened, and there's no way anyone who was not a part of it could think it was that funny.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I was being entertained. But at the same time, in the back of my head, I'm just like… what is going on?
COURTNEY YATES: When it got later in the game with the people at the end that thought they had a shot at something — like Rupert, Jerri, and Colby — those are the ones that really were not quite ready to give up being upset to laugh at our foolishness. They really cared about their own lives. So selfish.
The vast majority of the Dragonz lyrics were penned by Coach… for better or for worse.
COURTNEY YATES: Coach wrote all the lyrics, which do not make any sense. That's also the funniest part. It's literally written as if English is our second language. Like, none of it makes any sense.
COACH: I would wake up in the morning and I would have these words, because I do like to be a philosopher. Well, at least I like quoting other philosophers. And I've always liked writing poems. So, I'd wake up and I'd have something on my mind. We're not in the game and that sucks. How can I put that eloquently?
J.T. THOMAS: In most cases, you would think coming up with the lyrics would be the problem. Not in our case. We had Coach, and he would literally write down page after page after page of lyrics. Coach had plenty of material there to sort through. He would spit it out — just like his stories. He just keeps all that stuff in his head.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Coach is really good at writing ridiculous lyrics.
COACH: I'd start writing something down, and then Norwood would come and say, "Hey, what about doing a rap?" And I'd be like, "Yeah, that's cool." Sometimes I'd think about the rock, sometimes I'd think about pop. I like classic rock, so that was kind of why we started out in that genre, but Norwood was really key in helping steer that direction of, “Well, what about this? Well, what about that?” And so, he came up with the genre and then we would just take off.
After writing out his lyrics, Coach was very protective of whom he would allow to actually sing them.
COACH: I think Amanda tried to sing, and it was just so bad.
AMANDA KIMMEL: I don’t remember singing much. I have a terrible voice, so hope it wasn’t a lot.
CAITLIN MOORE: Amanda is actually is a really good singer. You'll hear her on some of the tracks.
COACH: And Rupert was going to try to sing. Rupert would sing and then we said, "No, we can't do that." Some people have pitch, some people don't. Even with Auto-Tune, you can't get somebody in that's three steps flat. And so, there were some people that we would just kind of try them out and they'd come in and they'd sing, and we listened to it back and we would say, "Oh man, this is not on pitch." And we'd just cut people in the editing process left and right. J.T. tried singing, but he couldn't sing on pitch.
J.T. THOMAS: Well, as you probably know, I was awoken to the fact that I have a really, really Southern accent. And I didn't know it until I heard myself back on TV. So, even though I know all the words to songs, and the rhythms, I cannot sing. And I know it.
COURTNEY YATES: J.T. was our guitarist, so he was the silent one who speaks through his instrument. And also, I don't think he was that great of a singer. But he did do some harmonies. And then he randomly was a really good beatboxer. So that came in handy for our rap.
NORWOOD CHEEK: My favorite part of “Dragonz Rap” is the beatbox. That's all J.T. He was really good at it.
J.T. THOMAS: We were sitting around trying to come up with a rap song, and Norwood was like, "Surely we all can make some beats." I said, "Man, I do this one thing that I've done since I was little," and I tried to do it. And he was like, "Dude, that's perfect." And I was like, "Oh no, I've got to do that for the whole length of a song?"
NORWOOD CHEEK: It's J.T.’s enthusiasm and energy and his ability to laugh at himself that made him great.
CAITLIN MOORE: J.T. was not as musically gifted with his voice as the others were, but he could play that guitar better than anybody else could.
COACH: J.T. would come and say, "Oh, I can add these chords and I can play this little solo." The solo? Come on, man, it's five notes! And it's hilarious because that was the extent of what he could do for a solo, but it fit so well because if it would have been this badass rock and roll, Van Halen type solo where he's going all over the place, it probably would have added that legitimacy that we didn't have, but it would have ruined the whole thing. So just him playing that solo, he was like, "Well, this is about all I can come up with." It was classic.
PART III: CONTROVERSY
“I’m sitting here looking out every day
Watching the rain drizzle down
Wondering if what I did or say
And where it all went wrong
I’m thinking hard about all of my choices
Coulda woulda shoulda done and said
But now I’ve got to deal with all of these voices
That are pounding all in my head.”
—“Soul is Bare” by the Dragonz
Like any great band, the Dragonz courted controversy during their reign of rock & roll terror. Not content to keep their rock star lifestyle confined merely to Ponderosa, the group came up with a scandalous scheme to bring their new sound (and style) to the masses. The resulting confrontation led to one band member almost refusing to attend a Tribal Council in protest. The seeds of the kerfuffle were planted at the jury’s fourth Tribal Council appearance, where Candice was voted off.
COURTNEY YATES: We decided to go to Tribal Council as the Dragonz. Coach, J.T., Amanda, and I all wore black with sunglasses. That was our Dragonz outfit.
COACH: I was already branding. If you think about it, branding is everything. I was branding the Dragonz flair and I was branding the Dragonz in Heroes vs. Villains because I had such a fricking s---ty showing in the actual game. Branding. Dragonz. Wear black.
NORWOOD CHEEK: They arrive at Tribal Council, and they're wearing a lot of that gear. Jeff Probst calls them in, “Now let’s bring in the members of the jury.” And they're wearing all this stuff. And they’re all wearing sunglasses — which they'd snuck by all the wardrobe people who approve what the jury's wearing because they don't want them to wear all white or some kind of crazy pattern that's going to mess up the cameras. And so they're walking in, they snuck in these sunglasses, and I remember watching on a monitor and Jeff is like, "Take those off." I'm sure in the end, they cut around that on the show.
COURTNEY YATES: We all made an entrance, we came up and struck a pose, and then walked over to the bench.
J.T. THOMAS: We wanted to look unified, as a Ponderosa group, and we were really just proud of our new band. We also wanted the players in the game to be suspicious, and be curious of what we were up to, and maybe take them from their game a little bit.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I was still in the game at that point, and I wasn't sure what exactly was going on, but I could tell that they were coordinating their outfits. I was like, “Oh, they're obviously looking for things to entertain themselves with. No judgment.” But I was like, “I wonder what the hell are they doing?”
COURTNEY YATES: The producers didn’t like that we wore the all black and had sunglasses on. I said to Jeff, "Look, bro, we don't care about your show. We're making our own show. We got webisodes!" And then Norwood came up to me after and he's like, "Did you really look that man in the face and tell him you were making webisodes?!"
The all black attack was a mere rehearsal for the main attraction — and showdown — which took place one night later at the next Tribal Council.
CAITLIN MOORE: Oh, Dragonzgate. How could I forget?
COACH: It was a dark night in my Survivor history, and I almost screwed myself for future chances to be on the show.
J.T. THOMAS: Somebody had the idea to make some custom Dragonz T-shirts. Since we wore all black, we were going to come in there in our Dragonz gear the next time.
COACH: We started thinking, "How can we sneak this onto the show and how can we get the Dragonz to make an appearance out there in the jury?"
COURTNEY YATES: We decided we wanted band T-shirts, so they bought us all T-shirts the same color and magic markers. We then handcrafted cottage industry some T-shirts, and we were all going to wear them to Tribal Council.
CAITLIN MOORE: Those T-shirts were terrible. They were green T-shirts — and a really ugly green — with the word “Dragonz” Sharpied on them. Like a child made it, right? They were pretty bad.
COACH: In my mind, I'm thinking, "We’re rock stars!” So if we show up that episode at Tribal Council, everybody's going to be talking about, “Why are they all wearing lime green shirts?" And we then said, "Let's make it so that we're like in the ‘80s." So one person wore a green headband, somebody had a green thing on their arm, and then we had “The Dragonz” on our shirts, and I cut my sleeves off.
CAITLIN MOORE: I called production. I said, "Listen, they started this band. They're really into their band. It's called the Dragonz. They made T-shirts. They want to wear them to Tribal." They ran it up the flagpole and then they said, "Okay, they can wear their T-shirts."
COACH: They got approval! This is what makes me mad. Caitlin called Probst and Probst called Burnett and they were waiting on a call back from New York City legal. And we got approval! There's the green light!
CAITLIN MOORE: So we get over to Tribal, they take one look at these T-shirts, and they're like, "No, we can't let you wear these. Not what we envisioned.”
COURTNEY YATES: We're in the area before we come on, and someone from production was just like, "Absolutely not. Guys, you cannot wear these shirts. There's writing on them. It's distracting. No."
NORWOOD CHEEK: When the Dragonz showed up at Tribal Council all wearing Dragonz stuff, production was like, "Guys, come on. You're still on a TV show here. You're not in a band yet. Save the band for when you're back in the States. But right now, we're still making Survivor."
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach kind of had a tantrum.
COACH: We’re all mic’d up waiting to go, and we're supposed to come right in, and it usually happens without a glitch. And then the wardrobe lady comes over and she’s like, "Sorry, you guys have to take these off." And I was like, "Excuse me, we're not taking them off. We've got approval." And she was like, "No, you've got to take them off." I said, "We're not taking them off. You can take them off of us personally, but we're not taking them off." So she goes and she walks back to ask somebody, and then she comes back and she’s like, "No, they said that you're going to have to change." When she left, I told everybody, "We're not changing for nothing. They can't film this episode without us walking out there for Tribal Council.” And everybody was like, "Okay, man. Yeah, that's right. Let's do this. We're going to stand strong." I said, "We can freaking boycott this."
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach lost his mind about not being able to wear the Dragonz T-shirt and then they all jumped on the bandwagon and they threw a big fit and they didn't want to go to Tribal. They didn't want to go on set. They were refusing to go on set unless they got to wear their Dragonz T-shirts! And I'm like, "Oh my gosh, this is a disaster."
NORWOOD CHEEK: They were so mad because this was going to be the big break for the Dragonz.
CAITLIN MOORE: I have never seen this in all my years. We're scrambling around to find other clothes that they can wear because we didn't even bring any backups with us. So now we're just scrambling to find clothes.
CANDICE CODY: We had some inkling that they weren't going to let us wear the shirts. So in order to force them to let us wear the shirts, we intentionally did not bring any other alternatives. So when we got there, and they decided they would not let us wear them, we were like, “Okay, well what do you want me to wear? I've got nothing.”
COACH: I was like, "We won't take no for an answer." So the wardrobe lady comes back with some clothes and says, "Okay, here you go." And everybody immediately was like, "Well, okay."
COURTNEY YATES: I think after a certain point we all tried to be strong, and then one by one we just kind of gave up on it. We went, "Fine. Whatever."
J.T. THOMAS: He was fighting mad about it. Coach was like, "I can't believe they did that." We were like, "Yeah, actually, we can believe it, Coach."
CANDICE CODY: They found some random crew shirts for us. They gave Amanda and me these tank tops, and they found J.T. this red shirt that he never would have worn otherwise.
COURTNEY YATES: I knew I wasn’t going to die on that hill, so I actually brought another shirt with me. It’s consistent with my priorities and behavior that I would have a quiet back-up plan, because no one else’s clothes ever fit me and TV is forever. So we wore other stuff. But Coach refused.
COACH: They brought us dirty laundry to wear. I was like, "F--- this!”
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach was just devastated. I've never seen Coach like that. Like, ever. I don't think he was crying, but he was close to crying. He was yelling. He was adamant he was not going to be pushed around, not being able to wear his Dragonz shirt. I'm telling you, it was a mess.
COACH: I just snapped, and I let out a primal scream. And I told them, "I am walking off the set!" And I freaking just started taking off through the jungle.
CAITLIN MOORE: I just remember hearing him scream. They called me to come and try to calm him down because he was really hysterical and I was like, "Guys! I know!"
COACH: I started taking off in the juggle. I mean, not even on a path! And I'm like, "F this S." And, then [executive producer] Dave Burris comes running after me, and not only saved the day but saved my future on Survivor. He was like, "Coach, stop." And I was like, "Screw this, man! They gave us approval. I don't know who's blocking us at the last second, but you're giving us dirty laundry to put on!" He talked me off the ledge. He says, "Coach, come on. Just come back here. Let's film it. I understand." And, he was really cool and very sympathetic. But I told Dave, just like I told the wardrobe lady, "You want to take it off of me, you can fricking take it off of me."
COURTNEY YATES: Everyone's in other clothing now, but Coach wouldn't do it. And he's a grown man. What are they going to do, wrestle him? Or not let him go on the show? You're just going to not have him on the jury for that episode? That's even more distracting. So I think they were just like, "Fine, let him do it."
COACH: See, there's the last man standing, honor and integrity. Most people think integrity is having a high code moral code. That's not the definition. Integrity is believing in something that you're willing to sacrifice for, and you can see the integrity right there coming through as the last man standing wearing a fricking Dragonz shirt to Tribal Council.
COURTNEY YATES: I was like, "Wow, Coach is pretty hardcore." I was impressed. I was like, "Way to just die on a hill. What a weird thing to really go to the wall for, but okay."
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: That's obviously a really random T-shirt to choose to wear on national television.
CAITLIN MOORE: It was a big scandal at the time, and after that we now actually have to pre-approve all of the jury clothes, including having them to send in at least four outfits to be pre-approved in L.A. that we hold on to in wardrobe, on location in case something like this were to ever happen again.
PART IV: Celebrity Jam Session
“I need to see your face
And your love
I have to chase
I need to feel your breath
Before I face my death
When you leave
I am sad
You cheat on me
And I get mad”
—“Slay” by the Dragonz
Word about the Dragonz, their music, and their antics began to sweep across Samoa, finally catching the ear of two celebrity rock & roll enthusiasts — Survivor host Jeff Probst and challenge producer John Kirhoffer. The duo made a rare pilgrimage to Ponderosa to check out the band.
CAITLIN MOORE: The band was talking a lot about the band, so Jeff and John Kirhoffer decided to come over and see what it was all about.
COURTNEY YATES: My impression was that they forced them to come. I'm pretty happy to stay in one place and just chill out, but J.T. was climbing the walls — like, stir crazy. Coach also was a demanding personality, and they were not taking us anywhere, or doing any activities, or anything. And so I think that they were like, "You have to come and pay attention to these people.”
CAITLIN MOORE: The producers felt really bad that the jurors were on such an intense lockdown. Typically, we get out and at least get to go on a couple of excursions, but they were on such tight lockdown. I think they felt really bad about that.
COACH: Caitlin said, "Jeff’s going to come by. He heard about the rock band. He wants to come check it out." Jeff doesn't come to Ponderosa very often, and so when we hear from the powers that be that Jeff is coming, we're scuttling around, super excited. So he comes, and we're all excited to see him. I'm starstruck, per usual. And I said, "Man, we're writing this thing." He's like, "I brought a didgeridoo!”
COURTNEY YATES: It was Jeff and John Kirhoffer. They were like, "Hey, kids, heard you had a band. We brought our instruments." So he brought a didgeridoo and sheet music for “Maggie May,” the Rod Stewart song.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I just remember them coming and I was like, “Wow, this is serious. Even Jeff Probst is taking this seriously.”
COACH: We were all in a little half circle and he was like, "Well, let's hear this rock band. I hear you guys have a song that you wrote. Who wrote the song?" Of course, I immediately jump up and take credit for the song. I was like, "I wrote this song! I have the lyrics right here, Jeff! You want to see them?" And, I show it to him.
J.T. THOMAS: He wanted to hear the Dragonz. So we played it for him.
COACH: He was like, "Let's hear what you got!" J.T. was nervous because he's not really a guitar player at that point, and so then J.T. starts playing and starts strumming along, and I start singing, and of course Jeff is listening to the words and he thinks, "Wow, the lyrics are pretty good.” It's poetic and it talks about how ashamed and sad we feel that we're out of the game, or what mistakes did we make, and the rain's pouring down on us.
NORWOOD CHEEK: Obviously, Jeff had heard rumors about the Dragonz, so we played him some of the tracks and he was really impressed. He was a big fan of the Dragonz.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: In the beginning, it just seemed like it was a joke. But when Jeff came and they were performing in front of him he seemed to, like, really be into it. The support from Jeff was shocking, actually. I didn't think Jeff Probst would take the time to come and watch. Why would he do that? Strange times.
COURTNEY YATES: All I remember is John Kirhoffer looking for an exit, just thinking: "How did I get roped into this s---?"
J.T. THOMAS: Jeff actually played guitar with me for a little while, and we played a Rod Stewart song, “Maggie May,” on guitar, while we all sang. And I thought to myself, "Man, five years ago, if you'd have told me I'd be playing a Rod Stewart song with Jeff Probst, in Samoa, I'd have told you, you were so far from crazy. This is insane!"
COURTNEY YATES: The thing that stands out the most is that nobody had ever heard the song “Maggie May” except for me, because my dad used to play it in the car. I was singing it and just having a gleeful moment, but I was also like, "Wow, everyone's lost. This is so awkward.”
CAITLIN MOORE: We had a good old jam session. They hung out for a long time and it was really chill. It was like one of those crazy Survivor moments.
COURTNEY YATES: And then they made them stay and have dinner with us, too! Candice and Amanda and Danielle were there, and then everyone just started asking Jeff questions about how to get into hosting, which, again, was sooo awkward. But, also, amazing.
CANDICE CODY: We had dinner, and I remember just kind of sitting there and feeling a little bit bad for Jeff because everybody was trying to have their moment to talk about themselves in front of him and trying to impress him. It was just very weird to watch.
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach was making his favorite drink, which is called The Dragonslayer, and it's terrible. There were a lot of Dragonslayer drinks going on. It was like drinking acid or something. It was awful. I don't remember what's in it exactly and I don't want to know.
COACH: There were bars all over the North Eastern Sierra that were serving that drink! They would even post it on their drink board. Double shot of Jack, a smidge of Coke, and a floater: one shot of Añejo Patrón Tequila. The Dragonslayer: It will slay your ass!
NORWOOD CHEEK: Jeff plays guitar, but he also is a master didgeridoo player and he played didgeridoo that night along with the Dragonz. We were even working on writing a song that featured him playing didgeridoo. But, sadly, we ran out of time.
COACH: When it was all said and done, Jeff was really generous and he said, "Man, you guys actually have something here." It was really cool to get that validation, so that we could then take it even more seriously.
PART V: Video Killed the Radio Star
“Night fall, and I feel my heart stir
Going out, I know tonight is gonna be a blur
I look for trouble and I find it
In such a rush I think I’m blinded
What am, I looking here for?
I put the bottle to my lips now
I wanna stop but I don’t know how”
—“On the Dance Floor” by the Dragonz
After recording five songs, jamming with Jeff Probst, and sneaking a Dragonz T-shirt onto national television, there was only one rock & roll box left to check.
COURTNEY YATES: After a while, because we now actually had songs that we had been recording, we were like, "Let's make a video!"
NORWOOD CHEEK: Courtney, Coach, J.T., and I had been really rocking out a lot. And we decided, “Listen, we should take this seriously. And if you're going to take it seriously, you need a music video.”
J.T. THOMAS: We knew we would use “On the Dance Floor” for the music video, because that was kind of our lead song.
NORWOOD CHEEK: My background is as a music video director, so I said, "This location where we are right now, people would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly their band to this kind of location. So we have got to make a music video."
CAITLIN MOORE: They were more excited to film this video than I think they were to start playing the game on day one when they hit the beach. It had gotten to that level, and the whole vision of the music video with them standing on the rocks with the waves splashing in the background, it was perfection.
NORWOOD CHEEK: I set up all the shots of them out on the beach and on the rocks with the waves crashing and it just felt like some kind of Journey video. I mean, we were laughing so much when we were making it.
COURTNEY YATES: We wanted it to be very ’80s. And I wanted to be standing on a minivan with, like, sheets blowing in the wind. We didn't get that, but we got pretty close. We're standing on the rocks, so as the cymbals clash, a wave jumps up. We thought it was the funniest thing that ever happened. I actually still think it's pretty funny.
J.T. THOMAS: We've all seen those 1980's hair band videos, and you think to yourself, "Man, they must have had a huge fan blowing on them." Well, we had the perfect spot, because that was all natural. The wind was really blowing that hard, and waves were really crashing that hard up on us. So it was the perfect spot for a music video, and all we had to do was just turn the camera on.
COACH: Norwood was like, "I want you to walk over onto this little cliff looking out over the ocean.” That was the first scene that we shot, and then we went and looked at that later on and it was just, “Oh my gosh, man, this is actually cool!” And, I think seeing that opening scene set the tone for all of us to take it more seriously.
CAITLIN MOORE: Coach had a vision, right? Coach always has a vision. He was the one in the music video that wanted to have his shirt unbuttoned and the wind blowing in his hair.
COACH: You get off of Survivor, so you're obviously ripped. I don't have the tire around my stomach. I know I'm looking chiseled, let's get that shirt popping open. The wind's blowing because it was always blowing off the coast, and we're on the rocks and we're standing there, and I think I'm a rock star! This is going to be a hit, man! Forget about my three children, forget about starting a symphony and 10 different soccer programs and winning 10 championships — this is my 15 minutes of fame right here!
COURTNEY YATES: Me and Coach could not remember the words to the song, so there's only very short clips of us singing.
COACH: I can memorize 50 different quotes, but lyrics are actually something that are really difficult for me. Maybe it's just that I'm too involved in the melody and the chord structure as a musician, but for some reason I can't remember lyrics. Fortunately, I wrote them out and had a little cheat sheet in my pocket in case I messed up.
COURTNEY YATES: Danielle and Candice and Amanda are also heavily featured in our video as our background hotties.
CANDICE CODY: There was a dance scene where we were all dancing in a club. It was at night and we all had a couple of beers. It was one take, play a song, dance, and that was it. It was not a high budget part of the video.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I was one of the groupies, jumping around, dancing while they were performing, but I was like, “They're not good. They can't really think that this is going to go anywhere.” But I think that they thought that it was.
AMANDA KIMMEL: I actually don’t remember a lot about it, just that it was fun and silly and distracted us from being voted out.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: I was into it in that moment. But, you know, take it outside of Survivor and Ponderosa, and I would never be hanging out at a bar listening to a band like that.
COURTNEY YATES: We had not just the other jury members as our fly honeys, but basically anybody who was in Ponderosa ended up in the video. Norwood plays the DJ. We also had Caitlin in it.
CAITLIN MOORE: I had to help with lighting. I was always doing those weird little tasks that Norwood needed me to do. In addition to being the band manager, I was kind of like Norwood's assistant, if you will. So, yeah, you see me holding up lights in the video.
COURTNEY YATES: And then, as our bartender in the video, we cast the Ponderosa chef, whose name was Russell — unfortunate name for that season, because he gave everyone PTSD as soon as they stepped off. Players arrived at Ponderosa and we were like, "This is our chef, Russell." Everyone hated Russell, so they were like, "Agh!" Poor chef Russell was always like, "What did this guy do to you? Why do you hate that name?"
NORWOOD CHEEK: You'll see in the music video that the drum set Coach is playing is actually the plastic Rock Band drum set, which is hilarious. And Courtney is such a star. I just thought she did so great in that music video with her performance. And then, of course, all the dancers with Amanda and Candice and Danielle were all so into it. It was like going to the discotheque in Samoa.
COACH: I'm sitting there singing like I'm Creed, like it's the most important lyrics in the world. If people asked me today, “Man, you looked so damn serious — were you doing that on purpose? " I would say, "Of course I was doing it on purpose! We're talking about getting on the dance floor! This is like life or death!”
When the stars of the music video sat down and watched the finished product, they were amazed by what they saw.
COURTNEY YATES: Norwood magically edited the whole thing together and made this legit music video for our ridiculous fake band that was born out of Rock Band, the video game.
COACH: It didn't feel professional when we started filming it, but when we saw that music video, we realized, “Hey, it's actually cool.” Is it a campy? Yes. Are the lyrics bad? Yes. Is it a kind of a joke? Yeah, but we saw the video and we're like, "This is pretty good." And then, in my deluded mind, we started saying to ourselves, "Hey, this could actually be something and we could actually be rock stars!"
J.T. THOMAS: I thought Norwood did an amazing job putting it all together. We're talking, like, within a day. We started it and finished it the next day. It was all really fast, and just throw thrown together.
CAITLIN MOORE: Literally, they were prouder of that music video than they were of their performance in the game.
CANDICE CODY: The one song that they made the music video for, I kind of liked it. That surprised me, because I thought it was complete garbage when they were practicing. And when I saw the lyrics. And when they were first singing it. But when you put it together with the hairography and the razzle dazzle and the different video cuts, it cleaned up well.
DANIELLE DiLORENZO: Watching back the video of them on the cliff… I mean, the song is kind of catchy. I'm not going to lie. But it was, like, Ponderosa good, you know? It was Ponderosa good.
CAITLIN MOORE: This was the pride and joy of Ponderosa, having this whole thing come together, and we thought it was amazing. We were like, "This is the best music video of all time!" Keep in mind we're locked up and bored as hell, so this, to us, was a major accomplishment of us being productive with our Ponderosa time.
NORWOOD CHEEK: The dream was that “On the Dance Floor” was just the first video. We were going to make music videos for every song. But we ran out of time. By then, I think we were already on, like, day 35. So there was only four more days.
COURTNEY YATES: The thing that's actually kind of sad is it this was all before online content really got that much attention. At one point, the video was on the homepage of CBS.com. I have a picture of it with me, Coach, and J.T. standing on the rocks with the wind blowing. Coach's shirt is open. It's so epic. But, like, kind of nobody cared. This was before Twitter blew up, before Instagram, so it was just this little inside joke for us. Unless you were friends with us, nobody cared.
PART VI: Live Fast, Die Young
“Gotta pull myself out of this dark hole
Because I got to move on ahead
I’m gonna be stronger in my soul
For going through this journey instead
I miss you, kiss you wish you were with me
Why am I here when you are there?
I hate me, slate me, fate is gonna break me
My whole soul is bare.”
—“Soul is Bare” by the Dragonz
Unfortunately for the Dragonz, the fire that represented their life was snuffed out when the band members and their producer left the sandy shores of Samoa once the season was over and returned to the United States — scattering back to their various homes and lives. While their exploits lived on in the Ponderosa video series, the band did not. A highly-anticipated reunion in New York City for an intimate unplugged performance as part Entertainment Weekly’s Survivor Talk video series meant to coincide with the Heroes vs. Villains finale in Times Square was scheduled, and then later canceled under very mysterious circumstances. While EW is proud to finally present the complete collection of Dragonz records (titled “The Ponderosa EP”), the members who once spent every waking hour writing, recording, filming, and T-shirt creating can now only look back on their rock & roll rollercoaster ride with pride, laughter, and, perhaps, wistful wondering at what might have been.
COURTNEY YATES: In my life, Survivor is one of the most random footnotes about me. It’s not really the first thing, but at my dentist job, they're like, "This is Courtney, she was on Survivor," and people are like, “What?” So then, within the pantheon of Survivor, my second weird footnote is that I made a fake band. We had a video. And that is just the next level of, What?!?
COACH: Do I think that we would become the next Rolling Stones? Of course not. Do I think we would have done anything truly great with it? Maybe, you never know. But I think that at least it would have been fun to have seen that out.
NORWOOD CHEEK: For Coach, this was very serious. For Coach, the Dragonz was a real deal. And I love that about Coach, because it made him serious about it. Courtney has such a great sense of humor and she was having fun with it. It was a great distraction for her. And J.T., he was just glad because he had never been in a band before and it was just a fun for him to also try to play guitar. But, for Coach, it was like, “Hey, I am taking this seriously.” The way Coach takes all that he does seriously. And that's what makes him so great.
COACH: To have it be cut short where as soon as the finale hits, there was not something there, there was no interview setup, there was no performance…. I wish Norwood at that point had said, "Okay, guys, look, let's play three dates. Let's just set something up really quick." We all had just gotten cash in our pockets from whatever we earned from the show, we could have gone and played a few shows. And then, it would've at least given us some closure. But having it cut off like it did, I think that it left a lot of us, when we remember it, wanting more.
NORWOOD CHEEK: After the fact, when we were all back in the States, I certainly stayed in touch with Courtney and Coach a lot. We talked about doing more recording together. And we still talk about it.
COURTNEY YATES: I have to say that was the most fun that I had being a part of Survivor, because it was just creative and you're bonded to these people through this intense thing. And so it was the perfect way to end my Survivor experience, to just be completely silly.
CANDICE CODY: The legacy of the Dragonz was that it was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult part of the season for everybody. What happened then is kind of like what is happening now. Everybody's in quarantine and stuck and can't go anywhere, can't do anything. It's the same as being on the jury. You're stuck. You can't go anywhere. You're stuck with these people that you may not want to be stuck with. So you have to find something to do to entertain yourselves and to make the time pass. We do things that we wouldn't otherwise do, like everybody doing their honey-do list and getting it done. That's how the Dragonz were created, out of necessity.
CAITLIN MOORE: The enduring legacy of the Dragonz is that they represented a moment in Ponderosa history that I don't think can ever be matched… and maybe never should be.
COURTNEY YATES: The enduring legacy of the Dragonz is always the music, which is mediocre at best. And so, really, a music video, which is hilarious.
COACH: The enduring legacy is that I can say that I was a rock star for a small moment in the galaxy, and I can check another thing off the bucket list.
NORWOOD CHEEK: I go back and listen to the songs every so often. They're great, fun songs. And the vocals, there’s no auto tuning or anything like that. This is pretty much as raw as you can get. And for them to work as well as they do with those kind of limitations, I'm still really impressed by it, and I'm certainly really proud of it. And I don't know that I would change a thing. I just want to write more songs with the Dragonz.
J.T. THOMAS: That’s definitely a piece of my life I’ll never forget. It was an honor. I wish my fellow Dragonz the best, and I look forward to the reunion tour!
Until that reunion takes place, EW now presents the exclusive worldwide debut of the complete Dragonz catalog in the form of the long-awaited The Ponderosa EP.
PART VII: EPILOGUE
While the Dragonz disbanded after their Samoan exploits of season 20, the spirit of the band lived on, inspiring many more musical acts from Survivor jury members over the years. Here are a few of the musical misadventures that have popped up in the wake of the Dragonz legendary success.
Chucho – “Monkey in a Cage” (Survivor: Redemption Island — season 22)
Clearly inspired by his success with the Dragonz, Ponderosa director extraordinaire Norwood Cheek hoped lightening could strike twice when he helped create another jury supergroup for Survivor: Redemption Island. “Norwood talked about the Dragonz,” says Andrea Boehlke. “And we were all trying to find things to do at Ponderosa. So Matt Elrod and David Murphy approached me to be in their makeshift band, and we put together ‘Monkey in a Cage.’”
The band name of Chucho comes from a bar by the Nicaragua jury house infinity pool where David, Matt, and Andrea spent a majority of their time, while the song title (and chorus) is a reference to an actual monkey in an actual cage at Ponderosa as well as a commentary on the life of a reality show contestant. “There was this monkey that was at Ponderosa that we liked looking at,” says Boehlke. “And also the idea of us being, ‘Dance, monkey, dance!’ — being kind of these little players in this game of Survivor that the producers are making us do whatever.”
While there were several other potential band members on the jury, Chucho remained a power trio. “I don't think they were having as good of a time,” Boehlke says of the other jurors. “It was a pretty bitter jury and Redemption Island was a bit of a darker season. Definitely Matt and David and I were having the most fun. We would stay up all night. We were always kind of the partiers.”
The recording of “Monkey in a Cage” was supposed to be merely the first step in the band’s quest for worldwide domination, but Mother Nature intervened. “We were going to do a music video, but our time was limited,” reveals Boehlke. “And the day we were going to shoot the music video, it rained.” Thus, not only was the video never filmed, but even the audio of Chucho’s lead single remained unreleased… until now. Ladies and gentlemen, EW is proud to present the exclusive worldwide debut of Chucho’s “Monkey in a Cage.”
Merica – “Merica” (Survivor: Worlds Apart – season 30)
With EW’s release of the complete Dragonz catalog as well as unearthing of the lost Chucho tapes, the new holy grail of buried Survivor Ponderosa recordings becomes “Merica.” Inspired by the title of the tribe merge name from Worlds Apart, jury members as they were voted out channeled their energy into a smorgasbord of musical styles cooked up together into a song that told the story of their season.
“We were inspired by the Dragonz and thought that we had talent,” explains Hali Ford, who wrote the majority of the music for “Merica” along with Joe Anglim. “I came up with the melody. Originally, I did it kind of like a country song, and then Joe wanted to make it more rock and roll, but it sounds kind of like a folk song in the end. We didn't really accomplish rock and roll.”
“Hali turned it into an actual project,” says fellow band member Shirin Oskooi. “She kind of went off the rails with this thing. As more people got into Ponderosa, we were like ‘F--- it! Everyone thought it was bad, but we had a fun time making it.” Like all great Ponderosa songs, this one also contained a rap (courtesy of Jenn Brown) as well as occasionally head-scratching lyrics (“Merica, I swearica, Worlds Apart — three worlds one heart, God bless tribe 'Merica”).
“I mixed it all together on a Mac,” says Ford, “And it just turned into this awful gobbledygook that I hope no one ever listens to.” And no one ever has. Not only does the song remain buried (perhaps on Ghost Island, where it is accumulating new powers?), but the music video that was filmed for it has also — not unlike the big trunk of cash that used to sit beside Jeff Probst at Tribal Council — mysteriously gone missing. (Numerous sources close to the band reveal that the Ponderosa director at the time was less than thrilled with the final product.)
What classic images have been lost forever with the banning of the “Merica” music video? “I remember Jenn floating around in the swimming pool drinking cocktails and rapping,” says Ford. “And we were running down the beach in these crazy outfits at one point. I'm picturing us on Joe's shoulders, but I don't really know. We were drinking a lot the whole time.”
And even though the lost Merica tapes remain a tantalizing item still waiting to be discovered by any amateur Survivor historian, the participants themselves urge caution. “It was truly awful” admits Oskooi. Ford warns that the quality of the find may not even reach Chucho levels. “I’ve heard Andrea sing before and she can sing,” notes Ford. “None of us knew how to sing. There was no musical talent.”
The Noble One – “Ponderosa” (Survivor: Ghost Island — season 36)
Just when it looked like the madcap musical stylings of jury members was a thing of the past, Survivor fans were treated to an absolute masterpiece. Chris Noble was ridiculed by his tribemates on the Ghost Island season for his impromptu rapping skills, but the world’s biggest Dwyane Wade fan had the last laugh with the release of his smash debut single and video “Ponderosa.” Working under his stage name of The Noble One, Chris collaborated with Ponderosa director James Seale and segment producer Ryan Browning to craft the ultimate big baller jam.
“Chris started talking about how he writes rhymes and does raps, and I got really intrigued,” says Seale. “So we said, "Chris, we'll shoot something if you write something." Oh, did he ever. “I wrote it like within five hours of talking about it,” says Noble of the song, which includes the classic line even quoted by former Noble One naysayer Wendell Holland on his recent season 40 arrival to the jury house: “Living a dream on Ponderosa, swung for the fences, I call it Sammy Sosa.”
Noble wrote the rap, then recorded it a cappella in a bungalow, with the producers then laying the vocals over a beat that they bought off of a website. But the true magic of the performance is in the pimped-out Ponderosa lifestyle on display in the video. Whether being fanned off by the ladies, getting “bottle service” at catering, chillin’ on a raft, or lowering his sunglasses in slow-mo under a waterfall, the Noble One is definitely living large.
“A lot of it was just looking around at what we had,” says Seale of the video. “We knew we had the paddle board, we knew we had a jet ski sitting on land that didn't run, we knew we had the staff. And then when Probst came in one day to visit, we had the helicopter there, so we just ran Noble out and the helicopter pilot let us get Chris into the cockpit and we shot some pieces of that.”
Even with so many legendary shots, Seale says the thing that really made the video go was the performance of its star: “Chris was just totally gung-ho and down for it.” And this time the Noble One was definitely in on the joke: “My whole goal was really just to make people laugh on all that.” Goal achieved.
Interestingly enough, the “Ponderosa” rap was not originally intended as a tribute to the Dragonz in any way, shape or form because Seale was unaware of the previous jury house band’s existence when he filmed it. “I became aware of it after we released Chris' Ponderosa rap," says Seale. "And then everyone was like, ‘Oh, what about the Dragonz?’ That thing is epic, for sure.”
For more Survivor news, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.