I had a chance to sit down with all twenty of the “Fans vs. Favorites” competitors the day before they left for the Caramoan Islands. I’ll be posting exclusive interviews with each contestant every weekday until we get through all of them. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (@gordonholmes) for tons of updates.
Name: Shamar Thomas
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Iraq War Veteran
Note: The “Survivor: Caramoan” pre-game interviews are unlike the pre-game interviews we’ve done in the past. Usually, the interviews take place on location, this time they took place in Los Angeles before the players flew out. At this point, all the “Fans” know is that they’re flying out in the next few days. They have seen each other, but haven’t seen the returning players. They don’t know for sure where they’re going, and they don’t know any of the season’s twists.
Gordon Holmes: You have a very impressive military background. How do you think that’s going to help you in the game?
Shamar Thomas: I know it’s going to help me because I’m prepared. I did two tours in Iraq. My first tour in 2004 I was 18 years old and I was a part of the Battle of Fallujah. My mission was mobile security so that convoys can get back and forth to resupply. So we literally, myself and four other Marines, were on a hill with no shelter, no vehicle, a few jugs of water, and a few boxes of food for twelve days. So, to actually get on the plane twice and go through that scenario? “Survivor” is actually less challenging because you get stimulating competitions and the people you’re going to meet are a little bit different. This is like a vacation for me. (Laughs) I’m glad to give up my phone and email.
Holmes: I was going to say, “Survivor” has its share of high-stress situations, but nothing quite to that level.
Holmes: Now, your mother was in Iraq with you?
Thomas: My mother did twenty years in the Army. We both went to Iraq in 2004. She got a bronze star, she retired a Sergeant First Class.
Holmes: Your whole family is bad ass.
Holmes: You’re a Sergeant.
Holmes: So, you’re a leader.
Holmes: Leaders don’t always fare well in this game. Have you planned for that?
Thomas: I’ve been in the civilian world for five years, so I’ve adapted to civilian life and dealing with civilians. My leadership has been toned down. My leadership is inspiration now. I try to inspire people to do the right thing instead of telling them or forcing them.
Holmes: One of your hobbies is activism. Which causes are you active in?
Thomas: I’m widely known for my video, “One Marine vs. Thirty Cops.” I protected Occupy Wall Street protesters from police brutality. I’m over eight million views now. So, that’s what I’m known for.
Holmes: How did that video happen?
Thomas: On my first tour in Iraq I was involved in a rock riot where the Iraqi populace threw rocks at us because they didn’t like the new mayor that was in place. And, one of the Marines got hit in the face with a rock and had to go in the ambulance and get stitches. We couldn’t respond with violence because the mission at the time was to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The leadership felt that if we go hurt these people that we might get blown up when we come back to the town. So, to come back to New York City and see people that my brothers had fought and died to protect, they’re not trying to win our hearts and minds. Why aren’t the police trying to win our hearts and minds? Why don’t they worry about us? So, I basically said there is no honor in beating unarmed protest civilians.
Holmes: Are you a big “Survivor” fan?
Thomas: Big “Survivor” fan, since 2001.
Holmes: Since almost day one.
Holmes: I’ve been asking this question, but I’m pretty sure in your case I know the answer; why do you think you were cast?
Thomas: I was cast because my video touched a lot of people. It inspired a lot of people. I feel like my personality showed in the video. That’s the kind of person that you want to see in a social game. What level will I go to as far as undermining my integrity? I’m here to play an honorable game. I just want to make the living conditions horrible to live in.
Holmes: Wait, you want to make the living conditions horrible?
Thomas: Yeah, I want people to quit. I want people to be tired and to miss their kids. I want them to hate life.
Holmes: You want to be honorable, but have you ruled out lying if it will help your game?
Thomas: I don’t consider it lying. I won’t give people information that they don’t need to hear. I’ll leave everything up to mystery other than outright lying.
Holmes: If you and I are playing this game together, I might think twice about going to the finals with a war hero. Is there anything about your home life or your career that you’re going to keep a secret? Although, with those tattoos it might be tough.
Thomas: (Laughs) Yeah. I think I can downplay a lot of things, like my puzzle abilities. Through the challenges people can feel like they can beat me in the end. He’s not going to have more stamina than me. They’ll see weaknesses in my game.
Holmes: But you’re a Marine.
Holmes: I wouldn’t fall for it. I think I could hold onto a pole longer than you. But, I know enough Marines to know that it’s not wise to mess with them.
Thomas: (Laughs) It’s a game. My personality will have to disarm people. Once they know who I am they’ll be like, “I like him!” And then because I’m a Marine and because of my video they’ll know that I play with honor.
Holmes: Are you prepared to flirt your way to a win? You’re a handsome fellow and I’m sure there are some ladies that wouldn’t mind cuddling with you at night like a big teddy bear.
Thomas: (Laughs) As the situation dictates. I’m not opposed to it. Everyone thinks I fall in love with women quickly.
Holmes: Is that your thing?
Thomas: That’s my thing. I love Alicia from “Survivor: One World.” She asked for fire in the beginning and I told everyone I would have given her ass some fire.
Thomas: You know what I mean?
Holmes: So, you could be in some trouble.
Thomas: I could be in trouble.
Holmes: That’s bad news.
Holmes: If there is a twist, what do you think it will be?
Thomas: I have…no clue. I’ve looked at the cast, I know there aren’t that many African Americans besides myself. They had the men and women, and the races, I have no clue how they’d set that up based on the people. My whole game is how the situation dictates.
Holmes: You’ve been with these people a day?
Thomas: Yeah, a day.
Holmes: What’re your first impressions?
Thomas: Lunch meat. (Laughs) I was sitting next to one of the contestants and I heard her stomach growling and it made my day. I was like, “Yeah, you’re hungry, aren’t you? You’re going to be a lot more hungry when I start eating your food.” (Laughs)
Holmes: (Laughs) That will get you in trouble. I’ve seen enough “Survivor” in my day to know that can buy you a ticket out of there.
Thomas: Depends on who you are.
Holmes: That’s also true.
Holmes: You’re a big fan, it seems like lately people are finding themselves on the bottom of these alliances and aren’t making moves to get to the top. Why does that happen?
Thomas: With me, I feel like that could never happen to me. I can’t even try to whisper. I can’t hold my tongue. I went against one of the biggest gangs in America, the NYPD. They kill over three black men a year. All of that, falling to the bottom and getting steamrolled, that won’t happen to me. My personality won’t allow it. I know I can’t hide, so I need to be out there.
Holmes: So, you’re going to win, right?
Holmes: What’re you going to do with all of that money?
Thomas: There are only two black-owned businesses in my neighborhood and they’re both liquor stores. What I want to do is open up ten businesses in my neighborhood and inspire the kids to want to be business owners and be a part of their community instead of actors, entertainers, and stuff like that. I’m a big gang activist. I joined a gang when I was fifteen years old. I joined the Marines when I was seventeen years old and learned to be a man. I try to pass on the things I learned in the Marine Corps to the kids in the gangs. I was a good kid, but I didn’t have direction. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself. So, I’m trying to save the kids who are just like me. They’re good kids who are from broken homes and bad situations. I’m trying to find another passion for them outside of sports and entertainment. All of my businesses are going to have two teenagers working there. I don’t care if it’s a deli or a barbershop. Whatever it is, there are going to be kids working there. Once I can get people involved in the community, that’s when I’m successful.
Don’t miss the two-hour premiere of “Survivor: Caramoan – Fans vs. Favorites,” Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.