On last week’s episode of Survivor: Tocantins, Jerry Sims, 49, joined a long list of promising players whose time in the game was cut short due to illness. The Rock Hill, S.C., Army National Guard sergeant and nuclear power plant worker talked to PEOPLE.com about bad beans, the controversial Coach and why being on the show was harder than being stationed in Afghanistan. – Carrie Bell
Why did you want to be on Survivor? There were two reasons. The first was the million dollars. And No. 2, it was another challenge in my life, something completely different than anything I had done before. I wanted to see if I could endure it until the end. Unfortunately, my stomach got in my way.
Did you realize you broke one of the cardinal rules of Survivor when you ate the beans instead of the rice? Bad beans have felled many a strong player. You’re starving so you eat whatever is available. One day we ate beans without cooking them. We didn’t have any fire, but we were hungry so we set them in the sun all day thinking that would cook them. I only nibbled that day but I think it was enough.
How long did it take after being eliminated to get back to normal? It took about two days for me to start feeling better and several days after that I got back to my old self. They gave me some medication after I was eliminated. The doctor used some big words to describe what was wrong with me like gastrointestinal distress. I begged for a bottle of Pepto but they wouldn’t give it to me. When I came home, I went to my doctor to make sure there was no bug inside of me or anything. I got a clean bill of health and none of my limbs have fallen yet so I think I am out of the woods.
In your exit speech you said this was by far the hardest situation you had been in — that’s saying a lot since you are in the Army and did a tour of duty recently in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, they provide you with everything you need to survive in the environment that you’re in. You have food and appropriate clothing and shelter. In Survivor, they give you a machete, a bag of beans and a bag of rice for 39 days and see what you are made of. That is a big difference.
You are a leader in your daily life and yet you seemed to hold back on your tribe. It seemed like you didn’t even tell about your job or skills. That was my plan. I could have gone in hard charging, voiced my opinion and directed . They may not have wanted to do what I said but they would have listened. But they also would have been rubbed the wrong way or been threatened. I figured in order for me to survive in the game, I’ve got to lay low and stay in the background and when the tribe gets smaller, I will start voicing my opinion more and more and show how strong I am.
Were you surprised that you were voted off? No, because my stomach had gotten so bad that I couldn’t hide the pain anymore and they had no idea if I was going to get better or not so you have to vote to keep the tribe as strong as possible. I was not going to quit though. I am not a quitter so the only way I was gonna go was if they voted me off.
One person that was thrilled you got sick was Erin because it bought her at least three more days. Erin was definitely on the chopping block and she lucked out. But she better watch out because the eyes are back on her and she is still on the outs.
If you only consider first impressions, who did you think would be the sole survivor? Did that change after nine days of play? My first impression was that Coach would be the person to beat. When we first got there, he seemed strong and smart and he told all these stories about adventures he’d gone on and challenges he’d been through. After some of the challenges and seeing his work around camp, my opinion changed of him. He wasn’t as tough as I thought he was and he started to irritate some . Now my pick would be Tyson. He wasn’t the strongest person on the tribe but he had the most endurance. And he got along with .
Candace had a lot of choice things to say about Coach. Give us your take on him. He never rubbed me the wrong way. We would sit down and have normal conversations but I think he was different towards the women. He was condescending to them. He wanted to get rid of Candace, Sierra and Erin quick. If he makes it to the merge, I don’t think the other team will respond to his personality, but he is very deceptive. When he is around camp, a majority of the time he wasn’t like that. He was usually very quiet until he was by himself or with only one of two other individuals. That’s when he expressed his true colors. In a group, he is a different person.
What has the response been since you returned from Brazil? It is like I am a movie star. Everybody wants an autograph or a handshake. They want a photograph. I am enjoying it. It has been a fun ride.