June 23, 2009 12:00 PM by Ryan Haidet
Survivor: Tocantin’s Dragonslayer — Benjamin “Coach” Wade — will go down in reality television history as one of the most entertaining and controversial people in the show’s 18 seasons. While his actions on the show were questioned by many viewers — especially his storytelling of an incident in which he was captured during a trip down the Amazon — Coach was also put under fire for many other rumors, stories and articles that were circulating the web. Back on March 4, we at RealityTVMagazine published an article that questioned some of Coach’s rumored claims. That article soon stemmed a heated debate of Coach lovers and haters.
In a lengthy exclusive interview, Coach was asked the hard-hitting questions and answered them all without any hesitation. He addressed losing his job, an eBay auction listed in his name, his long kayaking trip and much more.
Was he simply a victim of television’s editing? Did some bloggers and rumor drivers create a hurtful image of Coach? Or is he really the biggest liar reality television has ever seen?
Breaking A World Record Kayaking?
In 1996, Coach began a kayaking trip that he says took him along more than 6,000 miles. But was it enough for a world record? “I took that trip to get closer to God and to put a challenge against myself that would be me against insurmountable odds. That’s why I took it. The media took it, sensationalized it and all of a sudden started talking about a world record. I did not know what the world record was at that time.”
Coach says that he had not yet heard about Paul Caffyn’s trip around Australia, which took him more than 9,000 miles. “The record that people told me at that time was Ed Gillet going over to Hawaii 2,300 miles. I was like, ‘Fantastic, I guess I’ll be breaking a world record.’ But the trip was about me and God. The trip was about me doing something that looked impossible and making it possible.
“So I take this trip, I calculated my miles very carefully. I think I calculated it out that if you follow the coast it’s like 4,500 miles to go from San Felipe down to Baja, California. You can’t just stick a ruler and measure straight down there because that’s not what I did — I went down the coast. But I kept a very careful log every day of where I went. Now you’ve got to also remember that I went outside every day — 5 miles. And I paddled inside every day — 5 miles. So for every day that I paddled, you have to add 10 miles. The 6,123 miles that I came up with at the end of my trip is obviously not absolutely dead accurate because I didn’t have a GPS system and I don’t know if I went out six miles one day, maybe I went out four miles. But I know that every day, on average, I went out about five miles and I tracked that with my journal. So when I calculated everything out at the end, 6,123 miles is what I came up with. Is it a world’s record? In my mind, yes it is. Is it in the Guinness Book of World Records? Not yet.”
But with Caffyn and Gillet’s amazing feats, Coach says the documented world record is actually just 348 miles. That’s why he is actively pursuing to get his achievement recognized. “All my stuff is at Guinness right now. I’m trying to get a ruling. I’ve got notarized letters from people that I’ve met all along the way that were at the beginning, the end and the middle. I’ve inundated them with newspaper articles, so I’m trying to get the trip verified at the Guinness Book of World Records. I know that the 9,000 mile trip was something that the guy did, he passed away. There’s no way that he can file for the Guinness Book of World Records, so it’s not going to be that one. … If Guinness doesn’t verify it, will you see me taking another kayak trip to supposedly break the record? Maybe. I might. I’ve entertained the thought, I’ve mapped out a route. And I might be doing that, so we’ll see.”
Captured In The Amazon
One night during the Survivor competition, Coach decided to tell his tribe a story regarding his capture by a tribe in the Amazon. “It took a lot of guts for me to tell that story. They (Survivor producers) obviously cut it up because they can’t have me telling a 20-minute story. So they cut it up, they spliced it up. I don’t fault them for doing that. But it took a lot out of me.”
Coach says his tribemates sat in shocked silence after they heard the story and none of them said anything about it until the next morning. “I know that the producers were saying, ‘That’s not a true story.’ And even though people were sticking up for me the next morning, because they told me, they were also saying, ‘people were trying to poke holes in the validity of your story.’”
But Coach says the capture story took on a whole new angle online. “Somebody on the Internet came up with me being captured by Pygmies. I believe Pygmies are indigenous to the Serengeti. They’re certainly not indigenous to the Amazon and I never said that I was captured by Pygmies. I did say that I was captured by people that were between four and five feet tall. It wasn’t Pygmies. … I guarantee you that the way I told the story left no room for doubt. It was only the next morning when people woke up from the nightmare thinking, ‘Geez, certainly that possibly couldn’t happen.’”
Coach said that the capture experience was so terrible that he was not even sure how long he had been kept.”I would say probably four, five, six days. I lost track of the time. I was systematically beaten every day. It was a horrendous experience.”
Surviving A Hurricane
Another claim that many have called into question is Coach’s story of surviving a hurricane with 30-foot waves. Some have questioned his story’s validity saying the area in which he claims the hurricane happened hasn’t seen a storm of that nature since 1939. An article written about him in Honduras discussed some of the situation. “That same article (which he has posted on his website) says, ’25-year-old breaks a world record,’ so if they’re going to take that article for fact of where the hurricane was, then they are also going to have to acknowledge that I am a world record holder.”
Coach says some of the items in that article weren’t completely accurate. “In that same article, it said that I have a scar on my left arm. Which I do have a scar on my left arm, but that was actually from an incident in Los Angeles like three years before that. The scar that I pointed to was actually on my right hand, which I still have the scars — three inches from the shark attack. But the funny thing is, when you’re down in Honduras and you’re talking to somebody — I actually still correspond with the girl that wrote the article on me whose first language is Spanish and second language is English — they sometimes get their stories a little bit crossed.”
But he absolutely experienced the hurricane. “It was called Hurricane Hernan and if you Google it, you’ll see that in the first part of October, it was a hurricane that jumped over the Gulf of Mexico and started going north above Mazatlan. I was between Topolobampo and Mazatlan — closer to Mazatlan’s side. But they took that one article — and I think the article even said Portolobampo — I don’t even know if that’s an actual town in Mexico. I don’t know. But I know it was south of Topolobampo and it was north of Mazatlan. Google it, October, 1996.
“I went through this huge storm, almost lost my life. And when I limped into the next town, these huge fishing boats had been tossed 15 or 20 yards on the shore. And here I come paddling and the fishermen looked at me like, ‘What is going on.’ In fact, the fishermen asked me, there was a little island, they said, ‘Did you spend the night on the island when the hurricane went by?’ And I was like, ‘No I paddled through it.’ I sought refuge on the leeward side of that island, yes, but that was after I had been in the storm and they couldn’t believe it. But I go into the next town and I was like, ‘What happened, what was going on?’ And that’s when somebody told me the name of the hurricane — Hernan.”
Coach Loses His Job
In February, an article surfaced in the Springfield News-Leader that discussed Coach losing his job at Southwest Baptist University. Coach says that article is “probably the most damaging article out there” and one that hurt his reputation.
He said it all began when CBS called and told him they had selected him to be a Survivor contestant. After learning he would be leaving for the game at the end of October, he told them that he couldn’t do it. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I have a soccer team to run.’”
He said that CBS was surprised and “pissed off” at his decision. Coach says that CBS then offered him two days to reconsider. As a self-described man of loyalty, Coach says he then went to the women’s athletic director at SBU and told her he had just turned down his chance to compete on Survivor. “She looked at me like I was crazy. She said, ‘You gotta go.’ I said, ‘I can’t.’ She said, ‘You gotta go.’ Long story short, when we talked the next day she said, and I quote: ‘As your support supervisor I order you to go. You have to go on this.’”
He said she then offered to cover him for the amount time he needed to be gone. That’s when Coach said another athletic director came to him after hearing he was taking a leave of absence. “I said, ‘Yeah I’m gonna be gone.’ He said, ‘How long are you going to be gone? A week?’ I was like, ‘No, I’m going to be gone more than that.’ He was like, ‘How long?’ And I said, ‘I don’t really know.’ That’s all I said to my athletic director.”
Then he met with his team to tell them he was leaving. “When I met with the team, I said, ‘I’m going to go through a very intense time of testing. I want you guys to pray for me. I don’t know when I’m coming back, but I’m going to be OK. But this is something that I have to do.’ That’s exactly what I said. That’s what everybody said to the guy that did the article (for the News-Leader). So I leave, the kids are getting freaked out, they don’t know where I am. Everybody assumes that I have a relapse of cancer (more on this in a moment) and that’s what’s going around the school. Everybody’s praying at me in the school and they think that I have cancer. I didn’t know any of this when I was down there (in Brazil).
“So I come back and I meet with my athletic director and he finds out what I did (Survivor) and it’s like this huge egg on his face. So I understand. I don’t have any ill feelings toward him, because I think that he lost a lot of face. I think it would have been a great opportunity for the university to have me as their soccer coach. But he lost face and he had to fire somebody. I don’t know what my boss told him. I don’t know if she stood up for me or not. I can’t speculate on that. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. But he had to do something and that resulted in me being fired. Actually I wasn’t even fired. It was a confidentiality agreement that they broke the next day…. The way it came out in the paper the next day was just horrendous. It was travesty. It was libel. It was slanderous and it was quite possibly the worst thing that could’ve happened to me in terms of the media, in terms of getting another job. I think it permanently damaged my reputation. Any time you sit there and have this headline, ‘SBU Coach Fired For Lying,’ that’s going to be damaging.”
A Tumor Found
You did read that correctly above. Coach said a “relapse of cancer,” which means there was some type of concern in the past. “I don’t really go into that a lot. I was diagnosed two years ago with an 11 millimeter tumor in my posterior fossa (brain tumor)…”
Coach said it was a “horrible time” that interrupted his daily life. “Went to a series of hospitals and treatments and tests and all that kind of stuff. I’m in great health now, considering. And it’s natural that everybody jumped to those conclusions. They had seen me first hand not even be able to stand up straight. I wish I could have done things differently, but I was a big scapegoat for that whole thing and it (the firing situation) really damaged my credibility.”
Coach says dealing with all the rumors and job loss was extremely difficult. “It’s tough, I’m telling you it almost broke me. Before the Exile episode and before the redemption on the finale, I was almost broken. Had I not had faith in God and had I not been through past experiences, which I felt made me a man and strengthened my character, I would have been broken in two. I lost everything. I lost my job. I lost my career. I lost my finances. I lost my reputation. I’m being made to look like a jackass on national television. It almost broke me. The only thing I had left was my symphony and my identity as a Godly man. Fortunately I rode the storm and I think I’m a better person for it. I’m definitely glad I did it. I don’t have any regrets. I think I was supposed to be down in Brazil. I think I was supposed to play the game like I did.”
He says he clung to Bible verses to help him get through it. He also pointed out that everybody lied during the Survivor game. “JT lied as much as Stephen, he just pretended like he was honorable. Everybody lied. Did anybody make a big deal about that? Absolutely not. Was I the person who was crucified for supposedly telling Sierra a lie and all of my extra-curricular activities that I’ve done? Absolutely. Why did they do that? Because I made a stance on Jesus Christ. I said, ‘I will carry this banner of nobility of honor and integrity into the battlefield. And I will raise it high and I will never let it come down even at my own expense.’ And that’s why I was being persecuted over the last three or four months.”
Up For Bids…
Another situation that popped up online that put Coach in a really bad light was an eBay auction that offered a date with him. The auction, which started at $5,000 reportedly claimed that the proceeds would be donated to children with cancer — but no charity was actually listed. Although this may sound completely horrific, Coach says he had absolutely nothing to do with it. “If I had put an auction like that on myself, CBS would not have given me any money for anything. I mean that is like such a clear and distinct violation of your contract that I probably wouldn’t have been on the reunion show had I done that. Absolutely did not do that.”
He said that he did see the auction after a friend of his had forwarded him the link. “I saw that link and I just went ballistic. I called eBay and I called CBS and they shut it down like that day. But the damage was done. Again, it was something I absolutely had no involvement in whatsoever. It was some crazy out there trying to make money at my expense. I certainly had nothing to do with it. It was not my idea. I was very upset when I saw it. Again, I immediately called CBS. The auction never went to fruition. CBS called eBay, found that it was an impostor out there and shut it down.”
The Lie Detector Test
After the show was over, Coach had been offered a lie detector test from CBS, which he turned down. But he did surprise everybody during the live reunion show with the results from one he had taken himself. “I do a lot of things with my intuition. I’ve got a lot of prayer that goes into a lot of different things. So when I was asked to take the lie detector test by CBS, my first thought was, ‘Thank goodness, I can finally clear my name.’ I was totally for it. And as I started praying about it — started thinking about it — I got a really really bad vibe. And one side of me was like, ‘Come on, what’s going on here? You need to take it.’ The other side was like, ‘Red flag. Caution. Caution. Caution.’”
He even got advice on the situation. “My manager and a couple of my advisers were like, ‘Take your own lie detector test.’ So I did. Passed it three times. Took it three times, passed it with video and without. Two different days with a .01 deception. I felt real solid about it. I even asked the guy that gave it to me, ‘I’m going to take the CBS test.’ And he said, ‘No.’ And I was like, ‘What do you mean no?’ And he was like, ‘If the studio tells me to give a failed result I have to do it.’”
It’s for that reason he said he’s happy he didn’t take the CBS test. “It really shook me up and it really showed me that my intuition was correct.” He then brought up a situation with a lie detector test from VH1′s Tool Academy. “I watched that show and this guy was telling the truth. He did not cheat on his girlfriend, you could tell. And yet they said that he failed. And that incident came to mind. And I thought, ‘I knew that guy was telling the truth.’ And his reaction when he went back into the back and started throwing tables and his girlfriend slapped him, that ruined his life at that moment in time. And I thought, ‘They’re not going to do that to me. They have been in charge of my reputation, how can I spin it?’ Came up with the idea to blindside him (Jeff Probst) and I thought how great will it be? It’s got to be perfect timing, I’ve got to reel him in. I’ve got to say, ‘Well what good would that do, Jeff?’ And the audience and everybody watching is going to say, ‘That friggin’ liar.’ And then I’m going to pop it and say, ‘Jeff my worthy adversary, my friend, you are going to be blindsided.’ However I said it. I think it was the perfect way. I prayed about it. I felt like I just had an incredible calm while that was going on. And I really felt like it was vindication. Does everybody believe me? No. Do more people believe me? Yes. Did the people that didn’t believe me have a little bit of doubt in their mind, ‘Well maybe he was telling the truth.’ I think so. I felt a definite amount of redemption when that was pulled off.”
Playing Survivor again
Probst has repeatedly wrote on his blog that he would love to see Coach participate in another season of Survivor. But would Coach want to do it all over again? Even after all the drama and vilification? “It depends on what I’m doing at the time and what other opportunities have resulted in Survivor. But of course, once you’re in the game, I think you always have that desire to go back and right the wrongs that have been done or play the game a different way. For me, I set the bar so high, I’d have to really come up with some great stuff in order to better the Dragonslayer that you guys saw down in Brazil. But I think for me, I like to go bigger and better, and that would be a huge challenge, a huge gauntlet to throw down in front of me to say, ‘Hey can you top this?’ And I’d try to find the way to do it.”
Until that phone call arrives for another chance at Survivor, Coach says he has some other things on his mind. “I’m going to focus on my music. There are some things that are being presented to me — about having my own show or doing a pilot for this or maybe an independent film. Am I interested in that? Yes. I want to have editorial rights, though, I’ll tell you that. I want to have some type of say so in the creation of Coach Wade. But I definitely think that there are going to be some things that come out there that are going to involve me.”
Response To Bloggers
As far as reality television is concerned, Coach wanted to remind everybody that it’s simply entertainment. “People that have done will always be criticized by people who have not done. People that carry that banner and have morals and say they won’t compromise, will always try to be put in a compromising situation by people who have no morals and are compromised in their every day. I bet most of your bloggers out there that are sitting there writing S-H-I-T about me every day, are the ones who either have not done anything in life, or they wish that they were on the television show, or they’ve applied for Survivor 18 times and not gotten on, or they have no morals. And they don’t mind hiding behind a computer screen and blasting somebody. That shows their character.”
For those of you who wonder what Coach is like in person, he is very approachable. In fact, the entire cast of the Tocantins season was great to me during finale weekend. I’ve had some rough experiences in the past with former Survivor contestants, but Coach was truly one of the nicest.
Nice or not, it’s left for you to decide whether or not you believe what he has to say.
Images from Survivor: Tocantins courtesy of Monty Brinton/CBS.
Stay tuned for coverage of Survivor: Samoa, which blasts the airwaves this Fall.