ALL HE needed was four votes out of nine to be crowned the sole survivor and walk away a millionaire, and that’s exactly what happened for Tom Swartz. He won Survivor South Africa: Philippines last week at a star-studded finale in Cape Town. The 41-year-old from the Eastern Cape won over the hearts of the jury after lasting 39 days in the wild. Head of an anti-poaching unit, Swartz was not the most loved by fellow castaways or viewers, but in the game of Survivor, with R1 million at stake, you must outwit, outplay and outlast.
Born and raised in Amalinda, East London, Swartz said while growing up, he was always outside playing. “My childhood was wild. I always had cuts and bruises as a child, I was always outside playing,” he said.
He continued to stay in East London and start a family there, until he moved to Port Elizabeth five years ago for a job. “I was offered a job as head of an anti-poaching unit in PE. I am a diver and a conservationist so when I was asked to head up a unit that stopped poachers from taking our abalone from our oceans, it only made sense. They also needed someone that was a little crazy and I fit the profile perfectly,” he said.
After a chat full of laughs and jokes with Swartz, it’s easy to see why he won.
Why did you decide to enter
I have always wanted to be on Survivor, or at least a show like it, because I wanted to prove to myself and to others I can survive in these circumstances
How did you prepare for Survivor? Survivor?
I started eating less. It might sound weird to some people because you would probably start eating more knowing you would not be eating every day, but I wanted to get used to that. So I ate less and I started doing lots of cardio workouts just to keep fit… it really helped because the extent of the hunger I went through was insane.
Did you have a strategy and what was it?
I wanted to be a provider to the rest of the castaways because I wanted to be needed. Whenever my name came up before tribal council, I wanted people to say: “No, we need him” and I think I was successful with that.
What was the biggest misconception you had of this game?
I thought that they would give us a protein bar if they saw us near dying from starvation, but they do not. If you do not catch it or hunt it, you don’t eat.
Take me through your most difficult day on the island?
For a lot of other castaways, difficult days were when they were really hungry, but for me it was the social aspect. There were a number of people that just did not enjoy my company and when you merge, you don’t have the support of a tribe when it comes to immunity challenges, so that was my most difficult day.
What was the social game like for you?
I don’t think anything can prepare you for the social aspect of this game, it is next level crazy. One day you are in with the cool kids, the next you are out. One day people like you and the next day they can’t stand your presence. It was always crazy and difficult to deal with. Once Vusi came to me with a name to write down when we got to tribal council and, 20 minutes before tribal council, that all changed with no warning.
While on the island what did you miss?
I missed people that I could trust and people that I loved. I really missed a fridge that you could open, and the light would come on and there was food you could eat. Not just any food, but food you actually liked.
After your wife visited you on the island things changed, you seemed motivated?
Oh yes, absolutely! I missed her a lot and her visit changed things for me because I needed the boost and motivation and really,