Interview: Jeff Kent talks 'Survivor: Philippines' and the Hall of Fame
All-Star second baseman talks Jonathan Penner and the Steroid Era
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Jeff Kent's legacy is already pretty well established.
The National League MVP in 2000 and a five-time All-Star, Kent retired in 2008 with 377 career home runs and 1518 RBIs. You could make the argument that he's one of the greatest offensive second basemen in baseball history, an argument that's sure to come up when he makes his first appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot next winter.
Jeff Kent is unlikely to make the "Survivor" Hall of Fame, but by finishing 10th for the "Survivor: Philippines" season and making the Jury, he didn't shame himself either.
In fact, for several episodes, Jeff Kent was the most active and important player in "Survivor: Philippines," temporarily anchoring a briefly successful alliance, but then turning on that alliance in a seemingly single-minded attempt to get Jonathan Penner voted out of the game. And then one week after that vote failed to go his way, Jeff Kent was blindsided and sent packing.
In this week's "Survivor" exit interview, Jeff Kent discusses his regrets about the past couple episodes and tries to clarify how Jonathan Penner fit into his strategy. And, because it's not like I get to talk to Jeff Kent frequently, I also made sure to ask him about the decisions facing Hall of Fame voters in upcoming years as some of the pivotal players in the so-called Steroid Era (including his old teammate Barry Bonds) hit the ballot.
Click through for the full interview...
HitFix: I'm guessing you've had enough time to make a list of things that you did wrong in the past couple episodes. What does that list look like?
Jeff Kent: It's very short, I think. It's very short, but it had a big turning. One was... And they don't show it on TV, but I know what happened on the island and actually I think there's a clip of it on on CBS Internet, is I had a one-on-one conversation with Denise about flipping an alliance where we would keep Penner and keep Skupin...
Wait. Let me back up. No. I'll stay there, because that's the biggest. That's the biggest turning point and that matters in this whole game. Denise was being too passive about it. She did not want to try this angle, because she just wanted to play defense and just lay low and "Let's go ahead and vote Skupin out" and everything would be OK and I got the bullet in the back and that was the biggest turning point in this whole game, is I should have tried harder. I should have gone to Malcolm and tried to convince Malcolm and what I was doing was I was allowing my relationship with Denise to try to influence Malcolm and I should have gone to Malcolm myself and built a better relationship with Malcolm and said, "Hey, let's go. Let's try to take this game here. Let's control this game rather than allowing Tandang and those knuckleheads to control this game. Let's see if we can make something happen here." And Denise didn't want to do it and I said, "OK. I'll play the game. I'll just go along with what you guys want and I'll wait to flip the game later" and I didn't do that and I was pissed.
And, to back up on another one, before RC went home, I think it's knowing that the Kalabaw tribe should have stayed together, gotten Skupin and RC and that could flipped the game there against Tandang and it was all my fault because I decided with Carter to go ahead and vote RC off instead. But the votes weren't there. We didn't have the votes. And, again, Denise did not vote our way. Even though she was part of the Kalabaw tribe when we merged together, she got back with Malcolm and she was going to play with Malcolm for a little while, so everybody's thinking, "You know, Jeff screwed up and he went the wrong way," but I tried. I didn't have the votes. Denise wouldn't vote with us. She wanted to go with Malcolm, so I decided, on my own, that we would make an alliance with Pete promised -- You know, the old "Survivor" Promise, which I got burned for -- that he would take care of us, that he would owe us one, so we voted for RC. And everybody's going, "You should have voted... You should have voted somebody else," but we didn't have the vote. I didn't have the votes.
So I kind look bad the way the TV cut it up, but I didn't have the votes. If you look at the vote there at the end when RC went home, Denise and Malcolm voted together and I didn't have the votes to vote that way. So those were the two things that I wish... I could have maybe been more hardcore about convincing others to change? But you can only push people so far and then they turn against you. So those are the two things that I wish I could have changed.
HitFix: So are you saying that what we saw on TV maybe overstated your desire to or obsession with sending Penner home?
Jeff Kent: Yeah. I didn't have an obsession to get Penner out of the game. There were two things that worked my way. One is that I wanted to continue to focus on Penner vocally to distract all of the attention away from me and put it on Penner. "Look at how good Penner is! Look how good he is at challenges! Let's get Penner out, he's a returning player!" It was "Let's think about Penner and not think about Jeff Kent." So I wanted all of that. And Number 2 is that I knew... I had a good relationship with Penner. I had an alliance with Penner, even though I wanted him to be gone. I had a relationship with Penner in a way that I knew that if I were to stay one step ahead of the best player out there, and I thought Penner was the best player out there -- He was very good at the challenges, he was strategic, the guy could have starved himself to death, like a couple of us, and it'd have not been a problem -- so I knew that this guy was that good and if I stayed one step ahead of Penner, that I would be closer to the money and if I kept him at the end, if I kept Penner at the end, I was also hoping that they'd give me the money and not Penner, because he was a returning player. So I think there was too much played upon that, but I'm not worried about it. But those are the reasons why I kept talking about Penner.
That was the only strategy I came into the game with, was knowing that there was gonna be a veteran player on our team, I went, "Awww. Yeah. That's the plan. Let's stick with that plan and don't deviate from it unless you have to." And I tried to. At the end, two days before I left the island, I tried to at the end create an alliance that would bring Denise and Malcolm and myself and Carter and keep Penner and Skupin and be aligned with them together. So it changed, but on TV it really didn't look that way.
HitFix: In your exit speech, you mentioned the Game 7 losses. I assume that since this was only 20 days, rather than 162 games plus playoffs, this has to hurt less, right?
Jeff Kent: Yeah. It was just a rant. I was pissed because I lost and I was starving and hungry and still in shock that I got voted off and I was running my mouth and trying to make an analogy about how much I wanted to win "Survivor." Talking about "Game 7 loser" and playing the biggest stages and losing and best games and worst games, but this still sucks, which is true. Which is really true. I cared about playing this game. It mattered to me. It wasn't, "Oh hem-haw. I didn't win so I'm just gonna go home." It mattered and I wanted people to get that.
HitFix: Baseball's a team game and in a loss, you have a whole roster of people who are presumably equally responsible. Do you somewhat wish that "Survivor" really *was* more of an individual game and not as team and alliance dependent as it is?
Jeff Kent: You know, I think the concept's great. The only thing that, me personally, I wish I could change, which probably wouldn't have worked towards others, is I just wish it was physically harder. I wish it was more of a challenge to find food and and more of a challenge to physically survive the elements and do things. I wish the challenges were harder, too. The puzzles are the neutralizer for the physical part of the game, whereas everybody kinda gets up to the puzzle pieces and then we're all about even and you've gotta fix the puzzle. And I get that concept. I think it's great. But for me personally, I just wish it was physically harder and if it ever is, I'll be the first one to wanna play. That's kinda how the game was for me.
HitFix: You hurt your knee almost immediately, but then it wasn't mentioned after those first couple days. What ended up happening there?
Jeff Kent: I tore my MCL in half. There was about a 50 percent tear in the MCL. It hurt. It hurt bad for all the challenges that I had to do, in the mud. If it was in the mud, man I was scared. There were a few challenges in the mud that we had to do and I wasn't that good at it. And I also went into these challenges not necessarily wanting to be the best at every one of them and that puts you on the chopping block, too. So I was kinda picking and choosing where I could perform and how I could perform and using it to my advantage.
HitFix: Dawson recognized you very quickly on the show and you told me that she gave you very strong hints that she knew who you were. Did you get those hints?
Jeff Kent: She gave me hints. I don't know if they were "strong" or not. But Dawson? She's out there. She's bringing a laugh to me now. She was kinda funny and quirky and air-head-ish and all that. She was very entertaining. But I was... I started to get nervous when she started talking sports. And then also, I asked Penner in that same conversation when we were all together, "Hey, Penner. What are your favorite teams?" And one of his favorite teams was the Los Angeles Dodgers and that scared me. I was scared. And because Dawson was such a loose cannon, she became a target for us. She was a target for everybody, not just me, but it was kinda my decision at the end there, "Let's just go ahead and get Dawson out," for two reasons: One, if she knows who I am, I can get rid of her real quick and that might be good for me. And two, we all want her out anyway. She wasn't much of a helper around camp, so let's just go ahead and let her go. Watching the show, I had no idea she knew who I was. I just didn't know it.
HitFix: I assume you were *mostly* relieved your baseball career never came up, but were you also just a little bit disappointed? I assume you had an answer. I assume you had a pitch that you were all prepared to give people if they knew who you were...
Jeff Kent: [Laughs.] I was somewhat prepared for it. It fell along the lines of: "Look, you know, I wanna play this game to earn your vote. I don't wanna play this game to deserve your vote, I wanna earn it. I wanna earn your vote and say that I earned this Sole Survivor status." That was gonna be my speech, if you will. I'd smooth it out and round it out and make it look good and clean it up. And if it happened, great, but that's who I was. I was a baseball player. That's what I did a long time ago. I'm not that guy now. I've always been a father and I've always been a husband while I played baseball and I now I don't have baseball, so now I'm just a dad and a Little League coach and a Scout Leader and a churchgoer and a guy who goes to the grocery store at midnight to get milk. It's who I am.
HitFix: And since I don't know when else I'm gonna get the chance to talk to you... How much attention are you going to pay to this year's Hall of Fame ballot to see who makes it in and who's going to be pushed onto the ballot with you next year?
Jeff Kent: Every year, you take a look at some of the guys that are deserving of it. I don't even know who's eligible, but when the time comes around and they start chatter-boxing about it, I'll watch it, because it's part of baseball. I love watching the playoffs, love watching the Giants win the World Series and when the Hall of Fame vote comes around, I'll pay attention, because some of those guys that have a chance to get in there were my teammates and friends and I hope of them get in.
HitFix: I was gonna say. This year is Barry Bonds and it's also Clemens and Biggio and there are a bunch of big guys.
Jeff Kent: You're right. There are. And everybody's talking about the Steroid Era, too. Are these guys gonna be able to grab some votes? So I'm curious to know as well, how the media portrays the guys who were potential users. I care about the history of the game and the media will have a vote in how the history is perceived if they vote towards players who are known users in the game. I'm curious to see how that's going to go.
HitFix: What is your own personal preference or inclination or even guess on that? What would you expect a response to be?
Jeff Kent: Well, I think there have already been subtle examples of how they're going to vote with McGwire. It's there. It's a topic of conversation. One of these days they'll get beyond. But you're disrespecting the game when you cheat the game. I don't care if the drugs were illegal or legal. If it's OK in baseball to do it, then it's OK. But it wasn't OK in baseball, even though we didn't have a drug policy. It wasn't OK. It enhances your play in the game and if there's a perception out there that's OK, then it's just going to open up a can of worms. You could be debating this forever and there are players out there who cheated who will never get caught and who have never been discussed. So who's who and who did what? I don't know. But the players who knowingly were users of drugs who enhanced their game, I think it eventually is a struggle for those people who have a vote to say whether it's OK or not.