‘Survivor’ Castaway Interview: Semhar Tadesse

When describing “Survivor” contestants, Jeff Probst uses the word “if” a lot. Jim can win if he can get people to trust him. Ozzy can go a long way if his social game has improved. Cochran can be a mastermind if he gets in with the right alliance.

There was no “if” with Semhar Tadesse. On day two of the filming of “Survivor: South Pacific,” Jeff Probst told me that Semhar would be the first person to go home. He was right.

Did he have some magic Emmy-powered crystal ball? No. He probably realized that she just isn’t right for the game. Semhar’s simply too kind hearted for “Survivor.”  For her it isn’t OK to lie, even for a million dollars, even if it is just a TV show…

I spoke with Semhar the morning after her Redemption Island elimination to find out her thoughts on her Savaii tribe mates, how rough things were all by herself, and the truth about her all-natural dental hygiene products.

Gordon Holmes: What happened before last week’s Tribal Council?
Semhar Tadesse:
I really didn’t know what to expect walking in there. I had been told different things by everyone. Pretty much the only people that really kept it honest with me were Ozzy, Dawn, and Papa Bear, who were like, “You know, we’re going to vote you out.” And everyone else told me I was completely safe. So I didn’t know what to think having only known these people for three days at this point. According to Keith, Jim, and Whitney I was totally safe. But right before we left, Ozzy looked at me and said, “Sorry, I tried.”

Holmes: I was just thinking that most people view Redemption Island as a punishment, but how often do you get a few days alone to just let your mind run free? As an artist, did that help you at all?
Tadesse:
Absolutely. I didn’t mind my time on Redemption so badly. There were some benefits.  I found bananas and I didn’t have to share them with anyone. (Laughs) I started a fire three times. I was proud of myself. But emotionally it was very difficult.
Holmes: You’d touched on that a bit about it bringing back feelings of rejection. Were you able to work through that at all?
Tadesse: It triggers things for everyone at Redemption Island. It just reminds you of things. You’re sitting there alone for days. And Redemption Island is scary, it’s dark, everything’s wet. It’s super difficult to start a fire. And it’s really quiet. You have plenty of time to think.

Holmes: I was talking to Jeff Probst on day two, and he immediately pegged you as the first person to go home. Any idea what it was about you that set him off?
Tadesse:
(Laughs) I wanted to braid my hair. And he told me, “Don’t braid your hair, we like your hair, keep your hair out.” And I was pretty concerned about my hair. I’m sure he thought, “Why is this girl concerned with her hair and not the game?”
Holmes: Were you happy with how your hair turned out?
Tadesse: Yeah, I wasn’t out there too long. If I had been out there for 40 days I couldn’t have kept it like that for long. It would’ve just turned into dreadlocks. And like I told Jeff in my interview, “You couldn‘t pay me a million dollars to cut my hair off.”

Holmes: You are famous for popularizing your own brand of Samoan toothpaste.
Tadesse:
(Laughs)
Holmes: Now I haven’t had a chance to try it yet, I’ve been busy, but how does that taste?
Tadesse: I did do a lot of research before I went out there. The toothpaste I picked up in a book I read about survival. I double-checked with an environmentalist and they said that it’s complexly safe to do. You basically take ash and put a little bit of water in it and you mix it around.
Holmes: Sounds delicious.
Tadesse: I never actually did it on the show because I felt like I’d only do it if it really came down to it.
Holmes: So you’re telling people to jam ashes into their mouths and you hadn’t tried it yet?
Tadesse: I said this is what we CAN do.
Holmes: Fair enough.

Holmes: Let’s talk about your fellow Savaiians. Jim strikes me as someone who’s super sharp, but I worry that people won’t trust him. Would you agree with that?
Tadesse:
I knew from the very beginning that I wasn’t going to trust Jim. He was telling us he was a teacher, and he was talking about his female students in inappropriate ways. I don’t know if it was his goal to make us not like him, but from the beginning I didn’t feel comfortable around him. It was creepy things like, “Hey, come sleep over here, Sem.”
Holmes: In all fairness to Jim, if I were on Savaii beach I’d be saying similar things.
Tadesse: (Laughs)
Holmes: So, I will not cast stones.

Holmes: Tell me about Papa Bear. He seems like the sweetest guy, but I can’t get behind someone who gives himself a nickname.
Tadesse:
I love it. I love Papa Bear. I think that it worked well for him because he was a Papa to us. He’s just a love bug. I think the nickname is awesome for him.

Holmes: I have a theory that Whitney might be a genius.
Tadesse:
Really?
Holmes: Last night when Keith was telling her about Ozzy, she was gently rocking him in the hammock. She didn’t have to ask things, he was just telling her. Am I reading too much into this?
Tadesse: I didn’t get a genius vibe from her, but I don’t know. Time will tell.

Holmes: It’s time for the word association. Let’s start with Ozzy.
Tadesse:
Sweet, good heart, caring, and loyal.
Holmes: Elyse?
Tadesse: Quiet, reserved, and sweet.
Holmes: Cochran?
Tadesse: (Laughs) Funny, in fact hilarious, sweetheart, and dorky.
Holmes: Papa Bear?
Tadesse: Loving, caring, and dramatic.
Holmes: Dawn?
Tadesse: Complete motherly attitude, organized individual, and super good heart.
Holmes: Whitney?
Tadesse: Whitney…not so bright in my opinion. A little on the ditsy side.
Holmes: Alright, let’s explore this. What was she doing that seemed ditzy?
Tadesse: She’d just make little comments from time to time. Things like saying she needed to lose weight. Or, one time she said something about Moses going through the Red Sea for forty days and forty nights.
Holmes: That doesn’t sound right.
Tadesse: But she may be really smart and pretending to be ditzy.
Holmes: You’re killing my theory, Semhar!
Tadesse: (Laughs) Right there with you, Gordon.
Holmes: OK, let’s try Keith.
Tadesse: Neutral, chill, surfer-dude attitude.
Holmes: And finally, Jim.
Tadesse: Disgusting, pervert, heartless.

Holmes: Was your experience in Samoa a positive one? Did you learn from it?
Tadesse:
Absolutely, I grew from the entire experience. I’m really happy that I went. It taught me that I can do things on my own, and that’s a very comforting feeling to have, especially with all of these natural disasters. It’s nice to know I could start a fire on my own. I never thought in a million years that I could do that.
Holmes: Well, here’s hoping you never have to start a fire again, but it’s good to know that you can.
Tadesse: (Laughs) Like I said when we interviewed in Samoa, I’m not an outdoorsy person. This girl has never been camping before.

Any Questions? Drop Gordon a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

Watch Full Episodes of “Survivor: South Pacific”

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