Knoxville native Ben Wade says his experience on “Survivor: Tocantins” was especially hard on his family.
“They stopped watching the show halfway through (the season),” says Wade, who grew up in Knoxville and graduated from the University of Tennessee. “They said it was too hard for them to watch, seeing me being made basically a fool out of on national television. So that was tough on them.
“That grieves me.”
Wade, known on the CBS reality show as “Coach,” is the son of UT math professor William Wade and his wife, Cheryl Wade. His parents still live in Knoxville, and they were not supportive of their son going off on a “Survivor” adventure. Once they saw their son on the show — referring to himself in the third person as “The Dragon Slayer” and revealing outlandish stories to his disbelieving tribemates of his past adventures around the world — the Wades decided not to watch this season of “Survivor” anymore, he says.
They didn’t watch even though Wade was in the game’s final five, being voted out the episode right before the season finale.
“I know I am not conservative. I am not as they are,” Wade says of his folks, “... and they have suffered through some of this stuff. I think this has been very tough on them, and I didn’t want it to be tough on them.”
Wade is being touted as one of the most colorful and eccentric characters in “Survivor” history. His tales of being captured by South American natives while he was in the jungle one time raised eyebrows and laughs on the show. Host Jeff Probst wanted to subject him to a lie detector test to see if this was true. Wade found the proposition insulting.
Wade tried to get his parents to participate on the show. During one installment, contestants were allowed one visitor from the outside world. Wade invited his assistant coach, who is his best friend, to come see him in the game.
However, he invited his parents first then extended the invitation to his brother. All three declined.
“During that whole visit, I felt bad because I felt cheated,” Wade says, “and it was sad.
“I didn’t have my family with me. When push comes to shove, you want your family with you, not your friend. I knew it would be a stretch for me. My dad teaches at UT, and my mom has bad acid reflux. It’s hard for her to travel. My dad almost went, but he had a final.”
His brother, Peter, a Nashville schoolteacher, also decided not to go because he had school work to do. Wade says “Survivor” producers tried to coax Peter Wade into going anyway. “I think he’s crazy for not taking a free trip to Brazil,” he says, “but I respect him for his (priorities).”
Ben Wade is planning a trip home soon. He’ll be attending a West High School 20-year reunion in August.
And would he want to stick around? Perhaps. Wade is looking for a new job. He was fired from his coaching position at Southwest Baptist University allegedly for not telling the school he would be gone from work for two months to do “Survivor.”
Now that he’s looking for a new employer, UT is looking good to Wade.
“I’d love to work at UT,” he says. “I don’t know if they’d have me after my reputation has been damaged. I’d go and teach music there. I’ll go and conduct. I’ll do anything.”
n Words to live by. “I think everything was meant to happen this way.” — Ben Wade on his “Survivor” experience.
Terry Morrow may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 865-342-6445.
Ben Wade, a native of Knoxville, says his family didn’t like what they saw of him on CBS’s “Survivor.” They stopped watching.
© 2009, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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