Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Will 'nice guy' finish first on 'Survivor'?

The last few years have been hell for Chase Rice.

In 2007, having just earned a job as a starting linebacker for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he suffered an ankle injury in the first game of the season. He would not return to the gridiron until the fall of 2008.

"I got my starting job back, and then I got the call that my dad had died," recalls Rice. "I ended up not being the same player." His performance suffered, he lost his starting job again, and suddenly he was without two things he had really loved: football, and his father.

And so being cast on "Survivor: Nicaragua," the 21st installment of CBS's long-running hit reality competition, fulfills two of the 24-year-old's desires: to rekindle his competitive fire, and to honor the memory of his late father with a display of mettle and fortitude. Rice is one of three contestants this season who have strong ties to N.C. -- after graduating from UNC in 2009 he worked as a jackman for Hendrick Motorsports in Mooresville for a year, then moved to Nashville to pursue a country-music career.

Q. Did you do anything in particular to prepare for the trip to Nicaragua?
Actually, I got with a Marine here in Charlotte and did some training with him. He helped me with my diet to get me ready ... I cut out all sugar. The goal there is to get your body mentally and physically ready for the hell that you’re about to go through. I actually lost weight … I dropped from probably about 212 to about 206. That’s not too much, but still a lot of people put weight on (before they do the show).

Q. What was your strategy going into the competition?
A lot of people trust people from the South, so I wanted to use that to my advantage. And just lay low, just try to be a nice guy, really just get people to trust and try to stay out of arguments ... because the more you argue and put your name out there, the more your head’s on the chopping block. So I just kind of wanted to stay out of the way and work hard and just try not to put a target on my back really.

Q. How did you react to the news that the theme for the season was going to be old vs. young?
"Oh dang, this ain’t good." Because my first picture in my head was like "Lord of the Flies," where nothing’s gonna get done, everyone’s gonna be arguing, there’s gonna be no leadership. Then I figured the older tribe would probably have a lot of organization, good leadership, especially because they got (two-time Super Bowl winning coach) Jimmy Johnson on the team. Best coach right there."

Q. You come across on your CBS bio as a generally nice guy, someone who doesn't seem to want to cause problems. Is that you?
Yeah, I mean, there’s no reason to go around causing problems just pissing people off all the time, you know? It’s kind of a different deal because this is a competition, but in my opinion, you want to be yourself as much as you can, because if you’re out there for a whole 40 days or whatever, eventually the real you is probably gonna come out. So that was my mentality going in, to be me from the start. People will see that, and that to me will allow people to trust you. Because if you’re trying to fake everything, then most likely people are going to see through that.

Q. It also said on your bio that you mention JT as the "Survivor" contestant you’re most like.
Yeah, I feel like JT played ("Tocantins") just great. He won a ton of the challenges and yet people still loved him. To me, it’s almost I’m kind of confused by that, because if I see someone like that that everyone loves and is winning and deserves it, that’s someone you should probably get rid of. But JT found a way to keep the target off his back. And he’s from the South, so that’s something we definitely have in common.

Q. What would you do with a million dollars if you won it?
My brother and his buddy from high school started a nonprofit organization called Huntthecure.org. It’s based out of Asheville and basically the money that they raise goes to trying to find a cure for cancer. My dad pretty much died from malignant melanoma cancer, and so I’d like to donate some money to them. And other than that, just kind of give me a foot up living in Nashville. It’s a tough business to make it in, but a million dollars wouldn’t hurt.

Q. How’s the music thing going?

It’s going well. I’ve been meeting with people, doing songwriting sessions, and just working on writing right now. The more you can write, the better you get and the better songs you put out.

Q. Looking back on the career-ending football injury and the passing of your dad, how would you say your life perspective has changed having had a couple years now to grieve and reflect?
Everything that you go through in life, it makes you who you are, and I’ve been through some tough stuff in the last two years, losing football and obviously losing my dad. So I feel like it’s definitely made me a strong person, it’s made me closer to my family. I would talk with my mom once a week or something before I lost my dad, and now I talk to her all the time and I go see her as much as I can. ... I’ve gotten tougher from it, because you’ve gotta learn to get through life without a dad. It’s not the easiest thing when you’re 22 years old.

Q. Do you feel like in a way you went out to play Survivor for your dad?
Absolutely. And also to just kind of represent my family. I got you know two older brothers, Chad (28, of Raleigh) and Casey (26, of Wilmington), and then my mom (who lives in Fairview, near Asheville). I’d like to represent them in the best way that I can.

Q. Before you got on the show, what’s the craziest thing you’d ever done in your life?
Probably run out in front of a race car. Race cars go down pit road at 50 mph and you’re just running out in front of one while other cars are zooming by. So that’s a pretty crazy thing. But it’s fun. It’s better to have a good time then live a boring life.