The show's first former NHL player - and Canadian - Tom went out of the game about as gracefully as one would expect of someone from north of the border. Several other former professional athletes who played team sports have seen their journeys end in the pre-merge as well despite their physical assets; notable among the bunch are John Rocker, Cliff Robinson and Brad Culpepper (in his first attempt). Others have come into the game with more flair, like Scot Pollard, Gary Hogeboom (Hawkins) and Jeff Kent, only to be eliminated a few votes after the merge. Ethan Zohn wasn't an athlete for a major sports league, but he did play professional soccer before he won Survivor: Africa. In Culpepper's return on Game Changers, he made the final tribal council, but was heavily outplayed by Sarah Lacina. Some, like John, Gary and Jeff, tried to keep their past career a secret. Tom decided to tell his tribe about his NHL career. And while it wasn't his honesty about his profession that led to him being the fifth boot, it was his unwillingness to embrace some of the more devious sides of the game that prevented him from advancing further.
In Tom's exit interview, he said that loyalty was his strategy coming into the game. He said it helped him lead the blindside of Ronnie Bardah in the first vote, because he was going to support his closest ally in Elaine Stott. Once he swapped, it was clear to the members of the original Vokai tribe that he wasn't going to switch allegiances. He said in his interview with Parade of tribemate Janet Carbin, "She felt confident I would still be loyal to the other four Lairo players on the other tribe. I was not happy to get voted out. But I wanted to play a certain way, and I felt I played that way."
Tom did say that when push came to shove, he would have been ready to do whatever he needed to in order to win. But he was already behind the 8-ball in the pre-merge, as Lairo's blindside-hungry group was constantly switching who they wanted to vote for, if for no other reason than to make good television. Tom, meanwhile, wanted to get rid of Karishma Patel because she was holding the tribe back in challenges.
Often, the pro athletes who come on the show aren't the biggest fans of Survivor. Though Tom did display a knowledge of past seasons in his exit interviews, it was his inability to come into the season with an approach that was suitable to the game's evolution that ultimately led to his demise. Much - too much, honestly - is made of Karishma's lack of utility on her tribe, but at least she was able to recognize the numbers were not in her favor and had the awareness to turn the spotlight on anyone but her. Tom, who lost most of his closest allies to new Vokai, failed to give his new Lairo tribe that same sense of security that he would stay with them come a merge. Now, he's just another physically strong former male athlete whose athletic gifts were wasted by an antiquated strategic blueprint.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.