Friday, January 11, 2002
'The party's over. Tom played a good game,' his dad says
'Big Tom' gets the boot off 'Survivor Africa'
After the good ol' boy from Smyth County lost the memory game, his fellow cast members voted him off.
By JENN BURLESON
THE ROANOKE TIMES
RICH VALLEY - "Big Tom" Buchanan's famous last words will always be "love, peace and hair grease."
Wearing his familiar blue jean overalls and a half-smile, the 46-year-old farmer made his last television appearance Thursday night as a competitor for "Survivor Africa's" $1 million jackpot. He signed off with those words.
Friends and family confess they don't know what the statement means, but it's one of his favorite phrases.
Each Thursday night for three months, the CBS hit reality television show depicted strangers shooting arrows, carrying goats and memorizing facts, trying to outwit their competitors. Each week, one of the show's original 16 cast members has been voted off by fellow competitors.
Buchanan's parents, Raymond and Janavee Buchanan, stared at a television set at a Rich Valley home along with more than 80 friends.
"I have a feeling he'll come close," his mother said.
His father leaned forward and shook his head as Big Tom's final chance to win came down to how much he knew about his fellow competitors.
"Tom won't win a memory challenge," Raymond Buchanan mumbled.
He was right.
After Big Tom lost the memory game, his fellow cast members voted him off. The $1 million winner was Ethan Zohn.
Wearing a shirt autographed by her son, Janavee Buchanan sat on the floor with her arms draped across a chair at the home of family friend Charlie Clark.
She dropped her head.
"The party's over," Raymond Buchanan said. "Tom played a good game."
Moments later, his eyes swelled with tears.
After Big Tom lost, some of his friends trickled out of the home. Others stayed to enjoy the stacks of pizza and a cake depicting elephant dung.
A fluorescent orange and pink banner reading "Proud to Be a Redneck" hung in one corner of the Clark home, and fans paraded around in their "Big Tom" T-shirts. Some of them have gathered every week since October to watch Big Tom.
Chances are this won't be the last fans will see of Big Tom.
According to his father, Big Tom is close to getting a California agent to represent him. He has already taken advantage of his stardom by selling a line of autographed T-shirts, tote bags and photographs from KJ's Kountry Korner, a store a few miles from his farm. He has also posed for countless photographs with fans.
Tourists from as far away as Florida and Canada have driven to the store in the hopes of meeting their Southern-talking hero. "Everywhere you go you hear something about Big Tom," said Saltville librarian Virginia Hammond.
The Buchanans are proud of their son, but his mother confesses she already doesn't get to see him as much as she did before he went on the show.
"I miss him," she said. "He used to come up to my house for breakfast every day." The farmer has visited local schools to tell students the importance of reading. He has posed for class photographs and has autographed books. He's usually surrounded by children asking him repeatedly, "Do you know my daddy?"
Big Tom earned a controversial reputation from his behavior on the show. On one episode, the married man generously bathed women with buckets of water. Another episode showed his behavior after drinking too much bourbon.
In spite of all that, most folks around Smyth County will tell you they adore Big Tom.
"He likes to be around people, and he likes to be the center of attention," Janavee Buchanan said. "You just wonder what he's going to do next."