LOS ANGELES — A lot of viewers thought that "Survivor: Africa" contestant Kim Johnson made a fatal mistake last week that cost her a million dollars — that she made the wrong choice of who would make it to the final two with her.
Instead of Lex van den Berghe, whom viewers had gotten to know as a mean-spirited competitor, she picked nice-guy Ethan Zohn. And Ethan won the voting and the million bucks.
But Kim insists that beating Lex was not a given — that what viewers at home saw was not what the other contestants saw.
"I think he was being 100 percent honest when he was talking to the cameras," Johnson said. "I think his innermost emotions were coming out. When he would say things like 'cut their throats' and 'chop off their heads,' I mean, obviously, he's not literally going to do that, but he was being real."
But what he said to the cameras was not what he said to the other contestants, who generally seemed to like him.
(Not that being liked is necessarily the way to win, as executive producer Mark Burnett pointed out. "Think about season one," he said. "Why did Richard (Hatch) win? . . . It depends on the opinions of the jury on that night.")
"Nobody who's as hated as you might think I was would make it this far. . . . I won a few immunity challenges, but I also got through a few when everybody thought I was going down," van den Berghe said. "It's not because I was hated. But I went there to kick (butt).
"I don't have a single regret in the game. . . . I couldn't give a rat's (butt) what anyone else thinks. I'm happy with myself," said van den Berghe, who insisted that his family and friends "could all tell you I'm a decent, stand-up guy."
But he certainly didn't act like one throughout the game. Van den Berghe nearly came unglued when, during one early tribal council, he received a single vote to eject him. He wasn't in any danger of being voted out, but he launched a witch hunt and engineered the ouster of contestant Kelly, who he was convinced had voted against him — but she hadn't.
Even the supremely confident van den Berghe admitted, "That one was hard to watch.
"That was definitely where my character kind of turned," van den Berghe said. "Those were some hard days in the game for me. . . . I lost my marbles for a few days.
"Since then, every time you see a picture of Lex there's a caption that says, 'The paranoid Lex,' 'The paranoid supervillain Lex.' And, you know what? For three days I was a paranoid supervillain. There was no doubt about it. I went berserk."
He said he told himself to regroup and calm down. And he blamed his overreaction on the situation he was in.
"We'd been sleep-deprived, malnourished, in the bush with 10 other people that want to get rid of you — that want to take you out," van den Berghe said. "That's going to eventually do something to your mind."
He said that by the time that particular episode aired, he had forgotten just how out-of-control he had become.
"My mom watched that episode, and after that she said, 'I don't think I'm going to watch anymore,' " he said.
NO MORE SOCCER: Million-dollar winner Zohn, the professional soccer player, isn't a professional soccer player anymore.
"I'm coaching right now, and coaching is fun," he said. "And I might be on the downward spiral of my career, so it might be time to look into new things."
The 27-year-old said he had given himself five or six years to succeed in pro soccer and admitted that hadn't happened.
"If I could be the next superstar . . . I'd be there by now," Zohn said. "I feel like it might be time to change gears. But I like coaching. I love kids. (I might) start . . . a league for inner-city kids."