Exclusive: Matt Rogers on ‘Summer Camp,’ game strategy, and ‘American Idol’ judges

Summer Camp -After a few weeks on the air, USA is shifting their cheesy-fun summer reality series “Summer Camp” to a new time slot this week following “Monday Night RAW.” It’s a chance to get an opportunity to appeal to a new audience, capitalize on one of the network’s long-running franchises, and also bring a touch of reality competition into the late-night market.

If you haven’t caught the series yet, we’d suggest that you find the first few episodes on iTunes or online. While it has been marketed at times as being a mirror image of your childhood summer camp (but with adults), there’s also a strategy component in here that feels almost like “The Glass House” meets “Survivor” that some of you major gamers out there could enjoy.

At the center of all of the action is host, country singer, and former “American Idol” contestant Matt Rogers, who we had a chance to talk with late last week about anything and everything related to the show.

CarterMatt – I know that most people got to know you originally from your music, but is hosting something that you’ve always wanted to do?

Matt Rogers – Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always wanted to be on TV and host; I remember when I was five years old I got my first radio cassette recorder, and I would interview my family members and get together my own ‘Saturday Night Live’ tapes. Stack ’em all up and stuff. Even when I was five or six years old I was watching ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, so it’s fun to be doing it.

How do you approach hosting something like this? Do you look around for inspiration, or just go in and say that you’re going to be yourself?

For this show, I grew up at church camp my entire life, so as a summer camper it was kind of the right fit for me. And for the show, I just try to keep it simple; my action is to explain the different Color Wars, and to set up the banishment and the elimination process, which kind of sucks for the contestants but is pretty fun for me … When my agents first told me about [the show], I knew that I wanted to [do it].

I’m guessing that camp for you was a good experience because you kept going back; for me, I know that I always hated it.

When I was a kid I didn’t like it because I was kind of a mama’s boy, and I would always cry to come home early. But then when I was around 12 or 13 years old I started to see the other girls there; then, it was a super-fun experience.

Is there ever a time in this competition where you start to feel bad for some of these campers doing challenges, or are you kind of just like ‘you know what? You guys put yourself in this situation.’

It’s normally more of the latter. (Laughs.) The producers were working hard to make sure that the contestants were having a good time, and that they wanted to stay at ‘Summer Camp.’ They ate great food, it was definitely better than cabin food, and they have a lot of great socials coming up … The campers definitely wanted to stay. We kept the challenges lighthearted and fun.

Was it interesting seeing from your standpoint how the game evolved? Since it’s the first season, you and the producers are really getting a chance to see how this game would be played, and there are events or things done on the show that you may not have seen coming. For example, did you guys imagine that there was going to be such a big strategic component when sending people to other camps?

It’s interesting to see a show take on its own form, and become what it is. You can look at the blueprint of the show, what it is and what we want to do, but then the contestants made it great. You’re going to see coming up the girls and guys making deals with each other where there girls are like ‘we want this girl gone,’ and the guys are like ‘we want this guy gone. We’ll get rid of this girl for you if you get rid of this guy. We’ll throw a challenge.’

… When that happens, and only one of the teams honored the deal, some viewers are going to be like ‘what the heck?’ People get [angry], and some people get cut where you think that it shouldn’t happen, and some people got screwed. It makes for a better show. In episode 4 (airing today) that happens, and it episode 6 and 7 it gets really good.

If you were in the camp, do you have any idea what your strategy would be? I would be at times afraid to come across as too big of a threat.

You have to remember that your own team banishes you, so if you are a strong competitor or a strong leader, they’re not going to want to banish you. The flip side of that is that this week there is a strong leader who is running their side of the camp, but then their camp turned them out. When that person was sent over to the others’ camp, that person got eliminated.

At the end of the day, my strategy would be to make sure everyone really liked me, and them be a strong competitor so that nobody would want to banish me.

You’re going to be appearing on ‘RAW’ tonight. Is that something that you ever thought you were going to be doing?

Something I always wanted to do as a kid, because I grew up watching WWF. I’m a Hulkamaniac, and I loved the Ultimate Warrior. So it’s kind of cool to be a part of [a show] that I grew up watching.

Since you’ve been through ‘American Idol,’ it would be wrong for me to not ask the question: What do you think about the idea of a show having a panel made up with all alumni? Do you think that’d be interesting or could work? (Note: This interview was conducted before Keith Urban was confirmed to return, or that Jennifer Lopez was close to a deal.)

I definitely still watch the show with my wife; it’s where I got my start … In my personal opinion, I think there are only two idols that people really care about and people care to hear from, and that’s Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. I know that they’ve been talking about Adam Lambert, and he’s great and he’s talented, but at the end of the day you want the Grammy-winners, you want the real winners. You want the people who bring that clout with them, and in my opinion, those only two people are Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood.

I think they would be fantastic and would boost the ratings, so if they can land them, it would be great.

Photo: USA

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