Jerry Sims: “I don’t want to” be a leader

During our conversation, Jerry Sims described himself as someone who is “just laid back, [doesn't] get rattled real easily, can deal with stressful situations calmly.” That’s absolutely true; in a group of relatively easy-going contestants, he was easily the most relaxed and low-key.

At 49, he’s the second oldest Survivor Tocantins cast member (behind Sandy, ahead of Debbie), and he was recruited for the show after having been featured in a newspaper article following his return from Afghanistan last May. As part of the National Guard–which he’s been in for 26 years, having joined because he thought, “I need a change”–he leads 100 people in South Carolina. But he was extremely humble about that, and said that, in Afghanistan, as a first sergeant with 20 experienced guys underneath him, “really my job was easy, they knew what to do and how to do it, so I was like a paper-pushed, basically.”

Despite his leadership skills, Jerry told me that “out here, I don’t want to be in charge, because the in-charge guy always gets axed. … I could be [a leader] if I wanted to, but I don’t want to,” he said, although post-merge he may “assert myself a little more.”

Instead, his strategy is to “kind of lay back and take it low key,” but Jerry admitted that will be hard for him, and later said he’d “make suggestions” because it’s his “personality, I like to get things done and complete and relax.” Jerry also told me that he plans to “be real friendly, buddy up, all the time in my mind I’m thinking, ‘How can I get rid of this person?'”

Despite being religious and honest, he won’t have a problem lying to others in the game, because during his preparation (“watching a lot” of the show “DVD, and YouTube, and everything else”), he learned that “you can’t trust no one” “you could do the secret handshake, say you’re bonded for life, and before you know it, the knife comes out.”

“I’m a real honest-type person, you know, real religious-type, honest, and I just have to go into it, this is a game. I’m going to have to leave that at the door until after the game and pick it back up,” Jerry laughed. He laughed a lot, and just seemed genuinely content and happy.

I’m pretty sure that will get him far in the game, because he doesn’t seem threatening at all. In addition, he said that being in Afghanistan prepared him for Brazil’s ridiculously hot weather. Jerry said he’s “in pretty decent shape” and isn’t worried about food (“I have been on a few religious fasts before, so I can go a few days without eating–without getting too delirious.”) His only concern is water: “If I can get water, I’m good.”

Although CBS’ biography says he’s an army sergeant, that’s not his full-time job. For about 16 years, Jerry has been an operator at a nuclear power plant (“the control room pushes the button and I check it out to make sure it’s not smoking or eating itself up”), following years of painting for the same company, which he’s been with for 30 years. “Right now, I love what I do. Most people can’t say that, but I just love working,” Jerry said. While he’s excited to be on talk shows after appearing on the show, he doesn’t envision the money changing his life, saying he wants to “win this million dollars [so] I can be debt free.”

Hear Jerry’s great laugh as he talks about the big variable in how well he’ll do in competitions, the role he’ll take in the tribe, and how he was recruited:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.