Sierra Reed: “I’ll be the most opinionated one”

I thought I liked Sierra Reed more until I re-listened to our interview, when I rediscovered how ridiculously abrasive and annoying she is. Perhaps it was because it was the end of the day, and talking to me interrupted her attempt to take a shower, but she was the most aggressively obnoxious person on the Survivor Tocantins cast. At least she knows that, saying that this season, “I’ll be the most opinionated one” and “very aggressive and very balls out. … I will chew you up and spit you out.”

I saw some of that opinionated aggression, like when Sierra said she’s been compared to a cast member from season 15, and when I asked who, she said, “I’m not going to tell you. You’re the only one who doesn’t know, and I like that. … I don’t like being compared to someone else; I’m not someone else, I’m me,” she said, and went on to complain about being compared in the modeling world to Kate Hudson and Kate Moss. At the end of our conversation, I wished her good luck in the game, and she got kind of belligerent and said, “They all say this. Good luck. They’re like, what do you want me to say, break a leg? That’s not very appropriate.” (I’m fine with being mocked, just as long as it makes sense.)

Also during our conversation, Sierra kept saying “like I said before” when she actually didn’t say anything before–which, to be fair, was perhaps the result of doing four similar back-to-back interviews that day, or just a verbal tick. But I also read it as a dismissive arrogance, like she felt talking to me was a waste of her time, and that she expected I should already know her answers to my questions. I may have to revise my statement about not liking someone; at least I ranked her last, but she’s not even close to second-from-the-bottom Sandy, who’s annoying but in a totally cheerful, pleasant way. And while Corinne tried too hard to be obnoxious, Sierra just is.

Sierra does not watch Survivor and was recruited three weeks before production began while eating tacos with a friend on Sunset Blvd. Emily from casting came up to her and said, “You’re really cute. You’d be awesome for Survivor,” which strikes me as exactly the kind of recruiting that does not produce a character like Yau-Man, but I digress. Sierra told me she went to the interviews for “fun” and to “see how far you can go,” and said that soon, she was so far along in the process, “I couldn’t even say no.” Later, she said she “took charge of it” and then started preparing.

Unquestionably, Sierra may be the most prepared contestant, and she made sure the other contestants knew before the game began. “I know how to build shelter; I’ve already made fire with flint at home. I didn’t even use the magnesium; I actually cut a piece of my shirt off and shredded it up and lit it by myself. I practiced and practiced. I bought a huge knife and walked around and whittled things and made throwing spears; I really mentally got into it. I can tell weather patterns. I’ll be a huge asset. I’m a designer at home, so I’m good with my hands,” Sierra told me.

The other contestants “are already watching me as they do this game right now; as I sit there weaving,” she said. “None of them even considered picking it up and doing it themselves; they just want to sit there and amuse themselves and watch me.” Why make sure the others notice? “I’m showing them because it’s screwing with their brains right now. It is. There’s four blonde girls,” Sierra said, so “anything I can do to differentiate myself to them even without speaking is the best way to go.”

She also added that Jeff Probst remarked about her preparedness. “Jeff told me that a lot of people don’t do what you do” as “nobody goes in there and does the survival side of it.” Why prepare for the survival part of the game if no one else does? “I’m scared of that part, so anything I’ve been scared of in life, I’m going to make sure I understand,” Sierra told me.

This is actually her strategy, as she said that all of that prep will lead her tribemates to keep her around. “I know all the fruits and vegetables to collect; I’ve studied them on note cards. I know which ones are poisonous, which ones are good for curing colds, coughs, scrapes, cuts, everything. If I can identify those things and help the tribe, they’re not going to send me home, even if I lose a challenge,” she said.

“I’m not worried for a long while. But then again, if I get sent home, that’s that for me, because I’m not here for the money. Money’s great; don’t get me wrong, a million dollar’s awesome. But like I said before, if I would have saved my money since I was a kid from working, I would have been a multi-millionaire by now. But I’ve spent all my money and lived a beautiful life. Money is just money. What I’m really here for right now is really conquering every single state of fear and pushing myself more than I would ever allow myself to be pushed. I would never ever walk out there by myself and pitch camp. Now, if you force me, and I sign papers, and I don’t have a choice right now–which is pretty much, no one has a choice right now, even if they didn’t want to–I’m going to be pushed to do it. I’m proud of myself right now that I’m still mentally okay with this after being here,” she said.

Besides preparedness, Sierra’s strategy apparently involves being in an alliance similar to Amanda and Todd’s; I say “apparently” because I’m not quite sure how to characterize this strategy. She said “leaders go to the guillotine ASAP. Like I said before, my main strategy is to have the full–with Amanda–I don’t know if you ever watched the show?–what Amanda did with Parvati and what Amanda also did with the flight attendant in season 15. The little guy, Todd, the guy who won. If you have a sincere mono-e-mono, like one on one, and if you take it all the way to the end–you don’t have to fight each other at the end, so you have nothing to lose if you build each other.”

She said security comes from “knowing that someone has your back; to me that’s going to keep you going and going and going and going and going.” Trust, Sierra said, is “going to be hard,” although “you’ve got to trust to a certain extent.”

Sierra also plans to not play the social game at first. “I’m not going to be in the cutthroat aspect of the game for a good while in the beginning. I’m just going to be about strengthening the whole entire team, because that’s the most important thing. And voting out people out not because of social qualities, strengths, because they’re threatening me, voting people out because they’re clearly the weakest, the weak ones, just makes sense. And then strategize and screw people over at the end,” she said.

As to her fellow competitors, she said Coach “was very interested in me” as she was weaving, and said that JT was annoying (“he chews and bangs and belches.”) Sierra also really disliked Sandy. “I don’t think she really knows what she’s facing right now. … Lady, what the f are you doing [with] acrylic nails? This is not the BET awards, okay?”

Sierra moved to Taiwan to start modeling at 15; recently, she showed her own jewelry line in a show at Fashion Week (in Suh-Tahn’s show) and now wants to open a store. Modeling on runways, in print, and commercials (“It’s great that I can do all three things”; “I’ve never taken it like I’m some beauty queen”), Sierra said, has let her “live the most amazing life, a life that five–a handful of girls my age have ever experienced. I will continue to model forever and ever; I won’t be going out on castings, I’ll just be getting a call.” She’s recently done the Converse All-Star ad that appeared on the back of People and was “the Old Spice girl” in this commercial who says “ahoy.”

While modeling as a teenager, she discovered that “the older girls were always so viscous and strategic,” and said, “I was the easiest person at that age to manipulate,” and as an example, she told a story about another model. “My roommate actually roofied me, because I wouldn’t do a lot of the things that she wanted me to … I think she thought she was doing me a favor. … And she was actually on a show, on Top Model.”

Sierra actually gave that Top Model contestant’s first name but not her season, and since there’s been more than one contestant with that name, I’m not going to identify her/let Sierra potentially libel her when I don’t know exactly who it is. Anyway, Sierra said the contestant, who was on the show years after they modeled together in Taiwan, “ruined my life. I hate her. She stole my clothes. We got into a brawl. She told my boyfriend there that I said he raped me. She did, like, just crazy stuff, but I was so young that I just caved in to all of it.”

But from all that, she learned how to manipulate younger Survivor contestants. “The younger they are, the better, because the less of a guard they have, the less jaded they are,” Sierra said. “It happened to me; it goes in a full circle.” However, she then lamented a recent example of older contestants manipulating a young one, when Erik gave up immunity. “That’s because he has heart. Fuck. At that moment, right there, I don’t think I could have taken it from him, knowing that we would backstab him. I couldn’t,” she said.

When I asked her what lines she wouldn’t cross, Sierra gave an excellent example of the way she contradicts herself a lot, or at least rationalizes her contradictions. She told me, “The lines that I won’t cross are, people who worked hard for shit like that, who worked their ass off, and you’re going to go fuck them over? I don’t know if I could do it. I guess I’m going to have to do it and it sucks, but it’s going to hurt. It’s not who I am fully. I have definitely been a manipulator since I was a kid. I wouldn’t call it manipulation, I would call it knowing how to play her cards.”

In other words: She won’t cross that line until she does; she’s not that person but she’s a manipulator; but what she does isn’t manipulation. What?

Near the beginning of our conversation, one of a few cats that had been wandering around Ponderosa returned and came over to me; earlier, it rode out the brief but torrential downpour sitting on my lap inside the tent, outside of which I conducted all these interviews. Sierra said, not kidding at all, “You’re not afraid of it?” I said no, and she said, “Aren’t you afraid of rabies?” I pointed out that the cat had not bitten me (it was purring), and she said, “Who knows what she’s carrying? She’s so cute, though.”

As Sierra walked away, she said, “My last question for you is, how much of that do they cut down and publicize?” She then said, “It might not be best to say something about [the Top Model] because we run in the same circles. I’ve closed that chapter in my life and it’s kind of a painful chapter; I don’t even know the person but she didn’t wreak some hell in my life and I said that to kind of relate it to vulnerability in people. But I gave you the information; you do with it–you can either be a good samaritan….”

Then she stopped and, having noticed the cat again, talked to it briefly in a baby voice, then turned and walked away while saying, “I hope you don’t get parasites.”

Hear Sierra discuss being compared to Kate Hudson and others, making up a story about her mother having cancer to get sympathy, and how her friends think she’s a guy:

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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.