Taj Johnson-George: “I’ll [be nurturing] while I stab them all in the back; they’ll love me for it”

Taj Johnson-George knows that her fellow competitors may already have a good idea who she is. As a member of the Grammy-nominated group SWV (Sisters with Voices), she’s also married to Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL player Eddie George, and recently wrote a book.

Her fame isn’t surprising, considering how charismatic and warm she is. Still, it may impact her game. “I know that I might have to deal with the fact that me recognize me as a part of SWV or as my husband’s wife; I’m looking forward to that because I think they’ll underestimate me,” Taj said.

Because of her fame and success, “it’s clear I don’t literally need [the prize], but who doesn’t need a million dollars? Yeah, I could use a million dollars every now and then. But the main reason why I’m here is to win the money for our foundation,” Taj told me. That non-profit is Visions With Infinite Possibilities, where “we foster the women of domestic violence and the children of abuse in Nashville. She plans to give “a lot of the winnings” to it, as donations have suffered due to the economy. While she won’t mention it to the others, Taj said she’ll keep that in her “back pocket … ‘Don’t [vote] me off; think about the children.'”

Taj was recruited because “they were casting for an NFL wife; I fit the profile” mentioned in an e.mail sent to NFL teams that was forwarded to her and that she responded to. She didn’t hesitate to do Survivor–even though “I’ve never watched an episode before in my life; never,” she said. Ironically, fellow SWV member “Coko loves Survivor; she’s watched every episode, I’ve never watched a show in my life,” Taj said, noting that SWV’s members “support me completely.”

Why be on Survivor Tocantins? “I just think it’s a great show. In this age where reality is just ridiculous right now, I don’t want to watch it because it’s buffoonery,” she told me. “When I got the call to be on this show, I didn’t feel I would be jeopardizing my reputation or doing anything foolish by coming out here, or looking like a fool for participating. This is real. I think I’ll probably gain respect once I win–because I’m winning this.”

As you can see, she’s very competitive, and said that she and her husband “compete over everything. We race to the bathroom.” Her husband helped her to prepared for the show by running and lifting weights; he also “took me to a sweat” to prepared for the heat,” Taj said. She also impressively learned how to both fish and swim just because she was going to be on Survivor.

That preparation leads her to be confident about being able to perform. “I think I’m prepared. I’m as qualified as anybody else here,” she said. The only thing she’s worried about holding her breath: “I have five seconds, tops, under water.” Whatever the show throws her way, she’s ready for it, in part because she thinks her competition isn’t that difficult. “I’m looking forward to the physical challenges, because I really think I can take those girls. The guys might give me a little problem because all I have to do is outwit them, but the girls, physically, I’m like twice their size,” she laughed.

Tamara told me that her size may work to her advantage. “I’m a little bigger than these girls, so while they’re starving, I’ll be eating off my body fat,” she said. “I eat junk food all day long, but I’m also a master faster. I can fast for days; I fasted for almost 28 days before. So to be hungry, I’ll just go into fast mode.”

Even if she’s hungry, “I’m not eating no bugs,” Taj said. “I can’t even eat chicken because I can’t stand when you fry it, it bleeds. I can’t do that.” When she prepared for the show, “I watched, like, eight seasons in a row, and I thought, I’m not eating any larve.”

I asked why she fasted for a month. “I’m vain; I was trying to lose weight. I’m very frank,” she said. “It did [work] but the minute you eat it comes right back. But for a good week, I was skinny.” That honesty and ability to laugh at herself are both admirable, but could hinder her in the game.

“The thing is, I don’t lie. I never like to lie. But I will manipulate or withhold things; I won’t lie because I just think that’s bad. I have a kid and I can’t set an example for him,” Taj told me. However, she added, “I’m like a snake, I’m so sneaky.” Her strategy in the game is to “start off with kindness; I’m going to kill them with kindness.” Taj also said that her “nurturing personality” will come into play: “I just nurture everyone because that’s just been my role all my life. … I think I’ll do that while I stab them all in the back–they’ll love me for it.”

As to the competitors she plans to backstab, “everybody reminds me of someone,” she said, citing “the guy who looks like Steven Seagal … I want him on my team because Steven can do anything.” Taj also said, “I feel like the Duke boys are here. Have you seen the guys who look like the Dukes of Hazaard? The two blonde guys, they look like just like the Dukes of Hazaard.” She also talked about the “pretty little princesses” who are “gorgeous” although she will “take them down.”

She may do that using her own advice from the book she recently co-wrote and published, Player HateHer: How to Avoid the Beat Down and Live in a Drama-Free World, which she said is “all about women and how we interact with each other,” and will help her deal with the other women: “they don’t know what they’re up against.”

Taj had an abusive stepfather growing up and had two bad relationships, but said that has strengthened her. “I think it’s going to get tough out there. Being that I lived a very tough life, adversity is not a challenge for me, it’s just another day for me. I’ll be able to adjust to things; I can adjust in a minute. I know it’s going to be tough, I know it’s going to be hard, because I’ve been through so much in my life already.”

Hear Taj discuss her preparation for the show and the heat of Brazil, and also stereotypical NFL wives and being underestimated:

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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.