Monica Padilla: “I love people, but if you piss me off, I will tend to have an attitude”

This is the seventh in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Monica PadillaMonica Padilla is at once familiar and unpredictable. While she repeatedly referenced Parvati and talked about being a flirt, a refrain I’ve heard over and over again from female cast members, she also has a great edge to her, and is extremely engaging.

Monica was recruited but said she’s “a big fan of the show since the beginning” who stopped watching for a while but “came back for Parvati’s season.” She said that she’s looking forward to the experience in part because, “as a female, I think society places these burdens to do your hair, get your makeup done, have your nails done, and be little miss pretty princess all the time. I think it’s going to be really cool to get down and dirty and show myself what I can do, show my family what I can do, and really struggle to get to the end.”

If she lasts a month or so on Survivor Samoa, she “will be turning 26 on the island,” which she told me will be her “first birthday without birthday cake…I’ve actually hoped not to have birthday cake on my birthday.” Although saying things like that suggest a kind of innocence, when she was talking about Coach last season, she said she wanted them to “vote the fucker off!”

Monica just graduated from law school, where she focused on intellectual property law, and besides having “a shitload of loans,” is “postponing taking the bar to be on the show.” Even though she said “I break the stereotype as a Puerto Rican female–not many of us are attorneys,” she likely won’t identify herself as a lawyer because it can “definitely be perceived as a threat,” so she’ll probably talk about her theater major and say she’s a teacher, which “won’t be much of a stretch.”

In her tribe, Monica told me that she doesn’t plan to be a leader, but she also doesn’t plan to be passive. “I definitely would be very hesitant to take on a leader role” because they “tend to fall victim,” but she added, “at the same time, I don’t want to be bossed around.” Instead, she wants to be the “positive influence” in the tribe, yet not “the feeble chick in the end. … Not be the trouble maker or the drama queen, but at the same time, stick up for myself.”

Monica, who once played Pocahontas at a theme park, is very positive and, well, animated. She said, “I like to live an animated lifestyle, I try and live a little bit larger than life and enjoy life as much as I can.” She’s also “naturally a flirt. I’m always smiling, I love to have fun, I love to laugh. I don’t know if they see it as a tactic: ‘Oh, here’s the Parvati flirt, we better watch out for her, because she’s going to try to flirt her way to our hearts.'” Instead, she hopes others think, “Here’s someone who’s smiley and fun.”

That said, she does have a non-sunshine side that may come out if others betray her. “I may be positive, and friendly, and outgoing, and I love people, but if you piss me off, I will tend to have an attitude, and I turn pretty quickly, and it’s hard to keep my mouth shut. That’s where I’m like, I hope my Puerto Rican temper doesn’t get the best of me to where people will judge me,” Monica said. Those people who bother her are “two-faced people” who “talk shit behind your back.” Monica said she “like[s] to call people out” and is the kind of person who will talk to someone in line at a store who’s not smiling, acknowledging “that can get under people’s skin.”

For the game, Monica doesn’t have a defined strategy, but instead said, “You have to be able to think on your feet and move with it,” and “it’s about doing what you have to do to advance yourself in the game as righteously as you can do it.”

A few times, she said things like, “I want to try to stay as loyal and as true to myself as possible.” I asked what that meant, and she said, “I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and not be ashamed of what I did. I don’t want to wake up the next morning, kind of like that drunken night, like oh shit, what did I do? What did I say? Did I really dance on that table?” Instead, “in the end, I did what made me happy, what I truly believed in, and what I believed was right. And I think that in the end, that’s all that really matters: staying true to that and your values.”

Hear Monica discuss what kind of tribemates she’ll say, “I’m going to make you like me” and why she chose Elastigirl as the superhero she most identifies with:

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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.