Jerri Manthey: “I want to kick some butt, but I don’t want to be totally vulnerable”

This is the second in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.

Jerri Manthey Jerri Manthey is perhaps Survivor‘s original villain, but that’s not exactly evident any more, not that it was very evident during all-stars a few years after her first appearance on the show. During Survivor Australia, Jerri told me that she “went into it as an athlete, ready to kick some butt,” but that made her come off “cold and harsh sometimes.” On the other hand, during all-stars, she compared herself to “a slug that someone threw salt on” or a shell-less turtle, because she wanted “to change what people thought of me.”

For season 20, she wants a balance of the two. “I’m actually ready to have some fun with this. … I want be competitive and I want to kick some butt, but I don’t want to be totally vulnerable, either. I want to find the middle ground where people will enjoy hanging out with me but they also know I’m a competitor,” she told me. That middle ground, according to Jerri: “Don’t let anybody know they’re irritating you. … I’ve definitely been working on my patience level and my tolerance level.” Jerri also said, “I’ve grown so much over the last nine years; I think that’s really going to come through. I’m a lot more level-headed and mature.”

That won’t make her much of a villain, and Jerri is quite conscious of that. “There’s always the fear that they’re going to edit you specifically to be a certain way, and I’m kind of a target for that in a lot of ways. I’m just not going to worry about it this time. I think in all-stars I was so concerned about being edited in a bad light that I wasn’t fully myself, and it didn’t work for me, obviously.” So now, “I’m not going to try to be anything but myself. That seems to have worked the best for me in my life, as well as in Survivor. The first time I did it I got a lot more of a reaction from people without really trying.”

Maybe that means we’ll see some of the original Jerri after all? I doubt it, because she’s just too, well, nice. And compared to some of the villains on her tribe, she’ll probably come off like sunshine and kittens.

In her non-Survivor life, Jerri continues to act, but she also went to culinary school and now does everything from giving cooking lessons to working craft services. “I would have loved to have said, I’m in the next GI Joe movie, and I’m sorry I can’t do Survivor,” she told me, and since this was before I randomly came across Komodo vs. Cobra on cable, I didn’t laugh. She continued, “But the economy is tough and it does come down to money sometimes, especially right now. The biggest reason I said yes again was: who gets to do something like this once in a lifetime, let alone three times?”

Having just seen the other cast members for the first time, she told me, “Game on. It’s going to be insane.” Jerri said she’s worried about those with pre-existing friendships, like Amanda and Parvati, and has no pre-game alliances herself. “I don’t really hang without anybody from Survivor,” she said. “I really don’t hang out without reality TV people, I don’t.” The person she knows best is Colby, and she was “shocked” to see he’d been cast (more on that in the clip below), while Jerri was “super-excited to see Cirie, because of her game play, and James because of his “positive attitude.”

Although she recognizes a lot of her fellow cast members, Jerri is not exactly familiar with recent seasons or cast members; at one point, she said, “TJ, the one who won? He’s so cute.” Jerri said “there’s a handful of people, I don’t have the slightest clue who they are. It’s kind of cool, I think, not to know everybody, because they don’t know you either. There’s really no preconceived ideas–although with me, there might be,” she laughed. She countered her lack of knowledge by doing some research about those she assumed would be cast. “I went online and I did tons of research on Coach,” who she called “overly bossy and ethereal and kind of just trippy.” The greatest help, Jerri said, were the Ponderosa videos, because those offered “the deepest insight into who they were.”

Jerri said Survivor is different since she last played it, because “people who’ve played the game recently are really playing the game. I have to give them complete kudos. People go into it now with no desire to make friends, they’re just there to play the game and to win, and I think that’s a mentality I’m taking into it now. I’m going to do whatever it takes to win; that’s what it’s about.” In other words, she’s not going to play nice. “Nobody who’s won did so without lying, manipulating, cheating and stealing and stabbing someone in the back. Some people take it very personally, and they need to get over it, because it is a game.”

As to her strategy, Jerri said, “I think anybody who goes into Survivor with just one idea of how to play the game, they’re screwing themselves. You have to be adaptable.” The most specific she got was to say, “I definitely plan on using my female nature to woo the men, absolutely, are you kidding me? Why do you think I’m wearing short shorts?”

Despite looking for “balance,” Jerri is ready to win. “I’m going into this with a warrior mentality, and I’ll steal [Coach's] quote,” she said. “I’m winning, that’s it. I’m 100 percent in on it. … That’s where my head is at, without a fucking doubt. I can’t even tell you how ready I am.”

Hear Jerri discuss seeing Colby, her experience during the first all-stars, and why she’s “a redneck”:

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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.