Courtney Yates: “No one is scared of me. … It’s like I don’t exist”

This is the 15th in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.

Courtney Yates Courtney and I spent a lot of time discussing her physicality in the game, from actual competition to her weight and the reaction to it. “I’m ready to go out and play in the dirt again,” Courtney said. “I can’t compete on the same level as the big guys, and I know that, so you have to just get creative and work around it.” But this season, Courtney said she wants to “see if I can be a little better in the physical part of it and not always feel so defeated before the fact, and maybe I can compete with everyone else.”

Her desire to be better in challenges aside, Courtney told me that not “being a strong physical competitor” means you have to “work six times harder than everyone else” and “work behind the scenes to get your social game on point.” This time, she imagines that the bigger threats will “take each other out,” and she said her strategy will be to “assist where necessary to feed fires.” She’s not worried about being considered a threat herself. “No one is scared of me,” she said. “It’s like I don’t exist.”

During her last appearance on the show, she played with a close ally, Todd Herzog, who ultimately won Survivor China, but she won’t seek out the same kind of relationship again. “This is my chance to play as an individual and not as part of the Courtney and Todd alliance. It’ll be interesting to see how I work without my sidekick,” she said. “This time, I’m not going to have someone that’s my friend. I think it’s going to be a lot more of an individual situation on my part, whereas last time I was playing as part of team. … It’s an adventure and it’s something new to try.”

Courtney doesn’t have any pre-season alliances. “I don’t talk to any of these fools unless I’m hanging out with Todd. No one has my phone number; they all go through my gay secretary,” she said, saying Todd is “my gay everything.” As to strategy, “The whole idea of the game is, they are screwing with you. They are trying to screw you up. It’s really stupid to try to plan it out,” she said. She’s even wary of aligning herself with someone early in the game because you get “stuck with them. … Then what? What if they suck?”

While she may not have any pre-game plans, she is aware of them. “I’ve got a secret weapon at home and he’s been prepping me,” she said, of course referring to Todd. “Nothing’s changed since China. Everyone spills all their beans to Todd Herzog and I have no idea why, he’s such a little weasel.” Courtney thinks the game could tip toward those pre-season alliances and friendships. “I think there’s going to be two schools of thought,” she said. “It’s either going to be about cliques and friends, or it’ll be about just the game, so it’s interesting to see which way it’s going to go.”

As to her physical game, Courtney said, “I actually think I’m in better shape than I was in China.” But she also joked about lack of preparation. “I live in New York City and my hair is platinum blonde. I can’t go in chlorine water. I’m at a disadvantage to all these California babes who go hang out at the beach all the time, so I’m pretty much screwed there. Hopefully, I can do some puzzles or something. Yay, Survivor puzzles.”

Courtney joked–I’d forgotten how funny she can be–about the size and physicality of her competitors. “If you look around, all these other people are twice my size and they’re big and scary,” she said, adding that her fellow Survivor China cast members “come up to everyone’s elbows,” and said, “If you see pictures of me Stephen, Todd, and Spencer, it’s like we’re their children. They [Stephen and Spencer] look like a lovely gay couple with two teenagers.”

I asked Courtney about her size, specifically the concern and criticism over her weight (The Early Show even did a story asking if she was anorexic). “It doesn’t bother me at all,” she said. “I try to just be funny about it because it’s not worth engaging people on it in a serious manner.” (She jokes about it in the audio clip below.)

Weight loss is part of the game, and she said, “I already have a small frame, it’s noticeable on me. Five or 10 pounds is a big difference on me, whereas on somebody else, it isn’t. … I already have no boobs, there’s nothing to lose, so it comes off my face, and that freaks people out. It’s a noticeable, instant difference.” She said that during a food reward challenge, “I ate burgers. There goes your whole anorexia story right out the window.” And to illustrate the point that she does, in fact, eat, Courtney said, “it’s not like I walk into Pizza Hut and I’m like, ‘No, no, no, I’ll just have this salt over here.'” Instead, she eats a lot. “I work in a restaurant. I eat nothing but bacon and mayonnaise all day. It’s disgusting all day.”

Ultimately, she’s dismissive of the criticism, even though from the picture above alone, she’ll undoubtedly face that again. “Despite being a skeleton throughout China, I lasted the entire time and was fine,” Courtney said. “I think it’s so easy to harp on something you can see. … I’m strong in a lot of other things that don’t come across on a TV screen.”

Listen to Courtney talk about the media’s reaction to her weight, how other contestants might view her, and why no one takes her seriously:

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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.