This is the 17th in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.
After exiting the game in two back-to-back seasons in equally disappointing ways–first he was voted out while holding two immunity idols, the second time an injury forced him from the game–James plans to play an entirely different game this time. That’s especially true because he didn’t get to watch Survivor China to assess what he needed to change before his next appearance.
James’ reputation makes him want to win even more. He told me that he feels guilt about not winning but receiving viewers’ vote each season. “I’m sorry for the mistakes I made. America really supported me, they made me feel good. The America’s favorite thing–I don’t even know how to accept it, because it’s really, really nice. Hopefully I won’t let you all down,” he said. But he’s not just in it to make us happy: “The challenges, but the money. It’s fun and all, but I enjoy the money.”
Between China and Micronesia, James said, “I didn’t have enough time to assess what was going on.” For season 20, his strategy is to be “more socially aggressive. Network a whole lot more, not be so much the working guy,” and “do the talking thing, do the socializing way earlier than I have been. It’s by far the most important thing.” He doesn’t have pre-season alliances (“you’re not supposed to do that”) and said “to do that is to plan for failure,” but with his Micronesia allies also on this season, James said he will definitely approach them: “I need to secure things with them, but I’m also going to branch out.
At the same time, James said he will “still do my thing, still do the work thing, because I can’t help it. … I enjoy the survival aspect of it, but I need to win the money, so I’ve got to focus and do the whole social, networking, talking thing.” Overall, he said, “Yes, I will do what I do best, and make it seem as I’m just good ol’ James, just shuckin’ and jivin’ and getting food.”
Because it’s atypical for him to be social–“I’m a grave digger. I’m not that social. Most people I talk to don’t talk back,” James said–he’s prepared by trying to interact with people. “What I’ve been doing is doing the more social thing, walking up to people, doing the whole networking thing. That’s another reason I moved out [to Los Angeles], to be more social,” he said, and “get more confidence with people by my talk and more than with my actions, because most of the time, it does matter what you say.”
If this sounds different than the James we’ve come to expect, he said, “I’m definitely not going to act a fool. … I’m still definitely going to be James, but I need to be, as I’m working, maybe look up and smile a little bit, ask them about their dog, birthdays, random stuff like that.” He said the answers don’t even matter, because those asking questions “don’t know that stuff, but they ask the question, and it makes them feel better.” James plans to “flirt” with women and establish “camaraderie” with the men.
Despite being removed from Micronesia for an injury, James won’t be cautious about physical challenges. “I’m going to throw myself into it,” he said. “If you think about that stuff or even put it into the universe or have it on your mind, it’s going to happen. So just go out there and have fun with it.”
While James moved to Los Angeles a few months before production on season 20 began, and is “open to” modeling or acting and “moved out here to see what else happened,” he said he is still a grave digger. “I love the job, I love being my own boss, so it’s kind of hard to give that up, so I just wouldn’t do it. It’s a part of me, it’s part of my family,” he said.
Fame has had an impact on him, but mostly on his ability to eat for free. While he played golf with Samuel L. Jackson, James told me that “the all-time greatest thing ever is, I got a Hooters card. And with this card I get free wings for the rest of my life. It’s the best, most dumb thing on the planet. I literally gained 40 pounds the first week I had it.” He got it at a charity golfing event, and said, “When you’re walking in and you can literally get whatever you want and it’s all free … no matter how many people I bring. I can chill out in Hooters for days. They hate me.”
Hear James discuss why he doesn’t watch Survivor now and what happens to him if he does, and why he won’t be “singing kumbaya”: