One of the things that has kept “Survivor” relevant over its decade-long run is the way it has evolved over the years. And not only because of obvious additions such as Exile Island, hidden immunity idols, and surprise tribe swaps, but the mindset of the players has changed too.
In 2001, Jerri Manthey was considered the biggest villain in “Survivor: The Australian Outback.” Why? Because she was opinionated and abrasive.
In 2010, Russell Hantz was considered the biggest villain in the past two seasons of “Survivor.” Why? Because he’s an arrogant, foul-mouthed bulldozer whose scorched Earth policy resulted in a livid jury that was more likely to beat him to death with their torches rather than reward him with a million dollars. Heck, classic Jerri was a broken nail compared to the severed limb that was Russell.
But to dismiss Jerri as the lesser of two evils is to do her a great disservice. The Jerri we saw in Samoa was smart, personable, confident, and surprisingly likable. A far cry from the naïve youngster that prowled the Australian Outback.
I spoke with villain-turned-favorite Jerri Manthey the morning after the “Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains” finale to discuss not only the evolution of a popular reality competition, but the evolution of a person…
Gordon Holmes: This may sound crazy, but it seems like you had a character arc over your three seasons of “Survivor.” To see you go from someone that America hated in “Survivor: Australia” to someone not dealing well with America’s hatred in “Survivor: All-Stars” to a woman who seems very comfortable with who she is and how people feel about her in “Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains” was fascinating.
Jerri Manthey: (Laughs) You know, I feel like “Survivor” has helped me become a more evolved person. And that’s a very strange thing to say about a reality show! But, I had a very rare opportunity to grow over the past ten years in front of millions of people. “Survivor” taught me so much about myself. I knew the first time that one of my biggest downfalls was I had a lack of patience. I’m a very competitive person, and watching myself the first time I realized that I can be very abrasive to other people. And I didn’t care. I was in it for an adventure and to win. And the harsh reaction I got really turned me off. But it forced me to look at myself in a different way. So I wanted “All-Stars” to be my redemption story, and that really blew up in my face. People were just not ready to accept that I was a different person. So this time out I didn’t care what people thought about me. I’ve grown into my own skin and I’m a much more patient person.
Gordon: Being a three-timer, did you have a specific strategy going in, or were you playing it by ear?
Jerri: I picked the strategy that I thought was the most powerful and the most difficult, which is to position yourself as the swing vote. I stepped outside of the drama and didn’t instigate conflict. Just watching as it occurred, and knowing that at some point there would be an explosion and I’d be standing there ready to pick up the pieces that worked for me. And it worked. I feel like I played the game perfectly, I wouldn’t change a single thing. The only thing I would have changed was winning that last immunity challenge. I was so close!
Gordon: You were ridiculously close. That was a great finish.
Jerri: I remember how I felt going into that. I thought how is this going to work? It just seemed so impossible. But one by one I started finding the necklaces. And I knew I was close because I could hear Parvati and Russell right beside me. And I felt the immunity necklace as it was tumbling through the air and into Russell’s hands. And I have to say I’ve had reoccurring nightmares about that moment.
Gordon: If you catch that necklace, do you win the million?
Jerri: Oh yes. I knew if I could have made it to the final three I would have won. I somehow managed to get through this entire game without making one single person mad at me. The irony of the situation was I was so hated in my first season that everyone wanted to get rid of me and this season I was dangerous because I was so well loved.
Gordon: During your farewell confession you said that you were probably going to vote for Russell. What changed your mind?
Jerri: To make it short, it was Russell’s arrogance. I knew that the speech I had put together for the final tribal council involved being gracious and showing gratitude to the people in the jury who had to leave the game in order for me to be sitting in that position. And that’s what I expected from Russell. Here’s this great player, sometimes he’s a little too aggressive and he’s rubbed people the wrong way, but here’s the perfect opportunity to show that he’s this humble, gracious person, and what I found was that he is basically an arrogant a— who can’t get out of his own way.
Jerri: He literally told all of us that he didn’t need luck. I saved his butt when I chose him over Rob. And I saved his butt when I didn’t take him to the reward. He could have been voted out with Sandra’s idol if I had left her on the beach with Rupert and Colby. I was completely floored by his arrogance. That’s why he’ll never win this game.
Gordon: At one point in the game you had a choice between keeping Colby in the game and keeping Candice in the game. What was your rationale behind that decision?
Jerri: I liked having Colby around for one. We found such a great sense of comfort with each other. And we both felt the same about this season, just how cutthroat it was and how little fun there was. We had some really intense talks about the game and how it’s evolved and how we’ve changed as people. I just really enjoy Colby. And Candice, Sandra and I realized that Russell was becoming very close to her, and I wasn’t going to allow another girl that he could manipulate take a step above me in the ladder.
Gordon: I have to ask this one…Coach, are you two in love or was that totally fabricated?
Gordon: Do you looooove him?
Jerri: (Laughs) No, I do not know him well enough to love him. I find Coach to be a very fascinating person. And I knew going into the game that he was a very loyal, honest person. And those are the kinds of people you really want to keep around you in “Survivor.” So, I made it a point to bond with him immediately. I just didn’t realize I was going to have such a strong effect on him.
Gordon: Were there any romantic sparks?
Jerri: I don’t…think…I learned the first time that any feelings of attraction should be curbed because you don’t know what’s real or not. I look forward to getting to know Coach outside of the game and to find out what’s underneath that Dragon Slayer shell. If he’s willing to drop the act and be himself around me, I could see us being friends for a long time.
Gordon: It seemed like you and Parvati had some tension early in the game. Did that dissipate as the game continued?
Jerri: Yeah, Parvati drove me crazy at the beginning of the game. Her flirtation was just so evident and it was clearly working on everyone and it drove me nuts. Her laugh was just…ugh…I just couldn’t stand it. I’ve gotta say, I was going after her since day one and she really, truly earned my respect. I know she called me all kinds of names but you’re in a stressful game and you say things and do things that are not so nice. But, I think Parvati and I are definitely going to be friends. I really have to give her a high-five for her game play. She kicked some major butt. I think she’s one of the best players ever.
Gordon: Alright, Jerri. It’s time for word association.
Jerri: Uh-oh, where’s the psychologist?
Gordon: Yes, I will be silently judging you.
Gordon: Let’s start with Rupert.
Jerri: Completely not self-aware. I know that’s not one word.
Gordon: I’m not going to rein you in. Do what feels right. Let’s try Sandra.
Jerri: Crass, but lovable.
Jerri: Flirtatious and devious.
Jerri: Still hot.
Gordon: The term “Cougar?”
Jerri: (Laughs) I’m ready to embrace it.
Gordon: You own it, girl.
Jerri: I mean, I’m really not old enough to be a cougar yet. But I’m looking forward to it.
Gordon: That’s a great attitude. Let’s try Candice.
Jerri: I really like Candice. She’s sweet. A very sweet person.
Jerri: (Laughs) Gosh…I guess I just have to say…ballsy but not so bright.
Gordon: And let’s finish this off with Coach.
Gordon: If you could hop into Doc Brown’s DeLorean and go back to 2001 and give some advice to Australian Jerri, what advice would you give her? About life, about the game, whatever…
Jerri: I would tell myself to keep my mouth shut! (Laughs) It’s not necessary to always let people know what’s on your mind.