Australian Outback, All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains
|To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.
Jerri Manthey is the 5th entry in this series.
Do you remember when villainy used to be a bad thing? Back before the days of anti-hero TV shows, audiences were expected to root against unsavory characters. After all, they stood in the way of our beloved protagonists- the pure, untainted heroes in whom we were placing all of our own hopes and dreams. We tolerated the presence of villains in our television programming only because we were confident that they would eventually receive their well-deserved comeuppance.
One of the reasons the first season of Survivor was so groundbreaking was that it ruined that narrative. In Borneo, the evil villain won! The man that had dared to use strategy to destroy the very concept of a quaint society-building exercise in order to win a million dollars for himself received no comeuppance- his only consequence (well, in the short term, at least) was a giant check. Survivor had betrayed the trust of the wholesome audience that was pretty overwhelmingly rooting for beloved homophobic curmudgeon Rudy.
In season two, however, Survivor could finally deliver the story the audience demanded. This time we could rejoice in the failures of the villain, and Australian Outback reveled in the opportunity to build up and take down that villain. Our hero was easily identifiable- a chiseled, handsome Texan named Colby Donaldson. The villain was Colby’s nemesis, Jerri Manthey.
Jerri was a near-perfect villain for pre-9/11 America: an attractive woman who tried to overtly use her sex appeal to get what she wanted. Jerri was Survivor‘s first femme fatale- the woman who would attempt to seduce our heroic male protagonist in order to bring him to the dark side and ruin him.
The show would use every opportunity to play up Jerri’s faults (and to be fair, they existed) while emphasizing Colby’s greatness. Jerri was unethical, violating her tribemate Kel’s privacy by going through his bag to search for beef jerky that she was convinced he was hiding from the tribe. They found no evidence of the beef jerky, making it look like Jerri had manufactured this rumor in order to vote a good man out of the game. (Later reports pretty unanimously agree that Kel had, in fact, smuggled beef jerky. Hashtag JusticeForJerri send tweet.)
Jerri was disliked by her tribe, but the nature of the voting in the earliest iterations of Survivor meant that she would stick around simply because weaker players had to be voted out first. Other players bemoaned how annoying she was, in the way that coworkers will often bond over how much they dislike another coworker. And her open and aggressive flirting with him enraged Heroic Gamebot Colby, who had disabled his penis before boarding the plane to Australia in order to achieve victory in the game.
Eventually, Jerri’s tribe had enough of an advantage in numbers that they could take a break from Pagonging the other tribe in order to turn on their own and vote out Jerri. They were thrilled to be rid of her, and the audience ate it up. Our hero Colby went on to complete his narrative arc in the most heroic way possible- by doing the ethical thing and taking nice human Tina to the end, where she ended up winning the million dollars over him. He even played up the heroism by fist-pumping for her when she won, like a fucking chump.
Jerri parlayed her notoriety into a photo spread in Playboy magazine, which only increased her level of villainy in the minds of many of Survivor‘s tens of millions of fans (yes, tens of millions- this show was a massive hit). This only further enraged the portion of the audience that already hated Jerri for having the nerve to flirt with Colby instead of waiting for Colby to politely ask her father for permission to court her LIKE A LADY. Jerri had demonstrated her loose morals by getting paid a large sum of money for a few days of work showing off her body. Disgusting!
Because Jerri’s story played so well narratively, Survivor attempted to cast other femme fatale types, and came closest to doing so with Jenna and Heidi in Amazon. But Jerri remained such a memorable figure (See what I did there? We have fun.) that she was asked back for All-Stars, where she was once again pitted against Colby. This time Jerri gets her vengeance and votes out Colby, only to have her game ruined by Boston Rob’s handshake deal with Lex to protect Amber. The final tribal council of that season ends up being a bitter, hate-filled mess, and it eventually spills over into the reunion show, where players are still mad at each other on stage. Jerri intervenes to try and act as the voice of reason, and then this happens:
Jerri’s attempt to remind the crowd that the people on stage are actual human beings that were just playing a game for the entertainment of the audience results in her being BOOED OFF THE FUCKING STAGE! “Treat others with kindness and compassion? Take those values back with you to hell, evil villain!” Naturally, Colby is showered in applause for simply existing as a handsome man and saying nothing of value.
Eventually, Survivor‘s attempts to cast a new femme fatale would lead them to Parvati- the Apex Femme Fatale. But by the time Parvati won Micronesia, the Survivor audience had shrunken to about a third of what it had been in Jerri’s first season, and the audience’s perception of the game and the show had evolved as well. When Jerri came back to play in Heroes vs. Villains– alongside Apex Femme Fatale Parvati, no less- labeling her a villain seemed quaint. She had her best finish ever, and she seamlessly shifted from Rob’s alliance to Russell’s. A few years later, she was inducted to Xfinity’s Survivor Hall of Fame (a thing that now exists only as an archive on the personal blog of Gordon Holmes) after being voted in by fans and former players.
There’s a famous movie quote that says “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Survivor‘s greatest villain lived long enough to see herself become the hero.
Who else made the list?
You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.
John is the co-host of the Purple Rock Survivor Podcast. He can get loud too, what the fuck!
Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Cagayan, Pearl Islands, Tocantins, Cambodia