Interview: J'Tia Taylor talks 'Survivor: Cagayan'
Taking an early and bossy lead on a failed Day One project is usually a decent recipe for being voted off early on "Survivor."
Being viewed as the weakest player on a weak tribe is usually a decent recipe for being voted off early on "Survivor."
Seemingly being on the low side of a numbers alliance is also usually a decent recipe for being voted off early on "Survivor."
Going just a bit cuckoo-bananas and dumping most of your tribe's rice into the fire? Surely that's a fantastic recipe for getting voted off early on "Survivor."
In retrospect, it probably isn't surprising that my exit interview with J'Tia Taylor came early in this "Survivor: Cagayan" season. The shocking thing is that J'Tia managed not to be the first or second person voted out of her Brains Tribe.
In fact, the Chicago-based nuclear engineer survived one surprising vote, one genuinely shocking vote and, on Wednesday, she very nearly slipped through again, as tribemates Tasha and Kass seemed to be weighing J'Tia's eventual loyalty against Spencer's immediate challenge strengths, before holding onto Spencer.
In her exit interview, the spirited J'Tia discusses, after some goading, her failed shelter plan, her camp blow-up, the overall struggles of the Brains Tribe and what the heck they were all eating out there if she threw away all of the rice.
HitFix: How have your co-workers responded to "Survivor" J'Tia?
J'Tia Taylor: Some of them are very excited. Actually, nobody has said anything about "Survivor" J'Tia. I think they might be afraid of "Survivor" J'Tia. Nobody wants "Survivor" J'Tia to come out at work.
HitFix: Does "Survivor" J'Tia ever come out at work? Ever?
J'Tia: No. We have an adequate cafeteria at my job. We have air-conditioning. We have real chairs. So there's no need for "Survivor" J'Tia to come out. I certainly can be mean. I certainly can be bossy. Those are all aspects of me, but what you see on the show, I would say, is just a facet of the diamond that is J'Tia. It's just one side of me.
HitFix: Did you know, going into this experience, that that specific facet of you existed?
J'Tia: Oh, totally. Yes! About me, I've alway had to... Well, not "always," but I left home at an early age and I've had to fend for myself and before, when I didn't stick up for myself, I got taken advantage of. So I'm not gonna let that happen anymore. I have a tough side. I hope nobody ever has to see it, but if it needs to come out, that's what happens.
HitFix: The meltdown that happened out there, is that the kind of thing where when you're in the middle of it, you're not fully conscious of what's happening and you watch on TV and you're like, "Oh. That's how that looked?" Or did you remember every single bit of what happened?
J'Tia: Oh no. I remember every single bit of what happened. It wasn't like a blackout or anything like that. I guess I didn't know how other people were gonna take it, but I knew it was gonna kinda be devastating. I meant for it to be devastating. I meant to hurt people. I meant to give it to them like I felt like they were giving it to me.
HitFix: I've also heard that it was actually more than we saw on TV? Does that sound right?
HitFix: Do you want to tell me more about maybe what we didn't see?
J'Tia: Ummm... Hmmm... No. [She laughs.] It would just confuse you. Let's just go with what was shown.
HitFix: OK, then. So going back to that last Tribal...
J'Tia: Actually, I'm gonna back up. Basically... I'm trying to think. What do I want to tell you? It was more than what you just saw. There was a little bit more back-and-forth and there were more things that happened. That was the climax of it, but basically I was upset, people were making me upset. Back-and-forth.
HitFix: Fair enough. So going back to that last Tribal. It was a weird Tribal, because it was you and Spencer arguing over each other as Kass and Tasha gave looks back and forth making their decision. What was your gut telling you throughout that Tribal regarding which way they were leaning?
J'Tia: Going into Tribal, I was confident that they were going to keep me, but as the discussion went on and as Jeff led them to think more and more about the challenges, I saw it changing. So I knew when they were talking, it was "Let's vote J'Tia out," not "Oh, OK. Let's keep J'Tia." So I knew it was happening. I wasn't blindsided. I'm not upset with their decision. I understand it. It's "Survivor," so I understand.
HitFix: Going off of that, we saw that a Shuffle appears to be coming immediately. In your mind, does that make it clearer that they made a mistake in not keeping you and your loyalty? Or do you now understand the choice that they made?
J'Tia: I tried to tell them that a Shuffle was coming, to be quite honest. But that's not the route that they took. I think they're living with their decision. I don't fault them. I don't feel bad about it. I still really like all of them. They're cool in my book. It's a game. You make decisions. You live with them.
HitFix: Let's go back to the very beginning. Things went wrong right from the start at camp with the shelter. We only saw what the end result was. But what was your original vision for what was going to be the Best "Survivor" Shelter Ever?
J'Tia: Oh, I had it planned out. It was gonna be the Best Shelter Ever. Lemme just tell you that. It was gonna be the best shelter ever. I wrote it down and then we got out there, we had like three nails and a saw and not real building materials and not real builders. So I had an idea. It didn't work out. It failed. We got up the next day and we built a shelter. I guess it was a major plotpoint then, but to me when we were out at camp? I had an idea that didn't work, so we went in another direction. It wasn't that big of a deal to me.
HitFix: But I want to hear more about the shelter. I want to know what the vision was.
J'Tia: Oh! OK! You want to hear the design, right?
HitFix: I do, yeah!
J'Tia: No, you're not baiting me into that. It was a good design.
HitFix: This isn't about baiting. I want to know what a good "Survivor" shelter would be like.
J'Tia: Clearly I don't know what a good "Survivor" shelter looks like. That's the point.
HitFix: Just tell me your vision, J'Tia!
J'Tia: Oh, it was gonna be off-the-ground, of course. I felt like it was sound engineering design. We just didn't have the tools and the muscle to execute. I wanted it to be off the ground so that we wouldn't get creepy crawlies. I wanted it to have a pitched roof with palm fronds on it. So, you know. Best laid plans. I had a design. It just didn't work out. It happens.
HitFix: What was your reaction when you first saw the way that the tribes were divided this season?
J'Tia: Well, I tried to stay positive, but I really thought, "Oooh. We might be kinda screwed." Me, personally, I was the youngest female on the tribe, so I was like, "OK. I am not in a good position off-the-bat." I'm 32-years-old. I'm not a spring chicken, so I didn't think I would be the youngest person on a tribe. So I knew that that was gonna be an issue. And also, and this kinda reconfirmed this when I saw the episode, the Brawn Tribe and the Beauty Tribe? Those guys got out there and they built their shelter and they had fire that very first day. We did not. Actually, I think it was the girls actually taking the lead at camp and around camp and that was very different from the other tribes. It kinda didn't work to our advantage, because to be a leader, you have to have some followers and that was a tribe of leaders.
HitFix: Was this dysfunction going to happen with any group of people who were categorized as "Brains" on "Survivor"? Or how much of this was this specific group of the six of you?
J'Tia: I think it would have happened with any group of Brains. If you're a Brain and you're used to being in that leadership position, you come in with, "OK. I'm here. I'm gonna lead. I have this strategy. I'm gonna put this together." And obviously, I felt like it was the Clash of the Mental Titans, which made us look like idiots, but it was a lot of strategy and a lot of, "I'm the boss. People need to follow me." It became, for lack of a better word, a clusterf***.
HitFix: There was a lot of questioning of peoples' intellectual credentials in the various confessionals. What did you think of the brains of your fellow Brains?
J'Tia: I think that all of us were in that tribe for a reason. I would not question anybody's mental capacity. "Survivor" is a whole different animal. It doesn't matter if you can do an equation on a paper. You need survival skills to be on "Survivor." You need to have that brawn. And I think that, actually, the Brawn Tribe had a very big advantage, because they were used to being in these competitive situations and you can see that in the challenges. Even when they were behind, they kept their cool. They were able to bring it together. So no, I feel like everybody was smart. But sometimes it's not about "smart." It's about going line and maybe getting together as a team and I don't think we really did that.
HitFix: You mentioned mental capacity in the game not being the same as in the real world, but under the circumstances, what percentage would you say that you were working at in terms of your own capacity?
J'Tia: I don't know. Honestly, by the time I stepped foot on the island, I was dizzy and felt like I could pass out at any time. I was honestly, the whole time, really tired and felt like I could faint at any time. I did the best I could with what I had.
HitFix: Would you have done something different, do you think things would have played out differently if it had been a traditionally mixed group of "Survivor" tribes and you hadn't just been with a bunch of brains?
J'Tia: Oh yeah. Had it been mixed and I would have been with some of those Beauty girls, I totally would have done better than the Beauty girls, that sort of thing. No disrespect to the Beauty girls. They're all lovely people. But the girls on the Beauty tribe didn't have to do as much as the girls on our tribe, clearly. They got taken care of, that sort of thing. We didn't have that situation on our tribe. Also, I feel anybody who's out of our tribe is gonna dominate, so I'm looking forward to seeing what Tash, Kass and Spencer do, because believe me, they have the mental capacity to do that and if they get with those other tribes, it's going down. For lack of a better word.
HitFix: We saw a lot of tension, but looking back on it, do you feel good about Tash, Kass and Spencer? Do you feel like they're friends?
J'Tia: To me? Yes. They are friends. I can separate what happened in the game from the real world. To me, what happens in the game is separate and what I base a friendship on is how they treat me in real life. All's fair in "Survivor." I'm gonna dump the rice out. You're gonna vote me out. We might almost get into fight and then hug it out later. It happens.
HitFix: Watching these episodes, as a "Survivor" fan, how astounded are you that you weren't voted out in that second vote?
J'Tia: OK. So. The shock on my face is like, "Oh my God, I can't believe this actually happened!" It was cool. But I knew there that the more Garrett talked, the more more hope spread through me. It actually was a very good choice by Kass. She was definitely gonna be third with the boys. She had the opportunity to be first or second. She could definitely hopscotch me. It wasn't like I was a force to be reckoned with. So I think it was a good decision. I thought it was awesome. I thought it was great "Survivor." Like, "When does that happen?" Never! It just happened. for the first time ever.
HitFix: And my last question is just a curiosity thing. If you dumped out 95 percent of the rice, what were you guys actually eating for those last five or six days out there?
J'Tia: OK! Dan, I am so glad you asked me that question. Let me clear this up! First of all, for the first three days on the island, didn't drink any water, we didn't eat any food. We had coconuts and bananas. So that's why we did so poorly in the first challenges. All of us, if you'd have blew on us, we'd have fell over. You could have knocked us over with a feather. We were dehydrated and ever everybody else had water. Actually, after I threw the rice out, we had more food than we had in the first three days. Nobody was calling in the choppers to dump food on us then. We actually got it together and we started scavenging. I actually found crabs, that I boiled and we ate, so we had some protein. We got some first, not a lot. But also, we found some cassava and we actually kinda pulled our acts together a little bit more, because the first three days, we were just sitting there looking at each other.