After she was set adrift in the Pacific in Survivor: Palau's premiere, former track and field star Jolanda "Jo" Jones hit the beach, earning an individual immunity that guaranteed her a spot on one of the two teams. Jo's tough personality proved too much for her Ulong tribemates, however, and they voted her off at the first tribal council. But this 39-year-old single mom and corporate lawyer is a true survivor — she's dealt with a sibling's murder, her father's suicide and an abusive relationship — and says this loss won't keep her down.
TV Guide.com: How did you stand out for Survivor's casting folks?
Jolanda Jones: In all the interviews, Jeff Probst tried to pick fights with me. We always disagreed.
TVG: Were you drawn to Survivor as a fan?
Jolanda: I'm not a big TV person because I don't have time. I am a single parent and I am self-employed, but if I was at home on a Thursday night, it is a show that I would watch. I used to be really good in track...
TVG: Good? You are too humble. You almost made it to the Olympics.
Jolanda: I got hurt at the trials, but I was a national champion in 1989. I met my ex-husband [back then] and fell in love with him. He was an abusive man, so I retired at 23 because he forced me to. My son would hear stories about how good I used to be, so I just wanted to compete at something. Plus, I thought it would be the vacation of a lifetime that I didn't have to pay for.
TVG: At least you got a little bit of R and R out of the deal.
Jolanda: Right, and my kid got to see me win individual immunity.
TVG: Who would you have rather seen voted off instead of you?
Jolanda: [Nobody, but] if I could have changed places with somebody, I would have let Wanda come in my spot.
TVG: Why Wanda?
Jolanda: [Tearing up] Because I think she had way more sincere personal reasons for playing the game than I did. For me, it was just a game. For her, it was a way to show people that she was worthy, because her husband left her when she was 50. She had dedicated her entire life to him and her family, and then he left her for another woman. Most women at 50 can't recuperate from that. I would have traded places with her in a second. I offered to give her my buff when I got voted off, because she was so upset that she didn't get to play the game.
TVG: So you weren't that upset about losing?
Jolanda: It just was not that serious for me. I won the first challenge, but it was a game. It was hard, but for me... I've faced death. I came home from [the Houston] Astrodome and there was a dead body outside of the house. That is serious to me. If this was a way for Wanda to show the world that she wasn't this old person that people didn't think could do anything, then I would have exchanged places with her faster than you can blink your eye. You know, the great thing about Wanda is that she wouldn't take my buff. She refused to take the damned thing. She is my friend for life.
TVG: Advice for future Survivors?
Jolanda: Have thick skin. Some people will try to define you by what you did on Survivor. I think it is really unfortunate that it might happen. Have a good sense of self. I definitely knew there was a chance I'd get voted off first because I was a threat. People tell me every single solitary day of my life, "Jo, you are just intimidating."
TVG: You previously said you knew you were bossy, but you wouldn't tone down your personality.
Jolanda: I don't know that I would use "bossy" to describe myself. I would use "confident" to describe myself. But when you look at where I came from, if [I didn't] have my personality, I'd be dead or in prison or a crackhead, like so many people in my family. So given the choices, I much prefer to lead than to follow.
TVG: Are you keeping up your old track-and-field workouts?
Jolanda: Whatever! I retired in 1989, with the very small exception of coming out of retirement for five months in 1996, so no. I have a real life. I don't have time to be running around no track.