When the cast of Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains was announced, a lot of people I know had the same reaction when they perused the list of names and got to Danielle DiLorenzo: Who?!? That’s somewhat surprising in that she wasn’t an early boot or anything: The woman was a freakin’ runner-up in Panama. But that reaction was also not really surprising at all considering she didn’t do a whole lot that entire season. I know producers had what they considered great casting interviews with Danielle pre-Panama and had really high hopes for her as a big character entering that season. I also know they were very disappointed with what she ended up giving them from a personality standpoint. The vim and vigor they saw in casting just wasn’t there. [Danielle spending alone time with Russell in camp, plus exclusive on location video after the jump.]

That’s why I was absolutely shocked when I saw Danielle on the plane to Samoa for Heroes Vs. Villains. I also racked my brain to think of one single thing heroic or villainous that she had done in her first go round. Producers have always talked about how they have a hard time casting women for all-stars seasons, and the philosophy seems to be, when in doubt, cast the hot chick in the bikini. That seems to be what happened here. I’m not trying to diss and dismiss Danielle as a player. If you make it to the finals, you have some game. As Danielle herself says, “I think I played a great game. Everybody underestimated me. I came in second place. I made moves when I needed to. I was strong physically and mentally.” I just know she wasn’t regarded by fans or producers as a particularly memorable character, so I was surprised to see her. And I even told that to her (which you can see in the video below.)

Once producers decided to cast Danielle a second time, they had to figure out what tribe to put her on. They went with Villains, and knowing that fans would be confused as to why she had been cast as such, at the opening of the game, one of the very first things that Probst did was recite some story about Danielle being a villain for reneging out of a finals deal with Terry Dietz. (He also spills the same story in the video below.) Danielle’s reaction: What the hell are you talking about? For the record, I don’t remember it either, although it is possible that I have simply chosen to forget or that it simply never made it into the show. In any event, it will be interesting to see if that exchange makes it into the premiere (or if they simply edit out Danielle’s response). I do know that when I asked Danielle before the game if she considered herself a hero or a villain, it was hero all the way (again, check the video for her response).

But the fact that Danielle was so unmemorable her first time out is a HUGE advantage for her this time around. While everyone worries about Cirie, and Parvati, and J.T., Danielle should be able to keep her head down, perform well in challenges, and make it pretty far. And, if my visit to the Villains camp on day two is any indication, she could be making a very interesting alliance. When I first arrived at the Villains camp, there were Danielle and Russell having a little pow-wow on the bridge (video is below). They were there for quite a while and then again together down by the beach. Could Danielle be Russell’s new Natalie, a woman he takes all the way to the end? Or will she simply get discarded along the way like Marissa, Betsy, and Ashley? That’s definitely something to keep an eye out for.

To see my interview with Danielle as well as exclusive footage of her at the Villains camp, click on the video below. (You can watch interviews with the entire cast at our super special Survivor video hub.) This is the seventh in a series of daily profiles. If you missed our first six, there are links to Cirie, Boston Rob, Sugar, Randy, Amanda, and Tom below the video. Up next tomorrow: the hilarity that is Tocantins’ Benjamin “Coach” Wade. And for all the Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss. Okay, take it away, Danielle…

Image Credit: Monty Brinton/CBS