Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Jolanda Jones on being portrayed as the 'bitch' in Palau
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EW is reaching back into the reality show’s past. We sent a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to a batch of former players to fill out with their thoughts about their time on the show as well as updates on what they’ve been up to since. Each weekday, EW will post the answers from a different player.
Angry Black Woman. That’s what Jolanda Jones says she was cast to be on Survivor: Palau, and that’s how Jolanda feels she was portrayed for her three brief days in the game. But there’s a lot about Jolanda’s time on the island we did not see, as Jolanda reveals in her Quarantine Questionnaire.
“When people were depressed about the difficulty of not having food or shelter that actually sheltered, Janu taught me a Vegas showgirl routine, whereby we made showgirl costumes, with palm fronds poking out from our behinds, and performed to lighten the mood of the castaways,” says Jolanda. “I love to dance and am super coordinated.” That’s just one of the unseen nuggets that Jolanda delivers up about her time in the game.
The lawyer and human rights activist also reveals an ugly incident that happened after the game, and addresses the uneven playing field African-American contestants face on the show, which is why she helped form the Black Survivor Alliance. “My edit, and that of so many other Black people, caused me to organize the BSA and move to end systematic racism on Survivor,” says Jolanda. “Mark Burnett foreshadowed portraying me as a ‘bitch,’ his word not mine, and I didn’t figure out that that was what he was actually going to do because I hadn’t watched previous Survivor. I actually thought Survivor honestly portrayed players. I was wrong.”
Read on for more from Jolanda about her time both in and out of the game.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
JOLANDA JONES: Award-Winning Lawyer Jolanda “Jo” Jones rose from a childhood of poverty and tragedy to membership in numerous Halls of Fame, a four-time national track and field champion, a successful business woman, a Houston City Council member, Houston Independent School District Board trustee, a television personality, best-selling author and a nationally recognized public speaker. She has a proven track record of leadership, commitment, charitable work and teamwork.
She started out as the oldest of five children (who was with her dad when he killed himself) of a single mom who struggled to keep a roof over their head, food on the table, electricity, gas, and running water in whatever house or apartment she could pass a credit check on. Often, they went without. She is a survivor of horrific abuse and the murder of her brother, aunt, and numerous cousins.
Jolanda has distinguished herself legally in the courtroom and among her peers. She won prestigious legal awards such as the NAACP Alex Award for outstanding legal skill, as well as the Houston Lawyer’s Association Francis Williams Founder’s Award, among others. As a volunteer lawyer for the NAACP, Jones represented poor people in landlord/tenant issues, drafted wills for people with full blown AIDS, and small claim matters, among other legal areas.
In the courtroom, Jones helped shut down Houston Police Department’s Crime Lab by shining a light on HPD’s shoddy science which locked up innocent people and allowed the guilty to roam free. She used her legal acumen and fearlessness to take on then-State Representative Talmadge Heflin, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who had illegally taken the child of Ugandan immigrant Mariam Katamba. Jolanda reunited mother and child.
Her trial skill was displayed when she convinced a jury that her young Black unemployed client, who was at the scene of the crime and was caught fleeing the scene, was not guilty, on two counts, of ambushing the police and firing 17 shots at them notwithstanding that the majority of the prosecution witnesses were either HPD or DEA eye witnesses to the crime. After a two-week trial, Jolanda’s client was found not guilty while his co-defendant cousin, in the same trial with the same jury but different lawyer, was convicted on both counts and sentenced to 20- and 40-year sentences, respectively. She relentlessly and unapologetically cross-examines witnesses, to determine the truth, like a heat-seeking missile.
While on both City Council and the School Board, Jones was the voice for Houston’s disadvantaged and disenfranchised. She stood up for fairness and equality for all while working on job creation and business opportunities especially small and minority businesses. She negotiated an unprecedented $250 million, three-year contract for Black and Hispanic health care providers with the city. Her legal knowledge played a huge role in manipulating that unjust system. She stood up for historically discriminated against students.
Jolanda fights for the least, last and lost in whatever endeavor she partakes. She is both a survivor of and advocate against domestic abuse and violence. She is also an out and proud lesbian and accordingly she is a LGBT+ activist. She is also a human rights and criminal justice activist. Before there was a Black Lives Matter movement, she fought for Black Lives, including giving Know Your Rights with the Police trainings, which she started giving in 1999, based on what she saw representing her clients.
Jolanda’s biggest accomplishment is her son, Jiovanni. Although she raised him as a single-parent and struggled to do so, he is now a third-year law student and he works for her in the crucial arena of social justice. Jolanda works hard and smart at everything she puts her mind to and helps people along the way no matter the obstacles.
Jolanda is an author and one of her books is a bestseller, namely Owning My S.H.I.T! (Suffering Hardship Internalizing Trauma), which may be purchased here. Athlete of the Century Carl Lewis, her teammate, client and friend, wrote the Foreword. She is also a highly sought-after speaker and speaks both English and Spanish.
Jolanda was also the star of WEtv’s reality show Sisters in Law, which may be purchased on iTunes.
Finally, Jolanda is one of the founding members of the Black Survivor Alliance (“BSA”), the FIRST organization to directly contact CBS, on Juneteenth 2020, and demand the end of systematic/systemic racism, implicit bias, and microaggressions (collectively “Systematic Racism”) on CBS & Survivor. To that end, the BSA is currently working in collaboration with CBS to eradicate Survivor’s systematic racism.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Even though I was the ONLY Ulong tribe member to win individual immunity, that is not my proudest moment. It’s a tie for my proudest moment. Notwithstanding that I was suffering from a migraine and was throwing up and nauseous, I never rested and ended up being the first person, male or female, on Ulong or Koror, to find the first food (sea cucumbers, a crab and escargot) but they chose not to air that. Also, I was the nurturer, along with Wanda Shirk, and made a tourniquet/big band-aid out of the lining of my skirt for injured players Bobby Jon and Willard.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret is playing Survivor without looking at previous seasons. Had I done that, I DEFINITELY would have had a different strategy!
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
The fact that I’m actually funny, nice, an uplifter, and team player would blow fans’ minds. When Ashley was about to quit, my dumb A$$ talked her out of quitting. #DumbDumbDumb. When people were depressed about the difficulty of not having food or shelter that actually sheltered, Janu taught me a Vegas showgirl routine, whereby we made showgirl costumes, with palm fronds poking out from our behinds, and performed to lighten the mood of the castaways. I love to dance and am super coordinated. And, Ian and I arguing over whether me catching a crab, naming it and tying it up on a leash made out of vines, and walking it on the beach, until we made fire to eat it, was cruel. Ian eventually ended up secretly letting it go.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
My edit, and that of so many other Black people, caused me to organize the BSA and move to end systematic racism on Survivor. Mark Burnett foreshadowed portraying me as a “bitch,” his word not mine, and I didn’t figure out that that was what he was actually going to do because I hadn’t watched previous Survivor. I actually thought Survivor honestly portrayed players. I was wrong.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Coming back from playing the game, initially, wasn’t traumatic or anything, but it did make me appreciate the people that actually loved me and would have my back. Once it aired, I have spent years trying to change the narrative/storyline that Survivor created.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Yes, when I was called a “n-----” by fellow Ulong tribe members who wanted to fight me on Ponderosa, and after it actually aired.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
Wanda Shirk. I cried when she didn’t get picked. I was heartbroken. She was one of the strongest women in the game, but she wasn’t given a chance to prove it. My son and I actually traveled to Potter County, Penn., to hike with her and she and I invited other Survivors, not just from my season, to participate in a charitable fundraiser called the Houston Reality Challenge, to raise money for the U’jana Conley Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome because my niece died of SIDS when she was 11 months old. Jenn Lyon won one year.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I don’t really have a favorite season. I have only watched about half of the seasons. I didn’t start watching until I started dating my girlfriend in 2015. She is a Survivor fan. Of the seasons I watched, the one that makes me the saddest, makes me cry and breaks my heart, is season 14, where there were three Black players, Earl Cole, Cassandra Franklin, and Dreamz Herd, as the finalists. The systematic/systemic racism, implicit bias, and microaggressions shown throughout the editing but especially during the final Tribal were so hard to watch. The thickness of the racism could be cut with a knife.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
Dreamz Herd. He’s my hero. He fought hard against the racism openly displayed against Survivor and only stayed in the game to protect her. In my respectful opinion, he is the epitome of a Black man protecting a Black woman, which by the way, is almost never portrayed on TV. I would have loved to have played with him. He is intelligent, discerning, athletic and a hard worker. I’m thankful that I got to meet him during BSA’s human rights fight against CBS and Survivor.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I would change Systematic Racism on Survivor, which necessarily includes having culturally competent staff, at all levels, in the production of Survivor so that any and all discomfort felt by the players, ONLY has to do with game play and not color.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Only if the Systematic Racism was eradicated and the cast was diverse. Diverse does not mean the majority of the cast is white with a mixture of other races.