Meet the 'Survivor 43' Cast! James Jones Plans to Make Fake Advantages to Trick His Competition

·11 min read

The 37-year-old event planner from Philadelphia is taking his friends' advice to not put up a wall on the island.

James Jones has always been able to adapt, ever since he became a fish out of water on a college campus of 13,000. And when the 37-year-old saw Earl Cole win Survivor back in 2007, he realized this was the show for him. The event planner's guest list for alliances includes purposely seeking out people who are his opposites, even if that means going against his Philly instincts and opening up his heart.

Read on for my interview with James, and make sure to check in with Parade.com every day for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 43 premieres on September 21 with a special two-hour premiere on CBS. 

Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 43

Interview with James from Survivor 43

Why are you here on Survivor?
I really want to use my personal ability to communicate with people. And if I can be as good of a Survivor player as I think I can be, somebody that challenges myself mentally, physically, and emotionally and see if I can really get this thing going and really be the best person I can be.

What's your history with Survivor?
So I remember watching the first season. And I really remember watching it when Earl won his season. And I remember watching that season thinking it was masterful how he was just manipulating. He was being a genuine person, but at the same time, getting people to see things his way. And him also being an African-American male. I don't remember ever seeing an African-American male winning before Earl. So that was inspirational for me growing up, just being able to see someone go out and conquer the elements and be able to win a million dollars to help their family out. So I feel like that was my start.

And then, as the game progressed, all the strategy components about the game and interpersonal relationships really just kind of stuck. I grew up playing chess. So just thinking about strategically how to balance that with relations with people. And you sit back and think, "How do you get voted out with two idols in your pocket? How do you not see this coming? If I were out there, I would be doing this and that." And now I'll get that opportunity. So I was always wanting to know what I would really do. Could I really conquer the elements? How will I be not sleeping, not eating? I wanted to challenge myself and think I could really do this thing. So I'm just excited.

Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner you identify with the most.
For my winner, I would probably stay with Earl. He was very even-keeled. He never got too high; he never got too low. But you can always tell his mind was always working. And I feel like that's me. I try to keep everything light, good vibes only, keep a smile on everybody's face. But in the back of my mind, I'm like a killer. I'm thinking about all the moves and thinking about how I can move myself forward and move the game forward.

And the person that I feel that hasn't won that's the best is probably Cirie. She didn't have the physical tools, and I don't think I'd be a physical player out here. But mentally, she's able to know when people were making moves and has that EQ to understand and read the room. It's just amazing to be able to get that far and not be a physical threat, a beast in challenges and not be able to do a lot of things. But to be able to use your mind and your mouth and your words to get you far, I think, is masterful. So those are the two people I look up to in the game. And she's also an African-American woman too. So more power to the queen.

What's your favorite moment in Survivor history?
When Parvati used two idols in Heroes vs. Villains, I thought that was a crazy iconic moment. Because they went to that merge down. And just understanding that, using people's perceptions against you and manipulating people at the highest level. When you're at the bottom and can still get people out in front of big alliances, I feel like that's always masterful gameplay. Because it should be easy to take out the smaller alliances at the merge. And the ability to flip that and shock people when you don't have the numbers is, I think, the most amazing thing to see in the game.

What's the one life experience that you feel has prepared you the most for the game?
When I was 17, I started school early. I went to college in Florida, and I'm from Philadelphia. So at 17, going 1000 miles away to school and acclimating myself to a different environment, a campus of around 13,000 people, and being able to adapt and thrive there. I joined the fraternity. I was active on campus, getting to know people from across the country and excelling. I'm able to know dudes from the south, from the west, from the midwest, people from out of the country that you meet, and being able to kind of deal with people and excel socially and have a lot of fun, really shaped me and helped me.

Then, professionally, I worked at Goldman Sachs. I worked at Pfizer. I did really good internships. I was around a diverse group of people and figured out knowing how to work those people. And not "work" in a bad way, but build relationships and be able to communicate with different people on different levels to obtain different goals that I have. Those would be the things that shaped me. Also, joining a fraternity while I was down there. Beta Nu taught me a lot about dealing with triumph and disaster. Take the highs and the lows and always keep a cool head, but keep your mind going at the same time.

What excites you the most about this new era of Survivor?
My mind is always going 1000 miles a minute. The more stuff that gets thrown at it, the better for me. I look forward to using the twists and using what I know to make a difference and hopefully have moves that people will use in the future. I want to find idols, make fake idols. I want to make somebody think they have an advantage they don't have. I want to have somebody think they lost their vote when they have it. If there's something that I can do with the tools I'm given, I want to try to push it to the limit. Because that's what life's about; that's what this game is about. It's about pushing it to the limit–your physical limits, your emotional limits, your spiritual limits–and coming out on top.

What do you think people will perceive you as?
This is the ultimate question. I feel like people will really perceive me as a fun-loving person that isn't really too serious at first. And I want to keep them thinking that. I'm an older person here. But I don't think I look old. And I want them to think I'm a laid back steady force. But behind that steady force and the laughs and the jokes is going to be someone who's going to cut their throat at Tribal l the second I get a whiff they're trying to come at me. So I want to be perceived as a steady force, a hard worker who's not going to shake things up. So they want to keep me around. But that's what I want them to perceive. And that's what I've been trying to do. And that's how I want to present myself. Hopefully, I'll be good at that, and I can get them out when I can.

What type of player are you looking for in an alliance?
I want to find my opposites. I feel like you always have the cool kids and the big alliance. And you have the people who are on the outskirts. I want to find people who are opposite of me. So if I'm older, I want to find people that are younger, not where I'm from, and have different experiences. First, I want to reach out, and I want to learn because the more you learn about people and their experiences, the more you're able to judge their actions. So I wanted to be able to deal with people who aren't like me because those are going to be the hardest people to build relationships with.

And the people that are more like me, I feel like that will be more natural for them to communicate with me. And it may be harder for them to communicate with people that aren't like them. So when they're not building relationships, I want to go really simple, but do it in a way where I can get all the information and have an army or different moves at my disposal and options moving forward. My goal is to keep the people that are like me around me but make sure I've got relations with people that are opposite me socially, physically, and temperamentally.

What is the one thing you told yourself you wouldn't do in this game?
I didn't have that talk. (Laughs.) I'm not going to be someone different. I have to be myself; I can't not be myself. Because when everything is stripped from you, you have no choice. And this game takes away everything. So I can't not be who I am. I'm a gregarious person. I tell jokes, I have a lot of energy, I have to be that person. And the second I'm not that person, someone's going to know that that's not me. They're going to be able to detect that. So you have to say to yourself. I'm not going to not be me. Either you're going to take it or leave it. A lot of people like it, and some people don't. And the people that don't gotta go! It is what it is.

What's the best advice you received before coming out to play?
Actively listen and really engage with people on the human level. Yeah, we're playing the game. But these are people, and this is a game about people. Make sure that you're vulnerable and show empathy. Growing up in Philly, you keep everything close to the vest. You keep everything inside. But this is a game where you have to get people to trust you and to do that and to be vulnerable.

My friends told me, "James is okay to show some emotion. You need to not be as hard to get to know. Don't have that wall up out here. This is the one time in your life that you probably need to be vulnerable and let people be invested in themselves in you the way you're invested in people. And that's how you're going to win this game."

What celebrity or fictional character would you want to come out for a Loved Ones visit?
Meagan Good? I don't know. (Laughs). I had a crush on her since I was a kid. So if that's a celebrity I can get. Or actually, no, it would be Diddy. Puffy was literally my idol since I was a kid. Since "Can't Stop Won't Stop." If I saw Diddy hop off the helicopter and he Diddy bopped out there, and we had to do a challenge together, I don't know what I would do. They may be the one thing that would be better than winning the game.

But I hope I see my niece out there. Truth be told, my mom passed away. So that's not possible. But I would have loved for her to have seen me come play this game, man. That would have probably been the one time I would break down and cry. So I guess that was three people. I tend to talk a lot, as you can tell. That's why they told me, "Shut up, James!" (Laughs.) 

Next, check out our interview with Survivor 43 contestant Geo Bustamente.