September 11, 2017
Survivor Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Jessica Johnston

Find out why the nurse practitioner can't stop "grinning like a freak" as she prepares to play 'Survivor.'

Welcome to the Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason! THR's Josh Wigler reports from his exclusive visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 18 new castaways battling it out for the million dollar prize.
It's hard, if not outright impossible, not to smile when sitting across from Jessica Johnston. The third person on the board from the Healers tribe is grinning ear to ear from the moment she sits down for our interview, bursting with an energy that must be agonizing to repress during the locked-down pre-game conditions at Ponderosa.

"I'm so excited. This is unbelievable," Jessica says about how she's feeling, waiting for the Survivor adventure to start in earnest. "I keep telling people so often that it sounds redundant, but I can't help it: I think about the thousands upon thousands of people who try to get on this show and continually apply and are trying to make it, and I am one of a handful. I would love to be a fly on the wall and figure out, what did they see in me that made them pick me?"

Jessica laughs as she recognizes the double-edged nature of that very question: "It's scary: what did they see in me? Do I even know what they saw in me? I hope I live up to their expectations! They're already playing with us. Why did you pick me? Do I even know?"

Speaking with Jessica, it's pretty clear why she was picked for the show. For one thing, the Kentucky native is a perfect fit with the season's theme of Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, given her work as a nurse practitioner — which was not her first choice of profession, but it's one that suits her nicely.

"I fell into nursing," she says. "The first girl I met [in school] was a nursing major, and I hadn't declared yet. I was going to be a psychology major, then I realized that I don't like the whole head game thing. I picked nursing, and it suits me perfectly. Naturally, I'm a nurturer. I'm a lover at heart. I love people. I love helping. I feel like I sense emotion more than other people do. As a nurse practitioner, I get to feed all of those natural instincts. And I get to tell people what to do, which is fun at times! I like the leadership part and having a say that counts."

A potentially 39-day voyage aboard the good ship Survivor doesn't necessarily feel like a fit for someone who doesn't love "head games," but Jessica has an answer to that: "In the long season of my twenties, I've learned that life is a head game, and you have to play it, and you have to do it well. I feel like I've learned that. Going through graduate school and getting my doctorate in nursing, I know how to play head games. I know how to be assertive and I know how to get what I need and what I want. You have to be able to fight for what you want."

Listen to the podcast below to hear Jessica and the rest of the Healers weigh in on the Heroes in the second episode of our preseason series, "First One Out."

Jessica says she's prepared to do just that: fight tooth and nail for the million dollar prize and the bragging rights that come along with it. Hence the irrepressible grin on her face.

"I'm a fan of the show," she says through her big smile. "I'm a fan of a thrill and adventure. I'm a fan of putting myself through hard things and pain. I don't think there's anything harder than Survivor, a game that literally takes the necessities of life — clean clothes, food, a shower — things that make us feel good and human. You take that away, and we're still expected to function, thrive and excel in athletics, and you have to maintain mental stability? It's crazy! I'm drawn to craziness, I guess. I want to win a million dollars, and I want the title of Sole Survivor. I think it fits my life perfectly."

In terms of the road ahead, Jessica feels she fits within this cast perfectly. She looks out at the other Heroes, Healers and Hustlers and acknowledges the obvious: with some exceptions, these people are very obviously physically fit — and she's thrilled about it.

"In my daily life, I'm a huge gym rat. I love fitness. I love health. I thought I was coming into this game as a physical threat, and now I don't think that I am," she says. "There's a lot of muscle out here. Quads popping out of pants, deltoids popping out of shirts... and I feel like a weakling, honestly. But I'm definitely not the weakest. Just going from physical appearance, I see super strong, I see super weak, and I don't think I could be in a better place. I don't think people look at me and think that I'm in either direction. As far as physical appearance, I'm on point."
Survivor Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Jessica Johnston
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