The battle lines have been drawn for the 20th edition of CBS's bug-eating, back-stabbing, millionaire-making "Survivor." Twenty former contestants are back and divided into two camps: heroes and villains.
Of course, the villains don't believe they deserve the devilish tag. Russell Hantz, whose mission was to make life on "Survivor: Samoa" a hellish experience, argues all he did was play the game.
"If you play the game socially, you're lucky if you get to the end. If you play the game strategically, you will yourself to the end. That's what I did. If it had only been a social game it would not have lasted past the first season because it would have been as boring as hell," Hantz says over loud music on the CBS soundstage, at the moment tropical-themed for a party featuring more than 200 former "Survivor" players.
The villains also include Tyson Apostol, "Survivor: Tocantins"; Randy Bailey, "Survivor: Gabon"; Sandra Diaz-Twine, "Survivor: Pearl Islands"; Danielle Dilorenzo, "Survivor: Panama"; Jerri Manthey, "Survivor: The Australian Outback"; Robert Mariano, "Survivor: Marquesas"; Parvati Shallow, "Survivor: Cook Islands"; Benjamin "Coach" Wade of "Survivor: Tocantins"; and Courtney Yates, "Survivor: China."
There's not been a shiftier lot on the high seas since Blackbeard's pirates.
Manthey, who wickedly played her way through "Survivor: The Australian Outback," set the villain bar high in the second edition of the show. She says she doesn't mind being on the troublemaker team.
"I learned a long time ago to embrace the villainess title. I feel honored to be called the very first villainess of reality TV," Manthey says. "But I question how a person is given the villain title versus the hero title because there is a lot of gray area there. I don't think I was always the villain and had some heroic moments.
"But you can't be on both teams. You've got to pick a side."
The most valuable lesson Manthey learned from her previous "Survivor" experience was to keep her mouth shut. She says she plans to do whatever it takes to win.
Every villain needs a hero and this game has 10. They include Rupert Boneham of "Survivor: Pearl Islands," James Clement, "Survivor: China"; Colby Donaldson, "Survivor: The Australian Outback"; Cirie Fields, "Survivor: Panama"; Amanda Kimmel, "Survivor: China"; Jessica "Sugar" Kiper, "Survivor: Gabon"; Stephenie Lagrossa, "Survivor: Palau"; James "JT" Thomas Jr., "Survivor: Tocantins"; Tom Westman, "Survivor: Palau"; and Candice Woodcock, "Survivor: Cook Islands."
The gentlemanly ways of Texan Colby Donaldson made him a darling of "Survivor: The Australian Outback" and one of the heroes. (The contestants weren't told their labels until they got to the location.)
"I don't see myself as a hero. Maybe I'm a good guy versus a bad guy because I've tried to play the game with some integrity," Donaldson says.
He may be classified a hero, but Donaldson's got a little revenge in his heart. He wants to make up for his poor performance in the "Survivor: All-Stars" edition, in which he was the fifth player sent home.
"I wanted to go back and prove I could still compete with the young bucks," Donaldson. "It was brutal on me trying to keep up."
And he means that both physically and mentally. Because this is the cream of the "Survivor" crop, there's no flying under the radar. The game starts aggressively and escalates with each episode.
There's one notable name missing from the villains list: Jon "Johnny Fairplay" Dalton from "Survivor: Pearl Islands," who told competitors his grandmother died when actually she was well and healthy.
Series host Jeff Probst said Dalton's not on the show because they want players and "not quitters," a reference to Dalton's self-imposed departure from "Survivor: Micronesia."