The Surreal Life's Omarosa

07/18/2005 at 06:00 AM EDT

The Surreal Life's Omarosa
"I became a villain because I was a tough businesswoman," says Omarosa of her Apprentice image.
Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage
Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth doesn't mind being one of the all-time great reality-show villains. "I've capitalized on that, and that's okay," she says. "That's a television persona." But Omarosa, 31, hopes viewers will see her kinder, gentler side on The Surreal Life 5, which finds her shacked up with such oversize characters as America's Next Top Model vixen Janice Dickinson and baseball bad-boy Jose Canseco.

The former political consultant (who briefly worked for Vice President Al Gore) splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and is juggling a host of projects: She runs a Democratic lobbying firm, has a syndicated talk show set to launch in spring 2006, and she's developing a clothing line. Omarosa, who's separated from her husband Aaron Stallworth, spoke to PEOPLE about her White House ambitions and why she and Dickinson will never be best friends.

Why do another reality show?
The Surreal Life runs upwards of 15 times a week. You can't even pay for that type of access on primetime television. And they pay you very well. Plus, it's only 12 days, so I thought it would be fun.

What about the idea of moving in with strangers?
I was very intrigued by the idea of being around six other celebrities. I'm a researcher by nature. As a doctoral candidate I spent so much time studying media and its influences. When the time comes for me to return to the classroom, I can use it as even a teaching aide. No matter what, once cameras enter the room, people modify their behavior. Whether you're at your family reunion and somebody pulls out a camcorder or you're on a reality show, the camera changes everything.

Did it bring out the worst in you?
When I was on The Apprentice, I became ultra-conservative, to the point where people labeled me as an ice queen or mean. (Being on the show) just made me tense beyond my own comprehension. I was just really guarded, very short with people. I had a very bad reaction to being scrutinized in such a way.

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