What makes good video representations for video understanding, such as anticipating future activities, or answering video-conditioned questions? While earlier approaches focus on end-to-end learning directly from video pixels, we propose to revisit text-based representations, such as discrete action labels, or free-form video captions, which are interpretable and can be directly consumed by large language models (LLMs). Intuitively, different video understanding tasks may require representations that are complementary and at different granularities. To this end, we propose versatile action models (Vamos), a learning framework powered by a large language model as the ``reasoner'', and can flexibly leverage visual embeddings, action labels, and free-form descriptions extracted from videos as its input. We evaluate Vamos on four complementary video understanding benchmarks, Ego4D, Next-QA, IntentQA, and EgoSchema, on its capability to model temporal dynamics, encode visual history, and perform reasoning. Surprisingly, we observe that text-based representations consistently achieve competitive performance on all benchmarks, and that visual embeddings provide marginal or no performance improvement, demonstrating the effectiveness of text-based video representation in the LLM era. We perform extensive ablation study and qualitative analysis to support our observations, and achieve state-of-the-art performance on three benchmarks.