A Look Back At Survivor: Vanuatu
By Survivor Columnist Greg Feltes
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Dec 22, 2004 4:05 pm US/Eastern
LOS ANGELES (CBS 2) I am a small man in many ways.
I will never walk on the moon or come running out of a tunnel to the delight of thousands of football fans. I’m not particularly good at math or science, so it’s highly unlikely that I will develop a cure for the common cold or write a math theorem that accomplishes anything other than 1+2=3.
But that’s okay. Because I have experienced something so awe-inspiring that astronauts, professional athletes, doctors and mathematicians have no point of comparison for what I am about to convey to you, the loyal readers of CBS2Chicago.com.
For I, Greg Feltes, have met Mark Burnett…and Chris Daugherty….and Twila Tanner…and some guy named Rupert.
The grand finale of “Survivor: Vanuatu” was staged in Los Angeles Sunday night. It was a rather staid affair featuring more than fifty reality television stars and hundreds of their closest friends, family and fans; young and old; sober and not so sober.
I arrived an hour or so before the event was to begin with a photographer in hand. I was calm and collected right about the to the point where…well, I was never calm and collected.
The fun started as a steady stream of survivors from past editions made their way into the party tent. It was surreal seeing the same players that I had been watching for years just five feet away from me. Among those making an early entrance were Christie Hastie and Andrew Savage from season seven, Shawna Mitchell and Rob Cestarnino from season six and Kathy O’Brien from season five.
For a moment, I felt as if I was attending a high school reunion. Everyone warmly greeted each other whether they were friends or foes on the show. They then engaged in small talk about family and friends. It was shockingly mundane. Then he arrived.
A lumbering, gentle giant of a man made his way up the red carpet and was treated to a welcome that befitted a rock star. The women screamed his name and the men looked at him with obvious envy. The entire time, America’s favorite survivor clearly soaked it up.
Rupert Boneham, wearing the same tie-dyed tank top that made him famous, stopped to sign autographs and shake hands. He then made his way to a lowly journalist clearly in awe of his surroundings and his company and offered to answer one question.
Boneham, who went through this hoopla twice last year, said he was happy to be in the background this time.
“You know, it’s like what my wife was saying on the way here, it’s not as an emotional time this time,” he said. “We are just coming to play and sit in the crowd. The last two times were so emotional. I loved them. This time, you know, it’s just kind of nice to relax.”
He then returned to his wife’s side, although he thankfully avoided the Al Gore-like mauling that he gave her on-camera in season eight.
With all of the survivors catching up with each other, there was really no one to interview. Looking around, desperate to maintain my journalistic momentum, I saw one of television’s biggest liars standing by the bar with a beer in his hand and a bemused look on his face.
Dan Fields delivered Survivor’s most infamous lie when he told John Dalton that his grandmother was dead in season seven. It appeared that he felt uncomfortable talking to me and about the show.
“I’d rather have been a never-was,” Fields said. “My four minutes of fame was up a long time ago.”
Asked whom he was rooting for, Fields cracked wise.
“I didn’t even know there was a season,” her said. “I just came here for a free party.”
Mark Burnett probably had a better reason than that for attending the wrap party for the ninth edition of a show he created. Entering the fray with a jacket that could likely survive a nuclear holocaust and hair to match, my idol hit the red carpet.
Nervously, I approached him and identified myself as a Survivor correspondent for CBS2Chicago.com. He said it was always nice to talk to someone from the CBS family. If that was the case, I briefly contemplated asking Uncle Mark to bend some rules and cast me next time. However, I settled for getting a few questions in.
He credited the show’s success to the formula’s constant evolution.
“It’s been around nine straight seasons of about 20 million viewers a week and the real reason is the show is fresh every time,” he said. “We reinvent slightly without betraying our core values.”
One of my favorite things about Burnett is his unwavering enthusiasm for his projects. He actually got a show called “Commando Nanny” on the WB’s fall schedule before production problems deprived the nation of the genius that was to be “Commando Nanny.”
So when I wasn’t surprised when he talked up Survivor 10.
“It’s awesome, he said.” “Number 10 is going to be awesome.”
Yes, he used the word awesome three times in a 15-second response. And that’s … well…awesome.
Obviously, worried that he had said far too much about next season, Burnett excused himself. The show was about to begin.
The media at event (myself included) were invited to watch the big finale among family and friends of the current castaways as well as past survivors.
Obviously, I had never watched Survivor with that many people before and it was a trip to be sure. It reminded me of seeing a scary movie at the local cineplex.
When Eliza said she completely trusted Chris, the audience might as well have yelled “, He’s the killer. Don’t go through that door!”
And inevitably, the audience’s suspicions were confirmed. Reaction was mixed, but one man went nuts and hugged everyone in sight. I took note of this and made sure to remember to find out his story later.
During the commercial breaks, all the former survivors would gravitate to the bar. You would not believe how much these people can drink. I overheard some of them gossiping that Jeff Probst was dating Julie from this season, but just wrote that off as rubbish. Of course, People magazine confirmed the coupling a few days later.
I then spied Johnny Fairplay himself making the rounds. The infamous schemer stopped at a table right in front of me and begged an attractive girl to kiss him on a cheek. She eventually attempted to comply, but he intentionally shifted his face at the right moment and their lips met. He then called her a slut. Classy.
After two hours of lies, lies and more lies, Chris was named the winner of “Survivor: Vanuatu. The room exploded with applause and, again, the same man went absolutely nuts.
The man’s name was Rob Groves. It turns out that Chris is marrying his first cousin Lorie. He had tears in eyes as he talked about Chris’ victory.
“I can’t really describe it,” he said. “This is out of the world. He’s a larger than life character. When he was cast, we knew without a doubt that he would win. There was no question.”
However, there was a question on how I would survive the red carpet, which I retreated to about 15 minutes before the reunion ended.
I was behind a rope with Entertainment Tonight, Access Hollywood, AP Radio and US Weekly and other media outlets. Without access to a national television audience, I was at the very end of the line along with a reporter from Chris’ hometown newspaper. He had been responsible for weekly updates and said he came to know Chris’ family very well. Now, it was a matter of landing some time with the big fish aka Chris Daugherty.
A few minutes after Jeff Probst signed off, the survivors started making their way down the red carpet.
All-around nice guy Chad Crittenden was the first to stop to chat. I joked with him about how being a nice guy was bad strategy when it came to Survivor. Factor in his tremendous story of overcoming amputation and Crittenden never stood a chance. I jokingly suggested that he should kicked puppies or burned down camp in order to become hated.
“It never occurred to me to do something like that,” he said. “I knew. I’ve known. I’m a student of the game. I’ve watched every season. I knew that if it was going to get down to the end and if I was in the final five or four that I would have to win every immunity. That would have been the only chance.”
Crittenden shared my puzzlement at Lea’s tribal council switcheroo.
“I didn’t know which way he was going to go,” he said. “Because he was actually talking about voting for Twila to give her the million because he thinks she could use the money more. So, I didn’t know which way he was going. I didn’t have any idea going in here, which way he was going to go.”
Leann Slaby then stopped by. She seemed just as thrilled as I was to be on an actual red carpet. Slaby said she thought Chris was a worthy winner.
“He definitely played the game hard,” she said. “After watching it though, I’m like, Jesus, I am kind of mad that I had to vote for either of them.”
Slaby said she still would have voted for Chris even if he were pitted against Scout.
“I don’t think Scout had much gameplay except for the very end,” she said. “It looked to me like Chris had a plan and followed through with it all of the way.”
Ami Cusack was about to walk right by me before I yelled to her “, Ami, Can you talk to CBS2Chicago.com?”
She stopped in her tracks and exclaimed “, I love Chicago!” and walked over.
With that type of expert pandering, it was all softballs for Cuscack. I asked her if she thought there was some truth to the idea that she showed a little too much heart and some softness and that it cost her.
“There was a lot of truth to that,” she said. “I felt bad for Chris’ fiancée. I felt bad for Chris. You got to pull for the underdog. My tenderness I guess brought me down”
I then pointed out the irony of the allegedly hard, cold-blood dominator of Vanuatu being brought down to due her emotions.
“It’s totally ironic,” she said. “The reality is my heart got in the way.”
As Cusack excused herself, I noticed Daugherty was giving an interview about 10 feet away from me. I eavesdropped and heard him refer to himself in the third person less than two hours after winning a million dollars. How quickly things change.
I bided my time waiting for the final four to reach me by chatting up Scout Cloud Lee’s girlfriend Annie, who was watching her friend and partner give interview after interview.
“We had a ball watching the show,” she said. “I knew I would get to see it. I was so happy that they documented it. It’s like your best friend going out off to summer camp and you don’t get to know anything about it. Except that there are our pictures and audio. So we go to watch her summer camp together. I was so glad to see it. If I hadn’t I would have felt really left out of something that was really significant to her life.”
Lee made her way over to join her girlfriend and explained how such a good-natured and kind woman found herself playing in the most cutthroat game in existence.
“Isn’t it funny?” she asked. “I never saw it as a cutthroat game. I saw it as being a game that had some cutthroat people in it. I’m playing the game because it is the motherload. It is the game of games. It has been the source of every other reality show in some twist or other. It’s the big one. And if you are going to get out there and play a game, I want to get inside the best game there is and I want to really find out what it’s like.”
I then transitioned from interviewing Survivor’s oldest player to one of its youngest—the lovely, but talkative Eliza Orlins who was still shocked at Daugherty’s betrayal.
“I was really that surprised,” she said. “I really really really thought that Chris and I were going to be the final two. That we were going to have that tie vote—two votes for Eliza and two votes for Twila—and that Twila and I would have gotten to have a tiebreaking challenge right then and there and I knew it was going to be a mental challenge and I knew that I was going to beat her.
“Then I would get to the final three and I knew it would be that standing on the poll immunity challenge or something like that because I have been fan of Survivor. I knew I could have won that and made the final two with Chris.”
I then brought up Orlins’ attention getting audition tape, which featured her stripping down to a bikini outside of her sorority house during a New York winter.
(Note: It’s available at http://www.cbs.com/primetime/survivor9/survivors/bios/eliza.shtml.Go
“I just kind of talked to friends and wanted to be me and asked what I should do,” she said. “The sorority house is such a big part of me. I live in my sorority house and…oh, don’t tell people that. I don’t want any stalkers. No, I am just kidding. It was snowing because it was January in Syracuse, New York and I had on my big jacket and was just talk about myself. Then I stripped down to a bikini because you have to play up the looks factor if you want to get on Survivor. They are not going to pick a 21 year-old girl for the show who doesn’t have something to offer.”
Orlins then confirmed by suspicions that the survivors weren’t all that surprised that their family members were on the island despite the satellite chicanery. She also said being Jewish was an obstacle she had to overcome.
Unfortunately, my time with Orlins was short as she moved onto the next sap with a recorder. While waiting for Twila Tanner, I again watched Daugherty give yet another interview to someone who wasn’t me. Out of nowhere, former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson walks into the shot to congratulate Daugherty on his victory. Apparently, he’s a big fan of the show. Daugherty thought that was the coolest thing in the world, but the film crew didn’t and waited for Johnson to leave.
A very tired Tanner then briefly stopped by.
“My feet are hurting,” she said. “I don’t like shoes.”
Besides her distaste for footwear, Tanner also revealed that she was pretty certain she wasn’t going to win before she showed up that day. Looking back at the experience, she said it wasn’t different from her normal life except for one thing.
“Well, I am outside all the time, so it wasn’t different in that way,” she said. “I work in rain, snow and sleet all of the time. I love the outdoors. The people…well…they were different.”
After Tanner, the search for the elusive Daugherty continued. If I couldn’t speak to him, I would do the next best thing – interview his fiancée.
“I am ecstatic,” Lorie Groves said. “I am still in shock. I haven’t even really talked to Chris yet. I don’t even know what I am going to say.”
Groves revealed that the pair plan to marry in February after five years of being engaged.
Her future husband grew closer and closer to me, but the wait continued. But that was okay because I saw the sight of the night – Johnny Fairlplay, who swore on his dead grandmother’s life, meeting Twila, who swore on her very alive son’s life. He told her he didn’t understand what the big deal was.
It became clear that my time with Daugherty was going to be short. They were calling for him to come to the party and there were still several other media outlets waiting to speak to him. I had time for just one question and I had to make it good. I saw a window and I took it.
“Survivor lore says if you screw up the first immunity challenge that you go. Then you and Lea and Chad are in the exact same situations and you outlast them both. Then you are the last man and overcome six women. You were very good at short-term adaptation throughout the game. What in your life allowed you to do that?”
His response, the end of which brought a proud smile to my face:
“I think it has a lot to do with the way you come across to people. You need to know when to talk and know when not to talk. I don’t know what helped me with that in life. I don’t know if there is a certain daily thing I do that gives me a talent to be able to adapt in short situation and communicate with people. Just being there and getting to know to know the people…oh my god, that’s the toughest question I have been asked. What are you doing to me?”
And with that, he was pulled away by a publicist. My brush with Survivor greatness was short lived, but worth it because I was able to do what no one on the island had done-- stump Chris Daugherty.
Survivor Columnist Greg Felteshttp://cbsnewyork.com/Survivor/survivor_story_357160240.html