Palau appetizing, but it's not food
Sunday, February 13, 2005
By Troy Reimink
The Grand Rapids Press
Palau, contrary to what some might believe, is not edible.
"I had to say, 'It's not a food, it's a small country,' " 21-year-old Grand Valley student Lekelong Secharraimul said of the many times peers have confused the name of his homeland for cuisine.
After this week, the confusion is likely to end. The 10th season of "Survivor," CBS' marquee reality show, takes place on the small nation of islands in the Pacific Ocean
Starting Thursday, "Survivor: Palau" strands yet another group of attractive castaways in the wilderness, where they will -- you know the drill -- attempt to outwit, outplay and outlast each other for serious cash.
Grand Valley is hosting a viewing party on Thursday for Secharraimul and 19-year-old Laureen Joseph, students from Palau who are here on a GVSU-initiated scholarship program. They are the first participants. Secharraimul heard of the university because Palau's president, Tommy Remengesau, graduated from the school in 1979.
"Survivor: Palau" will be seen worldwide by some 200 million viewers, which is about 10,000 times the population of the Micronesian country.
"A lot of people say we're South Pacific, but we're actually north of the equator," said Joseph, who also began studying at Grand Valley in the fall.
Palau is an archipelago, much like Japan, and consists of more than 200 islands spread north to south over some 400 miles. Its population of about 20,000 is roughly the equivalent of the population of Gaines Township.
Palauan youths commonly attend college in the United States, but mostly they stick to coastal areas with climates similar to that of Palau, which enjoys year-round temperatures in the 80s.
"I wanted something different," Secharraimul said of his decision to attend college in West Michigan. He heard of Grand Valley because Palau's president, Tommy Remengesau, graduated from the school in 1979.
The islands, known for their colorful wildlife and dense jungles, are considered among the best sites in the world for diving, with hot spots such as the Blue Hole and Blue Corner.
Also, as World War II buffs may recall, Palau was a strategic point in regaining the Philipines from the Japanese. Wreckage and remnants of the war remain and are likely to factor into the show's visuals.
Joseph said one island is home to the capital city of Koror, where most of the population is concentrated.
Don't forget the jellyfish
"Have you heard of our jellyfish lake? It's one of our biggest tourist attractions," she said of Palau's inland lake that contains millions of nonstinging jellyfish.
Useful as neither a source of pain nor a source of food, this attraction is likely to be ignored by the show's producers.
The filming locations in Palau have not been made public, but through careful research (i.e., looking around on the Internet and watching the TV promos), we have learned the 20 castaways will be dropped into the ocean several miles from the nearest uninhabited island, where they will have to compete in an elimination challenge before even reaching shore.
Joseph hopes the show will provide a boost for a country that relies heavily on tourism.
"I know the show is going to be pretty much about the people on it, but it will be nice to see a little bit of the country," she said. "I really don't think Palau will be overrun with tourists, but I think it will be good for the country."
The country's postcard-perfect natural features, abundance of food and lack of dangerous wildlife make it a pretty easy place to survive.
Still, the students had a few tips for the castaways:
Stay hydrated. "There's always rain," Secharraimul said, suggesting the castaways make a habit of collecting rainwater. Lean your head back and open your mouth.
Stick to the shore. Not only is it pretty, but the seaside is crawling with natural food sources, from coconuts to large mangrove crabs. "If you're close to the sea, food is everywhere," Secharraimul said.
Because of the crabs, contestants are advised to sleep carefully and not on the beach. And because CBS is not about to issue machetes to crack open coconuts, survivors will have to seek out rocks or something hard to crack 'em open. (Hmm. Reward challenge?)
Take to the water. Palau is home to more than 1,400 species of fish. "You have to know how to fish," Joseph said. Anybody got a spare spear?
Both students said "surviving" a few weeks in Palau shouldn't be any harder than, for example, making it through your first Michigan winter.
"There's nothing really dangerous about living on Palau," Secharraimul said.
So perhaps a better idea for a "survival" show would look like this: Two students from a tropical paradise bundle up and trudge to class through snow, over ice and under frigid temperatures.
"I never even owned a sweatshirt until I came here," Joseph said.