Something for Steph Fans
Jonathan Storm | A tribe of one, and a singular personality
By Jonathan Storm
A star is born, but can she survive?
Fellow competitors call Stephenie LaGrossa, who grew up in Glenolden, Delaware County, "charismatic," "determined" and "forthright."
Jeff Probst, host of Survivor: Palau - where Stephenie, 25, became the first one-person "tribe" in the show's history - says she is second only to Survivor god Rupert Bonham in generating viewer interest.
"Stephenie has proven she is one of the toughest ever to play Survivor, and, when it comes to women, perhaps the toughest," Probst said in a telephone interview.
"Every guy wants Stephenie," said Coby Archa, the 32-year-old hairdresser from Tyler, Texas, who was voted off last week. "And every girl wants to be Stephenie."
People who dismiss TV reality shows as, at best, superficial brain candy are missing a fascinating character study and naturalist video extravaganza when they skip CBS's Survivor, the best, most popular and longest-lasting of the current reality game shows.
Tonight at 8, they will miss one of the most capable and compelling of the more than 160 candidates who have scrounged for roots and berries, and for the admiration of their compadres, in wildernesses around the world, as she tries to navigate new waters in her quest for glory and $1 million.
Check that. This lean, mean fighting machine already has the glory.
And Stephenie (Survivors always go by their first names) was almost the only contestant with a brain in the young (average age: 27) and buff Ulong Tribe that set a Survivor record for losing eight consecutive "immunity challenges," contests contrived by the producers to guarantee members of the winning tribe more time in the game. With only two Ulong left, she used her head to knock off Bobby Jon Drinkard in a ceremonial fire-building contest, and she was all alone.
After fending for herself overnight and for most of a day in a tropical island jungle in Palau, a tiny country southeast of the Philippines, Stephenie - a lacrosse standout at Archbishop Prendergast High and at Temple and New Jersey's Monmouth University - was allowed to paddle over the water last week to join the eight other remaining Survivors in the Koror tribe. (Survivor producers are enamored of exaggerated ceremonial hoodoo and exotic tribal names with indigenous roots.)
"We've never had anybody go back to camp alone," said Probst, who has supervised 10 iterations of Survivor since 2000. "It's basically the scariest scenario we've had. You're forced to live by your own wits. The cameramen don't factor in, because you know, after 20 days, they would never even speak to you, much less help."
Now, Stephenie, a pharmaceutical sales rep who has four brothers and is the youngest child in her family, will be forced to engage a different set of wits as she jockeys to remain in the game with a group of older competitors (average age: 36) who have lived together for three weeks.
Her arrival immediately blew a hole in the tribe.
"The whole time, we agreed we were going to keep strong all the way to the end," said Koror's Coby by phone from his home. "She changed that immediately. She's a likable player, and everybody wanted to play with her."
They didn't want to play with Coby anymore. He was exiled, but not before giving Stephenie the complete lowdown, at least as he saw it, on the rest of his team.
The show was taped during the winter, but candidates still struggling on TV are kept incommunicado.
Coby said he was not surprised when Stephenie showed up on his island, but now, as a viewer, he wishes the producers had let her soldier on alone. "I think that would have been fascinating."
Many fans agree, but Probst explained that the producers had discussed the possibility of an eventual one-person tribe before starting the Palau installment, whose biggest wrinkle was that the contestants would be allowed for the first time to choose their own tribes.
"You can't end the show at an immunity challenge, and Stephenie loses, and she goes off in a boat," he said. "That's not Survivor... .
"Since World War II is a theme of the show [Palau is littered with downed planes and shipwrecks], we decided if one tribe conquered the other, it would get its remaining member.
"We never dreamed it would happen."
Neither did James Miller, self-styled leader of the Ulong tribe, who also never dreamed Stephenie would connive to vote him off and out of any chance to win money. Apparently, he still doesn't get it.
"She seemed like she was just honest. She was forthright with me," he said with admiration.
He does know one woman, however, who is not sold on Stephenie.
"My wife," who looks forward to meeting Wonder Woman at the May 15 reunion show, he said. "She's debating on whether or not she's gonna whip Stephenie's tail."
A tip for Mrs. Miller: Don't even try.
Jonathan Storm |
Tonight at 8 on CBShttp://www.philly.com/mld/philly/entertainment/columnists/11446451.htm