"The Real Island"

It's not what you know, but who you know -- and what they think of your hair -- that determines whether you'll survive!

Published March 13, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

"['Survivor' contestant Stephen Allen] lived in Africa, where wildlife in [his] yard included spitting cobras. So he's not worried about the lizards, pythons and wild pigs on the island. And, oh yeah, he's had malaria nine times."

-- Indianapolis Star Tribune, Jan. 4

"On 'Jeopardy!' what counts is what you know. On 'Survivor,' it's as much who you know, and what they think of you ... the psychological rigors of twoscore days in the rain forest -- and the potential humiliation of being booted by 15 comrades on national TV -- are as worrisome as the jungle fauna."
-- Time, Oct. 18, 1999

"Two parts adventure contest, eight parts surviving the PEER GROUP."
-- Mark Burnett, "Survivor" executive producer

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Day One

I've lived in Africa. I've had malaria nine times. I've pulled spiders the size of ferrets from my pajamas and still gotten a good night's sleep. Once, I was followed home by a spitting cobra: I named her Fluffy. In a pinch, I'll drink my own urine. But nothing, nothing, could have prepared me for this.

His name is Pat Grobnik. He's an account manager. He used to be a Sigma Chi. I don't know what that means, exactly, but you should see his teeth. Incisors like polished marble slabs. Great, glinting monoliths! I can see my own reflection in them, cowering.

Yesterday, we were on fishing duty (we're allowed to impale only those fish that have been pre-screened and tagged by CBS's consulting marine biology team with handcrafted bamboo spears) when Pat turned around and, out of nowhere, snapped me in the butt with a wet bandanna.

"Very funny," I said.

"Very funny," he mimicked.

Naturally, I was stunned. I'd been under the impression that I'd been selected as a contestant because of my advanced foraging skills and my encyclopedic knowledge of bark. Instead, it was becoming increasingly clear that my main function was to serve as a foil for Pat.

He snapped me again.

"Quit it," I said.

"Quit it," he said.

Debbie, a medical-supply sales rep from Marina del Rey who was tanning nearby, found it hilarious. This sort of thing only encourages Pat. Pat, in my opinion, doesn't need any more encouragement.

Day Three

Everyone was getting ready for dinner -- cleaning fish, shucking berries, chugging beer -- when all of a sudden, Pat's buddy Jason (who seems to express himself exclusively through T-shirts, whooping and vomit) came up from behind, grabbed me and held me back so that Pat could pour fish organs down the front of my pants. It was totally uncalled for.

Then to make matters worse, Wendell (the resident management consultant and mediator) tried to intervene by suggesting that we "open the avenues of communication" and "explore our abandonment issues." Well, that certainly took the heat off me.

(Nice going, Wendell, by the way. Now the rest of us are stuck with the image of your Fruit of the Loom briefs pulled up around your nipples forever.)

I don't want to seem ungrateful, but the two guys who have tried to befriend me so far (the D&D aficionado and the Libertarian) are the two guys who've been voted off the island so far. Sure enough, a few hours later Wendell knocks on my hut, wanting to "check in with me."

I told him I was fine, busy. He tried to "schedule a big picture meeting" with me anyway, to identify my "key motivations and objectives" here on the island. I told him I needed to repair the leak in the lean-to. He said he thought we should "craft, together, an 'Ideal Day' scenario, and tie it back to the actual job" first. Then he offers to loan me his one personal item, a copy of "Chicken Soup for the Contestant's Soul." For a second, I thought maybe Wendell was trying to undermine my confidence. Then I told him to stop being such a panty. That was the last I saw of Wendell. Next morning, he was gone.

Day Five

Giant grouper abuse: It's amazing what people will do to be liked.

Day Six

This morning I woke up to a timid knock on the side of my head. It was Gwen, who writes poetry and sunbathes in her jeans. That afternoon was the "Survivor" swim test (all contests have been designed exclusively for CBS by a team of Romanian gymnastics coaches to humiliate and discourage bookish types) With tears welling in her protuberant eyes, Gwen confessed that she didn't know how to swim. I felt sorry for Gwen; she needed that million dollars -- it was something to love. I volunteered to help and we went down to the lagoon.

When we returned to my hut afterward, we found Pat outside, rifling through my coconut stash. He looked at us and grinned, "Is that your girlfriend?" he asked, swinging an elbow in Gwen's general direction.

"No," I said.

"Sure," he said, laughing his hyena laugh.

"She's not!" I insisted.

But Pat just sauntered off with two of my coconuts, "Steve's got a girlfriend, Steve's got a girlfriend ... "

"Asshole," I muttered.

Gwen didn't answer. She just looked at the ground.

Day Eight

Well, Gwen passed the swim test, but the wet T-shirt contest was another story. I don't see what I could have done. To be honest, I'm not sorry she's gone.

Day 10

Last night, something happened. We were sitting around the bonfire, drinking beer (they're airlifting it in; the CBS medical emergency helicopters drop it on the beach when they think we're not looking), when Pat comes running out of the woods with Debbie's bra tied around his head and his bare chest smeared with Velveeta (the production area was supposed to be off-limits, but half the cast is doing it with the crew at this point, so the network is letting it slide).

So Pat is running toward us, waving a huge caterpillar between his thumb and forefinger, chanting "Eat it! Eat it! Eat it!" when something came over me.

I snatched it from his hand and tilted my head back, chewed and swallowed. Then I closed my eyes and raised my fist and this is what came out:


"WHOOOOOOO!" yelled Jason, as he fell out of a tree.

"WHOOOOOOO!" yelled Pat, as he poured a beer over my head.

"WHOOOOOOO!" I yelled again.

That night, I had strange dreams. I dreamed I was running through the jungle. The macaques shrieked all around me. Fruit bats grazed my head as I ran. I came upon the remains of a huge bonfire, and dipped my hands in the ashes. I smeared the ashes on my chest and went to the edge of the lagoon. In the reflection, I saw what I'd drawn. Two Greek letters.


That's when I knew I'd survive.

By Carina Chocano

Carina Chocano writes about TV for Salon. She is the author of "Do You Love Me or Am I Just Paranoid?" (Villard).

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