“Survivor” over the past 12 years has resisted the urge to throw too many celebrities into the mix.
After 25 incarnations, they are now opting for two: former “Facts of Life” actress Lisa Welchel ( who played snooty Blair) and retired Los Angeles Dodgers all-star second baseman Jeff Kent for the Phillipines version debuting tonight, Sept. 19, at 8 p.m. (As someone below noted, in the past, they’ve included a former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and a former NFL coach. Welchel is the first well-known actress to land on the show.)
I didn’t get to speak to either of them, but did do phone interviews with two not famous contestants who grew up locally: Malcolm Freberg, a Dartmouth College graduate who was a linebacker at Walton High School in Marietta and now lives in Los Angeles, and Sarah Dawson, who graduated Atlanta Adventist Academy off Cascade Rd. and lives in Maryland.
Neither were allowed to talk about other contestants. I was allowed to ask if they knew anything about “Facts of Life.” (Nope.) But both are big baseball fans. (Freberg, a Dodger fan now that he lives in the area, says Chipper Jones is the last vestige of his childhood in Atlanta.)
Based on the preview video below, it’s clear some of the younger folks have no idea who Welchel is, which makes sense since “Facts of Life” (1979-1988) is not a show that is seen much in repeats nowadays (unlike, say, “The Cosby Show” or “Cheers”). And Welchel left acting to raise kids after that. She tells some of the women about her ministry for moms. At age 49, she looks very much like she did back in the day. She is a “Survivor’ enthusiast who started a Twitter campaign to get on the show.
Kent seems very earnest in the promo video. I’m sure most folks probably would be clueless about Kent in this “Survivor” context, minus his baseball uniform – even baseball fans.
Dawson, 28, says in the video that she’s a “troublemaker” but doesn’t try to be malicious.
“When I get bored,” she says in the video, “things start to happen.”
In a separate interview, Dawson (who goes by Dawson because she used to work in insurance sales, a male-dominated business and everyone went by last names) says she tried to tone down her high energy on the island and be adaptable.
She grew up in a very conservative household and had to play catch-up after college in terms of watching “Survivor.” She even purchased the first 10 seasons from someone in China for $160.
The jewelry designer loves the game aspect of “Survivor.” “I’m so big on strategic communication and social interaction,” she says. “That’s what I majored in college.” (Towson University in Maryland.)
As a vegetarian, the meager “Survivor” diet may mean she might have to break that. Before going on the show, she bulked up on Chipotle burritos and gained 12 pounds.
A world traveler, she created a good cover story for her friends. Then again, she has been very vocal about her “Survivor” fandom so who knows what friends thought when she disappeared for seven weeks.
Her favorite “Survivor” in the past was Sandra Diaz-Twine, a great strategic player who is the only person who has won twice: season 7 and season 20 (”Heroes vs. Villains”).
Probst, in a video assessing the 18 contestants, said she’s “kooky, unpredictable.” “I wouldn’t trust her in an alliance,” he said. “I wouldn’t trust her to not forget what we talked about yesterday.”
Freberg, 25, is a bartender in Hermosa Beach, Calif. and grew up watching “Survivor.” He spent a year overseas after Dartmouth as a volunteer elementary school teacher in Micronesia (site of a past season of “Survivor”). He applied a couple of years ago but didn’t make the cut. He did the second time around. “I’m actually grateful I didn’t go on then,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been ready. I was this young, cocky frat kid with no life experience. Now I’m just a young, cocky kid with some life experience under my belt.”
Unlike many contestants, he didn’t fatten up for the show. “I leaned myself out,” he said. “I wanted to get my metabolism down. It’s kind of counter-intuitive but my goal was it would help sustain me, that the lack of fuel wouldn’t affect me as much.”
His strategy was not to necessarily make friendships but be sensitive to people’s feelings. “People get confused,” he says. “This is not real life. The way I carry myself on the show isn’t the same way I treat people in real life.”
Probst said Freberg is the “prototype” for a ‘Survivor” contestant: “He’s young, he’s good looking, he looks like he’s from the jungle,” Probst said. “Women will like him. Guys will probably want to be hang out with him.”
There are also three returnees, a couple of whom had medical issues and had to leave the show, including season 2’s Michael Skupin, the first person to have to be airlifted off the show after he severely burned his hand in a fire. More than a decade later, he’s back. In the preview videos, he looks fit at age 50 and ready to win.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk