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TV and treachery? What the heck

By TERRY TOMALIN
Published June 10, 2005


photo
[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Chris Crabtree, center, ushers out the previous Survivor hopeful as Kathy Danielson, 49, right, of St. Petersburg prepares for her two-minute interview for a new edition of the series. Danielson grew up surfing, so she decided to bring the surfboard as a prop. Auditions began Thursday afternoon at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.



[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Auditions for Survivor brought out intriguing characters -- including one Times writer.

photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
A crowd of approximately 300 waited in line at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Thursday for a chance to audition. Many camped out in the hotel's ballroom since 6 p.m. Wednesday for their shot at fame and fortune.
photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
St. Petersburg Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin begins his two-minute video audition for a spot on the reality show.
photo
[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Kathy Danielson, 49, left, of St. Petersburg, Alison Dye, 31, center, of Lecanto, and Regan Hensley, 30, right with pillow, of Largo, all met while waiting in line to get a shot at an audition for Survivor.

TAMPA - The plotting began long before the cameras started to roll.

"Watch that guy," Terry Reniger said, pointing to a sun-burned man in a pink hat. "He's been trying to form alliances since last night. He's already been voted off the island, twice. "

Wait a minute. ... Alliances? Island? These Survivor fans take this show seriously.

The diehards had begun arriving at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. They hoped to be among the 350 who got a chance to audition at 2 p.m Thursday for the 12th edition of the granddaddy of reality TV programs.

Each Survivor wannabe filled out a 15-page application and then was given the chance for two minutes in front of the camera. Two minutes to convince producers he or she should be among 16 finalists to compete for $1-million when filming begins this fall at an undisclosed site.

When a colleague heard about the auditions, he suggested I give it a try, noting that decades of experience in the great outdoors might give me an upper hand.

So I downloaded an application off the Internet. Here are a few of the questions, obviously designed to see if I have what it takes, and my answers:

Favorite TV show? Touched by an Angel.

Favorite movie? Gladiator.

If you could hold any political office, what would it be and why? President of the United States. Why not?

The craziest, wildest thing you would do for a million dollars? Go on Survivor.

Then I sat in a ballroom Thursday afternoon with several hundred other hopefuls and waited for my window of opportunity.

Scanning the room, I sized up the competition. One woman was dressed in full scuba gear. Another brought a surfboard. Several men wore combat fatigues. One man wore his Cub Scout leader uniform.

"I am here to return honor to Survivor, " said Dan Fite, the 49-year-old leader of Pack 120. "Good guys can make it to the top."

When my turn came, they ushered me into a little room and gave me the signal to begin.

"I've sipped champagne with movie stars and killed a wild pig with a spear," I began.

I spent the next 110 seconds talking about the sum of my more memorable adventures ... swimming from Alcatraz, paddling a canoe to Bimini, backpacking through New Zealand, hanging with witch doctors in the Amazon...

"To tell you the truth, I doubt there is anything you guys could throw at me that I haven't seen before," I said, not trying to sound cocky. " "Survivor can't be any harder than chasing two little kids around all day."

In truth, the only thing I would find difficult about spending seven weeks in the bush is not being able to tuck my kids in bed, or kiss my wife good night.

Back out in the ballroom, I asked Reniger, a Survivor devotee since the show first appeared in May 2000, what he thought I could do to become one of the 800 lucky ones from 12 cities who advance to the next level.

"I would start with your hair," replied Reniger, who owns a salon in New Port Richey. "Have you thought about blonde highlights?"

Barbie Puglia, a legal assistant from Palmetto whose real name is Nicole, overheard our discussion and explained that, despite her multiple personalities, she did like my hair.

"You've got that style thing going," she said. "Mousse?"

"No," I replied. "That's bait slime. I went grouper fishing this morning."

That is when Jeff Nolen, the infamous "man in the pink hat," returned and tried to lure me to the dark side.

"I like your shirt," the 40-year-old from New Port Richey declared. "Let's talk."

But Cheryl Clark, the 38-year-old owner of a lawn care business in Bradenton, warned me about joining Nolen's team.

"He's trying to form alliances with everybody," she said. "Watch out. He'll vote you off the island."

Shocked and disillusioned, I went off in search of my own posse, hoping to form an alliance that could withstand even the Axis of Evil.

"What's with the karate uniform?" I asked James Kendrick as he awaited his turn before the camera.

"I am a martial arts instructor," the 42-year-old from Lakeland replied.

I told Kendrick I was looking for a good man to cover my back if and when we made it to the island.

"Do you have any survival skills?" I asked.

"I can chop wood with my bare hands," he replied.

"Good enough."

So we headed back through the crowd to find Nolen and the rest of his Pink Hat Mafia.

"He went to the bar," said Reniger, the hairstylist. "I take it that you have formed your own alliance?"

I smiled. Kendrick and I had agreed to split the cool million, 50-50.

"If they find out, you'll be disqualified," Reniger said.

"What if we cut you in for a third?" I said.

He smiled. I was finally learning what it takes to be a survivor.

[Last modified June 10, 2005, 08:08:04]


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