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Read "Master of the Ego Challenge" in the July/August 2000 ADVENTURE.



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Stacey Stillman
 
Survivor Castoff
Age 27
Home San Francisco
Day Job Corporate Lawyer
Gilligan's
Island
Counterpart
The Professor, With a
Dash of Ginger
 
    "Loyalty is very fleeting."
 
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CBS's huge hit, Survivor, has it all: rats, bugs, beaches, and backstabbers—the stuff of dreams for TV producers like Mark Burnett.

About 6,000 people applied last spring for the chance to spend 39 days stranded on a Malaysian island with no shower, no cell phone, and not much to eat. Every three days an unlucky islander was sent packing, voted out by others and humiliated on camera. The last remaining castaway (the final two were voted on by the last seven to leave) got a cool one million U.S. dollars.

That wasn't Stacey Stillman, who was booted off Pulau Tiga on the third episode. In her time on the island, she paddled, built, and foraged with the rest of the Survivors, even winning a challenge for her "tribe" by downing a few live grubs. The way the show paints it, though, Stillman's eye-rolling and bellyaching did her in.

For Stillman, though, it was all about the adventure.


  What made you try out?
 

It seemed like the ultimate adventure. I travel a lot, and I've always fancied myself the "Professor" type. I wanted to see what I was made of.

 
  Overall, was the experience what you thought it would be?
 

It was not at all like I thought it would be. I was expecting the actual survival part to be a little harder, and I expected it to be a little less about group dynamics. But it was rewarding, and I would do it again.

 
  Did you ever feel in danger?
 

Yeah, I did, actually. When we first had to take our rafts to the island, it took two hours to paddle in, and I knew one guy couldn't swim, Gervase. And I knew that there were sharks in the water.

The snakes were also really dangerous. We came across them a bunch of times in our path, and we just had to stand still and wait for them to move.

 
  What did you spend the most time doing?
 

For the nine days I was there we were always searching for food and trying to find ways to be less stinky and get enough water.

 
Could you ever forget about the cameras?
 

I didn't, because they were always in my face. And that's what we signed up for.

 
  How physically challenging was life on Pulau Tiga?
 

It was pretty physically challenging in that we were really, really hungry and probably dehydrated. It was 95F [35C], on the Equator, and sunny. And the situation we were in forced us to be quite active during the day, as well as keep ourselves out of the rain at night.

We were also trying to impress each other with our ability to build stuff.

 
  How mentally challenging was it?
 

It was very stressful. Everyone was second-guessing each other and manipulating, and I think that's coming through on the show a bit. But I think the worst of the manipulators are not really being exposed as of yet.

 
  Do you think these "manipulators" will be exposed?
 

Absolutely. I can't wait.

 
Did you ever feel that the producers were trying to "script" the show?
 

I don't think the show was scripted, although I think that, from the 60,000 hours of footage they got, they're picking out certain story lines and making them as dramatic as possible. They can't invent footage, but they're leaving out a lot of the explanatory material.

Like in the bug-eating episode: After we got the challenge clue they showed me walking down the beach looking like I was leaving my tribe in a huff. But they cut out the part where I said, "Guys, I've got to go to the bathroom. I'll be right back." They seem to be determined not to show any camera shots of me actually smiling, which happened a lot.

 
Were you portrayed accurately?
 

I think I was portrayed in a very unbalanced way.

I think they could have shown a lot of the conversations I had with my fellow castaways about who they are and their lives. I spent a lot of time really trying to get to know who these people are....They didn't give me a lot of positive camera time.

 
  What were your impressions of producer Mark Burnett?
 

I thought he was really crafty. I felt a little bit manipulated, in that certain things that I was told beforehand were untrue.

For instance, I was promised that the show would be a very accurate portrayal of the ins and outs of island life and that he wasn't interested in spinning the characters at all.

 
  Burnett told ADVENTURE: "Too bad the folks on the show couldn't really make it on their own. We're going to have to give them rice and things to keep them going. They'd die otherwise." Was that true?
 

Yes. The island they put us on had no fruit that we could locate. They gave us a book, a laminated guide, to island flora and fauna. The gist of the book was "don't touch, don't eat anything, except a yucca root," which we couldn't find anyway.

They put us in a bad situation. They gave us fishhooks knowing full well that it would be practically impossible for us to catch fish without a spear and a snorkel.

 
  What about eating the bugs?
 

Oh man, that was nasty.

It crossed my mind that I might have to do it. I just sort of buckled down and did it. It was really, really disgusting. In fact, I went on The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn, and they made me eat a bug. And I just got off The View, and they wanted me to eat a bug.

They didn't quite understand that that's not my gig anymore. So I refused to do it, and I think they were mad. I don't want to be known for that forever!

 
  Are you surprised at how popular the show has been?
 

Yes and no. I'm surprised that people take it so personally. I had a radio junket this morning where it seemed to be every morning show's agenda to make me look horrible and treat me terribly.

Don't people understand that this is a TV show and I'm taking my time to talk to them? They had the nerve to play me a bunch of songs that went off about how much of a bitch I am and why I was kicked off and how horrible the show is.

 
Did you feel betrayed when Susan voted you off after telling you that she was voting for Rudy?
 

No, because I suspected the whole time that she was going to do that, and I knew she'd done it before. She wouldn't look me in the eye.

I knew I was getting voted off, and I know I came off as really catty and sort of bitter, but I didn't feel that angry about getting kicked off. I was more relieved.

 
  You were pretty indignant after you were voted off, saying, "They kicked off their bug-eating hero instead of their food-stealing, stumbling, ornery old Navy SEAL."
 

I thought that was funny. In the footage that aired I was laughing when I said that. I was psyched to get back to the mainland and get my massage. Everyone was taking it very seriously.

The first thing I did say when I got kicked off was, "Nice people, fun game, good luck to all of them." But the producers provoked me to say more. They said, "Why do you think you got kicked off?" So I started rambling, and it was my impression that what I said was just for the producers, but that's all they put on the Survivor Web site.

Of course, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. Everyone railed into [previous Survivor castoffs] Sonja and B.B. for not speaking their minds, and then I do and of course I'm the villain.

 
  Do you feel you pulled your weight on the island?
 

Around the camp I did, but I clearly was physically weaker when it came to the challenges, and the others were really concerned about the challenges.

 
  Do you think that's why you were voted off?
 

I think it was a combination of that and the fact that people just didn't get my personality. I think they have the same personality conflict with Rudy, but he's more useful physically.

 
  Did you ever want to tell Richard to put his shirt on?
 

Oh, man. I have a picture of Richard naked except for a water canteen around his middle. He spent half the time naked.

 
  Are you serious about the nudity?
 

Yeah. He put us all in kind of a bad position, because we couldn't really confront him about it. You're in this game where you don't want to offend anybody, and it sort of forced us to be offended and not say anything to him.

 
Were you surprised by who the winner was?
 

I think the show is very unpredictable. You're only as good as your last few hours on the island. Loyalty is very fleeting, as demonstrated by the people who kicked me off after I saved them from the previous tribal council.

 
If you had to do this all over again, would you?
 

In a second. I wouldn't change a thing.

I did the best I could with the information I had at the time. What they choose to show, they choose to show. They had 60,000 hours of tape, and if they wanted to paint me as the bitchy lawyer, whatever I did, they'd find a way to do it.

I think I did a great job. I don't think it's being portrayed in a balanced way, but that's the game. I'm actually having fun with it and enjoying being the villain. I have a whole set of experiences I remember, and then I get to watch them again through this sort of Melrose Place lens.

 
 
—Nancy Gupton
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Photograph by Monty Brinton/CBS

 

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