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All aboard the Survivor: Second Chance express. Our destination: Koh Rong, Cambodia. Population: an estimated 1,100 people. None of our castaways will have a chance to meet any of these locals, however, as they compete for a second time in hopes of doing what they failed to do the first time — win.
For me, thankfully, the pressure’s off. I’m not competing this time; I’m part of the press. I’ve signed up for nearly 20 hours of flying, four hours of driving in a sweltering van on a bumpy dirt road, followed by a two-hour boat ride to this season’s Survivor location.
That’s how much I love this game and these people. I can hardly contain my excitement.
After two days of travel, my crew and I arrive at what will be our island home for the next week and a half. We’re working to produce the preview specials for Survivor: Second Chance.
I’m completely jet-lagged as I drag my travel-weary body out of bed to make our 4:30 a.m. call time to greet the contestants at Ponderosa. Today is interview day. We’re going to talk strategy and get the scoop on what everyone’s really thinking. I know many of these people, and I’m beyond curious to find out who wants to align with who, and how these guys are going to change up their gameplay this time.
My adrenaline kicks in, waking me up as we hit the beach and get started.
As we cruise through the interviews, we are in a constant battle with the weather. It’s rainy season in Cambodia, and that means the day vacillates from sweltering, unbearable heat to torrential downpours. We take many long breaks to keep the equipment safe and the contestants dry.
‘Survivor: Second Chance’ contestants arrive.
By the time the sun is setting, we’ve only spoken to about half of the cast. This means we’ll have to return tomorrow for the rest of the interviews and cast photos. I’m exhausted, but I know that my fatigue doesn’t remotely compare to what our contestants must be feeling. They’ve been through an emotional whirlwind — from competing for America’s vote, to being chosen on live TV, to immediately boarding a bus and traveling to Cambodia, to doing all of the pre-game interviews with producers and press. And, all the while, they aren’t able to speak to one another or any of their loved ones at home.
It’s clear to me after our first round of interviews that they are all bursting out of their skin to get this game started!
I crash under my mosquito net, praying that the gigantic spider who’s taken up residence in my bathroom stays put. I barely sleep a wink.
The morning light struggles to break through the thick cloud covering around 5 a.m. as we head back to Ponderosa to wrap up interviews. Today, the weather cooperates much better. It’s less rainy, but it’s hot. It’s so hot, we have to take regular breaks to find shade. I guzzle water in an attempt to keep up with the amount of sweat that’s pouring from my body. This season, the elements are going to be grueling. I say a silent prayer for my friends going out there to compete.
Shallow (at top) assists a teammate during the challenge.
Later that afternoon, we say goodbye to the contestants and board a large motor boat to take us to challenge beach. At Jeff Probst’s request, all the members of the press are going to test out the first challenge of the season. It’s an awesome throwback to the first season of Survivor with a few twists. I love it, and I believe [season one’s] Kelly Wigglesworth will appreciate this one as well.
While my team doesn’t win the challenge, I do manage to score a hidden immunity idol. One of the twists this season is that idols are hidden at challenges. This complicates things in a big way. As a player, are you brave enough to go for the idol in plain sight? Or do you play it safe and let the opportunity go?
It’s been a big day of talking strategy with contestants and competing in challenges. Time for a quick night swim in the gorgeous Gulf of Thailand. The water is perfect. It’s just me, the millions of stars and the flying fish enjoying the night. A big fat smile spreads across my face. I feel so connected to this land.
The next few days are a swirly, colorful composite of interviewing, checking out the art department, playing in more challenges, ocean swimming and mingling with old friends from the production crew. I’m loving my time in this beautiful country, and at the same time, I’m thinking about my friends at Ponderosa. They must be so anxious to get started. I’d be going absolutely nuts with all this downtime.
Shallow (in white hat) cheers on her teammate during the challenge.
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for arrives. The press crew excitedly jumps in a boat and speeds off toward the grand show opening, lovingly dubbed “the marooning” by production.
We arrive to a massive scene set in the middle of the ocean. The water is clear as crystal and separates itself into layers of turquoise and deep sapphire. There isn’t a cloud in the sky as Jeff Probst steps out onto the deck of a large pirate ship stocked with supplies — pots, cooking utensils, coconuts, bananas, chickens — for our castaways. After being divided into two tribes, they will have mere moments to grab as much as they can from the boat before racing toward another boat that houses a huge bag of rice.
This is going to be fun!
As Jeff stands at the helm, our contestants slowly pull up toward the pirate ship. The moment is thick. Everyone is silent, and as I take it all in, it seems that time comes to a complete stop.
The heavy silence is broken when Jeff begins to speak. He tosses out buffs, and this game is on!
I don’t think any of the contestants notice me standing quietly in the safety of the floating barge that holds the press and a few intently focused cameramen. The thought crosses my mind that these cameramen may be feeling the pressure just as much as the contestants. In Survivor, there aren’t any retakes — for anyone.
As any Survivor fan knows, the game rewards those who make bold choices and seize opportunity as it arises. This game will be no different. With the new twists and a cast of returnees, the game will demand every ounce of mental, physical and spiritual energy these players and producers have.
After my time watching it all get going, I’m even more amped up for the show to begin.
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