I have always considered myself an adventurous person. I have jumped off mountains and cage-dived with sharks. So, when the opportunity to be a Survivor for 24 hours presented itself earlier this year, I grabbed it with both hands.
In February, M-Net flew over a group of local journalists to the Philippines, where the current season of Survivor South Africa was filmed. I was incredibly excited because this Asian country was one that I had always wanted to visit. I was even more excited that one of my best friends (another journalist) would also be on the trip.
Although we were only going to start competing on Survivor once we got to one of the remote islands in the Philippines, it felt as if we first needed to survive all the travelling.
My journey started with a quick flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, where I met the other journalists. Unlike with the real Survivor, where contestants do not know where they are going to or who they will be playing against, we got to check out our competition.
Before we knew it, our 12.30pm Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong was boarding. Once in Hong Kong, we boarded another flight to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, then took another flight to Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island and then a six-hour drive to El Nido, our final destination.
After the near 24-hour journey, all I wanted to do was have a hot shower and sleep for at least 12 hours. I got my first wish, but not the sleep. In our rooms, already waiting for us, were information packs on the dangerous animals we might encounter and what to do in an emergency while playing the game.
While sitting on my comfortable bed and watching the possible recall of then-president Jacob Zuma making international headlines, I questioned my sanity.
The next morning, we were awakened before sunrise. We were briefed and had our personal belongings taken away. We were only allowed the clothes on our backs and any chronic medication we might need.
I could take my allergy medication with, but it could only be administered by a producer, if and when I needed it. No sunglasses, watches, extra clothes or even vaseline for our dry lips could be packed. We were also placed under “gag order” and we were not allowed to speak to each other until we arrived at the island.
My bestie and I communicated through facial expressions, though, conveying our anxiety that kicked in as soon as we climbed into the boat that took us to the island.
The boat ride was long and I was running out of escape options the further we moved away from the shore. Once we stepped foot on the island, it was game time and our first challenge for the day. Just like on the real Survivor, we had to swim to a “bunka”, which had food and supplies and materials. We then collected whatever we could in 60 seconds and rowed a raft to the shore.
Once we were given the the go-ahead, I jumped into the water, navigated through a coral reef and waited at the raft, ready to row while other team mates collected our supplies. We managed to obtain important supplies, such as wood and rice.
After a disastrous attempt at trying to row the raft, I soon realised it was tied to some rocks underneath the water. I grabbed the machete, cut the strings and we started to move.
Once on the ground, we looked at what we had collected and decided to get to work. We were a tribe of 12, so we needed to work together. Some started making a fire and, thank goodness, they were successful.
Others started looking for banana tree leaves for a roof and some started with the shelter, while two others soaked up the sun on the beach.
Of the supplies selected, there was only fruit and, as I have an oral allergy syndrome to all raw fruit and some vegetables and nuts, alas I could not eat anything and starved all day.
I have a very strong personality, so I tried my best not to say much and be overly involved in many things. I did not want to have a target on my back, but the game had already started and although we all knew it was not the real game, we definitely played it as if it were.
With our self-proclaimed architect failing dismally at making a shelter, I felt the need to step in and steer that ship away from the iceberg that it was about to hit. In doing so, I had immediately drawn a target on my back – the dear architect was not happy and wanted me off the island.
He felt that my bestie and I were a threat and needed to be separated. I knew this because every teammate he spoke to, came right back to me. So I need to make sure I had a strong alliance.
While ensuring I would be safe at tribal council, the excitement and laughs wore out with the others and tempers flared. One complained about their make-up melting, some fought over oranges, while others injured themselves badly enough for a paramedic to visit us.
A few hours later, we were transported to our immunity challenge. The challenge was on a different island, where filming for the real show was wrapping up. We would be doing the same challenge the real Survivors had undertaken – how exciting!
It was for individual immunity and two idols were up for grabs. We were divided into two groups of six and the Survivor SA host briefed us on the challenge and rules.
We were to make our way through a series of balance beams, get through a mud pit and collect blocks with images on them. There were nine blocks to collect and all had to be stacked at your station in the correct way in order to win and you could only start putting them in the correct order once you had all of your blocks, which were very heavy.
The sun was blazing and I wanted to win, in order that I could stay.
I still had a target on my back and even though my bestie had one too, mine was a lot bigger.
After the briefing and after the first group played, it was my group’s turn. This challenge was difficult and, in order to be successful at them in general, you needed a burst of energy, which was sometimes difficult to find.
I made my way through the multiple balance beams, carried those heavy blocks and looked at how to place them, all the while listening to Nico shouting out his comments about who was in the lead and who was lagging behind.
I tried to focus only on my pace and, as soon as I heard him say someone else was in the lead, I pushed myself – just in the nick of time too, because it won immunity for me. Yes, I won. It was a close call, with others in my group falling short by just a few seconds.
I was ecstatic and proud of myself, people often underestimate me because of my slight frame, but, boy, did I surprise them. The entire challenge was filmed by a production crew who said they called me a gazelle, because I “jumped through the challenge the quickest”.
I have to admit, my win became a problem for those wanting to vote me off the island – their faces said it all. After winning the challenge, I had another one back at the island, ensuring that my greatest ally would not get a vote, but that challenge was affected with a detour, because we were taken to tribal council immediately after our challenge.
There, Nico pulled all the right strings, just like any puppet master would. He knew about every argument, misunderstanding and even about our disastrous shelter, which was not at all complete, might I add. The claws came out and people did not hold back. The lazy ones were called out, alliances were revealed and emotions ran high.
We never even spent a day on the island, yet the game had been in full swing. We voted and there was a tie, meaning both contestants would leave the island. However, we were all given the option to leave and go back to our hotels because of a cyclone warning issued by the Filipino government.
With no shelter and tensions running high, we all welcomed the hotel option and left. All I wanted to do was wash my hair, have a hot shower and get a charcoal mask on my crusty looking face, because I knew I was not looking like my usual gorgeous self.
On the boat ride back, I reflected on the day’s activities and realised a few things. One, my big personality would not be enjoyed by others in a game like this and I would need to keep a low profile for a while.
Two, I have an incredible ability to push myself, so I would probably kick some butt in challenges. Three, I would need to do a lot of mental preparation if I ever played this game for real. Your mind does play tricks on you and, like everyone else, you can get paranoid.
Survivor South Africa: Philippines airs every Thursday at 19:00 on M-Net 101.