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Exclusive: Kathleen Sleckman talks about 'Survivor: Micronesia'


By Christopher Rocchio, 03/24/2008 

Kathleen Sleckman feels she's living proof that you never know what Survivor's going to be like until you actually do it.

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The 45-year-old golf course vendor from Glen Ellyn, IL quit the competition and became the eighth castaway eliminated from Survivor: Micronesia -- Fans vs. Favorites during Wednesday night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality show's sixteenth season.

On Thursday, Kathy talked to Reality TV World about if she regrets her decision to quit the competition; why she had felt like an outsider in the game since it began; and her message to viewers who think an "uber-fan" spot was wasted on her.


Reality TV World:  In hindsight, do you regret your decision to quit?

Kathy:  Well, if I told you looking back that I didn't think about it and could I have stuck it out? The answer is no.  I thought long and hard about it and mentally. I had nothing left to give.  It sounds weird, but it's true.

Reality TV World:  When did the game's emotional toll really start to affect you?

Kathy:  It affected me from the second we stepped on the beach.   It started there.  The division in our tribe, it blew me away that that's how we were going to be.  To be separated like that and kind of prejudged, I haven't had to deal with that since high school.  It was hard for me because I give everybody a chance.  The weather...

Reality TV World:  I guess to rephrase that question how long had you been thinking about possibly quitting the competition?

Kathy:  Well quitting is a strong word. (laughing)  It was like I did not want to quit.  I told [James Clement], I told [Parvati Shallow], "No matter how bad mentally I need to leave this game, I will never throw a challenge.  I don't have that in me to purposely go to Tribal."  They respected that.  They told [host Jeff Probst] that too.  As much as I was suffering, I would never throw a challenge to purposely go home.

Reality TV World:  Okay, so you had previously mentioned to your tribemates that the game was affecting you in earlier footage that the show didn't air?

Kathy:  I did.  I talked with [Natalie Bolton].  I talked with [Alexis Jones].  I talked with Parvati... I talked with all of them because  -- of course -- what I do is going to affect them.  I did not want to hurt any of those people.  I didn't want hurt their game.  They all talked and said they understood.  They all respected it.  I just lost it, you know?

Reality TV World:  You mentioned during Wednesday night's episode that missing your family was really starting to wear on you too.  Even when someone quits, the show still usually doesn't let you go back home until after the game ends.  Did you realize that when you were quitting?

Kathy:  I was completely aware of that.  The place I was in, it just gave me so much hope to get to the next step because that got me one step closer to them.  I know now it doesn't make sense, but it totally made sense to me at the time. Yeah, I know I'm not going home.  But to me in my mind it was that one step closer to being home -- being with them.

Reality TV World:  You commented how as a viewer, the elements don't seem as bad as they actually are...

Kathy:  Well they don't do they?

Reality TV World:  I don't know, that's why I wanted to ask if you were you really that surprised at how bad the elements would be?  It seems like someone who has watched the show before would anticipate that it could get pretty rough. 

Kathy:
  Completely surprised... Well, shelter-wise too.  Could we not find any place to get out of the rain?!  It took James to walk down the beach and find that cave for us -- it still was a cave -- but to even begin we could think we could stay dry.  It rained everyday, sometimes three times a day. 

You think you're prepared.  Mentally, you think, "Okay, I've got this.  I'm prepared."  Then it hits you and you go, "Wow, I wasn't even close to being prepared."  If I would have slept out in my yard with my sprinkler on for 12 hours and no blankets, I might have had an inkling. (laughing)

Reality TV World:  Had you not quit the competition, what was your plan going forward?  Had you established any alliances with any of the other castaways?

Kathy:  Going in I thought I'd go for the misfits -- people who don't belong -- until I realized, "Oops!  It looks like I'm the only misfit.  That's not good." 

I loved the tribal switch when we had the pick 'em because I got really close to [Jonathan Penner].  They didn't really show it, but he's the only one who would stay in the shelter with me once I lost [Chet Welch and Tracy Hughes-Wolf].  He said he would stay in my shelter, and outside I could hear [Jason Siska] trying to talk him out of it, saying, "No, don't stay with her!  Come and sleep in the cool kids tent."  [Jonathan] was such a gentleman that he said, "No.  I made a promise."

We talked strategy.  We talked who was hooking up -- who was with who.  Who would I flip.  I told him I would -- I know I'm supposed to stay close to tribal lines -- but the [Fans] didn't really give me much of a chance.  He treated me very well for 14 days, so... and I helped Jonathan.  I helped with his leg and helped him.

Reality TV World:  So was it especially difficult for you when he had to be medically evacuated due to that injury?

Kathy:  Yeah, they didn't show the stuff with Jonathan.  We had great conversations.  Whether Jonathan liked me or not really wasn't a point to me at that time.  I think he did, but to me I really felt a connection to him.  Then to lose him.  I was just like, "Wow, I'm the unluckiest person on Survivor."

Reality TV World:  Speaking of "unluckiest person on Survivor," you were sent to Exile Island three consecutive times. 

Kathy:  Thank you!

Reality TV World:  What was that like and did it play a role in your decision to quit?

Kathy:  When I got there with [Cirie Fields], she was so wonderful to me.  She was the first person who really was caring and nurturing.  We worked together, we were looking for that [Hidden Immunity Idol], that took us six-and-a-half hours.  I promised her I wouldn't help anybody else find it.  She asked if [the Fans] ever won a Reward Challenge, if I could get her sent back to finish looking for it.  I said, "Yes."  My word is all I have.

So I felt really bad [when I went to Exile Island] with [Ami Cusack], and I think the turning point on Exile was the night that Ami and I spent.  They showed the Airai camp with the storm -- they never showed me and Ami huddling against a rock, just getting pounded and freezing.  That was a brutal evening. 

I think I started having panic attacks before every Reward Challenge after that. (laughing)

Reality TV World:  Since you were there when he recovered it, at any point did you think that Ozzy Lusth might have the Hidden Immunity Idol?

Kathy:  Oh yeah.  Most definitely.  They made it look like I didn't care, I wasn't looking.  He told me he was looking for the clue, and I said, "Oh yeah.  You go ahead.  I don't care."  Because I knew [the Hidden Immunity Idol] was on Exile [Island itself], so why go island hopping?  I'd never keep up with him anyway.

So I did look for it as I was also collecting firewood and coconuts.  I kept thinking it was in a nook or a cranny above my head in the rock.  To this day I still don't know where that sucker was!  I watch.  I freeze-framed it.  I'm like, "Where is it?!"  I know every inch of that Exile Island and I still can't figure it out!

Reality TV World:  Despite being perceived as one of the weaker castaways, you were never actually targeted for elimination.  Why do you think that was the case?

Kathy:  Well I think the first one is because [Yau-Man Chan] helped me.  He pointed out the first [Individual] Immunity Idol to me, so [the Fans] couldn't go for me.  I think they wanted me first, but then they had to switch there little rotation.  Then we didn't go to Tribal for six days, I think we had six days to do other things.  Tracy worked her charm.  She was brilliant out there.

[Tracy, Chet and I] always held strong to the fact... When they wanted to vote out [Michael Bortone] -- Mikey B. was actually very nice to me that day and talked to me and I said, "I really don't want to vote out Mikey B.."  We just had a powwow where -- no matter what -- we're three strong. We held to that until we got broken up.

Reality TV World:  How much longer do you think you would have been able to go without being targeted if you had stayed in the game?  Do you think you would have ever been perceived as a threat?

Kathy:  Never.  Never in a million years.  I don't think they would because they looked at me as being old.  I mean the nut bucket [Immunity Challenge], I made about 11 shots in a row.  They didn't realize I'm athletic -- I've played sports my whole life -- they just kind of looked at me and immediately made a judgement.  I think in that respect they wouldn't have thought that they had to worry about me in a challenge.

Reality TV World:  We already touched upon this a little, but what ultimately led you, Tracy and Chet to form the bond at the onset of the game?  Was it really just based on the fact that you were the Fans' three oldest members and the other members treated you as outcasts for it?

Kathy:  In my opinion, yeah.  Alexis was nice and sweet.  Natalie didn't say much.  I don't think in six days [Mary Sartain] said 20 words to me.  It was -- in my opinion -- a forced thing.  We were not allowed to do anything.  Everybody wanted to be a hero.  We weren't allowed to handle the machete and when we won flint and they were using it all up, Tracy asked them if she could start a fire.  They told her to go away. They said no.  They would hide the machete.  They just made it really difficult.

Reality TV World:  How were you cast for Survivor: Micronesia?  Had you previously applied to the show before?

Kathy:  Oh gosh no!  I applied way back for what was really Season 8 -- I had no idea it was going to be an All-Stars season.  So Season 8 is when I put in a tape, which they then viewed for [Season 9's] Vanuatu [edition].  I made the city interviews, made the Final 50 out in L.A.  I saw [Chris Daugherty] and [Eliza Orlins].  I saw [Scout Cloud Lee], I saw [Travis "Bubba" Sampson].  I got really, really close and the final interview I blew [it].

I just kept sending tapes in. I sent in a total of five tapes, then the last two times I talked with [casting] I said, "I'm afraid of a harassment lawsuit."  So I just called the last two times and said, "I'm still in it.  I'm here, don't forget about me."  The one time I didn't call because my husband and I are building a house, they called me.  They found me.

Reality TV World:  Given you were on the Fans tribe, how much Survivor had you watched before the show? Had you seen every season?

Kathy:  Absolutely.

Reality TV World:  Some viewers have voiced some frustration and resentment that the show ended up wasting a valuable "uber-fan" slot on someone that really didn't seem committed to playing the game.  How do you respond to that criticism?

Kathy:  Like I told Jeff, I think 90% of the people in the world have good hearts and can understand hardships.  Even though I didn't have an infected knee that you could visibly see puss coming out of, in my mind, I went to a very, very... Mentally, I got broke.

It was very humbling to realize I've got a breaking point, and it that it hit me.  I didn't think I'd reach my breaking point, and I did, and it was a very humbling experience.  I had some bad thoughts, and because of that, I thought it was best that I had to leave. 

I do apologize to anyone who thinks that.  It wasn't my intent.  I love the game of Survivor.  I've always wanted to be on the show and do it.  I did go in 100% and I apologize to anybody who thinks that.  I gave it my all.  I had nothing left in my mind.  That's the hard part.  You can see Jonathan's knee.  You can see an infected heel.  But mentally when you're just in such a dark place because the weather, the people, the social activity... This is how they break prisoners.  You can't see it.

Reality TV World:  Did you do anything physically or mentally to prepare yourself before leaving for the competition? What was your strategy heading into the game and do you think it worked?

Kathy:  Well my strategy -- as I said before -- was to go in and always know that not everybody is included and spy out the misfits.  Like I said, I was in trouble before the game even started.  I figured out I was the only misfit. (laughing)  So that was hard.  But I could see other people forming alliances and I kind of went up to Chet and Tracy and said, "Hey, we're the three oldest ones here.  You guys want to just have an alliance without them knowing because we're the oldest?"  Then we were just kind of forced into it.

Everything I thought I would do in the game completely changed because of that.  I really thought we'd all be a team.  I didn't think it would divide seven against three. 

Reality TV World:  So did you do anything to prepare yourself?

Kathy:  I should have slept out on my lawn with the sprinkler on, and brought in some rats.  I tried.  You think you're prepared until you actually do it.  I gained so much respect for X Survivor players.  You never know what it's going to be like until you actually do it.

Reality TV World:  At this point, would you say a Fan or a Favorite has a better shot at winning the competition and why?

Kathy:  I think a Favorite because from the get go they just worked better together.  We tried so hard to tell everyone on our tribe, "We have to be unified!  We have to be a team!"  It just never happened.

Reality TV World:  Personally, which castaway would you like to see win?  Anybody you don't want to see win?

Kathy:  Go Chet!  Chet for the win! (laughing)... I really liked Parvati, who's very sweet.  How she is on TV, she's like that to everybody -- even coconuts.  I really liked her.  Cirie, I know really wants this badly.  I like Parvati or Cirie.

The person I wouldn't want to see [win], it rhymes with "Gracin."

Reality TV World:  So what's next for you?

Kathy:  I am hoping to get back to a normal life, which I'm very close to.  My husband and I -- not personally -- but we're building a house... The golfing season is upon us.  I think I was put here on earth raise a decent human being, so I'm working real hard at raising my daughter.

(Photo credit CBS)


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