Melissa McNulty explains how she became 'Fiji's lost survivor
By Christopher Rocchio, 02/07/2007
Melissa McNulty thought Survivor: Fiji would help her deal with the challenging panic attacks she regularly suffers from. Unfortunately anxiety was too much for the 28-year-old to overcome, as she dropped out of the fourteenth edition of the CBS reality competition series only a few hours before filming began.
"My No. 1 trigger [for panic attacks] is being in a situation where I can't get out. I get a claustrophobia kind of panic," McNulty told TV Guide in an article published on their website on Wednesday. "I had multiple panic attacks in one day, which I've never experienced before. I tried to pull myself together, but..."
The "but" is that she couldn't deal with what she was feeling, a realization that led the fourteenth installment of Survivor to feature 19 castaways instead of 20, making McNulty Fiji's lost castaway. "I spoke to my point person and said I was getting overwhelming panic attacks," McNulty told TV Guide. "They sent me to the on-site psychologist, and the producers talked to me. They were very accommodating. They wanted me to stay, and it was my decision to decide that I was not in the mental state to participate."
Because her decision came so soon before filming began, McNulty had already had publicity photos taken and even had her Survivor ringtone recorded. "I will do anything it takes to win this game," McNulty said in CBS video footage that was shot during the period contestants spend on location prior to filming. "I'm single, I'm out here to have a good time. If you don't think I'll use these to my advantage [pointing to her breasts], you're probably in the wrong game too. I've got a head but I've also got these too."
McNulty said she made producers aware of her panic attacks during auditioning, and she added they did "ample research" to assure her mental state was good. But the attacks were still on her mind when she arrived in Fiji. "I suffer from panic attacks," acknowledged McNulty during the pre-game video footage released by CBS. "It's one of those things where I strategically have to play it right. That's my biggest worry, that I'm going to have one of these stupid freakin' panic attacks and people are going to think, 'Oh. She doesn't want to be here!'"
Her would-be fellow castaways didn't have a chance to think it because McNulty made it a reality too quickly, however she said she has "nothing negative" to say about her short-lived Survivor experience. "It was wonderful," she told TV Guide. "They got me home very quickly. They didn't make a big deal or make me feel bad."
Survivor host Jeff Probst said since McNulty's decision came so close to filming, there was no time to find an alternate. However he added the situation "turned into an opportunity for something fun and it worked out great."
"Survivor is not an easy game," said Probst. "And I think [McNulty] started fearing the unknown. When we put them in lock down and they can't talk, the pressure started mounting."
McNulty said she's aware that thousands of people apply for each season of Survivor, and in many viewer's eyes "they'll think I failed."
"I'm kicking myself in the butt. I know I should be on this! I was chosen, I was ready. I know I could have won some challenges. Outwit, outlast, outplay. I had it down, but I didn't last," McNulty told TV Guide. "In my own eyes, I succeeded. I was really pressing my limits to even go on the show. It was really awful when I came back, but... I'm a stronger person because of this. Also, before I was embarrassed by my panic attacks, and now I've decided to be honest and not shy away. Forty million people deal with this!"
While the West Hollywood talent manager plans on watching Survivor: Fiji when it premieres on Thursday, February 8 at 8PM ET/PT on CBS, McNulty said she can't dish on any of the castaways because of the pre-production sequestering that prevent the contestants from interacting with each other before filming starts.
"I never even heard their voices! We weren't allowed to talk to each other before the game," McNulty told TV Guide. "I wasn't there long enough to know what was going on. Not that I'd tell you, if I could."