Exclusive: Leslie Nease talks about her 'Survivor: China' experience
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/05/2007
Leslie Nease believes her mouth got her into more trouble than her faith as a Survivor: China castaway.
Regardless of what did her in, the 38-year-old Christian radio talk-show host from Tega Cay, SC became the third castaway eliminated from the long-running CBS reality competition series.
On Friday, Leslie talked to Reality TV World about how she's a Survivor buff (no pun intended); what role she believes God played in the competition; how she became the "mama" for the younger castaways; and what she thinks led to her elimination.
Reality TV World: How did you end up being cast for Survivor: China? Was it the first time you applied for the show?
Leslie: (laughing) No, no, no, no, no. I tried out 11 times.
Reality TV World: Wow!
Leslie: I know. But the truth is I just don't give up. When I want something, I go for it. I knew that I would be on Survivor one day, and I thought well I'm just going to have to wait until they wise-up and give me a call.
Reality TV World: So I'm assuming you watched a lot of Survivorbefore going on the show.
Leslie: Yeah. I'm a big fan.
Reality TV World: What is it about the show that drew you in?
Leslie: For one thing it scares me to death. The thought of doing it terrified me, and I don't like being afraid of something. An another thing, I watched all the seasons, but specifically it was [Survivor: Africa]. I was watching that season, and the very end of that season Jeff Probst asked every one of [the castaways] if they would do it again, and they all said they would do it again in a heartbeat. Now this is after the most miserable Survivor ever. At that moment I thought I'm so going to have to do this because there's something to this show that you really have to experience. You can't experience it by watching it, you have to actually do it. I didn't know what that was, but now I do. It was very cool.
Reality TV World: How did you prepare yourself both physically and mentally prior to leaving for the competition?
Leslie: I went swimming a lot. I'm pretty physically fit anyway. I take fitness classes. I did a little bit more running though, I tried to increase my endurance a lot. I also just memorized a lot of scripture because to me, I knew not having my Bible was going to he hard. I love to read the Word, spend time with the Lord that way. So I really just tried to prepare myself that way.
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Reality TV World: Even though host Jeff Probst had stated otherwise before the ceremony began, you commented how the trip to the Mi Tuo Temple to participate in a Buddhist ceremony "felt like worship." Do you think leaving the ceremony before it was over impacted the way your fellow castaways looked at you?
Leslie: Well, it definitely put a spotlight on my belief system from the very beginning. What they didn't show though honestly was, I was in there for over an hour. This thing went on and on and on. And at the very end is when they had us actually get down on our knees. It was literally the child's pose is what it was. It was a yoga pose, but it was in front of Buddha. At that moment, I thought, "Alright Leslie. Just pray to Jesus. You don't have to really worship this thing." Even though it felt like worship to me.
The thought crossed my mind if I were to make-out with another man and then tell my husband, "Well honey, I was thinking about you the whole time." He would still be hurt. I guarantee it. I couldn't do it to the Lord. To me it felt like worship. I'm not a theologian, I don't know if it was, [but] it felt like it to me. I tried not to impose my beliefs on anybody else. I was trying to be true to myself.
Reality TV World: After the ceremony ended, you told Jeff that, "I'm not a religious person but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ." Can you explain what that means? Was that just game play?
Leslie: No. Absolutely not. It's Leslie. That's who Leslie is. I grew-up in a very religious environment where it was a lot of work. It drove me from the Lord. I ran. As soon as I could I ran from church. I didn't want anything to do with it.
Then I realized about four-and-a-half years ago that it's really not about anything I could do because I could never be good enough. It's about having a relationship with Jesus Christ and having it through his righteousness, not mine. And so when I hear religion it makes me cringe because I know what it did to me. To me religion is man's way to God, but Jesus is God's way to man. I wanted to make that distinction so people wouldn't think I was doing something to just be religious.
Reality TV World: What were the first few days at Fei Long like since the tribe was successful in the early challenges?
Leslie: The first few days were amazing. I was like, "Yes! I'm on the best tribe ever. We were really strong, we were really unified, and then we got hungry (laughing). [Fellow Fei Long member James Clement], he just got really cranky. I love him and he made me laugh but he was not a happy man. At one point I said to the cameras, "I don't care if I never eat again but will somebody just please feed James!" (laughing)
Reality TV World: What was Fei Long's food and water situation like? Was that crab the only thing you caught with the fishing equipment you won?
Leslie: The whole time I was there we hardly ate at all. We had snail risotto a couple times. Went out and found some snails and threw them into the pot of boiling rice. It was disgusting (laughing). Really we didn't eat a whole lot at all. In nine days I lost 17 pounds. So it was tough. It was really tough. Try doing these hard challenges -- these combative challenges -- without any food in your system. It was tough!
Reality TV World: The younger Fei Long members took to calling you "Mom." Can you explain where that came from and what it meant?
Leslie: [Fellow Fei Long members Courtney Yates, Todd Herzog and Amanda Kimmel] all called me "Mama." I was there for them... I truly did care about every single person out there. Specifically Courtney and Todd, the three of us were the ones that always had to sit out. It was like, "I want to play!" And [the other Fei Long members] were like, "No! You're too little." So I called them "my munchkins," and I was "Munchkin Mama." We just had a bond. I fell in love with the two of them They're just precious to me and always will be. Unfortunately they can only show so much so they didn't show too much of that.
Leslie: Initially Jaime was going to give it to Courtney. She told me that. Then she changed her mind because she got to know and spent most of her time at Fei Long with me, which we didn't get to see. Jaime and I really formed a nice relationship. She really liked me. She was afraid [Fei Long] was going to try to vote me out because I was sick.
So she gave [the Hidden Immunity Idol clue] to me out of a gesture of kindness. I'm surprised -- maybe I'm wrong, I really thought it was a gesture of kindness -- but I was really surprised when the editing showed [Jaime saying], "I'm going to give it to the weakest person." And showed her giving it to me. I really wasn't the weakest person (laughing). I think I might have been weak at that point because I was sick, but I fought. I still fought in the challenges.
Reality TV World: Why do you think you got along so well with Jaime?
Leslie: We're both from South Carolina. She reminds me a lot of my daughter Stephanie, who's almost 18. Real bubbly... You see her, she is a ray of sunshine in life, and that's how Jaime is. I needed that at Fei Long because we were having a hard time morale-wise. It was refreshing.
Reality TV World: You're a Christian radio talk-show host and Todd is an openly gay Mormon, which at first glance, would seem to make for an unusual pairing. Given your strong faith, why did decide to share the Hidden Immunity Idol clue with Todd of all people?
Leslie: I know, isn't that crazy? Only on Survivor. The truth is, I prayed before I went out there that the Lord would help me see people for who they were, not for what they were. And to me, Todd was a person. He was a very sweet person who knew the game; who was a fan of the game; who I knew was smart. I didn't realize he was as devious as he is, but you know what? Hey, good for him.
He outwitted me and I think what is kind of sad is that they didn't show was Day 2, Todd and Amanda came to me and asked me to be in an alliance with them and [Aaron Reisberger] and James. So we had a five-person alliance. Aaron and Amanda were really close. They didn't show this, but they always slept together. You know, not slept together, but they were always snuggling at night. I thought there was a romantic thing going on. James was sort of withdrawing because he was just hungry and cranky and wanted everybody to die (laughing).
So Todd was the only one left in my alliance and I thought, "Okay, I'm going to form a trust bond with him and hopefully this will be a way for him to see that I trust him and maybe he'll trust me." But unfortunately he outwitted me that's all. He's a kid and I love him and I could hug him. Don't think that I'm mad or anything.
Reality TV World: Did you ever have any idea that the thing in the archway might have actually been the Hidden Immunity Idol?
Leslie: Yes. It was the very first thing I guessed. I told Todd I said, "It's that right there." I said, "But we need to keep looking." Then I saw "The Art of War" -- the scrolls -- because Jeff gave [each tribe] the scroll and I thought, "Oh that's it!" But I should've gone with my first instinct.
It's just there were four of them, because there was one on each side of each pagoda at our camp and I didn't know which one it was. I needed the next clue, and unfortunately, I shared that information with Todd and then ended up leaving. So hopefully -- Hopefully! -- he'll find it.
Reality TV World: So he hadn't found it before you left?
Leslie: As far as I know he hadn't, but I don't know.
Reality TV World: What made you comment that Jean-Robert Bellande would be the first to go from Fei Long if and when they went to Tribal Council?
Leslie: Everybody said so! And I asked everybody before we left [for Tribal Council], "So it's Jean-Robert right?" And they all said, "Yup." So I thought I was voting with the majority, I really did. I thought it was either going to be Jean-Robert or Courtney because of what had happened with the ax [at the second Reward Challenge]. But I didn't want it to be Courtney! I was hoping it was Jean-Robert.
Reality TV World: What was your reaction when Zhan Hu member Dave Cruser went naked at the Reward Challenge? Why do you think he did it? Did it offend you?
Leslie: It didn't offend me, but I was like, "Why?" It didn't make any sense. I mean I think it was strategy -- to give him some sort of credit here -- that being naked would make other people not want to go near him. But I think he underestimated James, because James doesn't care. James is like, "Whatever, I'm still going to knock your butt off the boat." It was stupid I thought. But you know what? He's just crazy Dave... You've got to love him.
Reality TV World: You seemed to really enjoy your time with Zhan Hu when they "kidnapped" you. What was it about their tribe that was different than Fei Long?
Leslie: They were having fun (laughing). They seemed to know a lot about each other, they seemed to be asking questions about each other. I thought back on my time at Fei Long and all we did was work our butts off because we were afraid if we didn't, that somebody was going to vote us off for being lazy. So it was really refreshing to just kind of be! At Fei Long we never sat down, we never stopped working. We just went, went, went, went, went. And at Zhan Hu it seemed like they never started working. There needed to be a balance.
Reality TV World: It seemed like you kind of dished some of Fei Long's dirt to Zhan Hu while you were kidnapped. Was that the case?
Leslie: No. Jaime had already told them her opinion about everything. She told them that Aaron was the leader, and that was really the only thing that I said that I regret saying, because really all I did was talk about what everybody did for a living, because these people didn't know those people. So I was like, "Oh no, this is a really great person. [Fellow Fei Long member Denise Martin] is a lunch lady and Courtney is a waitress." I was just telling them what they did. I wasn't really didn't give away any tribe dynamics that Jaime didn't already tell them.
Reality TV World: Do you think the bond you formed with Zhan Hu hurt your standing with Fei Long? Were you actively trying to form any alliances with any Zhan Hu members?
Leslie: I did have sort of a sub-alliance, but not one that was really going to override my alliance at Fei Long. I told Jaime when she was at my tribe and she gave me the clue, I said, "I'll tell you what. Now here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to tell Todd so the two of us will be a team here, but you go back and talk to [Zhan Hu member Eric Huffman] about this. We'll just make sure that between the four of us, we're the only ones that know about this clue. If you guys win the Reward Challenge, kidnap either me or Todd and we'll make sure either you or Eric gets the clue." Basically it was like a sub-alliance to try and get each other to the merge.
Reality TV World: Interesting.
Leslie: It wasn't shown at all. But I was really proud of myself! I thought that was pretty friggin' brilliant (laughing)!
Reality TV World: Was Courtney really as horrible in the Immunity Challenge as it looked on last night's broadcast?
Leslie: I don't know if you noticed, but right before the challenge she looked at me and she said, "Pray for me Mama." And I fell apart at that moment. I totally fell in love with her. I just love this kid. She's just so much more than she's trying to portray.
So I prayed for her the entire time, just that she would finish strong. As weak as she may have seemed, to me, I think her heart came through on that challenge because she didn't give up. I was so proud of her. I couldn't have been prouder of her. I hate that we lost, but I'm just tickled for her that she finished.
Reality TV World: Given how frail she looked and her challenge performance, were you surprised Courtney didn't ended up with a single Tribal Council vote?
Leslie: Yeah, I thought for sure that the reason they were being so evasive with me is because they were getting ready to vote off my Courtney. I thought they didn't want me to know because they knew it would hurt. But they were being evasive because they were voting me off (laughing)!
Reality TV World: There's been a lot of talk about how someone as obviously underweight as Courtney could even get on Survivor. Last month, Jeff told the media that she had somehow managed to pass the show's physical, but do you think the producers did the responsible thing in allowing her to compete on the show?
Leslie: She's just genetically like that. She's not an anorexic. She eats, she just has a quick metabolism. I was worried about her out there to be honest with you just because I got real maternal. I don't know what happened, all of a sudden I just wanted to mother everybody (laughing). So I was worried about her, but Courtney's a strong girl. She's got a great attitude. Initially it came-off as off-setting, but I think that's just her hard exterior. She'd kill me for saying this, but I think she's just precious. I think it's her defense mechanism, and I think it will help her in the game. I'm praying she'll just go all the way. I love Courtney.
Reality TV World: Last night, Jean-Robert said you "seemed to be breaking down every single day." The broadcast didn't seem to show much of that, was it an accurate statement? Was he talking about when you were sick?
Leslie: I think he was talking about when I was sick.
Reality TV World: They didn't show much of that.
Leslie: They didn't, and I'm really glad! I tried to hide it but apparently I didn't hide it well enough for [Jean-Robert] to notice that. It was hard for me. In nine days I lost 17 pounds.
Reality TV World: Was it like former Zhan Hu member Ashley Massaro, like vomiting?
Leslie: It wasn't vomit...
Reality TV World: Yeah, I understand. Okay.
Leslie: Let's just say some people think it's funny but it's not (laughing). Especially when you're on Survivor and you're trying to play a game. It was a cruel blow as far as I was concerned... No pun intended (laughing). But it didn't last the whole time. But during that time I got really weak. But you know? During that time is when I jumped on Dave during that challenge and held him back, so whatever. I was still strong.
Reality TV World: You just said Courtney has a lot of "heart," but do you think Fei Long's lack of what you described as "heart" will hurt them down the line?
Leslie: That was my first thought as soon as they voted me off was, "Guys, you've got to get it together." I really hope it doesn't affect them. I hope that when they voted me off they realized we need to be a little more civil to each other. We need to get past this and be stronger as a tribe. I'm hoping that they've learned and that it will unify them more.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised at the Tribal Council vote that led to your elimination?
Leslie: Yes. I was very surprised and really sad about it. But also, my pastor has always said, "Man's rejection is God's protection." So that gives me peace at least knowing that He's protecting me by allowing that to happen when it did.
Reality TV World: Do you feel your religious beliefs were a factor in your ouster?
Leslie: No, I think it was my mouth (laughing)! I was just way too vocal about how strong Zhan Hu seemed in their morale. I didn't do that because I wanted [Fei Long] to think I was going to cross over, it was because I wanted to bring that to our tribe. They just misunderstood me, that's all.
Reality TV World: After you were voted out, you said "Apparently God's ready for me to go home." What did you mean by that?
Leslie: If you read the Bible -- specifically Proverbs 16 -- it really talks about how God is in control. Like we might have plans, but God determines our steps. I believe He's sovereign. I believe he had me on there for a reason, and I don't think it was for me to win $1 million. I don't think it was. I think if I would have, it would have been just icing on the cake. He just knew that I needed to have this experience for some reason and I just trust Him. I knew I wasn't going anywhere until He thought it was time.
Reality TV World: Do you believe that God is controlling who gets voted out at every Tribal Council vote or who wins the challenges? Was it that specific?
Leslie: It's just I believe that God is sovereign, which means He is in control. The Bible's very clear that many are the plans of man's heart, but the Lord determines his steps.
Reality TV World: During this past summer's Big Brother season, Jameka Cameron -- another Christian -- told the rest of the cast that everything was already pre-determined and God had already decided who was going to win the competition before the season even began. Did you feel the same way about Survivor?
Leslie: I just feel that God is sovereign and He's in control and He knows everything before it happens. I mean I want to serve a God who knows all. God is omniscient. He knows everything. So yeah, I believe He knows the outcome before it happens.
It's funny, one reporter asked me before the show started, "Okay, you're a Christian. Does that mean God's on your side?" I said, "No. Not at all. God's on everybody's side. The difference is I just try to be on His."
Reality TV World: Is there anyone you would really like to see win? Anybody you don't want to see win?
Leslie: I don't want to see Jean-Robert (laughing). I was really surprised he slipped through. Ugh. I was so shocked. As far as who I want to see win, you know, I think anybody really at this point. They're all a bunch of good people. I, of course, am pulling for Courtney. I think it's kind of a long shot because she's so thin, but she might be able to be a swing vote. Who knows? That would be really cool. I'd like to see her go far.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy going into the game and do you think it worked?
Leslie: My strategy was to be myself and be true to myself. I absolutely did everything I set out to do. Unfortunately I didn't win, but you know what? It's funny because I feel like I did. I got to live my dream and I walked out of there with my head high.
Reality TV World: So what's next? What are you doing now?
Leslie: Well you know I'm a mom, I have four kids. I have my radio show, and I have a speaking ministry that I've had for years. I just want to continue in my life. I love my life, and if God opens doors for me, I will run through them.