As a full-fledged "Survivor" fanatic, I'm proud to say I know a Survivor.
Well, sort of.
Leslie Nease of Tega Cay joins the cast of "Survivor: China," premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on CBS.
Nease was a columnist for our sister publication, Lake Wylie Pilot, at the same time I was a writer. I never actually met her, but I spoke with her numerous times and even interviewed her when she was named a finalist for a guest co-host spot on "Live with Regis and Kelly." I discovered she's easy to talk with, bold in her faith and full of personality.
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But does she have what it takes to outwit, outplay and outlast 15 other castaways in the ancient south central province of Jiang Xi?
She'll be walking in the footsteps of some of reality TV's greatest characters. To give you a taste of what she's up against, I've compiled this list of the top 10 Survivor contestants.
This retired Navy fighter pilot found Survivor's first hidden Immunity Idol early in "Survivor: Panama, Exile Island," but he kept it in his shorts pocket the entire game. Turns out, he never needed it. He dominated competitions and made it to the final three before Danielle's loyalty to Aras sent him packing. In doing so, Terry joined the growing list of Survivors who should have won, but were ousted because of the threat they posed.
Colleen Haskell was the "girl next door" in the original Survivor. Everybody liked her -- including rival tribe members -- because of her easy-going attitude and bubbly personality. She was the last remaining original Pagong member after the merge. When she was voted out in the 11th episode, her final words were, "Be nice, play fair." Colleen went on to co-star with Rob Schneider in the 2001 comedy "The Animal," and later was asked to return for "Survivor: All-Stars." She declined.
As one of America's all-time favorites, this Harley-riding Texan dominated "Survivor: The Australian Outback" by winning eight individual challenges (reward and immunity). He played a flawless game until, in a surprise move, he chose Tina over Keith to take to the final two. This mistake in judgment likely cost him the game when the jury gave its votes, and the $1 million prize, to the mom from Tennessee. Colby got a second shot in All-Stars, but was the seventh person voted out. No reason to pity the guy, though. In a 2004 CBS online poll, Colby was named the sexiest male castaway of all.
This Midwestern truck driver may not be the greatest player, but she deserves a nod for her impassioned "rats and snakes" tirade against the top two in the final tribal council of the inaugural "Survivor." She called Richard a snake and Kelly a rat, then urged jury members to obey the laws of nature by letting the snake eat the rat. Then, she told Kelly that if she ever saw her in a desert, dying of thirst, she wouldn't even stop to give Kelly a sip of water -- she'd rather see the vultures get her. Ouch!
This guy was made for "Survivor." In the first episode of last fall's controversial "Survivor: Cook Islands," which divided tribes by race, Ozzy scaled tall palm trees like a monkey, collecting coconuts to feed his tribemates. He spearfished like a pro, swam like a dolphin and dominated challenges. He won five Immunity Idols to earn a spot in the final tribal council, where he lost to Yule in a 5-4 vote.
Better known as Jonny Fairplay, this obnoxious professional wrestler will always be known for masterminding the greatest lie in Survivor history. Before leaving to join the castaways on the Pearl Islands, Jon came up with a plan to have his friend Dan tell him that his grandmother had died if they made it to the family and friends reward challenge. All went as planned and Dan delivered the line in an Oscar-worthy performance. Others took pity on Jon and let him win the challenge. Later, he told the camera, "My grandmother's sitting home watching Jerry Springer right now." For the next few weeks, Jon milked the lie and swore on his dead grandmother as he played both sides of the game. His lies took him to the final three, where ironically Boy Scoutmaster Lillian gave him the boot.
When the Ulong tribe dwindled down to two in "Survivor: Palau," Stephenie, a pharmaceutical sales rep from Philadelphia, was the last Ulong standing after she made fire faster than Bobby Jon Drinkard. Unfortunately, her torch was snuffed out after she had no choice but to join the Koror tribe. Fans were excited when she resurfaced the next season as the twist in "Survivor: Guatemala." This time, America's sweetheart Survivor took on a harsher strategy that required her to vote out members in her alliance. She made it to second place before falling to former beauty queen and sports radio personality Danni Boatright. She should have won, but the bitter jury said she had an unfair advantage coming into the show with Survivor experience.
In "Survivor: Marquesas," Boston Rob was known for his aggressive attitude, which backfired after a tribal swap in the fourth episode. He didn't go down in Survivor history until All-Stars, where he formed an alliance with sweetheart Amber Brkich, and the couple dominated the season physically and strategically. They made it to the final two, and he should have won if not for the jury's hatred toward him. But no matter, he still got the girl. Before votes were read at the live finale, Rob proposed to Amber and she said yes. Some vomited; others cheered. Their wedding was televised in a reality show special and they starred in "Amazing Race 7" and "Amazing Race All-Stars."
This troubled teen's mentor from Indianapolis grabbed our attention in the first episode of "Survivor: Pearl Islands" when he stole shoes from the opposing tribe to sell in a Panama village. "We're pirates!" he exclaimed. But his flawed strategy of being a provider, combined with the physical threat he posed, sent him packing far too early. Despite his eighth-place finish in Pearl Islands, Rupert returned in All-Stars, where he played a more low-key game and made it to the final four. In a surprise twist in the All-Stars finale, the man known for his shaggy beard, shy smile and tie-dye shirt took home a $1 million prize for capturing America's heart in a vote cast by viewers.
This self-proclaimed "fat naked guy" shocked the country when he was crowned the original Sole Survivor. As the show's first villain, he was crude and cocky -- on day one, Richard said he "already had the million-dollar check written in his name" -- but his role as a provider kept him in the game initially. After a while, other players wanted him around because they figured he was so hated that no one would vote for him in the final tribal council. Wrong. He grabbed four of seven votes and became the Survivor that America loves to hate. Eight seasons later, it was clear Richard entered All-Stars with a target on his back. He was ousted early, but not before going head to head with a shark. The shark bit him, so Richard bit the shark back. Then he carried it back to camp and cooked it for dinner. How could you not call him the ultimate Survivor?