Alumna Stars on Survivor Philippines

Shortly after traveling with Birthright Israel, Roberta Saint–Amour (or RC, as she is known by viewers), participated in the challenge of a lifetime as a contestant on "Survivor: Philippines", now being broadcast in the United States.


In this interview (translated from the original Hebrew) with Yediot Acharonot's Smadar Shiloni, she discusses her experience.


"Survivor" reminded me of World War II

December 1, 2012
Yediot Acharonot
Smadar Shiloni

She had climbed the snake path to Masada during the "Taglit" (Birthright) Project, but nothing prepared her for the deviousness of the participants of the "Survivor Philippines" series currently being broadcast in the United States, says Roberta Saint-Amour, the first member of the "Survivor: Philippines" jury in the 25th season, in an interview.  Beware – spoilers

By Smadar Shiloni ,  December 1, 2012  Yediot Achronot

Just before Roberta Saint–Amour (or RC, as she is known by viewers) auditioned for the 25th season of the American series, she travelled around Israel on the Taglit "Birthright" project.  She climbed Masada, went down to the Dead Sea, wandered around the Golan Heights, swam in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), and endured Zionist camping.  All this impressed the producers of "Survivor" who decided that, if RC can survive Israel, she has a good chance of surviving the Philippines.

"When they asked me during the auditions if I had ever spent time out in the nature, I told them that "I had done Israel", she tells us in her home in New York, "and I think that was why they chose me.  I actually used a lot of the skills I picked up in Israel".

Unfortunately these skills didn't take her as far as most of the viewers would have liked (particularly the male viewers, judging by the reactions she received), and she was the first to leave the newly emerged tribe, making her the first jury member this season.

Since filming finished in May 2012, RC, 27, has already returned to her job on Wall Street, to business suits, accounts, the rise and fall of share prices, to her life in the Jewish community of New York.  "You are all so lucky with the weather you have (in Israel)", she says during our interview a few days after the Superstorm Sandy.


At least you have Obama.

"You like Obama in Israel?" she asks, making a face.


Quite a few people like him.

"The Jewish community here feels that he doesn't support Israel enough and I, personally, am very sensitive about issues concerning Israel.  We will see in four years' time".

RC's time in the Philippines was short and not particularly sweet.  The person responsible for this was Abi-Maria, who made RC's life miserable. Or, as RC says, "A girl aged 34, who still hasn't even finished college", with whom she had made an alliance at the beginning of the game, which later proved to be a regrettable mistake. 

Because this season began with three tribes – as opposed to two in previous seasons – the options open to RC were limited.  Minutes after she formed an alliance with Abi and hinted to her that she had found the hidden immunity idol, Abi began to attack her, claiming that RC was going to betray her.

Abi then formed an alliance with another player called Pete, and continued to scream at RC and isolate her from the other members of the tribe.  RC's only consolation were two relatively older players – Lisa Welchel, famous for her role as Blair in the TV series "The Facts of Life", and Michael Skupin, who had taken part in the 2nd series of "Survivor" but had to leave after falling unconscious into a bonfire and suffering burns all over his body.

"Anyhow, it was difficult for me to be without my family for two months", recalls RC. "Family is so important for the Jewish community, and, in any case, during the game you are on an island with people you cannot trust.  You are in actual fact alone, even if you are surrounded by others".

I still can't understand why Abi was so spiteful to you all

"Abi has a big mouth.  She just struts around shouting at everyone, causing chaos.  But everyone put up with it because they actually wanted her to reach the finals, knowing that she had no chance of winning.

She is just a negative and evil person.  She made so many excuses, but, ultimately, she just wanted me out, and I understand why.  I am everything she will never be.  For instance, she didn't want to stand next to me in a bikini".

Just how bad was it being isolated?

"Very bad.  People didn't speak to me, not even the people who liked me, to keep the alliance and in case she would think they were traitors.  I was very active in the tribe. I helped to win challenges and worked really hard in the camp.  But, instead of seeing that as an advantage, I was looked upon as a threat.  It is very hard to carry on when you are in a tribe with six others, none of whom will talk to you.  Even just being nice to me or talking to me was dangerous for them, because then they would become the next victim".

The torch was extinguished.  RC was eliminated

"It was very scary, and it reminded me of the 2nd World War, when the Jews were in Germany and the Jews in Italy and the USA didn't lift a finger to help, to avoid being a part of it.  But their time came as well and, when they turned to their allies, they found out there were no allies left.

"That is a mentality based on fear. 'I am glad it's someone else and not me'.  But, eventually, it will become about you as well, so it is would be best to stand behind someone you believe in. Ultimately, history repeats itself, even on 'Survivor'.  Thankfully it is only 'Survivor' and not the Holocaust, but there are tangents in human nature".


Couldn’t you try to reason with these people? 

"No.  The greatest fear of all is reason.  I tried again and again, particularly when I wanted to change sides.  I explained to the second tribe that I want to give them my voice, but even Jeff Kent, a veteran baseball player, wasn't willing to hear the voice of reason.  He was obsessed with eliminating Jonathan Penner.  That was his sole strategy.  It was rather comical".


The division into three teams wasn't necessarily to the players' benefit.

"Correct, because we didn't have many alliance options.  When you are in a tribe consisting of only six players, you have no place to hide, all the cards are on the table, there aren't many deals to be made, or steps to be taken.  So, even though we did not lose the challenges, I was aware of my place in the tribe.

"It is very frustrating. I am clever enough to understand a situation and the dynamics involved, but there was not one person in the tribe who was clever enough to shift things.  Or brave enough.  After the alliance, I got closer to Jonathan Penner, who is also Jewish and comes from New York, so we had a lot in common and we tried to work together.  But it was too late".


Had there been more contestants from New York, do you think it would have been easier to succeed?

"Definitely.  I was a typical city professional young woman, but, unfortunately, there was no one like me there.  I have never encountered people like this before.  I grew up in New York, went to college and I work in Wall Street.  I have always been surrounded by successful and intelligent people.  To meet people who I would never have come into contact with in my regular life was exciting, but I just couldn't communicate with them.  If there would have been another intelligent person from the city like me, it would have been easier".


Let's just hope that Penner will continue to represent the Jewish race

"Yes, they won't cast us anymore.  We are too clever to be on reality shows".


It's like an open wound.

After leaving the Philippines, RC returned to her usual survival environment – as an investment banker on Wall Street.  If she thought that she would be able to gain from the aggressive aspects of her work on the island, she was mistaken.  "A woman working on Wall Street has to be aggressive", she says.  "And when I watched 'Survivor' at home, I was certain that everyone spent their time forming strategies and alliances, and would always be willing to change direction.  Once I was on the island, I understood that it is not the case.  The producers make it seem that way in order to maintain drama.  By the time you go to the tribal council, people already know who they are going to vote for, so the discussions at the council do not really influence voting".


Apart from the first council you sat in the jury

"That was crazy. In actual fact, the filming of the council took three hours.  That is a lot.  Everyone was in danger, and I think that is why this season is good.  The players are not really very good because they do not form or maintain alliances.  So, that is great for the viewers, because they don't know what is in store.  It is very dangerous on the island for that very same reason".


How was the Jury experience?

"Very painful.  After being eliminated, they take you to another location, but you keep going over it again and again trying to work out where you went wrong.  On the other hand, you try to put it behind you, to heal.  Then, every three days, you return to the tribal council and you have to see the people who eliminated you, and you really don't want to be there.  But that is part of your work.  It's like a wound that cannot heal, because you have to sit there and you cannot talk".

What is Probst like in real life?

"He is very, very handsome.  One of the women who was eliminated tried to kiss him at the tribal council.  I should have thought about it", she laughs.  "He is wise and very good at getting the truth from people.  If you try to lie to him, he will not give up till he has exposed the truth to the tribal council, so I was a little afraid of him".

Israelis are sexier

While "Survivor Israel" suffered changing rating results, the rating in the USA continues to steadily decline.  The second series gained the highest rating (almost 30 million viewers), while the number has dropped to 11 million viewers for the 24th season.  In order to prepare for the Philippines, RC watched the third Israeli season set in the same location. "The cast of the Israeli program were much sexier than in ours", she smiles.


As it happens, most of the viewers referred to the way you look.  I have even heard offers from "Playboy".

"There are no offers from 'Playboy', but it is really flattering because I usually wear business suits and am all covered up.  So I enjoy the reaction from the public because I am not used to it.  My confidence definitely grew each week.  I kept all the material so, if I am having a bad day, I can read good things about myself".


Is "Survivor" still popular in the USA?  Do people recognize you in the street?

Yes, people recognize me in New York which is strange, because people here don't usually make eye contact with others.  But sometimes people come up to me and ask for my autograph or just stare.  Yesterday I went to a local bar and someone came up to me and said 'You look familiar'.  That line doesn't work for me anymore.  Yes, I was on TV so I most probably seem familiar.  You will have to come up with a better line".

Do you think you will be able to enjoy the coming seasons of "Survivor"?

I already feel like it is has lost its magic.  I know what happens behind the scenes, and I know about a lot of things that are not shown, so that is the difficult part.  They focus on specific characters more than others.  I will continue to watch, but it won't be magical like it used to be.

But would you refuse another chance on the island?

"I think that it is all according where I am at that time.  I invested a lot in preparing for "Survivor", exercise and puzzles and I actually put my life on hold.  There is so much stress involved, even when filming has finished, especially if you don't win.  I came back with many questions about what I could have done differently.  So my first answer would be 'no'.  In any case, Mark Burnett, the producer, would have to assure me that he would not put me on an island with Abi.