By Meghan Siegler
Editor of The Meredith News, Winnisquam Echo & Gilford Steamer
Local “Survivor” fans were treated to a visit recently from Betsy Bolan, who spilled behind-the-scenes secrets about her time as a castaway on the currently-airing “Survivor: Samoa.”
Bolan, a part-time Campton police officer and mother of four, visited the Pines Community Center in Northfield in support of the Youth Assistance Program of Northfield, Tilton and Sanbornton. Though admission was free, donations were accepted. Bolan said she understood how important it was for kids to have places like the Pines.
“It was a rough and rocky road growing up,” she said.
After being voted out two episodes in, many might think Bolan traveled a similar road on “Survivor: Samoa.” Bolan, however, recalls her time there as the trip of a lifetime.
“I was a huge fan for years and years and years,” said Bolan, who applied 13 times over six years before making it onto the show. “When my youngest was 2, I was thinking, I need a vacation. It sounded perfect to me, because there was no laundry involved.”
Bolan was chosen once before to interview in Boston, based on the application she submitted online. After that interview, though, she never heard back. This time, she got a call and was flown to Los Angeles for a week, where she interviewed with Jeff Probst. She was contacted three weeks later and told she had made the final cut.
“I couldn’t tell anyone I was going,” said Bolan, but she had to tell Campton selectmen to get the time off from her job, so the news was in the meeting minutes. “The whole town knew.”
Bolan flew to LA, then took a 15-hour flight to Samoa. The contestants arrived a week before the game started and weren’t allowed to communicate, for fear they would form alliances. They received a rulebook and an “Outdoor Survival Guide” to read prior to the game. One suggestion read: “There are nesting birds in some of the trees. They roost mostly at night. Find them. Hit them with a stick. Pluck them, gut them, and cook them on a spit.”
After a week had passed, they were given clothes and told it was press day. Instead, they wound up meeting with Probst and Producer Mark Burnett for a rundown of the rules and a “don’t quit” pep talk.
The contestants then rode together on a canvas-covered truck, still without talking, until they reached a place where their canoes were set up. They silently canoed to shore, where Probst and “tons and tons of cameras” were waiting.
“That’s when it hit me,” Bolan said of realizing she was actually on “Survivor.”
A few facts that Bolan learned about the show during her six days on the island: the producers pre-pick the tribes; nothing is staged; each tribal council actually lasts about an hour an a half; Probst is really as “genuine, nice, funny (and) sincere” as he seems; and cameramen are almost always less than three feet away from you.
“It’s scary being on these shows, because you don’t know how they’re going to edit you,” Bolan said. “My strategy was just work hard, just be useful at camp.”
The nights were cold (Bolan’s “spooning buddy” was Natalie), the challenges were hard, and the food was not plentiful, Bolan said. Still, eating coconut crabs was a treat for her.
“That was my dream, ’cause I was so sick of chicken nuggets and pizza,” she said.
Bolan brought a map of her Foa Foa tribe camp and one of the “tree mails” the tribe received. She also passed around a canteen she brought home from the show, one of several that fellow Foa Foa tribe member “Evil Russell” dumped water out of in an attempt to rile his tribe mates. Bolan said she didn’t know he’d done that until she watched the show at home along with the rest of the country.
“He was just a little leprechaun type guy,” she said. “I just knew he was a snake.”
Unfortunately for Bolan, that knowledge is what sent her packing so early, as Russell didn’t like that she was on to him and convinced the tribe to vote for her.
“He is the only person in my whole life that I couldn’t look at,” she said. “I still should be on there. It kills me.”
It wasn’t all bad after getting voted off though, Bolan said; instead of roughing the cold, rainy nights, castaways were sent to a Ponderosa, where they ate good food and watched movies. Once 10 people were voted off, that group was sent to Fiji so the next group of castaways who would make up the jury could stay at the Ponderosa. Bolan and her nine fellow Survivors stayed in five-star hotels in Fiji for five weeks.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “It was a vacation of a lifetime. I’ll never be treated that well again.”
Bolan said she gained back the 10 pounds she lost in Samoa while dining in Fiji.
Once the show wrapped, 39 days after it had started, Bolan and her castmates flew home.
“That was the best part,” Bolan said. “Coming home.”
Bolan’s husband and children met her at the airport in July, after eight weeks without contact. For now, Bolan is taking “a little vacation” from her police career, though not because of the extra income she earned while on the show – the first person voted off gets $2,500, and it goes up incrementally from there.
Bolan and her family will fly out to LA for the reunion show Dec. 20.
So who is Bolan rooting for?
“Shambo I love,” Bolan said. “She really does have a good heart.”
Bolan said she and Shambo were the only ones on the show who didn’t know the casting director or otherwise have an “in.”