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Under the Dome
May 15 2012, 12:00 PM by Christine Montgomery
This year's Survivor runner up, Sabrina Thompson, is the kind of person you may want to be alongside in a real-life castaway situation. There's no doubt her experience working as a teacher in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the United States has trained her to be a resourceful, peace-keeping leader who knows when it's time to step down and let other people shine. After a strong beginning in the game, Sabrina decided to fade into the background, but always remained in what she calls the "nucleus" of her tribe. Her strategy got her all the way to second place in the game, and Sabrina is the first to admit she couldn't have lost to a more deserving winner. Offering valuable insight on Survivor based on her experience as a teacher and former TV producer, Sabrina explains to us why she decided to fly under the radar, how she came to be the narrator of the season, and why she was the only Survivor: One World castaway who never worried about being the next person voted out.
Your confessional before the final tribal council about being a teacher and empowering your students was incredibly moving.
It was what a lot of Americans don't see. Some people would think I teach in a third world country, just how bad it is in that area of Brooklyn. I just want to expose the kids to something outside of life from what they know. And guess what? if they don't like what they see, they can always come back to their neighbourhood, but a lot of them are just so afraid to take that one step. And I said "If I could be a role model and do it than maybe they can take a risk too."
What has been the reaction from your students to watching you on Survivor?
Let me go back full circle to before:
Before I got a call saying they were interested in me for Survivor I got another saying that I was laid off, or that I was going to be laid off. So I said "let me just go ahead and do Survivor" and when I came back, and it took about a month, they said "hey we have some funds and it's in the budget to rehire you."
When I came back and I only taught for one semester, because of how bad the neighbourhood is. I knew there was no way I could teach and be on the show during the same semester because they would attribute it to "hey look she's walking around and she has money" just because I'm on TV. When in actuality, no one gets a cheque until the end of the show. . It was a little bit too risky so I took a semester off, but the kids have been contacting me pretty much through Facebook and Twitter. They've been so ecstatic, and they say "Oh my god where is that in the world?" Before I took the semester off I was able to draw them a map of Samoa and say "we're here" and talk about the foods, and how the natives were really nice to us after the show and before the show. The (students) were really into it. It was a teachable moment.
You got a lot of screen time the first few episodes.
That was interesting. A lot of people were saying to me "oh my god it's the Colton & Sabrina show!" Later on people were saying to me "I want your confessionals to be more strategic, what were you doing strategy wise?" I think I fulfilled the role as a narrator. Because they do like people who tell stories, and I was a former TV producer so I know what it is to tell a story in sound bites and get to the point, and I think producers really appreciate that. And you know, I have to give it a little bit of colour to the confessionals. I think they were preparing for an under the radar edit for the rest of the season, so I think they stacked me up for the first two to three episodes.
What was the biggest challenge you faced as a castaway on Survivor?
The high levels of paranoia, I didn't expect that. I expected to be like "you can't trust this person" but that was at an all time high. You're always constantly thinking "someone is out to get me" even when you're trying to sleep, when you're getting up, when you're going to use the bathroom.
At the beginning of the season you were named the leader of the Salani tribe and then seemed to sort of fly under the radar after the merge. Was there a particular point where you made the decision to lay low?
First of all I didn't volunteer to be the leader. A couple of people said "oh I think she could be the leader, she's well spoken" and I'm just like "ughh crap, I think this is a set up." You know, be the leader and be the first one out?
I studied the profile of women who have been African American before on the show. There's only ever been one African American winner, and maybe one or two that have done really, really well - like Cirie. But the rest, I mean they're like first boot!
So in the beginning, I set the precedence that I can speak, I can voice my opinion, I think I'm the peace maker here if there are any arguments. But I knew right when there was a tribe swap right before the merge - we were in close proximity with the men, they were feet away from us and they had gotten word that Sabrina is the leader. I didn't want them getting word of that, particularly when there's a tribe swap.
So, I said let me lay low a little bit. And then when there was a merge I said "let me lay even lower." I had to throw a couple challenges, some of the challenges were just really hard. The first day out there, people thought I was lying when I said I was a school teacher. They said "no you're an Olympic athlete" and I said "really? Oh crap. Here's the target on my back, physical challenges." Sometimes I would just throw challenges a bit, there were some puzzles that were god awful hard.
Do you think in the end, you were have earned more jury votes had you done better in the challenges?
Yes and no. Being that it was a majority male jury, I think they appreciated someone who dominated the physical part of the game...But at the end of the day it simply came down to this - and this is what I've told every reporter and my family and friends. We had different games, Kim and I. And the jury simply was not a bitter jury. And if the jury was bitter I clearly would have won a million dollars but you know, they weren't bitter. And I couldn't have lost to a better person. She will go down in history as one of the best players of this game. I'm just hounored to play with her.
It seemed like you were the only person who was never worried about being voted out. Was an accurate portrayal?
I was so sure of our final 3. There were two factors going in - we want someone competent to win the money, someone who is responsible. And we couldn't look at Kat and Alicia and say "uh, would they blow the money?" We wanted to look to our left, and look to our right, and say "you know, I'm o.k. with this young lady winning." So we said "we gotta stick together all the way to the end." If we had decided to turn on one another, the next person in the nucleus would be gone in the next round, and in the next round. I was pretty confident that, and even looking at the episodes now where I saw a lot of people weighing their options, I was pretty confident.
A couple of the contestants were like "God you look so cocky out there!" and I was like "well, my name was only written down twice in the whole show!" I just really wasn't worried. I kinda mastered the middle game - staying under the radar but also being present.
Kim has been saying in interviews she wants to take you and Chelsea on vacation. Is that something you guys have been talking about?
We barely saw each other after the show but I overheard some of the stuff. And you know what? Hey, I'm down for it. I could use a good foot rub by a nice looking guy on the beach. I'm good for it.
Watch the finale and reunion episodes of Survivor: One World online.
How did Christina Cha deal with being the outcast of the season? How does Kim feel about being called on the greatest players in Survivor history? Keep checking our Tree Mail blog for interviews with castaways Christina Cha and Kim Spradlin coming very soon!
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