By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling firstname.lastname@example.org
Ashley Underwood, central Maine’s most famous elementary school nurse, won’t have an opportunity to cut throats during Wednesday’s season premiere of the notoriously cold-blooded reality television show “Survivor.”
Three of her former teammates, however, will appear on the show, and she thinks they will surprise audiences as they attempt to out-scheme each other in pursuit of the show’s million-dollar prize. Underwood, 27, grew up in Benton, starred on the Cony High School and University of Maine basketball teams and later was named Miss Maine USA. She made a splash on “Survivor” in 2011 by nearly toppling one of the most dominant winners the show has ever seen: “Boston” Rob Mariano. She wasn’t chosen as one of the 10 players to return to the game, however, saying only, “They have their reasons for why they bring certain people back.” Life is different now for Underwood, who tended to a boy’s bleeding nose as the school nurse at Atwood Primary School in Oakland on Tuesday before standing for a quick photography session. Underwood said people at the school and around the state continue to associate her with the show. “Everyone wants to ask questions about the behind-the-scene stuff,” she said. Often, she said, she is asked whether the cast ate more than the slight amount of rice shown on camera. “We literally don’t get anything,” she said. “People are always amazed by that.” While she has one foot rooted firmly in reality, she also has become a reality celebrity. Underwood’s circle of friends now includes many people who have enjoyed 15 minutes of fame. Mariano, for example, now sends her Christmas cards with pictures of his family every year, she said. Usually his three daughters are decked out in Red Sox gear, but this year, she said, they wore dresses. Including his wife, former “Survivor” winner Amber Mariano, “it’s funny that he has four girls that are probably running his life,” Underwood said. Underwood also has occasional contact with another “Survivor” contestant from Maine: Bob Crowley, a 61-year-old physics teacher at Gorham High School who won the show’s $1 million prize in 2008. Underwood said she most recently saw Crowley at a wedding last summer. “He’s a good dancer,” she said. “He was twirling me around the dance floor.” ‘Survivor’ spectator Underwood won’t return to the show this season, but three of her former island-mates will: 38-year-old Francesca Hogi, of Washington, D.C.; 23-year-old Andrea Boehlke, of Random Lake, Wis.; and 54-year-old Phillip Shepherd, of Santa Monica, Calif. “It’s going to be funny to watch them now,” she said. The returning players will have an advantage over the 10 first-time players, she said. “Like anything else, you do something once and you learn from your mistakes and would have had time to think about what you would have done differently,” she said. Underwood said her relationship with some people outside the game is much different than what it was while the game was going on. That difference is evident with Hogi, who finished in last place after Underwood and her fellow tribemates plotted against her while she slept. Since then, Underwood said, she has gotten to know Hogi, particularly when the two were tent-mates while climbing the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro to benefit a Kenyan orphanage. “I’m rooting for her more than anyone else,” she said. Among the first-time players, she said, she has her eye on Hope Driskill, a 23-year-old fellow beauty pageant queen from Jefferson City, Mo. “If you’re a young pretty girl, you have a target on your back right away because you’re seen as weak and not doing a lot around camp,” she said. Underwood said Driskill, and all the new players, must work hard in the early going. “You want to be helpful around camp,” she said. “Right from the first, there’s not much to vote on. If you’re lazy, they’ll probably get rid of you. If you’re strong in the first challenge, that’s good for you.” And, of course, she recommends that people put their desire to win the game ahead of their need for rest. “Nobody sleeps the first night,” she said. “That’s an unwritten rule. You don’t go to sleep because someone is scheming.” She said “Survivor” romances tend to outlast those on love-themed reality shows, such as “The Bachelor,” because “Survivor” is “so organic and real.” On “Survivor,” she said, people who fall for each other are “dirty, gross, and emotionally broken down. It can only get better from there.” Underwood said she will watch every episode this season with her family, but she’s not sure whether she’ll watch them live. “I kind of go back and forth between that and ‘American Idol,’” she said. “I’ll DVR one or the other.” Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287
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Former "Survivor" competitor Ashley Underwood, at the Atwood School in Oakland, where she works as a nurse, on Tuesday. Underwood revealed recently that she wasn't one of the 10 returning players chosen to compete in the upcoming season of the program, which premieres Wednesday on CBS.
Staff photo by David Leaming
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Ashley Underwood, who grew up in Benton, watches as her torch is extinguished, signaling her removal from the game show “Survivor,” in 2011.
Photo courtesy of CBS