Okay, what the hell was that? Was it a chimpanzee? It kind of sounded like a chimpanzee. Or maybe a warthog on acid. I’m not exactly sure how a warthog could get his hands on hallucinogens, but I hear they’re damn resourceful. Do I sound like I’m spazzing out? Well, that’s because I am! I’m standing here by myself. Completely lost. In pitch-black darkness. On an island. In the middle of freakin’ nowhere! And now I’m about to be attacked by a psychedelic warthog. What am I even doing here?
Personally, I blame it all on Janu. Last year on Survivor: Palau, the Las Vegas showgirl was the first person eliminated in an immunity challenge, and as a result was banished to an island where she had to fend for herself for a night. I remember thinking how stupid she looked twirling around on the beach. I also remember thinking that I’d probably look a whole lot stupider. So when Survivor producers decided to make the marooning of individual contestants a central theme of the new season — in each episode of Survivor: Panama — Exile Island (premiering Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. on CBS), one contestant will be sent to their very own island for a night or two — I knew this was my chance. I spoke with a CBS executive, who agreed to allow me to spend a night alone on Exile Island the day before actual filming began. Did I have what it takes to be a Survivor? Would I make it look easy? Could I outwit, outplay, and outlast…myself?
I arrive on the island of Contadora (two hours off the coast of Panama City and base camp for the Survivor crew) two days before my journey to Exile Island, which proves to be plenty of time for the Survivor creative team to mock my quest. Exec producer Mark Burnett advises me to e-mail my loved ones goodbye. Host Jeff Probst repeatedly threatens to pay me a late-night visit during which he will simply sit in front of me eating a sandwich. And executive producer Tom Shelly makes it his personal mission to remind me about all the various creatures that reside there. (Pythons top the list.) After 48 hours of relentless heckling, it’s go time.
I am warned I’ll be treated just like a regular Survivor contestant: A film crew — with whom I am not allowed to speak except for occasional ”confessional” sessions — will even document my every move. I am escorted to a blacked-out van, blindfolded, and driven over to the office of Paul Ducker, Survivor’s security coordinator. Paul proceeds to steal my watch and frisk me. The frisking is done for a reason: A contestant once tried to smuggle some matches up his bum. And a reporter once tried to smuggle a Zucaritas cereal bar in his right pants pocket. (Okay, that was me, and Paul confiscates it. Hey, it was worth a try.) I am then taken onto a pier and put on a boat. There are hundreds of different islands in these parts. Which one will be mine for the day (and night)? It’s difficult to say, but my guess would be…the one with the huge ominous skull on it!
We get about 50 feet away from Exile Island when I am instructed to jump out of the boat. ”What, here?” I ask. Better to jump than be pushed, so I hop into the water, walk/wade ashore, and then trudge up off the beach into the wooded area above. Waiting for me are a few luxury amenities: a bucket of water (not boiled, and therefore undrinkable), a bowl, a machete, and a flint for making fire. That’s it. Sooooooooo, what the heck am I supposed to do now? After an intensely cutthroat game of eenie-meenie-miney-moe, I go with making a shelter. (The fact that it has started to rain acts as a tiebreaker of sorts.)