I remember being out on location for Survivor: South Pacific and standing on the Savaii beach on day two. One person in particular was in trouble, and that person was Dawn Meehan. A longtime super-fan of the show who had first applied back for season 2, her dream had finally come true and she had made it onto the show. But now, just 24 hours after her adventure had started, that dream was turning into a nightmare. Sitting in a tribe full of younger, less clothed flirts and frolickers, Dawn wasn’t fitting in. And it was killing her. Imagine waiting 10 years for your moment to come, and then when it does, it all goes wrong from the get go. I saw Dawn in tears, telling Ozzy how she felt like an outcast from the rest of the tribe. Things didn’t look good. But Dawn rebounded from that initial culture shock, found common ground with the group, and even came up big in some challenges. Her island rebirth was inspiring to watch. Unfortunately, she was ultimately doomed by Cochran’s flip, which saw her entire tribe wiped out one by one.
Now, the Mormon with a penchant for baking bread and adopting kids is back competing again on Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites (premiering Feb. 13 on CBS). And she says to expect dry eyes this time around.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Dawn, you’re a huge fan, applied for season 2, finally get the call for Redemption Island, get cut last minute from that season, then finally make it on for South Pacific. And now they’re asking you back again. Crazy!
DAWN MEEHAN: I know, how lucky am I? When you’re with other previous players, obviously talk turns to would you play again. And if the opportunity came up I would be grateful, but I didn’t want to be one of those people that was just pursuing it — okay, I need another cupcake. One wasn’t enough. And so it was crazy to me that it came about.
EW: And I think the only other woman over the age of 40 to be asked back is Tina Wesson, so you’re in some pretty rare air there. [UPDATE: Sue Hawk and Kathy Vavrick-O’Brien were also over 40 when they returned for Survivor: All-Stars.]
DAWN: I know, I just want to cry!
EW: It’s usually the younger girls in their bikinis. So for you to be asked back shows that they really saw something special.
DAWN: Dalton, don’t make me cry. I’m doing this season tear-free.
EW: I don’t believe you! Not gonna happen! Now listen to me, you had culture shock your first few days out there last time. Have you flushed that out of your system?
DAWN: All the culture shock is gone. And oddly enough, I came home from that finale and my husband said, “Let’s get ready for a Tough Mudder run,” and we started training really intensely. And he jokingly would say, “This will be great because if you ever get to play again, you’ll be in shape because you’ve been working on this other goal.” And so now it’s sort of like if you’ve taken a test twice, you come to the second test a lot more calm. So I do feel good that way.
EW: Well, every single time they have brought returning players back at least one of them has made the finals, so what have you learned from last time that is going to get you to the end?
DAWN: I think you’re right to ask that. It’s not how I did last time — it’s what did I learn from last time. The most important thing I learned is I have it in me to actually weather the physical challenges and the emotional part of it and endure difficult personalities. So as far as that, I know I can handle the actual day-to-day part of the game. What I do think I need to do is I need to be more strategic and more willing to take risks and make decisions and get other people on board with what I think needs to happen. I always had a good read on what was happening in our game but I’m not sure I was doing enough with the information, and in order to win this game, you have to make the decisions and be wiling to risk it. I think I was just so stressed from day one that I took this approach of whatever keeps me here the longest. And I realize now I really did know what was going on. I knew Cochran wasn’t going to be top 3. I knew that, so I should have done a better job of letting him know, “Hey, this is really what’s taking place.” So I’m hoping I’m going to be more strategic, and take more risks. I do feel like I had good instincts last time. I just didn’t have the confidence.
EW: How do you feel about having Cochran and Brandon back from your season?
DAWN: I think it’s good for us. I think it’s good for us in that the relationship the three of us had in our game was fairly good at different stages in the game so there is room for us to work together. But I think as far as the other people in the game, they’re going to think, we have to break that up. So in that way, I’m moderately nervous about it. I also look at it and feel like Brandon played a big part getting Cochran to move over to Upolu so I’m not sure that I have the same bond with Cochran that Brandon does. So I’m going to have to watch the two of them to see.
EW: What do you think of the other returning players you see here?
DAWN: I’ll admit, I was star-struck by Erik because I’ve watched that season so many times. And he looks exactly like he did then. It’s as if they just pulled him right off of Tribal Council. I like who he is and how he plays. He does well in challenges and things like that, so I think there’s some room for me to potentially work with him. I got nervous with Corinne. I’m not going to lie. It makes me nervous and I’m not going to say I’m the antithesis, but I’m sunshiny and positive so…. I love that Francesca is back! I love, love, love her to no end, so I’m excited to meet her. I’m excited that Andrea is back. Probably the biggest X-factor for me is Phillip and Brandon. I don’t know if Brandon is gong to play this game differently than he did last time. Is he coming back with vengeance or is he really pleased with the way he played last time? I don’t know.
EW: Everyone goes into the game with preconceptions about people based on how they played before, but in that sense you come off pretty well. Nobody will be saying “Oh, Dawn is so sneaky, you can’t trust her.” You’re in very good shape as far as that goes.
DAWN: I think I’m a middle person there — not going to be too hot or too cold. I think it’s good to be lukewarm for the first part of this game for sure.
EW: Okay, be honest with me: How many times have you rewatched that challenge where you held all that weight on your shoulders?
DAWN: Is that so sad? I’m not even kidding! An elementary school used a clip of it in one of their classes and they sent me cards where kids drew pictures of me holding the weights. I actually brought the cards! I brought those cards with me so I can look at them. It’s awful, but how lucky am I that I got to have that moment?
EW: Now, there is a significant downside to you appearing on Survivor again and that is you are going to meet a whole new group of people that you are going to have to bake bread for now.
DAWN: I know. We can only hope that at the every end there will be some sort of bread baking extravaganza.
EW: Well, Dawn, you played okay the first time, but now it is time to seal the deal!
DAWN: I gotta seal the deal! I want you to know, I have my check for the million dollars that I wrote myself when I had my Jim Carrey moment. I wrote it season 2 when I auditioned and I just kept changing the date on it. And I have changed the date again. So it’s gotta happen.
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