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D.P. in Shelby, Michigan:
I don’t read any novels. I just can’t get into someone else’s imagination. All books have to be non-fiction. Do you have any idea why I am this way?
I think you’re likely an inquisitive, analytic, rational person who has little interest in fantasy. It’s not that you can’t get into someone else’s imagination; it’s that you find the experience boring. In short, you’re stimulated by learning, not by observation.
Twelve years ago, on Survivor: The Amazon, deaf contestant Christy Smith struggled to fit in alongside two of her tribe-mates, winner Jenna Morasca and fifth-place finisher Heidi Strobel, the self-declared “younger, cuter girls.”
History repeated itself with the show’s 30th season, Survivor: Worlds Apart, as Nina Poersch, the second deaf contestant in Survivor history, came into conflict with skinny-dipping surfboard enthusiasts Jenn Brown and Hali Ford — but unlike the case of Christy, Jenna and Heidi, Nina’s struggle against Jenn and Hali came to an end a mere nine days into the game.
But Nina was facing more hardships than her contentious relationship with Jenn and Hali, including a perception among her tribe mates that she possessed a hidden immunity idol, and what she describes as her tribe’s lack of confidence in her abilities due to her deafness. Given the tight-knit bond between Jenn, Hali and jewelry designer Joe, Nina’s odds of sticking around were extraordinarily low — and those odds plummeted to zero as soon as her No Collar tribe lost the third immunity challenge, due to a baffling decision to effectively ban Nina from competing.
I spoke with Nina about her views on her fellow No Collar tribe mates, the White Collar players she would have wanted to play with, the challenges facing a deaf contestant, and much more.
Nina, I can only imagine how frustrating this experience must have been for you at times.
Well, the times I was frustrated, I was very frustrated. But there were times when I was happy and wasn’t frustrated. They just showed a lot of the frustrating times.
The No Collar tribe started the season with a big win over the other tribes at the first immunity challenge. From there, it’s two losses in a row. What’s your take on why this tribe started so strong, but started to fall apart?
I think a lot of things go into that. Some of it could be the fact that we weren’t solid, strong, and working as a tribe. I was being alienated and not feeling like I belonged. I’m not saying I did not give 110%, because I did. But in the first weeks of Survivor, you need to work as a tribe. Everybody needs to make sure that they feel like a strong member of the tribe, and I was not getting that. The second challenge, Will struggled out there. He really did. He struggled. And the third challenge, well, they sidelined me. They wouldn’t let me help plug the holes. It was a big mistake.
What’s your take today on why you were sidelined?
When we got back from the challenge, I asked them point-blank, because this was Joe’s idea. I said to Joe, “Why did we do that? That was dumb! It was such a stupid move.” And he said, “Well, you know Nina, my whole reasoning behind it was, you struggled at the first challenge with the high step. I was afraid that going through [this challenge's steps], you were going to mess us up. I didn’t want you to mess us up.” Ouch, right? It was a big… I just looked at him and said, “Joe, it was a dumb move. You pretty much lost that challenge for us.” Of course, everyone’s like, “Oh no, it’s a tribe thing.” Blah, blah, blah. Sure, it’s a tribe thing now, but it’s not a tribe thing when you’re pushing me on the outside.
From a viewer perspective, it looks like there’s some “Joe worship” happening out there. Was that your experience on No Collar?
Yes. Absolutely. Joe is very charming. I’m not fooled by people who are charming. But there was a lot of Joe worship. But look, there are two young girls, and they have this cute guy. They liked him. They worshipped him. Whether Will did or not, I’m not going to say Will did. I don’t know what was going on in Will’s head. But there was a lot of Joe worshipping going on out there. He has dimples, he smiles, he’s just a charming guy.
You mention not knowing where Will’s head was at. How much of a wildcard was he for you? You seemed to get along pretty well, but then he turns on Vince, and from that moment forward, you pretty much have to make Will public enemy number one if you want to have a shot at staying in the game.
I thought Will was 100% on board with Vince and I. Vince asked me several times, “Are you sure you can trust him? Are you sure you can trust him?” I said, “Yes, we can trust him, 110%.” But I didn’t know he was working with those other three. I didn’t know he was going between us. I didn’t know he was feeding Vince any intel at all on what those other three were going to do. I had no clue that was going on. So when I said, “Yeah, I trust him 100%,” I was going on the basis that he wasn’t even talking to them. There was a point where I asked him, “Do they even talk to you at all?” And he said, “No, they never talk to me. They don’t include me on anything.” I thought that we were both outsiders, and that was our bond out there, that they weren’t including us. That’s the impression he gave me. I had no idea they were even talking to him. They were very good about keeping that under wraps. I spent a lot of time out looking for the idol, collecting firewood, stuff like that. I should have paid more attention on what as going on. There’s a lot that I didn’t see and catch.
Do you maintain that it would have been wiser for Jenn, Hali and Joe to keep you over Will, from their perspective?
Absolutely. I 100% felt like had they kept me, I would have been much more loyal to them, and a much better asset as far as challenges went — because Will was struggling. He was struggling in those challenges, and they could see that. People agreed with me. They all told me, “Yeah, Will is struggling.” Even at Tribal, I brought it up. “You all told me he’s struggling in challenges. It’s stupid to get rid of me and keep him.” It didn’t work.
But would you have stayed loyal to that group? Given how Jenn and Hali weren’t including you in certain things, and what you’re telling me about Joe taking the reins of this challenge… let’s say a swap occurs, and you make it that far. Are you really sticking with No Collar, or are you looking for the next best thing?
Well, it’s really hard to say, because it didn’t happen. It’s hard to say if they would have changed their attitude toward me. If they had, it’s very possible I would have stuck with them. It would have been No Collar all the way. If they kept me around for the mere fact that Will couldn’t perform in challenges and wouldn’t be loyal, but they were still going to make me feel like the fourth man on the totem pole, then maybe not. I might’ve gone a different route. It’s a million dollars. You’re going to do whatever you can to get to the end. If that means looking for the next best thing, I may have looked for the next best thing.
Let’s talk about Jenn and Hali. Last week, there was the big falling out over them not inviting you out to go skinny-dipping, and this week, they’re surfing, and you’re not included…
You know, in the beginning weeks of Survivor, the thing that the tribe has to remember is, you need to keep that unity. You need to keep the tribe strong. Everyone needs to feel like a strong or important member of the tribe. That’s the point I was trying to get across to them, but they didn’t see that. They saw that they felt they had the numbers, and didn’t have to give a crap about me. That’s the attitude I felt they had. It was a tough thing. Was it smart on their part? I don’t know. I don’t know how it’s going to end. But I wish I could have convinced them that I was a strong member of the tribe. Include me! I gave it my 110%. I worked hard on the challenges when I was quote-unquote “allowed.” It was a tough situation. It was unfortunate that they felt the need to alienate me.
When I spoke with Vince last week, I wanted to get behind the vote, because it was so all over the map. He told me about his plan to convince Joe, Jenn and Hali that you had an idol, in order to split their votes so that you and Will could join him in voting out Jenn. Did we see the shadow of that strategy last night? Is that why they split the votes — because they suspected you had an idol?
Yes. They still suspected I had an idol, even after voting Vince out. They continued to ask me: “Do you have an idol?” They pretty much said, “We know you have an idol.” I still was out looking for it. I didn’t look as hard, because I wanted them to think I had it. I don’t know what was going through my head. I was hoping two would vote for Will, instead of just one. It didn’t go that way. But yeah, they were convinced I had an idol, and that’s why they split the vote.
Since they were convinced you had an idol, did you ever think about trying to leverage that suspicion? That you could go to someone like Joe and say, “Yeah, I do have the idol, and if you keep me around instead of Will, we can use it together.” Was it a thought that crossed your mind?
It was a thought that entered my mind, but I got to thinking… and maybe this was a dumb thought… maybe I should have just went for it, but I was so afraid that they were going to say, “Then show us the idol.” If I went to Joe, it would’ve been, “Show me the idol.” I wouldn’t have been able to do that. I just kind of let them think that I had it, and hoped for the best.
If only Bob Crowley was around to make you a fake idol. That could’ve been good.
Yeah! [Laughs] Yeah, it would have.
At Tribal Council, Jeff brought up the topic of whether you belong on No Collar. Given your background in working in the White Collar world, did you feel like you would have fit in better on White Collar instead of No Collar?
Yes, I absolutely do. I 100% wish I started on the White Collar tribe. It was really tough. And it’s not even that I’m inflexible or anything like that, because I’m not. I’m not as free spirited as they are, but I do have those qualities. I can hang out with anybody and have a great time. But as far as my core thinking, it’s just more White Collar. I think I would have done better on the White Collar tribe than I would have on the No Collar tribe.
Who on White Collar would you have wanted to work with, given what you know now of your cast mates and what you’re seeing from the show?
Carolyn. I would have loved to have played with Carolyn. I think if her and I could have played, it would have been a great game. I also wish I could have played with Max. He knows a lot about the game. It would have been really cool to sit with someone and talk intellectually about the game, and how to play, and how to win. I think we could have gotten far.
Before the game, I’m sure you thought about some of the obstacles you might face being deaf. But what were some of the unexpected obstacles that popped up once you were out there?
The first unexpected challenge was just having Joe approach me right off the bat and planting the seed in my head that he had no faith in me as far as doing challenges, because I was deaf. I honestly did not think that would happen. I honestly thought I could spin my deafness in a way that would not stand out to anybody, and that they would not even really think about me being deaf. I call it a blind disability, because it’s not something you see. Most people I talk to don’t even know I’m deaf. I’ve talked to people for a year or two before they even find out that I’m deaf. I really did not think it was going to play as big as it did.
I can imagine a comment like that would be a big confidence-breaker.
It was. It was a big letdown. He says that to me on day one, maybe even day two, and a couple of days later, Vince starts in on, “The girls don’t like you. They want to vote you out because you’re deaf.” He said that to me more than once. He was telling me that he wants me to be in an alliance with him. I think he was being 100% truthful; I still think he was being truthful, but maybe embellishing it just a bit. When Joe says to me, and Vince starts in, I start to believe, “Oh my gosh, these people are completely judging me because of my deafness.” It was tough. I’m human. I have feelings. As much as you try to bury those feelings, it was just very tough.
I know that you were a fan of the show before you got to play. Now that the experience is over, how do you feel about doing the show?
I have absolutely no regrets at all. My experience out there was supreme. I enjoyed it, I came away with a lot of positive things. I don’t take the negativity that goes on in my life and dwell on it. I try to spin those things and make them positive. I’ve gotten a lot of e-mails and messages from people in the cochlear implant community that I’ve inspired them to go out and do stuff. There was one person who said, “I always wanted to play Survivor, and I didn’t think I could. But watching you makes me feel like I have to go for it.” If I can inspire people to live their dreams and do the things they want to do by watching me play Survivor, then I feel like I’m a success.
Well, I can tell you that I watched last night’s episode in a room filled with literally 300 Survivor fans. When you were voted out, there was a big reaction from people who were not happy. You have your fans for sure.
Thank you so much! That makes me teary-eyed. I really appreciate you telling me that. And I really do feel fabulous about the experience.
Josh Wigler is a writer, editor and podcaster who has been published by MTV News, New York Magazine, Comic Book Resources, Digital Trends and more. He is the co-author of The Evolution of Strategy: 30 Seasons of Survivor, an audiobook chronicling the reality TV show’s transformation. Josh hosts podcasts about film and television on PostShowRecaps.com.
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Read on for Nina's take on her Survivor experience!
"I honestly thought I could spin my deafness in a way that would not stand out to anybody, and that they would not even really think about me being deaf. I call it a blind disability, because it’s not something you see. Most people I talk to don’t even know I’m deaf. I’ve talked to people for a year or two before they even find out that I’m deaf. I really did not think it was going to play as big as it did."
"When we got back from the challenge, I asked them point-blank, because this was Joe’s idea. I said to Joe, 'Why did we do that? That was dumb! It was such a stupid move.' And he said, 'Well, you know Nina, my whole reasoning behind it was, you struggled at the first challenge with the high step. I was afraid that going through [this challenge's steps], you were going to mess us up. I didn’t want you to mess us up.' Ouch, right?"
"Joe is very charming. I’m not fooled by people who are charming. But there was a lot of Joe worship. But look, there are two young girls, and they have this cute guy. They liked him. They worshipped him."
"They still suspected I had an idol, even after voting Vince out. They continued to ask me: 'Do you have an idol?' They pretty much said, 'We know you have an idol.' I still was out looking for it. I didn’t look as hard, because I wanted them to think I had it. I don’t know what was going through my head."
"Will was struggling. He was struggling in those challenges, and they could see that. People agreed with me. They all told me, 'Yeah, Will is struggling.' Even at Tribal, I brought it up. 'You all told me he’s struggling in challenges. It’s stupid to get rid of me and keep him.' It didn’t work."
"We weren’t solid, strong, and working as a tribe. I was being alienated and not feeling like I belong. I’m not saying I did not give 110%, because I did. But in the first weeks of Survivor, you need to work as a tribe. Everybody needs to make sure that they feel like a strong member of the tribe, and I was not getting that."
"I have absolutely no regrets at all. My experience out there was supreme. I enjoyed it, I came away with a lot of positive things. I don’t take the negativity that goes on in my life and dwell on it. I try to spin those things and make them positive. … If I can inspire people to live their dreams and do the things they want to do by watching me play Survivor, then I feel like I’m a success."