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Survivornews Interviews Tammy Leitner _ Great Job!
« on: Oct 9th, 2002, 3:35am »
Wow, I loved reading this interview with Tammy Leitner at survivornews.net http://survivornews.net/article.php?id=116
The questions the reporter asks are great and I love Tammy's answers she is such a smart, straight shooting lady.
Tammy Tells All
Tammy Leitner, the gutsy crime reporter from SURVIVOR Marquesas, demonstrates why she is an award-winning journalist--here Tammy shares with SNN's Beth Brigham the truth about her Rotu alliance, her new career as a television reporter, her picks for SURVIVOR Thailand and the behind-the-scenes SURVIVOR events that viewers never got to see.
BY BETH BRIGHAM
Wednesday, October 9, 2002
Beth: What made you decide to try out for Survivor?
Tammy: My fiancé - who is now my husband - is a huge fan of the show and had tried out for a couple of the shows. When Survivor 4 rolled around, he said, "You should try out. We'll have a better chance if we both try out." To be honest, I wasn't crazy about the idea because I'm a very private person and the thought of having my life turn into an open book didn't appeal to me in the least. But Mike was persistent and the night before the tapes were due, I finally gave in. We went to the garage where we have our gym and heavy bag, made an audition tape where I talked trash and whaled away on the bag and by some miracle, I made the show.
Beth: Where did you grow up and go to school?
Tammy: I grew up in San Diego, where I played soccer, tennis and track in high school. I went to college at UCLA and then got my master's degree in journalism from Boston University. My first job out of college was in Corning, N.Y., where I met my husband Mike.
Beth: Have you always wanted to be a journalist? Do you feel your journalistic experience gave you an advantage in Survivor?
Tammy: I've always wanted to be a crime reporter. The field has always fascinated me. You get to see the worst society has to offer and you try to make sense of their senseless actions. I think being a journalist helped me in that I was trained to observe and take mental notes about what was going on around me. But the job might have hurt me because the first thing some people saw was FEMALE CRIME REPORTER, so they viewed me as a threat from the start.
Beth: What were your thoughts when you learned you had made the semifinals?
Tammy: It was almost funny. I mean, Mike tried so hard to make the show, put all this time into his audition tape and application. I did my tape in one take and just kind of whimsically filled out the application and I made it. To say the least, it was surprising.
Beth: Were you allowed to keep a journal during the semi-final elimination process? What were some of the thoughts and feelings you wrote down?
Tammy: I actually did keep a journal. When I made it to the finals in L.A. and actually making it onto the show seemed closer to becoming a reality, all I could think about were the health problems Mike has gone through the past several years. He was diagnosed with Wilson's disease and was given three months to live in 1999. He fought incredibly hard to get better and all I could think about was how great it would be to win the million dollars so he could quit his job and do what he wanted to do. That was my motivation for trying out, for making the show and for winning the million dollars.
Beth: Were there any other contestants during the process that you felt would surely be picked? Who stood out in your mind at first that later was cast with you?
Tammy: It's kind of weird because you're not allowed to talk to anyone, but there are 50 "tables for one" in the hotel restaurant for meals, so you can figure out pretty easily who the other finalists are. The people who stood out the most were the General, Kathy, Boston Rob and John. There was another woman who wasn't cast that stood out, too. Her name was Danielle Martin and I freaked out a couple months ago when I saw her on the cover of Sports Illustrated for Women.
Beth: Were there any that you felt an immediate bond with?
Tammy: I could tell John was a player, so I bonded with him pretty quickly. The General was the same way.
Beth: What was your first thought when you found out you had been selected?
Tammy: When Mark Burnett told me I'd made the show, I let out a scream and then thought, "I can't wait to tell Mike"
Beth: Your husband Mike is a huge Survivor fan. What were his thoughts when you got selected?
Tammy: Mike was so psyched. When he picked me up at the airport, I whispered in his ear," I made the show," and he just screamed. Everybody looked at him. It was pretty funny.
Beth: Describe the plane trip and the boat ride to reach the Marquesas.
Tammy: We still couldn't talk, so it was tense. We were sizing each other up and making mental notes.
Beth: During the paddling trek to reach Rotu Beach, what were your thoughts about your new tribemates? Any one of them stand out to you at that time?
Tammy: We actually had a really hard time paddling in because of the current. All I could think was, "If we're having this much trouble just making it to camp, we're going to be in trouble when the challenges start." But I made a note that Gabe, John, the General and Zoe all seemed very strong.
Beth: Please describe each of your tribemates:
Tammy: Gabe is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. He's a talented writer, very smart, and can accomplish whatever he puts his mind to.
Tammy: He's a great guy outside of the game. He's a lot smarter than most people think. He's very intelligent. And he's very funny.
Tammy: Great friend. Dedicated.
Tammy: Strong woman. What you see is what you get.
Tammy: Outside the game, Sean is a great guy and one of the funniest people I've ever met. In the game, he bothered me because he complained too much about his stomach and didn't do as much work as I though he should have.
Tammy: A big teddy bear of a guy. I love Rob to death. He's the kind of guy who would drop anything and everything to help a friend.
Tammy: Great father. Great husband. Great friend. Hey, I asked him to perform my wedding ceremony. That's how much I respect him.
Tammy: Very enthusiastic and very sweet. Wonderful family. Clutch performer in the fafaru challenge.
Tammy: Kathy is me in 15 years. Strong-willed. Feisty. Competitive. She's developed into a great friend who coordinated my wedding for me. I couldn't have done it without her.
Tammy: You didn't see it on TV, but Vee and I were very close out there. She's very athletic. Very focused. Very smart.
Beth: Did you get to know any players who got booted pre-jury? If so, what are they like?
Tammy: I didn't really get to meet her in the game, but Gina and I have become friends. She is very sweet and genuine, just like she was on the show. She even came to my surprise 30th birthday party in San Diego and bachelorette party in Las Vegas and we had a blast. Sarah is another person I got to know better after the game and she came to my wedding.
Beth: After the switch, who did you think would win the game?
Tammy: I thought I'd win, of course.
Beth: What was the most difficult aspect of Survivor for you: the hunger, the exposure to the elements, the mental ordeal, anything else?
Tammy: The hunger was the worst part. I'm used to working out a lot, so I didn't have much weight to lose. But the lack of nutrition made my muscles start to atrophy. That's why you saw me doing push-ups out there. I wasn't trying to stay in shape or show off. I was trying to work the soreness out of them.
Beth: What are Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst really like?
Tammy: They are both great guys. Mark is an incredibly caring and doting father to his two sons. And Jeff does a great job during the game. I can't say he and I didn't get into it a bit out there, but he maintains a tight control on the game.
Beth: What were your first thoughts when Kathy started freaking out about the fire?
Tammy: I really didn't like Kathy at first and if we'd lost one of those early challenges, she would have been the first to go. So my first thought was," She's outta here."
Beth: Were you shocked when Gabriel decided to forsake his alliance with you, John and the General? What were your thoughts?
Tammy: Actually, on day three or four, Gabe came to John and I and said," I want to be standing next to you two at the end." So when he came back to us a couple days later and said he didn't want to be part of an alliance, he became too much of a wildcard. We couldn't figure out his motivations. In retrospect, I wish we had kept Gabe because he is a genuine, sincere person who was just playing the game he felt comfortable with.
Beth: Who just grated on your nerves while on Rotu Beach? What did they do?
Tammy: Sean bothered me when he got to Rotu because he didn't pull his weight. He had major stomach problems. And Boston Rob really stirred things up and caused trouble as soon as he got there.
Beth: Which was your favorite challenge? Which was your least favorite?
Tammy: My favorite challenge has to be the stilts challenge because my back was against the wall. If I didn't win that one, I was gone. So to be able to reach down and win and earn the right to stay three more days was very fulfilling. I also liked the very first one because we were so overmatched physically by Maaramu, but we were able to work as a team and win and that started the Rotu winning streak. My least favorite challenge was the fire challenge because I lost and it got me booted.
Beth: Did you guys know the switch was coming? What did you all think about the buffs hidden under the stumps?
Tammy: Before we got on the plane for Nuka Hiva, we saw the switch episode on Survivor: Africa, so we knew it might be coming. To be honest, I was ready for a change because that whole "Love Tribe" thing isn't what Survivor was all about for me. It was about winning the million dollars and I knew the closer we got as friends, the harder it would be to vote the others out. So the change was welcomed to me.
Beth: Tell me about your alliance. How did you feel about it? Why did you let John lead it?
Tammy: I let John lead it so he could be the one with the target. The General and I were close out there. Zoe and I, despite the fact that we were in the same alliance, never really talked until that day America saw her tell me she didn't like me. Despite that, I felt we had a strong alliance and we would have carried it to the end if we had a strong fifth. Gabe was that fifth person until he flaked. Then Vecepia joined us as our fifth, but then backed out when we wanted to vote out Sean after Boston Rob.
Beth: Did you realize at the time that the coconut-chopping challenge was delivering the death blow to your alliance? Describe how that felt.
Tammy: It didn't really play out as cleanly as the editors made it seem. It wasn't that apparent, so it didn't really strike me as a turning point at the time.
Beth: When did you realize that Neleh et al. were "rising up" to try to take your alliance down? Did you discuss a counterstrategy among yourselves?
Tammy: We realized what was happening when word got to us that John was getting voted out. There was really nothing left to do. Zoe became a wildcard and we couldn't predict what she was going to do. I mean, she voted for John. What was she thinking? We tried to talk to Paschal and reason with him, but it was too late. John really sealed our fate at the Tribal Council where he was voted out because he outlined our alliance's entire plan, including the planned boot order. I love John to death and we're still good friends, but he took us down with him and there was no way to repair the damage that he left behind.
Beth: What was it like having cameras in your face 24-7?
Tammy: The first couple days were weird, but after that, they just blend into the background.
Beth: What were confessionals like? Did they last long? Did you feel like you could be completely honest and vent all your feelings?
Tammy: They could last two minutes or two hours. Sometimes the producers asked us questions and sometimes we just talked. They were comfortable and I was completely honest.
Beth: What behind-the-scenes production details would the average viewer be surprised about?
Tammy: The walk to Tribal Council was long. And those torches are heavy. And I don't think viewers realized it would take us five or six hours to gather and prepare a single meal. It was hard out there.
Beth: Most dramas have three parts: what do you think were the three most pivotal moments in SURVIVOR Marquesas?
Tammy: The three most pivotal moments were voting off Gabe because that broke up the original Rotu and allowed Boston Rob the opportunity to stick around an extra week. That leads me to the second pivotal moment: sending Boston Rob off with Kathy before the merge. It gave him the opportunity to stir the pot up and to plant seeds of doubt in Kathy's mind and to permanently fracture the original Rotu tribe. The final pivotal moment was John's boot.
Beth: You kicked major ass in the stilt challenge. The whole country was cheering madly for you! Describe how you felt leading up to that moment, and how you felt after you won immunity.
Tammy: My dad had built me a pair of stilts when I was a kid and I used to walk around the yard on them while my brother tried to knock me off with a soccer ball. So I was pretty confident, especially when I saw that the others were having problems. When it was my turn to practice, I took the stilts down by the beach so the others would not see the proper method. When I won, I was absolutely euphoric because I knew it was my only chance to stay in the game.
Beth: What are some of the most memorable moments from your experience?
Tammy: I loved the nights. Sitting by the fire talking to Paschal about love and life and family. You really get so incredibly close to the other people in a very short amount of time. I loved the challenges and the competition. I forgot how much I missed competition. And I loved the beauty of the island. It was all so incredibly memorable and still so vivid in my mind. I'll cherish it forever.
Beth: What events never made it into the show that you thought were especially funny?
Tammy: One of the funniest times was when John got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and I stole his spot in the hut. He got so mad, "I had that spot perfectly conformed to my body." He kept whining and whining and I just laughed harder and harder.
Tammy: And there were MANY peeing incidents besides the one with John and Kathy. I think we all had to pee on somebody else at one time or another.
Tammy: The food fantasies got ridiculous. The General would describe Italian food in detail. Neleh talked about Chik-Fil-A. Paschal talked about peanut butter pancakes. It made the hunger pains even worse. The General, God love him, tried so hard to build a big snare so he could feed us. He came close a couple times, but he never got his pig. And I spent at least an hour chasing a rooster around and kept yelling at the camera people because they were scaring him off. That's another thing: there were thousands of roosters on the island that cock-a-doodle-dooed very early in the morning. It was hard to get to sleep.
Beth: Any frightening or irritating moments that you felt should have been shown and were not?
Tammy: The night before I got voted out, I got this rash that started on my legs and crept over my whole body. You could almost see it spreading it was covering me so fast. I felt so sick and light-headed. They had to call in the doctor who laid me down in the dirt and gave me an IV with medicine. They never did figure out what it was. But Kathy was right there for me the whole time. I only wish I had started to bond with her before Day 28 because she is really an amazing woman. By the time the immunity challenge came the next night, I was feeling better, but still not 100 percent. So people often ask the General and I why we didn't scramble to make a deal with Sean and Vee to stay in the game and go to the Final 4, but the truth is I was out of commission most of that last day. Even if I'd wanted to make a deal, I was too sick to seek one out. But viewers never saw that.
Beth: How does it feel to sit at Tribal Council?
Tammy: It's tense. It's hard. You know the dreams of one person will end. And that's hard to end somebody's dream, especially when you share the same dream.
Beth: Does Jeff ask a lot more questions than we are shown?
Tammy: Tribal Council can last for hours, so Jeff asks a lot more questions than are shown.
Beth: Are you allowed to sit anywhere you please, or do the producers indicate where you are to sit?
Tammy: We can sit anywhere.
Beth: Describe what it is like to hear your name being called at Tribal Council.
Tammy: One word: Sucks.
Beth: When you finally got voted out, what were your immediate instincts? Did you want to cry, or yell, or make comments to the people who voted you out?
Tammy: As soon as I lost that immunity challenge, I knew I was gone so I had some time to adjust before Tribal Council. The one thing that I wanted to make sure the people who voted me off knew that it WASN'T OK with me that they voted me off. I'm a competitor. I hate losing. So I refused to say goodbye or do one of those farewell waves. I just walked off.
Beth: What did you do after you walked off down the beach? Describe the sequence of events from the moment your torch is snuffed through the first night.
Tammy: After my torch was snuffed, it was the most lonely feeling I've ever felt. I felt alone. I felt defeated. I walked off and the camera was waiting for me to give my final words. After that, Zoe and John were there waiting. And despite the fallout between Zoe and I on the show, she was a great means of support after I got voted off.
Beth: What were the first things that John and Zoe said to you when they saw you?
Tammy: It wasn't so much what they said, as how they hugged me. It let me know I wasn't alone.
Beth: What was the first food you craved? Any lingering food hangups since you left the Marquesas?
Tammy: I started eating peanut butter after I got voted off and haven't stopped yet. When I got home, Mike picked me up at the airport, looked into my purse and said, "Why do you have two jars of peanut butter in your purse?"
Beth: Did the jury stay on the cruise ship?
Tammy: Part of the time.
Beth: Describe life on the jury. Were you given a lot of free time alone with your fellow jurists?
Tammy: Yes. We went snorkeling and running and horseback riding. We ate a lot and drank even more.
Beth: Were you allowed to discuss the game, both past and present, with your jury mates?
Tammy: Of course. We just weren't supposed to say who we were voting for.
Beth: Describe how it felt to sit on the jury and watch the under-the-radar players at Tribal Council.
Tammy: I am an extremely competitive person. So, to be honest, it sucked to see those players still in the game when I was out. But give them credit, they played a better game than me or they would not have been there.
Beth: You looked beautiful at Tribal Council. How did it feel to get to clean up and dress up after weeks grubbing in the dirt?
Tammy: It felt great, but I still would have preferred to still be in the game grubbing in the dirt.
Beth: Of the Final Four, who did you think most deserved to win?
Tammy: Well, I said during my final speech that the person I thought deserved the million dollars was Kathy and I meant that. But Vecepia proved that she would do ANYTHING to win, so you can't argue with her victory. This is Survivor, and Survivor is about doing anything it take to win. Vecepia did that. Three cheers.
Beth: Do think Paschal got shafted with the purple rock?
Tammy: They had the opportunity to decide for themselves who would get the boot. They didn't. They knew there would be consequences for failing to come to a decision. Unfortunately for Paschal, he paid the consequences.
Beth: Do you think Kathy got shafted when Neleh told her that her boobs were showing?
Tammy: I wasn't there and anything goes in Survivor. But that comment surely broke Kathy's concentration. And in an endurance test like that, focus is everything. And when her focus was forced to shift from the task at hand to whether or not her boobs were showing ... well, we saw what happened.
Beth: Your speech at the Final Two selection will go down in history as one of the finest Survivor moments ever! You were eloquent, fierce and convincing. Describe your thoughts about how the game was ending. Did you plan what you would say beforehand, or did you just speak off the cuff?
Tammy: I knew what I was going to say before the final tribal council. There were times that they made other people feel extremely guilty for playing Survivor when they were playing the same game, using the same tactics, forming the same alliances, and showing more arrogance than we ever showed. I just felt it was important to tell them that their hypocrisy did not go unnoticed. Was I bitter? Sure. I went on Survivor to win the million dollars to create a better life for me and my husband. I didn't win. But I feel I played an honest and truthful game. I never broke my word to anybody else. I stayed loyal to my original alliance until the bitter end. I never tried to wheel and deal to stay in the game. I relied only on myself.
Beth: Why did you vote for Vecepia over Neleh?
Tammy: Vecepia proved that she would do ANYTHING to win. She she backstabbed Boston Rob when she voted for him, she backstabbed my alliance after she joined us and left us, she backstabbed Kathy after making a deal to go to the final 2 with her. Survivor is about doing whatever it takes to win. Vecepia did that. Neleh didn't.
Beth: When you returned home, what was the hardest part about keeping how you played a secret?
Tammy: The hardest part was keeping the fact that I was in the cast a secret before CBS announced it. We didn't tell anybody except my immediate family. All our friends thought Mike and I broke up. Our neighbors were convinced Mike had me buried in the back yard. And by the time I got back, everyone was mad at me because I hadn't returned calls or e-mails for two months.
Beth: Were you able to share anything with your husband Mike about how you did?
Tammy: Actually, Mike went to Nuka Hiva for the family visit, but when I was voted out he was sent home. So he knew I was the 10th person voted out before I got home. It made it easier because he was able to go there, see where I'd been for two months, he met some of the production people who had controlled my life for those two months, knew how I'd done, and I was able to vent to him without having to give away secrets to people who didn't know.
Beth: We know Kathy bought a red kayak with her winnings. Did you do anything fun or special with your prize money?
Tammy: I had an awesome wedding on August 10. We had a swing band, got married right on the beach in La Jolla, Paschal performed the ceremony and most of the cast was there. It was a terrific wedding. Other than that, I'm just like most people. I have tons of student loans hanging over my head, a house to pay for and bills to pay. I had to quit my job to go on the show, so the bills add up when you do that.
Beth: How do you think your experience has changed you or made your life different?
Tammy: I appreciate my family a lot more. I think I'm a more tolerant person. I'm still me. I'm still competitive and I still hate to lose. But when you're out there and have nothing to help you survive except yourself, you realize how important the people back home are and how much better they make your life.
Beth: If you could change anything about your experience, what would you change?
Tammy: I would win the million dollars.
Beth: After the cast announcement, did you ever go on the Internet to see what was being written about you?
Tammy: I really didn't. Mike would print out articles from Survivor News and Survivor Fever that he thought I would enjoy, but I never went to the message boards.
Beth: Sometimes people on Survivor fan message boards would write rude or explicit things about the castaways. How did you deal with reading those kinds of things about yourself?
Tammy: I never really read the boards, so I never had to deal with that. I know Mike did, though, as well as some of my friends and family members. I think people who post those kinds of things need to realize that we have friends and family members who love us. We are normal people just like you. And imagine the horror my father must feel when someone calls me a name on the message boards or imagine the hurt my husband feels when people disparage the woman he loves. Most Survivors are like me. We just went on the show to win the million dollars to create a better life for our families. We didn't go on to become TV stars. So I don't understand why we should be criticized, called names and slandered for that. In any other activity, a person trying to build a better life for their family is applauded. But if you try to do the same thing by going on Survivor, you're a media whore. It doesn't make sense to me.
Beth: You got married soon after you returned. How does your husband Mike feel about the swirl of publicity that surrounds you these days?
Tammy: He enjoys it. He is almost too proud of me.
Beth: You mentioned that you recently got to attend the Emmy Awards. Did you attend with any past or present Survivors?
Tammy: I went with Hunter, Gabe, Neleh and Kelly Goldsmith from Survivor: Africa.
Beth: Tell me about your plans for your future. Has being on Survivor opened any doors for you?
Tammy: Survivor has been a great experience and it did open up some opportunities for me. But I'm a crime reporter at heart, so I decided to keep doing what I love to do. I took a job as a crime reporter for KPHO, the CBS affiliate here in Phoenix. It was the best fit for me. It kept me in familiar water because I'm reporting on crime in the same area I reported on for the newspaper I used to work for. TV reporting is a challenge that I am loving. And the people I work with at KPHO are great and very supportive. I couldn't have asked for a better outcome or made a better decision.
Beth: Tell me about what your new career entails.
Tammy: I have covered everything from a fugitive from justice to unsolved murders to bank robberies to crime mapping. I have done both live shots from crime scenes and taped pieces. So, it's a lot like Survivor: I'm still dealing with backstabbers and schemers every day. (That's a joke, guys!)
Beth: What are your first impressions of the new SURVIVOR Thailand cast? Who stands out in your mind as a strong competitor?
Tammy: When they applauded Ken after he said he was a New York police officer, I thought, "They're going to have a tough time voting him off." So he looks strong.
Beth: Two contestants, Robb Zbacnik and Shii Ann Huang are from the Phoenix area. How do you think they are playing the game thus far?
Tammy: I think if Robb can tone it down a notch, he'll be OK. He's strong and athletic. Shii Ann is very smart and a cunning competitor. But I didn't like the fact that she threw that puzzle challenge. That's a big no-no in my book. You are there to compete and win at all costs.
Beth: Who do you think will make the Final Four? The Final Two? Be the Ultimate Survivor?
Tammy: I think Robb's one of those guys like Sean Rector who people love to hate in the beginning, but might turn things around by the end. If he can make it to the merge, I like his chances because he's a fiery competitor. I also like Helen and Jan's chances if Helen can tone it down a notch. I can't narrow it down to four, but I wouldn't be surprised about a Final 6 made up of Jan, Helen, Ken, Robb, Ted and Penny. Of that crew, I'll take Ken to win.
Beth: What questions about your Survivor experience have you never been asked, but have always wanted to tell someone about?
Tammy: The people I've met and the great folks who have written to me has been the best part of being on Survivor. I don't think I can put into words how much it means to me when a little girl comes up to me and says she wanted me to win on Survivor. It makes me feel good that I was able to show that it's OK for girls to go out and want to win and be competitive and still maintain their femininity and relationships. I hope they know how much I was touched by the letters and I hope I showed that it's OK to be a strong and competitive woman.
Beth: How has being on Survivor changed your life? What has it made you realize about yourself?
Tammy: Survivor made me realize that I don't always have to wear a tough exterior to get along in the world. On day 28, Kathy said to me, "I've been out here with you for a month and I have no idea who you are." She showed me that it's OK to open up and show emotions and let people know that you care about them. I don't think I told my mother or father that I loved them enough. I let them know now. I hope everyone gets to have a great adventure like the one I had on Survivor. Even though I didn't win, I feel more rich from the experience than a million dollars could ever make me feel.
With articles published in more than 40 international magazines, Beth Brigham is a freelance writer who enjoys travel, hiking in the mountains and avidly watching SURVIVOR