Then the show began and we were stranded on the same tribe together. She complained about being "stranded in a land of flight attendants and Sunday school teachers" and I wondered how I was going to be able to stand being around someone so different than me. But we soon realized that first impressions can be very deceiving. She and I bonded almost immediately.
Courtney and I had a lot in common, as it turned out. We were both there to play a game, but not to be a fraud. Neither of us were there to be someone who we weren't. You can sniff out authenticity a mile away, and I could tell that although our opinions and lives were different, we were both authentic and real. She took the time to get to know me, to ask me questions, to listen and to share her stories with me. I was amazed and inspired by her brilliance!
What many do not understand is that this woman is a genius! She reads, she studies and she is very good at communicating her ideas and thoughts on issues that many people would shy away from. She and I were the "water runners" and we'd go get water together all the time to bring to camp and boil. During our water runs, we'd talk the whole time. I was really challenged by her and I was so excited that someone on my tribe took the time to actually listen to me and wanted to know more about my faith and why I believed so strongly. She was genuinely interested in me - not just interested in talking about herself. It was refreshing in a game where pretense is pretty much the norm. But when I was with Courtney, it was always real. Always honest. It was a break from the game to spend time with her.
Survivor stips you of all that is familiar, all that is comfortable and all that is normal and then places you in a tribe of people who are vastly different with considerably different world-views and opinions. Then you add the fact that there is little food and no clean water so you're hungry and dehydrated and in a very scary setting with wild animals and poisonous snakes. Your real self comes through. And there is no stopping it. Usually, this is not a good thing! However, with Courtney, it was a very good thing.
|At Erik & Jaime's wedding goofing off|
Courtney began to tell everyone to "clean up their language around Mama" on the tribe (she, Todd and Amanda called me Mama). She and I would escape to what we called "the air conditioning", which was a cooler spot deeper in the jungle where we'd go and talk for hours. We were both amazed that we got along so well, and the producers were perplexed. Once, a producer said "What is it about her that you like so much?!" I said, "You know, she's just so real. And she gets me - which is more than I can say for most of the others here."
|At the Survivor 10-year Reunion|
When the show was over, Courtney called me and said, "Mama I played the game as hard as I could and when I wanted to quit, I would remind myself how much you wanted to play and it would keep me going. I went as far as I did because I was playing not just for me, but also for you. I hope you are proud of me." Oh my. My heart about burst open and I sobbed. I think every time I thought about that I sobbed for the next year or so. Heck, I'm crying right now as I type this! How special is that? What a precious gift she gave me.
Since Survivor, our lives have remained forever bonded. Though we don't talk daily or even monthly at times, when we do talk it's as if we are sitting in our "air conditioned" spot in China talking about life. When she was on Survivor again, I watched as nervous as a mother would be watching her kid out there! She did great - and I was proud of her - again.
Courtney is having a birthday in a few days and I just wanted the world to know what a special young woman she is. She is still feisty and has an "attitude out to there" because, well, she's Courtney! But she is so much more than what you will see on Survivor. She's the real deal, and I'm proud to call her my friend.
Courtney...happy birthday, my dear! I love you.