Monday, March 21, 2011


When I was cast on Survivor China, I'm pretty sure the producers were confident that Courtney Yates and I would butt heads.  As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure both Courtney and I thought we would, too (at least initially)!  Courtney is a waitress from New York City with spunk and attitude out to "there".

We were around each other for a few days before being stranded on the show, but we were unable to talk.  I was able to make slight judgments about the others based on their body language and facial expressions.  I will be honest - at first, Courtney seemed to be one of my least favorites.  But, I'm pretty sure I was one of her least favorites, too (as you can easily see in some of the pre-show interviews when she talked about "that lady with the Bible who will hate me")!

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
When I got sick in the middle of the night, she told me to wake her up so she could walk out to the jungle with me.  She didn't want me to go alone because she and I both knew the cameras only follow you when there is another with you (otherwise - no drama!) and if the camera followed me, I'd have light on the path.  Otherwise, I was in the jungle - in the deepest jungle - completely enveloped in darkness and God-knows-what.  She insisted that I wake her up.  So, every time I'd get sick, she'd come with me.  Once I heard her talking to the camera man about 20-30 feet away as I was getting sick and I heard her talk about how much she cared about me and how unfair it was that I was sick.  She knew how much I wanted to play the game and she was so sad that I was having such a hard time.  I knew at that moment I'd found a friend for life. 

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 I was voted out, she was devastated and so was I.  She told me later that she felt like "Bambi" out there - like they had killed her mom and she was left to herself in the big, bad jungle!  I laughed, but I also understood.  I don't know what I would have done if she would have been voted out that night - not having her there would be very difficult.  My on-camera role on Survivor was over, but my off-camera role had just begun.  I decided that I would pray for her, Todd and Amanda, as if they were my own kids.  I was worried about Courtney because she was so thin, so I prayed daily for her health and well-being.

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. 


justalilshabby said...

Hi Leslie,
somehow I stumbled upon your blog, after reading some of it, I'm touched. It's so cool about you & Courtney! I have to admit I didn't like her on the show, but it sure changes ones opinion of someone when you see or hear a different side to them! I'm a believer and I watch Survivor, and I always get excited when someone mentions God & faith on the show, like now on today's Survivor is Matt, I just pray that he can be a light and plant seeds, as you did!
May God continue to bless you in your life!

Danielle said...

That was very sweet Leslie! That's one reason why I want to be on the show; to "get real" with people!

sharelle said...

~ Real is really beautiful no matter the initial appearance.
Thanks for really sharing from the heart and not trying to serve unfulfilling fluff when diets of emotional Twinkies abound. :)

teri-free2bme said...

"Happy Birthday, Courtney!!!"

Praise God He crossed the two of your paths in the journey of life for His glory! ... and what an adventurous path it's been.

(thanks for the "behind the scenes" of SURVIVOR China post)

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