Incredible. If there’s one word to describe my latest week it’s ‘incredible’. Here’s my story on spending three days with some of the best people to play some of my favourite shows.
HOW IT BEGAN
The non-for-profit charity organisation ‘Give Kids The World’ hosts an annual charity event in ‘Hearts of Reality’. It was something I had heard about years ago, seen photos of a few years later, and in the last two years (roughly) I have become very involved with.
The first instance was when I won an auction to Skype with one of my favourite players of Survivor, Jessica Lewis. We had the most fantastic chat about her season and I walked away thinking, “wow”. She provided extensive insight on her season, Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X, and we discussed her thoughts that were excluded from making the edit of the show but also some behind-the-scenes moments, like production being immediately aware of the advantage she had claimed on Day 1. After that, I had to do it again. Hearts of Reality puts out several Skype auctions over the year, and I am so fortunate and lucky enough to then Skype with various Survivor players like: Worlds Apart Runner-Up, Carolyn Rivera; three-time player, Ciera Eastin; one half of the Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers coconut duo, Joe Mena; first female Sole Survivor, Tina Wesson; and the first villainess of the game, Jerri Manthey. Even some Australian Survivor players joined the list (Henry Nicholson and Sharn Coombes). I was so satisfied with just doing that. I had extreme fun chatting with them all and learning so much. But I thought I could never make it out to Florida for the actual event, as it was usually in the assessment period of a school term.
Then during the 2018 Hearts of Reality event, The Amazing Race player Ray Housteau and his fiancee Mandy presented me with a video of the stars in attendance saying various phrases like, “wish you could be here”, and “see you next year”! Link is here if you’re interested!
Once again, I was elated with what I had received but those messages that sang through tipped the scales into the ‘I need to go’ category.
So with some convincing, discussing, planning, and drafting an itinerary, my parents and I were able to organise the trip effectively to coincide with our own commitments, including my undertaking of a university course. It was official. We were attending Hearts of Reality in 2019.
THE LEAD UP
As the days went on, like with anything exciting in life, I try my best to forget about it. It distracts me from the present and I tend to go off on a tangent thinking about what’s to come 200+ days down the track. But once we hit 99 days, and then 50, and then 30, it really started to sink in.
I had talked with event organiser Omar Elkalyoubie (who does a FANTASTIC job leading up to and during the event by the way) about what was to come and before I knew it I was down to less than a week before we were scheduled to go.
I was still watching Australian Survivor, and re-watching Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, so it was safe to say I had been Survivor-ed out ahead of time. I was fully aware of the game after almost ten years of watching it and now that I write about it, I think I love the show even more.
My imagination ran wild thinking about who I really wanted to meet, who I had already met through Skype, and who would take me by surprise. Excitement was an understatement, and I couldn’t have left that last class at Uni quick enough to drive home the night before our flight.
DAY 0 – ARRIVING IN ORLANDO
This was a long day. The alarm rang at 6:15am (yeah, I needed those extra 15 minutes) and by about 7:00am Mum and I were off to the airport. We had much to talk about what might happen for the days that followed and both of us were surely excited for the event. There was the occasional comment about the uncomfortable position it is to sleep and sit in on a 12-hour flight, but otherwise I’m pretty sure I couldn’t shut up about it. Sorry Mum.
When landing in Los Angeles, it was roughly 12:00am Thursday in Australia, and Mum and I had been set back to 7:00am on Wednesday. Already feeling that 24-hour kick. Our next flight was much the same as the first, I’d shut my eyes for what I thought would be an hour only to see the flight time remaining move only 20 minutes. Eventually, we landed in Orlando and the heat was the first obstacle to overcome, yet a subtly nice refresher to the months of cold in Brisbane. Not that it was generally 40+ degrees over the week, but the humidity was intense!
After getting into the hotel at 8:00pm Orlando time (that’s 10:00am Thursday in Australia, if you’re playing at home), showering, eating, and sleeping was on my mind. But not before taking a peak around the lobby and pool to catch a glimpse of a Reality TV alumnus. No such luck. But tomorrow was Day 1, and looking promising.
DAY 1 – HAPPY HOUR & VIP PARTY
With only hours before I’m surrounded by Reality TV stars and even walking past one at the hotel, I was pretty excited. But it wouldn’t be a trip to the U.S. without some shopping. While it’s not my favourite activity, it always amazes me to see so many items valued at such a low price. Mum certainly left with more than I did, but passing the time was much needed instead of stewing in the hotel all day wondering how the week was to begin.
Five o’clock hit and it was time for the first event, the Happy Hour, and very quickly did I see so many faces I had only recognised wearing a buff and dirty as hell through a TV screen. From a distance, I saw Jonny Fairplay, Tyler Fredrickson, Angelina Keeley, Dan Rengering, Mike Holloway, Wendell Holland! This was insane! They were right in front of me and it was just surreal. I first met the great Omar who had gifted me with so many things over the last few years to benefit Give Kids The World, and I am so glad he was first. It set a nice tone before being unleashed to the stars among us.
The Happy Hour was a great opportunity to meet and greet with some stars. Sometimes I would ask questions related to their season of either Survivor, Big Brother or others, but sometimes it was merely talking with them. A lot of people were surprised/shocked Mum and I had flown from Australia for this, and it was always a great conversation point for each interaction. For every person I spoke with, Mum would take a photo of us and it was great to encapsulate those first few moments of “oh my gosh”.
That first round I met Survivor players: Wendell Holland from Ghost Island, Jonny Fairplay from Pearl Islands and Micronesia, Bret LaBelle and Figgy from Millennials vs Gen X, Chris Underwood and Wendy Diaz from Edge of Extinction, and Dan Rengering and Jessica Peet from David vs Goliath. I also met Big Brother U.S.A players: Rockstar, Ovi, Sam, David, and Elena. Every single one of which, I loved by the way, and I wish I could go into detail about those initial meet and greets but in fear of rambling on, I’m gonna have to cut it short.
I think it was safe to say I was most excited to meet/see Jessica Lewis. Not only is she one of my favourite Survivor players, but she began the trend to getting to where I was. After she caught our eye, Mum and I made our way to talk with her and it was at this point the nerves really started to kick in. From that initial hug and discussion about being here and how amazing it was to finally meet in person, my trip was certainly made, and there were still several hours left! She was just as genuine and kind as she was when we met two years prior, and I am so very thankful for having the opportunity to speak with her then, and now, right in front of me. She is awesome!
The event seemed to wrap, and two hours went by very quickly. But on our way down the stairs, I saw another personal favourite of mine: from Survivor: David vs Goliath, Angelina Keeley. Angelina was a notable player from her season and was very much either loved or despised by Survivor fans. I was firmly on the love team from Day 1, and defended her against the haters just as a super passionate fan would. Those nerves I experienced when I went up to her resembled those earlier with Jessica. But after approaching her and talking to her about being such a fan of her performance on Survivor, very quickly did I realise exactly why I liked her. Meeting her was an extreme highlight of the event, and there were so many from the entire week. We took a photo together, and a selfie (of course). Unlike Jessica, who I had already met, Angelina was probably the person I was most excited to meet for the first time at the event. And she was downright amazing.
When Mum and I returned to the hotel, we were buzzing with excitement from the few interactions we had made over the last couple of hours. There were still so many more faces to see yet, but we were so pumped for the near future after the incredible reception of that first event.
A few hours later, and we were off again. It was time for round two at the VIP party. I spoke with another Skype caller and Survivor favourite Carolyn Rivera, and it was great finally talking with her in the flesh after two years. She was an absolute gem to talk briefly with and as the week went on, my love for her only got higher and higher. I sincerely enjoyed getting to talk to her that first day and Probst better give her that second chance very, VERY, soon. Downstairs, before the event I also met a couple more favourites, Elizabeth and Adam from David vs Goliath and Millennials vs Gen X, respectively. I also spoke with Bret LaBelle again who realised who I was back from the first Skype call with Jessica. I was both floored and elated by his enthusiasm upon remembering me. He was hilarious, and continued to be the entire time I was out there.
Upstairs there were many more greats to run into. Ray and Mandy, who brought me the video from last year, were pleasures to meet in person as well. Having so much to do with actually getting me out here this time, it was special to meet with them in person.
I met various other Survivors: Sugar Kiper, Gabon and Heroes vs Villains; Carl Boudreaux, David vs Goliath; Reem Daly, Edge of Extinction; Libby Vincek, Ghost Island; Gabby, David vs Goliath; Troyzan, One World and Game Changers; Mike Holloway, Worlds Apart; Jay Starrett, Millennials vs Gen X; Donathan Hurley, Ghost Island; and Leslie Nease, China. They were all great, and I wish I could individually go through those first interactions. But I wanted to specifically note Mike Zahalsky, Todd Herzog, Chrissy Hofbeck, Rick Devens, and Aurora McCreary.
Mike, from the season I had just finished watching, Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, was so great to talk with in person and proved he was just as passionate about the show as I was. His wife Bari provided a new perception to the game coming from a loved one, which Mum particularly liked as a future loved one, but there’s more on that for Day 2. Todd, Sole Survivor of Survivor: China is the most relatable winner to me, and if there’s ever a player I picture playing like, it’s Todd, so that was amazing. I think he really liked hearing that and for me I was just so incredibly happy to meet him. He had played so long ago, but my hype for him was still huge and I just loved that interaction.
Chrissy was another personal favourite from Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers, it was surreal meeting her because I was rooting for her so much through her season (both live and in the re-watch). She was absolutely incredible and taking a photo with other legends Angelina and Jessica was awesome, and now my Twitter cover photo. Rick, from Edge of Extinction, is a news anchor, so of course meeting with him was fantastic because of the common goal we share, anchors of the present and future. I also thoroughly enjoyed watching his season, which was the most recent to air. Aurora, also from EoE, gave powerful advice for auditioning and speaking with her that first day was unbelievable. I always wished we saw more of her on her season, so it was great I was able to grab a further look into what she is like, and what she would have done if something else turned on her season.
Some other stars I met were Big Brother players: Kemi, Bella, Meg, Jillian, Porsche, Kaycee, and Danielle (who got me hooked on Big Brother to start with). All of those ladies were equally amazing to meet too!
Just when we thought the fun was over, downstairs other stars were hiding from meeting with this superfan. We didn’t get around to them all, but we did meet Denise Martin (Survivor: China), Peih-Gee Law (China and Cambodia), and Abi-Maria Gomes (Philippines and Cambodia), they were all wonderful too. Learning Abi was a fan of the Australian version of the show was awesome! I also got to ask Peih-Gee a question I had been holding for years about an interview just prior to playing Cambodia. But the night was then over, and Friday couldn’t come any quicker.
Well that’s Part 1 of my experience at Hearts of Reality! Part 2 will be out soon with Day 2, Day 3, and post-event treats!
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