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'Survivor 2' winner misses anonymity; says she wouldn't do it again

Wednesday, October 24, 2001

By Terry Morrow, Scripps Howard News Service

Nearly six months after being named the $1 million winner of "Survivor 2," Tina Wesson of Knoxville, Tenn., will tell you she isn't rich, and fame isn't fleeting enough for her.

The Fountain City wife and mother of two has changed her attitude toward celebrity and fortune. She tells fans she would never want to relive the game or recommend that others take part in it.

The hardship of going without much food, voting friends out of a game and being separated from her family for weeks in the outback was considerable, to say the least. She's rarely been home since her win. Personal appearances and speaking engagements are so numerous she is sometimes home only five days out of a month. Her children miss her. She misses them and her old life. Wesson was a personal nurse.

The $1 million is nearly spent. Half of it disappeared with taxes. With the rest, she bought a 14-room, 5,000-square-foot house (her old dwelling was a seven-room place with one bathroom; her new place has five bathrooms).

She redecorated her new place, paid off debts for her best friend and for fellow "Survivor" contestant Colby Donaldson and started a fund for the needy.

These days, Wesson pines for her daily routine of being a wife and mother. She used to visit her children's school for lunch, do the laundry and make the dinners. Those days are over for now.

"At this point, I have zero structure," Wesson said.

She keeps in touch with friends through group e-mails and apologizes she can't write everyone individually anymore. Sometimes those e-mails are logged at 3 a.m., when she is trying to wind down from her day.

As she speaks, her life sounds unenviable. Wesson refuses to call it a bad situation.

"It's just a different lifestyle," said the 40-year-old, who has rarely made more than minimum wage in her professional life.

"It's definitely not anything I would choose for myself. Knowing there is a light at the end of the tunnel helps."

She figures her 15 minutes will end with the finale of "Survivor: Africa" in February.

Wesson has changed since her win. She is candid enough to say it isn't entirely for the better.

"There have been some things about myself that are better," she said, noting she has conquered her lifelong fear of speaking in public.

The downside: "Whereas I used to be extremely friendly to the point I'd strike up a conversation with a stranger, now I don't do that," she said. "Because I give so much of myself during the day, I don't feel like giving any more away when I am alone.

"I can't afford to be as silly as I used to be. I miss that. I miss the old me. I look forward to her return."

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