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Pitt student wins $1 million prize on 'Survivor' TV show

Monday, May 12, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

After 39 days in the Amazon -- withstanding sickness, rain, a shelter-destroying fire, moth attacks and being labeled one of two "evil stepsisters" by a fellow contestant -- 22-year-old South Fayette native Jenna Morasca was the sole survivor.

Jenna Morasca: The sole survivor. (Monty Brinton, CBS (c)2002 CBS Worldwide Inc)

Official Survivor web site

Jenna's official Survivor The Amazon profile

In a live conclusion to last night's finale of the sixth edition of CBS's "Survivor" from the Ed Sullivan Theater in New York City, Morasca beat runner-up Matthew Von Ertfelda, a 33-year-old restaurant/bar designer from Washington, D.C. She won the $1 million top prize and a new car with the largest margin ever on "Survivor," getting the votes of all but one member of the jury.

In the reunion show that followed the vote, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst expressed surprise that Morasca won, saying, "For a good 36 out of the 39 days, you acted like a selfish, spoiled only child."

"Fair enough," Morasca said. "I'm very young, I have a lot to learn. I felt like I grew a lot. ... I got to watch myself, and, boy, I am spoiled sometimes. I am annoying. I learned so much about myself, but it's very hard to have a learning experience in front of a viewing audience that doesn't know I'm learning."

As the finale began, Morasca was the last woman remaining in the game, one of four contestants competing for the $1 million prize. At the outset of last night's episode, Morasca expected to be voted out at the next "tribal council," the show's election where one contestant is ousted each week. But Morasca surprised her competitors and herself in a blindfolded maze competition by winning "immunity," which prevents a player from being voted off.

That Morasca made it to the winner's circle wasn't a complete surprise. Last month, BoDog.com, a Costa Rican-based sportsbook and casino, removed odds-to-win for "Survivor" from its Web site because the company believed CBS employees had placed bets.

BoDog President Rob Gillespie said CBS staffers skewed the odds on Morasca or contestant Matthew Von Ertfelda winning to the point where "legitimate players were shying away from wagering."

At the time, a CBS spokesman dismissed the report. But Morasca and Von Ertfelda did make it to the final two after forging a secret alliance early in last night's show. She won immunity a second time and kept her word to bring Von Ertfelda with her into the final round.

Deena Bennett, a player voted out earlier and a member of the jury that picked the winner, contrasted the two finalists.

"Matt was the work horse, Jenna was the sex goddess," Bennett said. "The two of them used their abilities to their advantage. Matt worked his way to the top, Jenna played her way to the top."

Morasca, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, was a contestant on the first edition of "Survivor" to pit men and women against one another on separate teams at the outset. Morasca didn't know that would be the twist when she signed on to this "Survivor," which was clearly a disappointment to her.

"[Going] into the jungle with seven other women is my worst nightmare," she said in the season premiere. "If you're in a tribe with all women, you can't use your womanly powers on women. They could care less. They'd find that insulting. With men, you can manipulate them better."

Jenna and Heidi fishing. (Robert Voets, CBS (c)2002 CBS Worldwide Inc)

Morasca, as depicted on the heavily-edited show, was a bit of a wallflower in early episodes. She was always blunt in confessionals to the camera, but not as much in front of fellow contestants in camp. Two weeks ago, the gloves came off as Morasca laid into traitorous fellow contestant Rob Cesternino.

"When Jenna turned around and finally started laying into Rob, I thought, 'Finally, you're playing the game,' " said host Jeff Probst in a teleconference with reporters last week. "Up until then, I think Jenna was sort of deserving of the rap she was taking for whining and being selfish. I was happy to see her finally have had enough."

In Thursday's tribal council, Morasca expressed the value she puts on loyalty and proclaimed her desire to be in the final two with "somebody I care about," presumably Heidi Strobel, who was ousted Thursday night.

"The way you were raised and your values have an impact on the way you play the game," Probst said. "Rob didn't see anything wrong with lying. But, boy, if you betray [Jenna], it's the worst sin of all."

Morasca graduated from South Fayette High School in 1999 and attended Duquesne University for two years before transferring to Pitt. She took last semester off and departed for Brazil to film "Survivor" on Oct. 27.

She is a swimsuit model who has appeared in Maxim and Stuff magazines. She's competed in various beauty pageants and swimsuit competitions, winning several. And she was second runner-up in the Miss Pennsylvania USA beauty pageant in 2001.

On last night's show, Morasca said she weighed 118 pounds when she entered the Amazon. At the end of her stay, her weight was down to 99 pounds.

"That's not good to lose that much weight," she said. "Then again, it will be really fun to gain it back."

Morasca is the second person from Western Pennsylvania to compete on the popular reality show. Amber Brkich of Brighton, Beaver County, appeared on the show's second edition, "Survivor: The Australian Outback."

Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette. com/tv under TV Forum.

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