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'Survivor' Jenna says winning was complete shock

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Yesterday on CBS's "The Early Show," Jenna Morasca received her check for $1 million for winning "Survivor: The Amazon." If anyone thought she didn't deserve it for outwitting and outlasting competitors during 39 days in the jungle, by noon she was well on her way to earning every penny.

Jenna Morasca accepts congratulations from Matthew Von Ertfelda after she was named the winner of the $1 million CBS reality show. (John Filo, CBS via Associated Press)


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Did KDKA spoil the show or guess right?

Morasca, a 22-year-old University of Pittsburgh student who lives with her parents in South Fayette, spent hours yesterday doing satellite interviews with CBS affiliates across the country. And that was after getting only an hour of sleep Sunday night.

"I realize more and more I miss my 'Survivor' friends when I'm not around them," Morasca said in a phone call between TV interviews. At this point, she hasn't begun to think about how she'll spend her winnings. "I haven't even had time to digest this."

She'll get time for that after she returns to Pittsburgh on Thursday. Tired though she is, Morasca remains enthusiastic about her "Survivor" experience. Although her victory was by no means assured, she ended up winning with six votes from the jury (only one went to runner-up Matthew Von Ertfelda), the largest margin of victory ever on "Survivor."

"It was completely a shock," Morasca said. "I didn't know what to expect. I thought Matt might win this game. I back-stabbed Deena; Rob was Matthew's mentor. They very well could have voted for Matthew, in my mind."

It was especially surprising that she got a vote from Christy Smith, a deaf woman who called Morasca and contestant Heidi Strobel "evil stepsisters" and vowed not to let either one win. Morasca said she thanked Smith for her vote Sunday night.

"I said, 'Christy, I may not have made as much of an effort [to get to know you] as I should have, and I don't think you did with me, either. Let's just throw that out the window and start over,'" Morasca said. "Christy is truly an amazing individual. She does what she wants and doesn't look back."

The same could be said of Morasca. In Sunday's finale she owed up to some of her mistakes on "Survivor," but she doesn't blame the show's famously cagey editing.

"You say what you say on the show. There's no way to twist your words," Morasca said. "Yeah, they can make you into a more interesting character, which is not always representative of your full character, but I did say all those things."

Some women faulted Morasca and Strobel for using their bodies to their best advantage in this, the first "Survivor" to pit men against women at the start. Morasca has no regrets.

"They're not playing 'Survivor,' " she said of the complainers. "You're playing for $1 million. It's not like we were doing anything drastic. We were just being women. Everything you can do to get one, two or three paces ahead, you'd be silly not to do in a game for $1 million."

Morasca and Strobel also stripped for a chance to win peanut butter and chocolate during one of the show's challenges. On Sunday's reunion show, Morasca said she told her father, Michael, about that stunt when he visited her in the Amazon "so all the love and happiness would overshadow it."

"I can't say [my parents] were proud of me, but I was starving," she said. "It wasn't my shining moment, but I love food!'

Morasca took the year off from the University of Pittsburgh, where she has designed her own course of study modeled after a zoology major. She plans to return to school there in the fall. One of her goals is to host a TV show with animals, maybe something for Animal Planet.

As for other offers that might come her way -- Posing for Maxim, maybe? Or Playboy? -- Morasca made no commitment one way or another.

"We'll have to wait and see what options come out of this and weigh them out good and bad."

That's similar to her "Survivor" strategy: adaptability.

"You need to adapt to your surroundings," she said. That meant, when she discovered she'd be on a team of all women, she wore more clothes. After the merge of the tribes when the teams were integrated, she walked amongst her new male teammates in her bikini.

She took a variable approach to watching the episodes every week. Sometimes she'd watch with friends or family, other times by herself.

Jenna Morasca talks about her victory in the show "Survivor: The Amazon" with David Letterman last night. (Jeffrey R Staab, CBS via Associated Press)

"The last one before we left, where Heidi was voted off, it was very hard for me to see that happen," she said. "I felt more comfortable watching that alone."

Some viewers have wondered about her relationship with runner-up Von Ertfelda -- the two were quite chummy while waiting for the vote to be announced Sunday night -- but Morasca said they're just friends who hadn't seen each other since leaving the Amazon.

"It's a lot of emotion after being together. ... You don't make it into the final two and not establish a bond," she said. As for anything between them down the road, "that's to be determined."

On Sunday, Morasca got to meet Amber Brkich, the Brighton, Beaver County, woman who appeared in "Survivor: The Australian Outback," but didn't make it as far in that edition as Morasca did. The two share an experience that even the most loyal "Survivor" watcher can't understand.

"When you go on 'Survivor' and you're done and your season is over, it's like a family," Morasca said. "There's just an unspoken bond with these people, whether you were on their season or not."

"Survivor" has always performed well ratings-wise in Pittsburgh. Morasca's win Sunday night made Pittsburgh the second-highest-rated market for "Survivor" in the country (Cincinnati perennially comes in No. 1). On KDKA-TV, the 10 p.m. reunion show notched slightly higher ratings than the two-hour season finale that preceded it.

Nationally, an average 22 million viewers watched the finale, which won the time slot in households and key demographics (adults 18-49, adults 18-34, adults 25-54).

At the end of Sunday's finale, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst announced that the next edition will be set off the coast of Central America on a chain of Panamanian islands. "Survivor: Pearl Islands" will premiere this fall.


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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