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Jenna Morasca departs 'Survivor: All-Stars'

Saturday, February 14, 2004

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Concerned about her mother's fragile health, Jenna Morasca, one of Western Pennsylvania's two "Survivor: All-Stars" contestants, left the CBS reality show Thursday night.

Robert Voets/CBS
Jenna Morasca said goodbye to the Mogo Mogo tribe and the rest of the castaways of "Survivor: All-Stars" in Thursday night's episode.
Click photo for larger image.

In what was the most emotional episode of the series to date, Morasca, who had won $1 million last May in "Survivor: Amazon," told her tribemates about her mother's 12-year battle with cancer.

"I love this game so much, but my priority is my family," a choked-up Morasca told host Jeff Probst prior to her departure before a scheduled immunity challenge. "It just doesn't make any sense for me to be here anymore, so I need to take myself out of the game."

Other players wiped away tears, and contestant Amber Brkich from Brighton, Beaver County, hugged Morasca.

"She's my mother. I'm an only child. I got a vibe; I got a feeling she needs me there," Morasca said, acknowledging she made a bad judgment call participating in this edition of "Survivor." "I should be there in case something happens."

A CBS spokeswoman said "Survivor" producers do not give contestants information about what's happening back home unless they get an emergency call from a relative. Producers received no such call from Morasca's family in South Fayette.

Morasca's mother, Carla, died on Nov. 19, eight days after her daughter returned to Pittsburgh. "Survivor: All Stars" was filmed off the coast of Panama throughout November.

In a phone interview yesterday morning between her appearances on CBS's "The Early Show," Morasca said her mother's health was a bit worse before "All-Stars" than it had been before the "Amazon" edition. During filming of "Amazon," Morasca said she was concerned about her mom but never worried.

On "All-Stars," "I immediately didn't feel right," she said. "It was like a disconnection where I was. I felt like my body was there, but my heart and soul was somewhere else. I never felt that, ever. That made me realize this had to be a sign of something."

But, as is so often the case in conversations with the confident Morasca, she said she has no regrets.

"I don't regret my decision to go or my decision to come back," she said. "Not for one second."

Watching the episode Thursday brought back feelings from that time.

"Yes, it is tough to go through it again. It's tough, but it's just what I do," she said. "I was on 'Survivor,' and people want to hear how I'm doing and I respect that. ... Day by day, me and my dad are hanging in there."

Morasca's departure was foreshadowed early in Thursday's episode.

"We look like freaks," Morasca, 23, said at the start of the episode as she tried to keep from itching her copious bug bites. "More freaks than we already are."

Her tribemates showed concern early in the episode, noting that Morasca was no longer eating or drinking.

"She's kind of a wandering zombie," said Kathy Vavrick-O'Brien.

"It seems to be tough for her this time around," said Lex van den Berghe. "I don't think she's happy."

She's only the third player in the show's history to depart "Survivor" without being voted out at a tribal council. Michael Skupin fell into a fire in "Survivor: The Australian Outback" and required medical attention. In "Survivor: Pearl Islands," Osten Taylor asked to leave the game. Morasca doesn't like to describe her departure as "quitting."

"I like to say 'leave' or 'bowed out,'" Morasca said yesterday. "Osten really is a quitter. It was not the physical conditions [for me]. That I can take."

After winning the "Amazon" edition, Morasca and fellow castaway Heidi Strobel posed nude for Playboy magazine. She appeared in an anti-fur ad for PETA and guest-starred in the Off-Broadway play "Pieces..."

Since filming "Survivor: Amazon," Morasca has been on leave from the University of Pittsburgh, although she is taking some online courses and plans to return to her studies at some point. She said she's now on the board of directors of Animal Friends in Pittsburgh.

In January, "Survivor" host Jeff Probst said he had been curious to see how Morasca would play the second time around.

"Did she really grow up? Because where she earned her stripes with us was the last six days in the Amazon when she won four challenges in a row," Probst said. "She really turned Rob [Cesternino] on his head, and we thought, if that's really her, she's dynamite. So when the ['All-Stars'] game started, we wondered, is Jenna gonna be a player, or is she gonna pine over Ethan, her boyfriend?"

In December, Morasca told the Post-Gazette she and Ethan Zohn, winner of "Survivor: Africa," had become close, but she stopped short of saying they were dating. But Probst said the general impression was that Morasca and Zohn were a couple going into "All-Stars."

"Everybody knows all the women Ethan had dated. He'd dated more than one 'All-Star.' 'Boston Rob' [Mariano, a contestant on a competing tribe] was very excited to out Ethan's relationships. He said, 'If it will help cause controversy, I'll tell 'em all who he's been with.' There was a very interesting little love triangle going on."

Yesterday, Morasca wouldn't discuss her relationship with Zohn.

"I'm going to plead the Fifth on that," she said. "He's a great guy, and he's really been there for me. You can't know him and not love him."


Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.

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