'Survivor' for the fittest

The Baltimore Sun

It was like a reward challenge: Endure a chilly, drizzly night in the elements and be among the first to try out for the reality television show Survivor.

"If we can hack that, we can hack Survivor, absolutely," said Casey Starshine, who waited 14 hours with her 9-year-old son, Uriah.

More than a dozen hardy souls did the same, huddling overnight under an open-sided tent at a Catonsville car dealership before Saturday morning's casting call.

By day's end, more than 400 would-be contestants filed into Antwerpen Hyundai, where WJZ-TV set up two cameras. Each hopeful got a couple of minutes to say why he or she belonged on the long-running CBS show.

For most, the long-shot bid seemed driven by a mix of competitiveness, a thirst for adventure and the $1 million prize awarded each season to the last contestant left after all others have been voted off.

Despite the steady rain, people came from all around - including Northern Virginia and Western Maryland - and all walks of life. Occupations included carpenter, lawyer, doctor, baggage handler, furniture builder and, aptly for the times, "laid off."

All ages turned out. At one point, 18-year-old ballerina April Giangerusu made her pitch while, on the other side of a green curtain, 64-year-old teacher Frank Wagner warbled, "I will never give up, I will never give up."

WJZ creative services director K.C. Robertson urged everyone to stand out. Few aspirants needed the reminder. Baltimore resident Kim Zetwick, 26, who's making her fourth try for Survivor, auditioned in a bikini. "I needed to do something to grab their attention," she explained.

Walt Naylor, a retired Marine Corps sergeant from Baltimore, stood out simply by showing up first. "I arrived here about 23 hours, 15 minutes ago," he barked into the camera. "I came here to play the game, and the game has begun."

Naylor, 62, said he served in Vietnam and Beirut, but his biggest battle came in 1994 when doctors diagnosed him with colon cancer that had spread. "I was given three weeks to six months to live. I am a survivor," he said, showing his scarred stomach before saluting.

Bonnie Jo Horn, 45, drove from Thurmont in Frederick County. The cardiovascular technician emphasized her wiliness in interpersonal dynamics, which are so integral to the show.

"I think people like me pretty much," she told the camera. "More importantly, I make people think I like them. Pretty much I don't think I like anybody."

Justin Brown, a 19-year-old student at Harford Community College, took a similar tack: "I have a talent for manipulation; I could trick people."

Starshine, 32, of Catonsville, is a hospice nurse whose motto is "live life like there is no tomorrow." She said she has visited nine countries and hitchhiked across the U.S. A vegetarian, she said, "I think America is going to like to see me eat meat for the first time in 22 years."

Gesturing to the dress-wearing mannequin she'd brought, she added, "This is Jean, by the way. She's here for moral support."

Jennifer Martinson, 36, wore a white tennis skirt and had a tennis racket. She showed photos of herself skiing and sky diving. A marketer for a software company, she said, "I've survived five rounds of layoffs in 12 years."

Kelli Bloch, 27, did not survive layoffs at her job in New York two weeks ago. Down visiting family in Columbia, she noted an upside: She has time to compete on Survivor.

"And I'm already in shape," she said, flashing her biceps and flat tummy.

Whether anyone will survive the cut and be called back remains to be seen. Producers will review the tapes, then cast their votes.

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