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Former Reality TV star shares experience

May 15, 2013
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Jaime Dugan Huffman, the marketing director at Salty Sam's Waterfront Adventures, sports a sunny disposition, a southern accent and is one of the sweetest gals you will ever meet until you take her food away.

Huffman is a former cast member of "Survivor: China," the CBS reality show that aired in the fall of 2007. She described her experience with the show at the Greater Fort Myers Beach Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Charley's Boathouse Grill on Thursday.

"I actually offered $5,000 for a hamburger. I even demanded that a cameraman give me the gum in his mouth, but he said he would get fired if he did," she said. "Now, I would eat stuff off the floor. It would not faze me."

Article Photos

Salty Sam’s Waterfront Adventures Marketing Director Jaime Dugan Huffman, who participated in “Survivor: China” in 2007, explains her experiences on the reality television series.

Huffman learned a lot from the experience, like how tough she could be, how sneaky she could be and that she has a breaking point that was reached a few times during her trials and tribulations.

One of the worst things the Florida native experienced on the island was eating bugs and digging for food, like clams and snails.

'My diet for 15 days straight was snails and moldy rice," she said. "I had to pull the mold off of each strand of rice before cooking it to eat. Sometimes I would not eat at all."

One of the best things that happened to the former Jaime Dugan was to meet her future husband, Eric, on the show. She believes her husband fell in love with her because she used to give him her extra snails instead of throwing them back in.

"The experience was absolutely worth it. I met my husband, had a child and worked for CBS almost four years doing casting after the show," she said. "I am really grateful for everything that Survivor has done for me and my life, but there is no way that someone could pay me to do it again."

Being a girl scout for 13 years prepared her somewhat for the adventure. But what you saw wasn't always what you got as a viewer.

"What you see on television isn't one-tenth of the tough conditions we faced," she said. "People are passing out from heat stroke. Someone got medically evacuated. They really don't show all the stuff. I think it would turn people off. It is way too real. I would say 80 percent is real and 30 percent they have a lot of fun with in the editing room."

Huffman made it 21 days of the 39-day ordeal, lost 21 pounds and couldn't recognize herself in the water. Eric lasted 33 days.

"Of the top 10 worst days of my life, four of them easily were on Survivor," she said.

Huffman did not sign a waiver for her health or take an insurance policy out before the filming.

"My lawyer told me that I signed my life away. He said they could pretty much kill me, and there was nothing I could do about it," said Huffman.

Some cast members have suffered long-term injuries, but CBS helps out.

"I lot of people have psychiatric problems when they come back," she said. "They do take care of counseling. Some of those people from 10 years ago are still having issues. When you get it set in your head that you are going to win $1 million and you go to the final vote and don't win, it really messes with some people."

Huffman still keeps in touch with former cast members. Nowadays, she actually calls childbirth "a piece of cake" after the show's life-changing experience.

Her "Survivor: China" cast members included a gravedigger, Playboy bunny/WWE wrestler and a gay flight attendant/Mormon, who ended up winning but also attracted a parasite that he still has to this day.

"Working in the restaurant industry, I get to work with all sorts of characters. I've been set up to be able to handle them very well," Huffman said. "That was one of things that I took away that I am so grateful for."

How Jaime got the role

Huffman landed the chance at the Survivor role when she was a student at the University of South Carolina and studying public relations and marketing. Her photo on her Facebook account was caught by the eye of a casting director, who added her as a stand-in for a film in Charlotte, S.C.

"While I was on set, I met a casting director from CBS who spent seven days convincing me to try out for Survivor," she said.

Survivor cast members do get paid for their roles. The first person voted off made roughly $13,000. Jaime received almost $30,000, while Eric made over $60,000.

"As a poor college student with a good $40,000 worth of loans, I decided to go after it," she said. "I started training and within two weeks I was in Los Angeles with the executive producers of CBS."

She stated that she was among 48 other people vying for 16 slots to participate in the show. The show's directors grilled her during several conference room meetings. Huffman wore a dress and heels to the audition, was questioned if she was trying out for "Survivor Versace" and was asked to do pushups in her dress in front of the execs.

"They are trying to see if they can break you," she said. "I pulled off about 10 pushups, was pretty proud of myself and, next thing you know, I was on the cast."

CBS flew her and the rest of the cast into China, then she was boated to the island where the filming took place. Ironically, the Beijing Olympics were happening shortly after.

"They threw us on this island where we had no vegetation, no fish to catch, no coconuts and no beach," she said. "We were on this really disgusting lake, which was one of the worst lakes in the world for parasites. We found out really fast we had the top two worst conditions in Survivor history."

The series also had one of the worst rainstorms in the history of the show. The entire crew left the cast members to fend for themselves.

"We were balling. I saw grown men cry, including my husband," Huffman said. "We thought we were going to die. There was nobody there. If someone got hurt I think someone got in trouble for that."

One of the questions she was asked was if the reality show was a 24/7 endeavor.

"You actually woke up with a camera in your face," she replied. "Just in case you were doing anything, they wanted to be there and catch it."

She was also asked her experience being on the jury. She said it took her four days to get back to eating properly.

"We had a lot of fun when we were on the jury," said Huffman. "You are put on an island with babysitters, and they give you whatever food and whatever alcohol you want for the remainder of the time. We had boats come over with wine and parties. They would give us massages."

Marital problems shouldn't be an issue now that she is on the mainland.

"It was a great way to meet a husband," she said. "He has seen me at my worst. Survivor has a better success rate for relationships than any other reality show in the history of television. There are four or five of us couples still together. Two are married (Boston Rob and Amber have three kids), but they don't have anything on us."

Although he could be a brat by telling the cast members what he had for lunch each day, Huffman called Survivor Host Jeff Probst one of the best interviewers due to his ability to get something out of someone.

"He will constantly badger you and is really good at upsetting you," she said. "In real life, he was fantastic to work for, hysterical in interviews and is really down to earth. He even drives a (Toyota) Prius."

All in all, even though she doesn't think she has regained all of her muscle tone, she enjoyed the time she had dining on bugs included.

"It was quite the experience, one I am never going to forget and am completely proud of," she said.



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