She was going to be one of those Survivor babes. You know, the kind who uses her beauty and her cleavage to help her stick around on the island. Only 28-year-old Melissa McNulty didn't even make it to the first Tribal Council. The night before filming of the CBS series' new season (premiering Thursday at 8 pm/ET) began, the West Hollywood talent manager became the first player to quit. (At least Pearl Island's Osten and Palau's Janu survived a few challenges.) Melissa's exit left the producers with their own challenge: Since there were no alternates on hand, what to do with the odd number of players? "It played out just fine," host Jeff Probst said in a recent press conference. TV Guide spoke to Melissa on the eve of Survivor: Fiji's debut.
TV Guide: Why did you quit when you had already made it so far, out of all the thousands who applied?
Melissa McNulty: Doing Survivor was a huge challenge for me. Everybody who goes on the show has different reasons and goals. Part of mine was that I suffered from panic attacks, and I thought, "What better way to face that challenge?" I was there in Fiji for almost two weeks before I took myself out of the game and came back to Los Angeles.
TV Guide: What triggered your panic attacks? Was it the prospect of being hungry, wet, dirty and full of bug bites?
McNulty: No. I'm a girly-girl, but that doesn't bother me. For 40 days? C'mon. My No. 1 trigger is being in a situation where I can't get out. I get a claustrophobia kind of panic. I had multiple panic attacks in one day, which I've never experienced before. I tried to pull myself together, but....
TV Guide: When you were auditioning, did you tell the producers about your anxiety attacks?
McNulty: Yes. They did ample research to assure that I was in a good mental state. My doctors and I thought I was ready.
TV Guide: What did you do when you knew you couldn't make it?
McNulty: I talked to my point person and said I was getting overwhelming panic attacks. They sent me to the on-site psychologist, and the producers talked to me. They were very accommodating. They wanted me to stay, and it was my decision to decide that I was not in the mental state to participate.
TV Guide: Do you have any complaints about how you were treated? They didn't ask for any monetary reimbursement, did they?
McNulty: No. [Laughs] I have nothing negative to say about the experience. It was wonderful. They got me home very quickly. They didn't make a big deal or make me feel bad.
TV Guide: Can you give us any tips on the players?
McNulty: I never even heard their voices! We weren't allowed to talk to each other before the game. I wasn't there long enough to know what was going on. Not that I'd tell you, if I could. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Will you watch Survivor: Fiji?
McNulty: Sure. I'm so excited, I'm TiVoing it. But I'm kicking myself in the butt. I know I should be on this! I was chosen, I was ready. I know I could have won some challenges. Outwit, outlast, outplay. I had it down, but I didn't last.
TV Guide: Do you feel like a failure?
McNulty: In many people's eyes, they'll think I failed, but in my own eyes, I succeeded. I was really pressing my limits to even go on the show. It was really awful when I came back, but now I can fly on a plane without a panic attack, I can sit in the back seat of a car.... There's many things I can do that I couldn't before. I'm a stronger person because of this. Also, before I was embarrassed by my panic attacks, and now I've decided to be honest and not shy away. Forty million people deal with this!
TV Guide: Would you try out for another reality show any time soon?
McNulty: I don't know if they'd even consider having me back, but I would absolutely try Survivor again next year. I'm a stronger person. There are a lot of people laughing at me right now, and I'd like to have the opportunity to tell them I'm not this "weak prissy model" that everybody is calling me on the Internet. I'm a lot stronger now.
For more from Melissa McNulty, including exactly how her panic attacks manifested themselves in Fiji, and what regrets she has, if any, watch for the Feb. 19 issue of TV Guide.
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