Apparently, spending a month on a far-flung island with rats, snakes and Richard Hatch can prepare you for anything — even a movie career. To wit, original Survivor castaway Colleen Haskell, 24, makes her big screen debut on Friday in The Animal, which co-stars a motley menagerie including Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider.

Though she initially wasn't too confident about her acting ability, the novice says sharing screen time with a cast of critters helped take the pressure off. "I liked having the animals on the set because they attracted attention away from me," Haskell chuckles. "No matter how bad I was messing up, the goat was really messing up!"

Unfortunately, when it came time to film one unsavory scene — in which Schneider chews up a live worm and lets a baby turkey vulture eat it from his mouth — her gag reflex nearly kicked in. "I thought, 'God! He's so into his character!'" Haskell says, acutely recalling her own Survivor challenge of eating a giant beetle larvae. "I was really grossed out until the prop guy told me they were switching the worm with granola whenever Rob was chewing."

Although she charmed the nation as the sweetly sarcastic darling of Palau Tiga, the novice actress initially feared film critics would be quick to extinguish her torch. Admits Haskell: "I really worried about what people were going to say. It was a dark cloud hanging over my head for a while — then I realized I was the only one worrying about it!"

Surprisingly, despite having lived the American dream of breaking into the movies, Haskell hasn't abandoned the idea of resuming her graphic design career. (So far, she's not fielding any other showbiz offers.) "I have my resume ready in one hand," she says, "but on the other hand, being in a movie is a pretty good job that beats working in an office. As for what comes next, I could really go either way."