They are moms and soldiers, aspiring actors and small-town teachers. But as of Thursday morning, they will forever be known as the contestants of Survivor: The Australian Outback. On CBS's The Early Show, the identities of the 16 contenders competing for the million-dollar jackpot in the deep river canyons and scorched-earth region of northeastern Australia were revealed to the world, and already standouts are emerging. The Early Show's Julie Chen and Mark McEwen both seemed to favor former cop/tough lady Maralyn Hershey. "She looks like the Rudy of this group," remarked Chen. "She seems like a survivor."
When the follow-up to the most successful summer series in TV history debuts on January 28 (following the Super Bowl), viewers will find the competitors split into two teams — the Ogakor and Kucha, named after aboriginal words for freshwater crocodile and kangaroo. Here are the names and backgrounds of each player, along with a brief soundbite from their Early Show interview:
THE OGAKOR TEAM
Name: Amber Brkich
A recent Westminster College graduate, Amber has a B.A. degree in public relations. While attending school, she worked several different jobs, including administrative assistant, waitress, library assistant, swimming instructor, lifeguard and babysitter. The Beaver, Pennsylvania native says her primary reasons for trying out for Survivor include lack of change, excitement and wanting more kangaroos in her life.
Early Show quote: "At first people think I'm a pretty charming, funny, easy-going nice girl who doesn't have a mean bone in her body. But I can be mean and conniving."
Name: Mitchell Olson
Olson is an aspiring singer/songwriter who's traveled the country with several stage productions. He accomplished one of his lifelong dreams in 1998 when he was a contestant on CBS's The Price Is Right. A native of South Dakota who now lives in Union City, New Jersey, Olson — who stands seven feet tall — also claims to have once tried out for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Early Show quote: "I want to have a lot more fun this time than they did last time."
Name: Jerri Manthey
An aspiring actress living in Los Angeles, Manthey grew up an "army brat." As a result, she moved every three to four years of her childhood, spending many years on various Army bases in Germany. She's used to the extreme outdoors, thanks in part to her regular participation in "Burning Man," an annual festival held in the Nevada desert. Manthey currently works as a bartender and enjoys hiking in the canyons of Los Angeles.
Early Show quote: "It's definitely important to make friends with everybody, but I think staying independently strong is very important and finding some skill in a particular area that makes me irreplaceable."
Name: Maralyn Hershey
A 26-year veteran of Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department, Hershey was one of the first women to be assigned to street patrol. Over the course of her career, she made sergeant, then lieutenant, followed by captain and, ultimately, inspector. Hershey retired in 1996 and has received over 70 letters of commendation and four Incentive Awards for Outstanding Performance of Duty. A horse lover, Hershey rides competitively and also swims and runs. She describes herself as being determined, dramatic and multi-faceted, and judging by her appearance on The Early Show, she is one tough cookie.
Early Show quote: "This could be a Queen of the Flies this time as opposed to a Lord of the Flies. We've got to hang on to all the strong, good men to win those challenges, and then, hey, it'll be a battle of the bitches."
Name: Kel Gleason
Gleason is an intelligence officer — a captain — in the U.S. Army. He was commissioned to the army in 1996 and posted to Germany, where he spent three years. While there, he served as platoon leader and battalion staff officer for intelligence and security. He was also assigned to Bosnia as part of a peacekeeping operation. Gleason, who lives in Ft. Hood, Texas, has a bachelor's degree in radio/television communications and studied at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The single soldier enjoys camping, fishing and kayaking, as well as a variety of sports.
Early Show quote: "Within the first three days, I'll determine who I can trust and who I can't."
Name: Colby Donaldson
Donaldson is a self-employed custom auto designer and builder. Prior to forming his own company, he worked as a sales rep for an HMO carrier. A Texas Tech graduate, Donaldson currently resides in Dallas and describes himself as a competitive athlete who enjoys water skiing, mountain biking and playing sand volleyball.
Early Show quote: "I am a leader and I enjoy that, and I have no problem with taking control. However, every good chief has to know when to be an Indian."
Name: Keith Famie
After opening his own restaurant in Michigan in 1988, Famie was named one of the "10 Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine. In addition, his restaurant, Les Auteurs, an American Bistro, was named one of Esquire's "Best New Restaurants of 1988." In 1997, he opened Forte, and once again made the mag's list of top eateries. The ambitious Famie appeared on several local television cooking specials in Detroit, and in 1999, he hosted a one-hour prime-time Emmy-nominated documentary, From Hanoi to China Beach: A Taste of the Exotic. The divorced father of two recently penned a cookbook, and also serves as president of the Rainbow Connection, a non-profit organization that helps grant wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses in Michigan.
Early Show quote: "I'm not very much of a ruthless, backstabbing, conniving-type person."
Name: Tina Wesson
In her home of Knoxville, Tennessee, Wesson pulls double duty as a full-time mom and C.N.A. nurse. After receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Tennessee, Wesson held several jobs, including flight attendant, substitute teacher and swimming instructor. In 1998, the extremely athletic woman completed the Dublin, Ireland Marathon, won the Tennessee State Racquetball Tournament and came in first in her age division in her hometown mini-triathlon. Married with two children, Wesson is also a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Early Show quote: "I thought about my strategy and it's changed a couple of times, so I'm still not sure which one I'm gonna go with, but if you kick off all the mean and nasty people, then you're left with all the good, happy fun people, so you can have a party."
THE KUCHA TEAM
Name: Elisabeth Filarski
Filarski is a recent Boston College grad and footwear designer. Before moving to Boston, she also lived in Providence, Cranston and even Belize, where she taught in the rainforest. Filarski, who enjoys running and played softball while attending Boston College, describes herself as impulsive, intuitive and devoted.
Early Show quote: "I'd like to do something a little different and have it unfold in a different way than the first one did. I want to make it fun for myself and everyone else."
Name: Kimmi Kappenberg
A bartender from Long Island, New York, Kappenberg also freelances as a production assistant for TV commercials. After taking courses at various schools, she received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the New York Institute of Technology. Kappenberg is also a vegetarian and says she enjoys gardening, horseback riding and having sex (really). She's single and lives with her cat, Abbi, in Ronkonkoma, Long Island.
Early Show quote: "I don't like to intentionally hurt people — that's a big problem [because] with this, you're hurting somebody. When you vote somebody off, you feel bad."
Name: Jeff Varner
Varner is an Internet project manager currently living in New York City. Originally from Greensboro, N.C., he received a B.A. in journalism from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He describes himself as an aggressive athlete who's played competitive hockey for 16 years. Also, at age 15, he received a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. When he's not rollerblading, hiking or jogging, Varner researches burn trauma organizations for kids.
Early Show quote: "I'm not going out there for a vacation. I'm not going out there to make friends. I don't care about any of these people — I'm voting them off one at a time. I'm winning this money. If it means being ruthless, if it means lying, so what?"
Name: Michael Skupin
In addition to co-owning and serving as president of a software publishing and distribution firm, Skupin also founded a motivational speaking company. The Michigan native — who earned his bachelor of business management from Western Michigan University — is married and has three children. A self-described adventurous thrill seeker, Skupin likes hunting, water skiing and playing ice hockey.
Early Show quote: "If I was playing a game of Monopoly, I would try and bankrupt everybody on the board and I would be as ruthless as possible to win that game."
Name: Debb Eaton
A self-described outgoing, athletic and determined person with a very positive attitude, Eaton is a corrections officer at a men's prison in Berlin, New Hampshire. In 1997, she lost her husband of 17 years — a New Hampshire state police officer — after he died on duty. The couple have a son who serves in the U.S. Marine Corps and is stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China. When not working, Eaton enjoys riding motorcycles, hiking, running, weightlifting, and spending time with her animals.
Early Show quote: "I don't care how many times I fall down, I'm gonna get up and I'm eventually going to succeed. Plus I'm a little crazy."
Name: Alicia Calaway
Originally from Connecticut, Calaway currently resides in New York City where she works as a personal trainer. Seven years ago, she won the Ms. Connecticut Amateur Natural Bodybuilding Competition and is certified through the National Academy of Sports Medicine. In addition to being a medical exercise specialist, she's also CPR-certified with the American Red Cross. A graduate of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, Calaway describes herself as being charismatic, competent and passionate.
Early Show quote: "I'm definitely a real focused person, and when I set my mind to something, I definitely can do it. I have to be really careful about coming on too strong, cause that is naturally what will happen. If I step back and try to become people's friends — which is easy for me to do — I think I won't be as threatening."
Name: Nick Brown
Brown, who is entering his second year at Harvard Law School, plans to join the Army's Judge Advocate General's office upon graduation. An officer in the U.S. Army, he was a member of the R.O.T.C. while attending Morehouse College in Atlanta. A resident of Washington, Brown spent the past summer working as a student associate at a San Francisco law firm. The former model describes himself as being compassionate, incisive and ambitious.
Early Show quote: "I think I'm gonna be nice and personable, but I'm gonna do what I need to do to win. If that takes saying one thing to one person and another to someone else, then I'm gonna do that."
Name: Rodger Bingham
In addition to teaching industrial arts at Grant County High School in Crittenden, Kentucky, Bingham is also a part-time farmer and real estate investor. The Crittenden native, a self-described workaholic, earned a bachelor's degree of science for industrial education and a master's degree in education from Eastern Kentucky University. Bingham, an elder at the Crittenden Christian Church, previously served as a bank CEO for ten years, and also owned a lumber company and a hardware store.
Early Show quote: "Sometimes I'm a little critical of people if they don't carry their own load. When it comes time to vote with the tribal council, those will be the ones whose names I personally will hold up to the camera."