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’Survivor: Vanuatu’ Contestants Back at the Job Site

Tue April 26, 2005 - National Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

Just four months following their 1-2 finish in last year’s “Survivor: Vanuatu,” two reality television stars are back at their department of transportation jobs.

When the challenges were over and the final votes were counted, the million-dollar first-place winner was Chris Daugherty, a South Vienna, OH, resident employed by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). Second place and $100,000 went to Twila Tanner, a Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) employee from Marshall, MO.

Chris’s Story

Daugherty’s involvement in construction started early when his father stopped hauling diesel fuel for a living to start his own business.

“He started out with a backhoe, and he started digging basements and putting in septic tanks and leech beds and he’d go out and fix blowholes for farmers in the field,” Daugherty explained. “I was only 7 or 8 years old and, as I got older, my dad’s business grew and he became more successful and went and bought pans and a track hoe and bulldozers and he started a construction company. He was throwing me on the backhoe when I was about 10 years old and I was learning about drainage and building ponds and cutting waterways — he works through soil conservation here in Madison County). It was a family thing — I grew up running a pan and operating a backhoe and stuff like that.”

After graduating from high school, Daugherty decided he had different aspirations, and attended Kentucky Christian College for a time.

“I went down there to play basketball because I was athletic in high school, and then I decided that I just wanted to become a teacher,” he explained. “But I was so used to working for my dad during the summer and having money. I was going to college and I was broke, so I decided I could go home and work for my dad and have money in my pocket.”

Daugherty returned to Ohio and worked for his father for about five years before he took his job with ODOT in 1996. However, he continues to help his father with projects on the weekends.

His official title with ODOT is “highway technician.” He reports to the garage every day, and noted that he does everything from plowing snow to putting in catch basins. During the summer, he works as a project inspector.

“What ODOT does is they hire contractors to pave the road,” he said. “I make sure the contractor does it to their specifications. Working for Dad, I was basically a heavy equipment operator, and now it’s become more hands-on. I’ve got the spec book and they’re putting down the blacktop and they have to do it right. It’s another aspect of construction that I’ve learned at ODOT.”

According to Daugherty, his favorite part of his job is being out and working with contractors as a project inspector.

“When you go on a paving job, you end up working with two or three different contractors. It’s long hours, but there’s a sense of accomplishment — they’re building a road. I really enjoy doing that. That’s the best part of my job.”

Despite his enjoyment of the job, Daugherty noted that his good fortune of winning Survivor will help him to move into the next phase of his career plan, which involves starting a real estate company. He wants to begin by buying farmland to develop.

“The final agenda is within three years for me and my dad’s company to go in together and buy 500 acres,” he explained. “We want to develop it and we can do it ourselves. We can build the streets, we can do all the drainage and we can lot them off an acre at a time. So it will be like our final job together, and my dad would plan on retiring after that. With it being a lucrative type of development, I think we would both end up retiring. That’s probably going to be the last big construction thing I do and then I’m going to stick with real estate.”

From the Highway to the Island

Daugherty’s interest in “Survivor” started with the first season when his fiancée, Lorie, introduced him to it.

“She told me that these people were thrown on an island and the last one to survive wins a million dollars,” he said. “So I sat down and got consumed in it…and then I started seeing them do challenges and I thought it was neat.”

Eventually, Lorie encouraged Daugherty to apply, which he did twice over the next few seasons without hearing anything. The third time, he sent his application and video in early, then forgot about it. A few months later, he received a phone call and the adventure began.

Once Daugherty was selected as one of the 18 “Survivor” players, he had to figure out how to get out of work.

“I saw the district deputy director at a meeting,” he explained. “He’s in charge of our whole district. I told him I was about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime and I needed to talk to him about it. He took me to his secretary, and his secretary personally made me an appointment. I went in and I told him exactly what had happened and he was just laughing.”

Daugherty explained the confidentiality agreement, and told the director that he needed administrative leave to keep his contract with CBS.

“He was so nice about it,” Daugherty noted. “He called my boss in Madison County on Monday morning at 7 and told him I was on administrative leave. My boss asked why and he said personal reasons — period. And nothing more was said. So you can imagine what people in my garage were thinking. I came back 45 lbs. lighter and they all thought I went to rehab. Crazy, huh?”

The crew learned that Daugherty was on the show when all the new Survivors were announced on “The Early Show.” He had already returned to work by that time, so he took the day off.

“Of course our secretary, our bookkeeper, my bosses and probably half the crew were sitting up there still drinking coffee at 7:30, and they had the TV on. I just sat here and five minutes after it aired, the phone started and news cameras were showing up.”

Feelings among Daugherty’s co-workers were mixed. He noted that some said they weren’t surprised, but others were shocked.

“Some of them immediately thought — well, look how skinny he is, he wasn’t there a short period of time, he was there a long time. They’re smart. They were figuring out I definitely made it pretty far in the game.”

According to Daugherty, playing the game was worse than he imagined. The worst part for him was the dehydration aspect combined with the sleep deprivation, which made him lethargic and fatigued.

“I thought going in a little bit heavy that down the road I’d get a second wind because my body would have more to feed off of,” he said. “You never get that second wind. Come day 10, the game is physically even with everybody and it becomes a mental game. Everyone’s so run down that it doesn’t matter.”

But in the end, was it worth it?

“I won a million bucks,” he said. “Anything less, I’d tell you no. Yeah, it was worth it.”

Twila’s Story

Tanner has a varied background in construction. Eight years ago, she left a job working in a factory to work for MoDOT. She currently serves as an intermediate crew worker doing highway repair work. Her job gave her experience with equipment such as loaders and backhoes, and she was also hired to work on the weekends for Brown Construction in Gillum, MO. Her work there ranges from driving tractors and running scrapers to grading and plowing.

Her favorite part of the job is working outside.

“I love being outdoors,” she said. “The older I get, the more I don’t like the cold, but I don’t mind it. I can’t see myself doing anything else, to be honest with you.”

Attracted by the Ocean

Tanner also started watching “Survivor” during its first season.

“I was home one day, and I was flipping through the channels,” she remembers. “The ocean is what really got my attention and then I got really interested in the show, so I started taping it on Thursdays. I love ’Survivor’ — I love the show, I love the scenery. I was just hooked from the first time I saw it. I think the outdoor thing is what attracted me to it.”

According to Tanner, she often thought about applying to the show. When she watched it, she would tell her family that she could do it, and that one day they would see her on the show. When a casting call finally came within a 45-minute drive of her home, she thought that if she was ever going to do it, this was the time. She sent in her tape, was called back in six weeks and finally made it to the show.

Tanner was granted leave without pay from her job when she asked for it, but noted that she never told anybody anything.

“I had made the mistake of making comments about it when I went to the casting call, so when I disappeared, people assumed. Nobody knew, but they assumed. When it was advertised, they thought it was pretty cool, and they couldn’t believe it.”

One thing that Tanner believes helped her through the show was that she had the mindset for it from the beginning. She said she knew it was going to be hard and kind of miserable, but she was ready for it. For her, the hardest part was “not wanting to lie to people, but having to tell a lie to get ahead in the game. That was probably the toughest, because I really cared about all of them. To me, you cannot stay out on the island that long, or stay in the game that long, and not form some kind of family-type feelings towards each and every one of the members.”

Tanner also had a hard time being out of contact with her son.

“It’s one thing to go on vacation,” she said, “but you know at any time you can pick up the phone and call. With ’Survivor,’ you have no idea what’s going on back home. You cannot pick up that phone and it’s a very lonely, empty feeling not knowing if everybody’s all right.”

’Still Working Like a Dog’

When the votes were in, Tanner received $100,000 for her efforts. Even though she didn’t win the million, she feels that being on the show was worth it.

“I wouldn’t change that for anything,” she said. “I wish I was back on the island right now. For me, it was a plan to hopefully change my life — to get me to a different life. That hasn’t happened. I’m still working like a dog, but I would not change anything. You could sit there and analyze the game over and over again — if I’d have done this or if I’d have done that — but all that does is drive you crazy. I want to enjoy everything that the reality show ’Survivor’ has brought to me. I feel blessed that I was chosen to be on that game, and anything — whether it is a charity event, whether it is motivational speaking, whether it is being on national TV for some circumstance or another — I cherish each and every one of those opportunities it has brought my way.” CEG

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