Susie Smith: “I certainly don’t plan on apologizing every time I screw up”

Survivor Gabon has a fantastic character and perhaps a very strong player in Susie Smith, who won me over instantly. She was the first cast member to use my name and engage me in her answers, rather than sounding like she was saying the same things to yet another stranger; a strategy, perhaps, but it didn’t seem at all artificial. (And I certainly can’t blame many of the others for giving rote answers considering how many interviews they’d been through by the time they talked with me, sitting in a plastic chair overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.)

Susie has a high school age son, and said family is “everything,” she said. “This is the most selfish thing I’ve ever done. I have never been away from my family for seven weeks.” She’s also committed to trying things for herself, and convincing the world that everyone else needs to literally just try things. “I cannot believe people do not know what the word ‘try’ means–T R Y,” she said.

Susie’s likability–and warmth and clear devotion to her family–is matched, as you can see, by clear conviction and confidence, which would come off as arrogant in someone who wasn’t as thoroughly nice as she is. She’s also fiercely competitive, and said she couldn’t really understand people who lack competitiveness even in everyday games. I really think she has the combination of skills to win the game without anyone noticing that she’s won.

She loves to talk, although unlike Bob Crowley, she didn’t tell long, lingering stories, but jumped from idea to idea to idea. It makes sense, then, that’s she’s a teacher–she teaches students for whom English is a second language, and English is her second language, even though she grew up in Iowa. Susie is also a hairdresser, the profession CBS is using to identify her. And she also worked for a nonprofit organization where she worked with the elderly.

Clearly, she’s a social person who cares about others, and what better qualities are there for Survivor? However, there’s a part of Susie that has the potential to rub others the wrong way, or to just get annoying. It’s not that she has a self-described “potty mouth. But I think a lot of people do, they just hide it,” she said. Of course, the first time she said “fuckin’,” I loved her even more.

While that could rub a tight-ass contestant the wrong way (and I really don’t think there is one person like that this season), it’s really her unflinchingly honesty and conviction might not play well with people. For example, she talked about her mother, who has dementia, and said, “it’s like the mother I’ve always wanted,” she said, and wasn’t entirely joking (“I know that sounds crazy, but…”).

And she’s pretty convinced that she’s right, although in a non-obnoxious way. Susie told me that she couldn’t understand why, when “somebody fucked up” in a challenge on past seasons, they apologized to their fellow tribe members. “I certainly don’t plan on apologizing every time I screw up,” she said. Earlier, she told me that she would be “the first to apologize” if she offended someone, but later said that sometimes, she says, “screw you, I really don’t care or not if I offended you or not. I don’t care.” That sort of inconsistency but conviction-in-the-moment could help her in the game.

Listen to Susie talk about why she did the show, how she wants people to perceive her (where I had to fade out because her answer just kept going), and how she doesn’t understand why people are offended when she swears.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.