Betsy Bolan: “I just want to enjoy the moment, I just want to have fun”

This is the ninth in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Betsy BolanFrom the moment she sat down, I really liked Betsy Bolan. She’s warm and funny and effervescent. And although she didn’t talk much about strategy, she struck me as one of those Survivor contestants who will be underestimated by viewers–and her fellow competitors, and will end up surprising us all. In fact, as you’ll see, our conversation echoed that of a person who won.

Betsy is beyond enthusiastic, and said she’s been “trying for six years” to get on Survivor, drawn to the show because “I can’t get enough of being outdoors” and “hate cooking, hate cleaning, hate laundry–I want to just be away from all that.” She said, “I’m almost 50 and it’s perfect timing right now.” Of the game, Betsy said, “I think it’s more mental than physical,” but she’s still “excited to do the challenges; I’m not excited to do the puzzle part, because I’m an airhead.” She’s very amusingly self-deprecating–”I always go around the bull’s ass to get to the point of the story,” she said at one point.

She’s a cop in New Hampshire, and in her great, thick New England accent, described herself as “Barney Fife, driving around listening to NPR. … I’m not your typical cop, I’m really not,” she said, because “I hug people at car accidents” and “I love domestics and trailer parks.”

Betsy expects her skills as a cop to help her in the game, because “I can talk people down instead arresting them,” and because it has trained her to interact with people she doesn’t trust or believe. “I can relate to every single person, I bet, on our team, and hopefully they’ll learn to trust me. … I won’t trust one person–nope, nope, nope,” she said. “Just like being a cop, that’s what thing I would bring: Just nod your head and smile as they’re talkin’ to you, but don’t believe one thing they say, because they’re all jerks,” she laughed.

She joked a lot–at one point, she said, “I wish I could bring my pepper spray. That’s one thing I wanted to sneak in,” adding, “and I’ll bring my handcuffs for Jeff Probst”–and I think that sense of humor will disarm her fellow competitors and work to her advantage, even though she’s older and feels somewhat disconnected from the other women. “I feel so butch around these beautiful girls,” she said, noting that she’d watched a horse for an hour instead of doing her hair and makeup with the other women, who “are still primping in there.”

However, I think she’ll be able to connect with everyone really easily. Telling me that she doesn’t use a computer, e.mail, or cell phone, and her son lent her his iPod that she couldn’t figure out how to charge, she mentioned that she had her husband e.mail a dirty joke video to her son, who “said, Mom, how many mothers send that kind of thing to their kid?”

Betsy’s bio said she’d gone “through a wild time in her youth” and was a “former hippie [who] has now been clean and sober for 21 years,” so I asked her about that. “This reminds me of rehab,” she said, “I still think about rehab even though it was 20 years ago” because there will be “such a strong connection” with other people. “I can feel the same vibes here.”

She was reluctant to talk about her “wild time,” which was “Haight-Ashbury–loved it, loved it, loved it. Traveled cross-country. It just, I don’t know–my kids don’t know about that part of my life so I don’t know how much I should say. Eventually, I will let them know when the time’s right. But I’m not ashamed of it by any means.” Describing a moment when one of her four kids came across an AA book, she said, “thank god they don’t know,” she said, tearing up. “I love that they don’t know.” Of course, the consequence of going on a national TV show is that she will have to tell them, because it’s part of her CBS.com bio, and may come up on the show.

She mentioned her kids when we talked about her game play, too. Betsy said, “what I hope I don’t do is horrify my kids that I’ll end up spending the million on their therapy bills.” Otherwise, she’ll lie and backstab, if necessary, and she’s not worried about how that might affect her reputation. “It’s a game, everybody knows it’s a game, everybody knows who I am back home,” she said.

Some things she said worried me about her potential as a player. “I’m hoping that’s Exile,” she said pointing out a nearby island, “and I’m looking forward to going to Exile just to be by yourself–doesn’t that sound like heaven?” When I said that, in a social game, being alone might not be ideal, Betsy said, “That’s true, and I think I might be taking this game differently than everybody else, because I’m going to enjoy every single second of this game. I want to remember this, I want to do it for the experience, and I hope I don’t get involved in the politics–I just want to enjoy the moment, I just want to have fun.”

That’s pretty much the most clearly articulated strategy she has, and while it sounds like a somewhat absurd attitude to have going into a game for $1 million, as I told Betsy, that’s pretty much exactly what Bob Crowley told me in Gabon, and we know how that turned out.

Hear Betsy discuss why she’s not a typical cop:

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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.