This is the eighth in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.
Stephenie LaGrossa stood out during Survivor Palau for being an incredibly strong physical player who outlasted everyone else on her tribe, and that was part of the reason why she was brought back for Guatemala. But that was five years ago, and the time has impacted her: “Third time is it for me; my body can’t take any more,” Stephenie told me. When she was asked to return, “I wasn’t like, yes!, I was like, holy crap, I’m going to do this again? … I’m a little older, I’m not as in as great shape as I was before.”
But Stephenie isn’t writing herself off yet. “I love to compete, I’m super-competitive,” she said, and she’s ready to try again. “I’m trying to go in there playing as hard as I can, as honest as I can, and as real as I can,” she said.
Although she was the runner-up on Survivor Guatemala, she thinks she has an advantage. “The fact that I never won before is huge. I know it’s my third time and I know I was one of the bigger personalities to play, and I was pretty strong,” she said, but “I think the winners will be targets, actually, because I think people, in this game, try to use any little thing they can to try to eliminate people other than themselves.”
Stephenie doesn’t have pre-season alliances (“I don’t have any, no”), but her rationale was mostly paranoia. She explained that, during the first full all-star season, “everybody was aligned and the game was decided before they went in. This time, I think they were really strategic with us in the casting process. I think they scared the living daylights out of us, saying, ‘If you align and we catch you, there’s an alternate waiting.'” That said, she realized some people may still have pre-season alliances, and said, “if everybody’s aligned, so be it,” but she plans to play as if that isn’t the case.
Seeing the other players for the first time, Stephenie said, “just looks like a great group of people, and she goes into the game with no real friendships (“I know them, and I met some of them, but I’m not friendly with them, I’ve never really hung out with them”) but also no bad blood (“I don’t hate anyone, I don’t loathe anyone”). Instead, she said, “I’m excited to see Rupert, Boston Rob, and Colby.” She thinks she might align with “Tom Westman, who is one of my favorites” because “he’s honest” and “he’s somebody who will go with me to the end,” although she hasn’t interacted with him for years.
What will she do differently this time? “My strategy is to play exactly how I played before: don’t hide my strength” yet “hopefully be a nicer person, a happy person, a fun person to be around,” which she said was important. She also wants to get rid of the weak early so that “everybody’s going to be strong” at the merge and thus her strength won’t make her a target. But having lost to Danni Guatemala, Stephenie plans to modify her game play slightly if she makes it to the final two or three: “I will voice why I did what I did, which I didn’t do the first time, which I feel like was a huge instrument in why I didn’t win the million dollars.” She added, “I wasn’t vocal enough about the moves I made and why I made them.”
Stephenie prepared by working with a personal trainer starting when she first learned she was being considered, which was about five weeks before the day we talked and the day they flew to Samoa. “I’m certainly not in the shape I’d like to be in,” she said, noting that she didn’t even have time to finish the final two sessions. In addition, Stephenie said, “I’ve tried to put on just a couple, five or 10 extra pounds, probably look fat on camera, but whatev.” She did that because fat is “what your body lives off,” and for those who are skinny, “it’s day six and they are breaking down. Physically your body just cannot handle it.”
While Stephenie spent some time in L.A. doing everything from hosting to fitness videos, she now lives in Philadelphia and runs a restaurant when she’s not traveling with her fiance. “I don’t really do that much TV stuff any more because I travel with him and I have a business,” she said. (She talks about both in the clip below.)
Of being here for a third time, she said, “That’s the bad thing: I know what to expect.” However, she also said that will help her. “Having done it twice and returning a third time, I think that’s really going to work in my favor, just mentally. Because out there, it’s one thing to stay healthy, but mentally, if you lose it mentally, you are done. … That’s why I did so well the first two times,” she said.
Stephenie is one of those returners who’s worried about what production might throw their way. For example, she said, “I found out last week that it’s in Samoa, and that’s what they told me. Now, they could be freakin’ lying about that too, because I swear to god, they’re trying to screw your mind over any chance they get.” She anticipated a big twist: “they have something up their sleeve, they’re going to do something insane,” she said, adding that everything was “just too easy.”
Speaking of producers, Stephenie said they “know what type of person they want to portray you as, so they have a little bit of an edit in mind, so if they want to take more of your bitchy personality as opposed to your more calm personality or nicer personality, they will and they can.” As evidence of that, Stephenie said, “I went from America’s sweetheart to a cutthroat bitch in a matter of a year, and I played the exact same game.”
Listen to Stephenie talk about her restaurant and fiance, and how and why she plans to “keep healthy”: