Debra Beebe: “I’m kind of upbeat so negativity kind of grinds on my nerves”

Survivor Tocantins cast member Debra Beebe may be a middle school principal—she was Alabama’s middle school principal of the year in 2007 for her work at J. F. Drake Middle School in Auburn—but have you ever known a middle school principal who dances on tables with her teenage daughters’ friends?

Debra told me that she has “kind of have a Brady Bunch family: I have two children, my husband has three; I’m an old child living with five teenagers,” and she said that, “my daughter’s friends, when we go on vacation, just beg me to go out with them, because I’ll be the one on the table, dancing to Flo Rida. I live life to the fullest and I’m going to have fun with whatever I do.”

“I’m an extremely social being,” Debra said, and her work demands that, as she’s in charge of 908 kids and a staff of 75. She introduced herself as Debra, and her CBS nickname says “Debbie,” but she’s also known as “Bubbles”—“you’re always bouncing, you’re bubbling,” a friend in Italy told her—but she won’t use that nickname in her tribe. Still, it seems to fit, although she doesn’t bounce or bubble quite like Sandy Burgin.

While she was recruited—apparently through an Auburn professor who has a kid at her school—Debra actually applied eight years ago for Survivor Australia. “I just thought it was the coolest show I’d ever seen,” she told me. “I don’t like monotony, I don’t like the same things.” Although she went to Chicago for an interview, casting “had no idea I had ever applied” because that was after her divorce and she applied under her former name. Debbie now says she “wasn’t ready” at the time.

We talked a lot about her 10 years as a principal and how that will come into play in the game. “I’m really a natural leader; I do this every day of my life,” she said, but in Brazil, she plans to “step back, don’t be the leader, don’t be bossy. … I’m constantly going to have to tell myself, ‘Step back and think about what you say’.” She said that her job helps her “relate to people from various needs, from various diverse backgrounds,” and she plans on using that to her advantage.

In the tribe, Debbie also plans to be the “clown”—pointing out that, after competing as a high school gymnast and cheerleading in college, “I can still tumble.” Along with enthusiasm, she also has a lot of compassion. Debra told me that she regularly picks up a kid from the projects whose mother is dying of cancer and takes him to school, and she’ll also go “sit down with mothers [at their homes] if they’re intimidated.”

But that kindness doesn’t mean she won’t play the game. “I absolutely will manipulate if I have to, but I prefer to play a kind of clean game, because I think in the end, the jury looks at that, too,” Debra told me. “I want to play an exciting game, and if that means manipulating, I will. It doesn’t mean that I’m just going to walk a straight line because I’m worried that everybody’s watching me. Absolutely not.”

Still, she kept returning to the idea that one doesn’t have to play dirty. “I want to get to know them a little bit better to decide if I’m going to manipulate them; I may not need to. Tina [Wesson] didn’t do a lot of manipulating; she played a clean game, she was everybody’s friend,” Debra said. Along the same lines, she told me, “I’m kind of upbeat so negativity kind of grinds on my nerves,” and said, “I don’t have a lot of tolerance for negativity, that’s the one thing that kind of gets under my skin, is the ‘woe is me’ negative things, because there’s always somebody with it worse.”

As to those people who might get under her skin, she said she already feels a connection with Candace, the “first one that smiled at me” who’s “real sweet.” She said that a “young girl, very tall blonde girl” (Sierra, I assumed) was “very distant,” and astutely pointed out, “There have been seasons where the minute you start talking you vote somebody off, and to me, that’s not somebody I want to be stuck with.”

Debra shared a flight with JT but hid because she’d been bumped up to first class; she called him “the cowboy, a country looking boy, he’ll walk around and burp … [and] kind of doesn’t give a hoot what people think.” She also knew Brendan as “the granola guy” because of her pre-season research. “I Googled Survivor 18” and “kind of knew where we were going,” she said, because of my report about a crew member’s death. That kind of preparation and her people skills will probably help her stick around for a long time.

Hear Debra talk about how she’ll be in the tribe, why casting told her Jeff Probst’s going to hate her, and hanging out with her daughters’ friends, plus being a role model to her students:

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