For the past four years, Kelly Remington has had a little wine and some snacks while watching her favorite reality series “Survivor” with a few of her Grand Island neighbors.
At 8 p.m., Wednesday, the routine changes as 60 or 70 of Remington’s closest friends will meet at a Buffalo bar to watch her be one of 18 competitors in the 90-minute Season 30 premiere of the CBS series set in Nicaragua, “Survivor: Worlds Apart.”
“There’s so many of us,” said Remington of her friends, co-workers and family members. “There’s too many to say, let’s go to a house and watch it.”
She knows that households in her hometown of Bradford, Pa. will be tuning in.
“A lot of people who have never watched ‘Survivor' ‘will be watching it,” said Remington. “My hometown of Bradford is cheering me on. It has been a great, great experience.”
Before having “Survivor Night” with her Grand Island neighbors the last four years, she watched the series by herself.
“I’ve been a huge Jeff Probst fan, a huge ‘Survivor’ fan since it began,” explained the 44-year-old New York State trooper who also spent five years with the Air Force, stationed at the Niagara Falls Air Force Base 107th security forces.
She’s said she’s watched all the previous “Survivor” editions, which led to her putting together a video shot by the daughter of one of her neighbors to compete in the latest edition.
“We always talked ‘Survivor,’” explained Remington, “and said it would be awesome if I could get on. We always talked about what my game plan would be.”
“I went down by the river and shot the video,” she added. “I said to Jeff Probst ‘if I can survive on Grand Island. I know I can survive on your island.’ I had my military uniform on, told him a little bit about being in the military. I took it off and I had my bathing suit underneath…
“I said I’ve been in the military. I did all this training. I took my military uniform shirt off and put my State Police uniform on and said I’ve been in the New York State Police for 18 years. I know how to meet people. I know how to interview people. I know what makes people tick and I know I definitely could be the sole ‘Survivor.’”
She was selected as one of six members of the Blue Collar team in a competition divided into White Collar professionals and executives who supposedly make the rules, Blue Collar workers who supposedly follow the rules and No Collar free spirits.
Remington’s neighbors Tammy Irving and Sandy Merlitti (she’s unsure of the spelling) will be among those rooting her on in area bars as long as Remington remains in the competition. It will be a different experience for them.
“We have snacks, we might have a little wine,” said Remington. “We light candles, we have some ‘Survivor’ buffs (headbands) on. There is no talking while the show is on. We’re serious watching the show…. We make fun of people.”
When asked why she wanted to join the fun, Remington sounded like a “Survivor” press release.
“The challenge of going out there with 18 different individuals and living on this island together and try and co-habitat and get along and ultimately try to be sole survivor and plus obviously winning the million dollars,” said Remington. “That’s obviously a bonus. Just the excitement, the adventure, just trying to get along and outwit and outplay everyone. Watch people from different parts of the world trying to survive.”
In a way, Remington has done 29 seasons of research to take part in “Survivor.”
She has learned while watching that it was better to identify herself to fellow contestants as a bartender and member of the military rather than reveal that she is a state trooper.
She has a couple of favorite “Survivor” winners.
The first one she mentioned was John Cochran, who won “Survivor: Caramoan” in season 26.
“Because he wasn’t your typical ‘Survivor,’” she explained, “who had to be physically great in challenges. He was very smart and played the game very well to kind of fly under the radar and play the people correct.
“He wasn’t a person you would think would win ‘Survivor.’ He was more the nerdy kid, the smart kid, but he had a big sense of humor and fit in. I appreciated the way he played the game.”
Another favorite contestant was Tony Vlachos, a police officer from New Jersey who won “Survivor: Cagayan” in season 28.
Since he was in law enforcement, Remington used him as a “Survivor” role model.
“He didn’t tell people he was a police officer either,” said Remington. “He read people very well. He made great alliances. I used the way Tony played the game. I was trying to be a little similar to Tony.”
Remington learned a few things about herself while playing the game?
“Anything is possible when you put your mind to it,” said Remington. “You can do your dreams if you set your goals to it…. I wanted to see if I could outwit and outplay these 18 people. If I was smart enough to fit in, go under the radar to win the million bucks.”
So her strategy was to go “under the radar”?
“I was planning to keep a low profile, yes,” said Remington.
The strategy certainly is evident in the first episode, which was available for preview. People watching with her at the Buffalo bar Wednesday night shouldn’t expect to see much of Remington. She is barely seen or heard from in the episode, which illustrates that she isn’t the only contestant who has learned some lessons from watching “Survivor” for years and that it is dangerous for any contestant to think otherwise.
Remington said her experience learning to listen to people when she moved from Bradford at age 21 and became a bartender in South Buffalo was a big benefit in playing “Survivor.”
She hasn’t seen how she is portrayed on the show, which was shot in late June to early September when she was on leave from the State Police.
“I don’t want to come off as b----y or arrogant,” said Remington. “I hope to come off that I played a good game, that I made good alliances, that I trusted, that I played 100 percent. I hope they portray me as knowing how to play the game well and fits in with all kinds of different people. Not let my cop instincts overtake me.”
“Not to be telling people this is exactly how it is going to go, don’t control the situation, just go with the situation. As police officers we take control. Something is happening, we have to fix it. I had to put my job on the backburner and go out there Kelly the Bartender and get along and not Kelly the Cop. I was using my state trooper skills out there. But they didn’t know it.”
Actually, Kelly the Bartender was persuaded to become Kelly the Cop at age 27 by some state troopers she used to serve drinks to at JJ Muggs in South Buffalo.
“The reason I wanted to be a state trooper is because a lot of the state troopers would come to the bar I worked after they finished work,” explained Remington. “I realized the camaraderie, how much fun they had. They enjoyed their job, they enjoyed each other. I said, ‘oh, I would love to do what you guys do and still be as close as you guys.’ And they said, ‘why don’t you take the state police exam.’ That’s what I did.”
She said her two partners in the State Police, Rob Anderson and Becky Gibbons, have been very supportive. But naturally, there is some good-natured ribbing since Remington will be roaming the island in a bathing suit.
“It is kind of intimating because you work with a bunch of guys and they are all going to see you on TV,” said Remington.
She said Anderson did have a couple of questions related to her usual job.
“He asked, ‘where are you going to hide that pepper spray in your bathing suit?’ and ‘are you going to take your handcuffs out there?’” Remington said with a laugh.
Of course, Remington can’t reveal the big question on everybody’s mind: How long does she last?
She can’t even offer a clue, which became obvious when she declined to say how much weight she lost filming.
“You could gauge how far I went,” she said in declining to answer.
I guess you could say my attempt to outwit and outplay her failed miserably.