Thursday, June 21, 2012

Survivor Samoa

Saulo, Neueli, Milo and Christopher
were the other contestants of "Survivor, Samoa!"
The popular CBS T.V. series, “Survivor,” has filmed their show three times in Samoa. The first time it was actually called “Survivor Samoa,” and aired in the fall of 2009, just before my arrival here with the Peace Corps. Once CBS found that Samoa was a “financially smart” location to film their show, they returned again to do back-to-back tapings which aired last year and into this year. As most of you know, the show’s whole premise is that the cast members are left on a “deserted island” where they have to battle, strategize and compete to stay in the game. Members of the teams are often shown eating weird creepy crawly things that even the locals would probably laugh at, and the cameras always are careful of where they aim their lenses, so as not to show the established villages just in the distance.

So in today’s modern world, does that secluded, far-away, paradise-like beach really exist? The answer is yes, and I’ve been there for my own Survivor, Samoa!

As many of you know, my former Peace Corps village of the past two years was in one of the most remote locations of the country. A long, winding, narrow road leads back to the place I called home. Looking towards the ocean, the land quickly drops off and slopes down to the mostly rocky shoreline. I loved running that road each evening and always wondering what a trip down that steep hill would be like. Every time I glanced down, I caught sight of a beautiful sandy beach that looked undisturbed. Like many of us often do, I put off taking the time or effort to go through with my idea, and when I left last December I was regretting having not made the journey.

However, this year I took the bold step and planned my expedition. I decided I wanted to get down to that beach and spend the night. I also knew that I didn’t have enough guts to go alone, so I asked Milo, Saulo, Neueli and Christopher if they would travel with me. Although they were excited about the idea, I actually had to talk them into going with me, mostly because they were afraid of ghosts that they said were down there! After I talked some sense into them, they were all on board.

We went a couple of weeks ago; they were still on school holiday. I did some basic shopping for crackers and biscuits to take with us. I wanted to build a house exclusively from what nature had to offer—palm branches and tree limbs, but Saulo with a bit more foresight, suggested we bring one of his dad’s blue tarps. This would later prove to be a good decision, and Saulo reminded me of it a few times as well. Milo’s contribution was the machete and each of us packed our own backpack with a change of clothes.

Off we went down the road at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Within 10 minutes we reached the path at the entrance into the woods that took us down to the beach. I was expecting a 45 minute hike down there, with the possibility of climbing over big rocks and hanging onto ferns and other vegetation to keep my balance, but I found out quickly that it was much easier than that. Within 15 minutes we had arrived and although I was happy to be there, I was kicking myself for having not taken advantage of this secluded and relaxing place for the past two years!

The guys didn’t waste a minute in starting to get our shelter built. Although the sun was shining when we arrived, with this being Samoa, it can rain at any moment, and especially during the night hours. So Milo sent Christopher over to the nearest coconut tree to start cutting branches off which would be used to make a wall around the exterior. Saulo and Neueli started taking vines off the nearby trees to use to suspend the blue tarp over a large limb they had rested between tree branches. I wanted to help but there really didn’t seem to be a place for me to fit in with the speed in which they were working. Before long our shelter was standing strong, and some more palm branches were brought in to lay on the ground for a softer padding.
Saulo worked on collecting firewood for the fire while Christopher and Neueli went to knock down a couple coconuts for us to drink. I was busy taking pictures, and before long Saulo had a huge fire blazing. We were now ready for anything that nature would throw at us, or at least we thought!

After eating our “dinner” made up of crackers and biscuits, we sat around the fire and visited for a while until everyone was ready for bed. When I went to lie down, I realized I was lying perpendicular to the palm branches we had put down, and as a result, the main stem of the palm frond made it feel like I was laying on a 2x4. Saulo was also complaining and was clever enough to do something about it. He cut off all the palms from the main stem and ended up making a much flatter and softer floor. Soon I was sleeping, but not for long, because the rain was about to arrive!

It was about 11p.m. when it started with a few drops, but then got harder and harder. The winds picked up and were batting at our walls we had just built hours before. Half of the shelter was drier than the other half, which resulted in Milo and Christopher getting pretty wet. Christopher tried moving to another part of the tent, but Milo seemed pretty calm and uninterested in the fact he was sleeping under a leak in the tarp. Within 20 minutes the rains let up, and Saulo reminded us all that it was his idea to bring the tarp and if he hadn’t we would have been a lot worse off than we were. I had to agree with him!

From that point on, the night seemed to drag by like one of those when you’re sick with the flu and you’re just praying the sun will rise to end the restlessness. I was the only one with a watch, which made me the point of reference for how much longer we had to do battle with nature. At 12:30 Saulo would ask me “What time is it?” At 12:58, Neueli would ask me, “What time is it?” When they weren’t busy asking me what time it was, I was looking at the watch myself, because I wanted to know as much as they did when the night would end! We had fun throughout the whole thing though, and had lots of laughs, but in the end, we were relieved when the first light became visible.

The morning revealed to us that a corner of our shelter’s roof had caved in and some of the exterior walls had given in to the wind and rain. Despite getting a bit damp, I was still very impressed by how well they built the tent, and their resourcefulness in doing so. We hung near the beach for a couple hours and they got the fire started up once again. We ended up heading back to the village by 8:00a.m. and ready for a change of clothes!

I was so glad that I made the time and took the effort to go camping. Saulo, Milo, Christopher and Neueli had a great time as well and were talking about going back again in the near future. Before any of those plans start to form, I would suggest we invest in a new tarp for our shelter. But the important part is, I had the chance to play Survivor Samoa, and not get voted off the island, so the experience was a huge success!

The stretch of beach as seen from the road high above.

Saulo working on our shelter!

Milo cutting palms for the fale.

Enjoying the quiet beach.

Saulo was in charge of the fire. We brought a box of matches with us, so it wasn't as bad as having to rub sticks together.

The fire blazzing and the house had been built.

Neueli enjoying our new dwelling.

Enjoying a fresh coconut.

The sunrise finally came!!

Saulo just hanging out.

Enjoying the beach before heading back to the village.

Nice moves Neueli!


  1. Hi Kyle,
    I have enjoyed reading your blog over the course of the year and was so excited to discover you would be making that return trip back a lot sooner than expected! I was so pleased for you!
    I hope that the rest of your time there is full of just as much adventure and a time of making new memories!
    Can I just ask about how you communicate with Saulo, Milo and Neueli, please? Do you speak more of one language than the other, or do you mix in both as you converse with each other? Also, in regards to Samoan adults, especially those in your home village, did you speak mainly Samoan to them?
    Thanks also for the wonderful account of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Samoa's Independence - what a full-on day for everyone involved. I hope it was as much fun as it looked.
    All the best with the remainder of your time there and can't wait to read more of your wonderful blog.
    God Bless,
    Malia T

  2. Talofa Malia!

    I'm sorry I never responded to your comment over a year ago!! I haven't been keeping the blog updated since leaving Samoa late in 2012. However, thanks for your reading, and I hope to start doing some more posts from time to time.

    In regards to your question, I spoke both Samoan and English with the kids. At school when teaching I normally tried to use mostly English, but when spending time with them and their families outside of school, I spoke mostly Samoan to help build my language skills! With the adults in my village I spoke nearly all Samoan, since most of them don't know much, if any English. Hope this gives you a better idea of the language stuff. Hope you are well!