Iraq war veteran Angela Perkins compares her "Survivor: Ghost Island" competition to her Army experience this way:
"They are two different experiences. I would say it was more difficult for me to do 'Survivor' versus the war, but in a different sense.
"When you're going to war, you have to rely on the man next to you to have your back, regardless. If you're in the foxhole, and you know you're getting ambushed, somebody has your back.
"On 'Survivor,' if you're in the foxhole, and you get ambushed, you're probably getting ambushed by the guy who's sitting next to you. So it's quite different. I know that's a weird analogy."
No, you nailed it for this long-time "Survivor" fan. I understand perfectly.
Perkins, 42, is the oldest contestant on "Survivor: Ghost Island" (8 p.m. Wednesdays, Channel 12, CBS) taped last summer in Fiji. The Michigan native works mostly from her home in Oregonia, in rural northeastern Warren County near Fort Ancient (her CBS bio said she was from Mason) for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
She served 21 years in the Army, retiring as a captain after deployments to Iraq (2003-04) and Afghanistan (2011-12). Her son, 20, who attends Cincinnati State, calls her "an American badass." She also has a daughter, 22, in nursing school near St. Paul, Minn. Both are graduates of Clinton-Massie High School.
After the Army, she divorced and rented an apartment, "giving up my dream home to my ex and everything we worked for just for the opportunity of being on 'Survivor,'" she said on her CBS video.
Viewers didn't see much of Perkins in the two-hour premiere Feb. 28. She flew under the radar, except for volunteering to sit out the immunity challenge which required swimming. She was not given any scenes talking to the camera, or talking strategy with fellow Naviti tribe members.
I was happy to talk to her and learn more about her. You can too, if you attend her weekly "Survivor" viewing parties starting Wednesday, March 7, at Buffalo Wings & Rings, 5517 Kings Center Drive, Mason, east of the I-71/Kings Mills Road exit north of Kings Island.
When were you deployed?
For 15 months to Iraq from January 2003 to May 2004. And for 13 months to Afghanistan from May 2011 and came back July 2012.
You've been deployed twice to a war, you were part of fuel convoys from Kuwait to Iraq hit with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), you've done skydiving and snowboarding. How do you rank your "Survivor" experience with all that?
Definitely I would rank it as high of a level as all those other extreme experiences.
How long have you been a "Survivor" fan?
I've watched all of them from episode No. 1. The only ones I didn't get to watch in real time, so to speak, were when I was deployed. But I definitely went on CBS All Access and have watched every episode that I wasn't able to due to deployment or military training.
You're the oldest contestant on "Ghost Island." Was your age an advantage to your game or a disadvantage? I know you can't speak in specifics, but can you talk in generalities?
Well, you know what? I don't know that it had anything to do with age at all. Maybe experience. 'Survivor' is definitely a social game… I guess it (age) does, but it's such a small piece of it. And physicality is such a small piece of it.
Tell me about your children.
My daughter is 22, soon to be 23, and I have a son, 19, who's soon to be 20. They're in college. My daughter is in her last semester of nursing school right outside of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minn. She'll be an RN, and she'll go straight into grad school to be a nurse practitioner. My son goes to Cincinnati State, in the civil engineering and contract management program.
I saw in the Hollywood Reporter that you called yourself a "spontaneous wild child," and said your son called you a "badass." Do we see that side of you on "Survivor?"
You know, I guess you'll just have to watch it. I think everybody has that in them, and it does show. But I guess you'll just have to watch and see if that does."
What did you miss most during the taping? Your family?
Yes. I think that was the worst part. I think because it's extremely hard for me -- and I don't know it's from past behaviors from family members -- but some family members resent me for playing, feeling that I kind of deserted them…. I'd never really done anything for myself. And there were times when I felt extremely guilty for leaving my family once again. So it's hard! It's hard for your family, when you deploy and left them so many times. The first time I deployed they (her children) were 3 and 6. And you can't buy back that time. And time is the only thing that you have. You definitely can't buy it back.
My daughter is getting married in September, and there's no way I would miss it for the world, no matter where she wants it. In life, I try to meet all my children's needs. They don't ask or want for anything they do. They do everything on their own. They're great kids. But I missed a lot of their pivotal moments.
Did you make lasting friendships? Do you keep in touch?
Yes, absolutely! You read that these groups of 18-to 20 people build this very long-lasting alliance or friendship or family, whatever description you want to use to describe it, and I thought it was completely absurd considering how many days we were there. But you do.
Despite how dysfunctional we are -- we are a dysfunctional family -- you go through a bunch of significant emotional events with a group of people, and you stay in touch. We have several groups, on closed social media sites. We text each other when we're in each other's states. We go visit one another. This past weekend I had the opportunity to actually meet Jacob (contestant Jacob Derwin, 22, a New York music teacher, who was in the other tribe) face-to-face. I've talked to him several times through social media, and on the telephone, but actually got to meet him face to face. He's amazing.
Would you do it again?
Now that you ask me today, I'd say yes. Had you asked me when I returned, absolutely not.
Because regardless of where you end in this game, I think there is a process…. When you come home (from war), you have a certain reintegration process. Well, with this experience, you have the exact same thing. You have to reintegrate with society, with your family, and with you job – and then, oh by the way, you have to learn to manage certain emotions of the game itself and how you played the game, and how others to played it. So you have this big black box of emotions, and if you don't know how to handle them, you have anxiety, fear, happiness, excitement... And so yeah, the reintegration from something of that caliber, of that big of an experience, I think there is a reintegration process.
I know I'm still healing. And I still have emotions. I was able to recognize the signals and signs, and I was able to say, 'Angie, you know what, this is completely normal. Just take a deep breath. You've got to relax. Everything is perfect.' It's just so overwhelming.
Did you miss other things, like certain foods – Skyline Chili, Graeter's Ice Cream, etc?
You miss your local foods. But to me, that wasn't a hardship. I don't crave anything. I love a lot of food, and I love to eat, but I don't really crave anything. Obviously in a situation like this, there was a lot of talk about food, because obviously you're deprived of it.
But in all reality, when you come home, it's like, 'Yep, I didn't miss it that much. It wasn't that big of a deal.' I'm sure some people did, but for me, I can't pinpoint anything other than my loved ones that I really struggled with. Everything else was OK to me. I went without food and water and clothing in Iraq, so that stuff wasn't anything. I'm kind of used to that.
Have you heard from other past local "Survivor" contestants?
Yes, I've heard from a lot of them. Buffalo Wings & Rings here in Mason by Kings Island has graciously opened their doors and offered to host a viewing party every Wednesday. So this Wednesday, we are having one the 7th of March, my first local viewing party. Matt Bischoff and a couple of other past "Survivor" contestants and a few "Amazing Race" contestants are coming. It's 100 percent open to the public. It's going to be packed. I'm receiving hundreds and hundreds of messages.
Buffalo Wings & Rings is doing giveaways and games, and they've really brought the Ghost Island feeling into the whole thing with torches and going on CBS.com to buying buffs. They've really embraced this. John Gerbus, the owner, is really amazing. He's definitely made my life easier by hosting these on Wednesday. He has saved me so much stress, it's just amazing.
I'll be there Wednesday. See you there!