“I’m kind of a butchy girl anyway”: Interview with “Survivor: Philippines” contestant Dana Lambert

Have you ever wandered around in a dirty tankini for days, in search of a drink or something to eat, all while trying to make allies, avoid enemies and stay sane? If you answered “yes” to most of that, chances are you’ve either been to The Dinah, or you’ve been a contestant on Survivor, now in its mind-boggling 25th season.

This year, Survivor heads off to the Philippines where players will compete for the $1 million prize and the coveted title of “Sole Survivor.” Among those who will “outwit, outplay and outlast,” is out lesbian, Dana Lambert, a 32-year-old cosmetologist from North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of CBS

I had some burning questions for Dana about this whole not-showering thing, if lesbians are better at the game than straight women, and what it was like to be in a reality version of Lord of the Flies. Here are her answers.

AfterEllen: You said you signed up to be on the show so you’d have a good story to tell. Did being on Survivor give you that story?
Dana Lambert: It’s probably the most interesting thing that’s going to happen to me. I’ve never traveled outside the country, so I wanted to do something that I’ve never done before.

AE: Do you really think this is the most exciting thing you’ll ever do? Thirty-two is not that old, Dana!
DL: Well, exciting in that, I’ve always wanted to know, “Can I be dropped off on a deserted island, and live off the land?” How many people get to do that? It’s kind of a dream come true. I’ve watched [the show] so many times and daydreamed about doing it. When they called me back, I was excited and thought, “Why not do this?”

AE: And, this was your first time outside of the US. Did you like it?
DL: Yeah, wow! I was like a kid in the candy store, traveling outside the country and seeing new things, being dropped off on a beautiful island. I’m used to the Mississippi River, North Carolina beach. That’s as far as I ever went. The Philippines is absolutely gorgeous. It was kind of amazing. And, it was only my second or third time on a plane. The [show] got my passport for me.

AE: At home, you’re a cosmetologist. What was it like to be on an island without makeup or any grooming tools?
DL: I’m kind of a butchy girl anyway. My grooming, as far as makeup and stuff, is pretty minimal – you know, maybe a little eye makeup. But definitely, hair products was one of the problems. My hair [normally] sticks straight up.

AE: How did you deal with that?
DL: I just used salt water. But after not having a bath for a while, your hair just stands up by itself. Also, you have one eyebrow. You look like Frida [Kahlo].

AE: How good are your MacGyver skills? Maybe you could’ve made tweezers out of clamshells or something?
DL: [Laughs.] You know, honestly, that’s the last thing from your mind when you’re out there. It’s basically just trying to find food and water. Looking good? You don’t have a mirror. So you hope for the best. You can ask each other opinions, but for the most part, you just forget about it. You can use bamboo to clean your teeth.

AE: Wait, what? You don’t even get a toothbrush?
DL: No.

AE: How do you use bamboo? I can’t picture this.
DL: You pick off [a piece,] like a toothpick, and use that.

AE: Oh. Like a panda. I mean, if they used toothpicks.
DL: After not eating processed food for so long, your breath kind of quits smelling. And you kind of quit smelling, weirdly enough.

Photo courtesy of CBS

AE: Mm hm. I’m going to take your word for it. You look like you were pretty fit before landing on the island. Was it physically demanding, even for someone in good shape?
DL: Yes. I quit smoking about five months before. I worked out six days a week at the gym. I’m active, but I wasn’t a gym rat, by any means.

AE: What did you anticipate being the most challenging: the physical, the mental, or the emotional?
DL: I definitely thought the physical part was going to be the most demanding. I thought socially, I was going to be all right because of my experience in cosmetology and talking with people every day.

AE: Many women have won this competitiion, even though it’s very physical. Do you think they have any advantages when it comes to the social interactions and strategies?
DL: There are some guys that are complete social butterflies. But I feel like some guys – and I’ve watched many previous Survivors – who want to take on this role of being in control. That’s helpful to me. While they try to be in control of the situation, I can be the nurturer.

AE: What about lesbians? Are there any inherent advantages, other than possibly being good at camping?
DL: You know, I don’t know, but I feel like my life gave me a better advantage. I don’t have to be flirty with the guys. If anything, I thought maybe I would stand out more, being a lesbian. And you never know how you’re going to mingle with the rest of the group. Are they going to accept you? Are they going to be uptight? You just don’t know.

AE: Is Survivor is a microcosm of the real world?
DL: I’ve always thought Survivor had more grit than the real world.

AE: You’ve obviously never been to West Hollywood. I’ve always thought Survivor is basically the reality show version of Lord of the Flies.
DL: Lord of the Flies used to be one of my favorite books. That, and Robinson Crusoe.

AE: If Survivor is Lord of the Flies, which character do you most resemble?
DL: Definitely not Piggy. [Laughs.]

AE: [Laughs.] Good to know you didn’t die!
DL: I can’t remember the main character’s name, but I definitely hope to have been the one that was the nurturer. You know, I don’t know how anything is going to come off in editing or whatever. But I hope I came off as grounded and a bit sensible.

AE: I’m going to say that you were Ralph.
DL: Yeah that’s the character. Ralph.

AE: You have a girlfriend.
DL: Yes, I do.

AE: Did she help plan your game strategy?
DL: She told me what she thought my strong points were – we’ve been together for seven years. We sat down and she said, “You’re good at people listening to you when you’re in a crowd.” So, I thought maybe socially, that would be my strongest standpoint. I can get people on my side. I can get them to follow me into whatever I was fixing to get them into.

I come across as the alpha female in some situations. But I didn’t want to put that out too much. I didn’t want to be that gruff lesbian. No, I didn’t want to be that either. I wanted to stand back and let everyone make the mistakes first.

AE: Before you got there, did you know that Lisa Welchel from the Facts of Life was also a contestant this season?
DL: I had no idea that she was going to be on the show. No. But we traveled and stuff together.

AE: This year, there are three players who were on previous seasons. Did they have an edge over the newbies?
DL: They had, in [that] they knew what to expect. But we watched them play the game and knew what they were about. I studied everybody from every season before the start of the show. I was renting Survivors left and right, trying to brush up on it. I picked up on those players and how they played the game.

AE: Geez, you are really into it! I hope all that homework served you well. Would you do it again?
DL: Absolutely! Who could say no to Survivor, ever?

AE: Until they have one called Survivor, Four Seasons Hotel I could.
DL: I would love to do it twice. Maybe one day, [I’ll] do Amazing Race. I’ve got the bug!

AE: Seriously! Would you do it with your girlfriend?
DL: I don’t know if she would be into jumping out of planes and crazy shit, so probably not. I would probably do it with one of my guy friends.

AE: Maybe your lady would like to go somewhere cool?
DL: Absolutely. After I came back home to her, and I was like, “That was so fucking amazing.” And she asked [if I was] ready to travel “and I said, “Absolutely!” So, we planned a lesbian cruise for November.

No, it’s not a lesbian cruise activity, it’s Survivor.
Photo courtesy of CBS

AE: I think your experience on Survivor may help you survive a lesbian cruise. They’re very similar: A group of strangers in minimal clothing, confined to a single area. Alliances will be formed. Fights will break out. Someone will end up crying.
DL: Oh, gosh! I think you’re starting to scare me a little with this cruise. I’ve never even hung out with a big group of lesbians before. So, that will be pretty interesting.

AE: You’ll have a blast! Hey, If you were to form a “tribe” on the ship, what would you name it?
DL: If I had a tribe name, what would it be? “Sappho Komma.” Lesbian party.

AE: “Komma?” What is that? Latin? Wait, I just Googled it. In Swedish, it means, “ejaculate.”
DL: Oh, shit, does it? That’s interesting. I thought it meant “party.” I guess the two go hand-in-hand.

AE: I think you’re right.

Watch Dana do her thing when Survivor: Philippines premieres with a special 90-minute show, this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 8PM, ET/PT, on CBS.