Juneau woman beats out thousands to compete in 'Survivor'

Posted: Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Braving bone-chilling Taku winds, rain that lasts for months and trails that could make a grown man cry - Survivor Island would be nothing for Juneau-raised Sarah Jones.

Jones is one of 16 contestants who competed for a cool $1 million in the sticky swelter of a deserted French Polynesian island for the television show, "Survivor: Marquesas."

The reality series, which first captured audiences in the summer of 1999, pits 16 contestants against each other in a series of grueling competitions with oppressive heat, man-eating bugs and quirky personalities in a deserted, exotic location for 39 days. Each week one contestant gets voted off the island until there is one person left to win cash and bragging rights of being the last on the island.

Due to a confidentiality agreement with CBS, Jones can't comment publicly on her experience until she is voted off the island or wins as the series airs. The show filmed last fall and starts airing Feb. 28 on CBS, running Thursdays through May.

Even though her family doesn't know how Jones fared in the competition, they know her Juneau experiences stood her in good stead in whatever she has attempted.

"Sarah's always been so independent and strong and does lots of interesting things," said Jane Walters, Jones' mother and owner of Juneau's Mail Boxes Etc. "But I think that's typical of kids from Juneau. They are raised to be independent. They've traveled on their own, they've been more places, more so than kids from down south. I think that's served her well."

Her adventurous spirit was the reason no one was surprised Jones announced from her home in Newport Beach, Calif., that she was going to try out for the show, Walters said. From her extensive athletic ability, including a gymnastics stint that landed her in the 1990 Arctic Winter Games, to her chutzpah in juggling four jobs including freelance photography, Jones' family said she was a natural choice for the reality show.

Tay Jones, a counselor at the Johnson Youth Center, said his sister beat out several hundred thousand would-be contestants to be on "Survivor." To apply, she had to fill out a thick packet of information and produce a three-minute video detailing the reasons she should be on the island, he said.

CBS narrowed the choice to 50 and Jones was one of them, said Jones' father Larry Jones, executive director for the Alaska Board of Parole. She went to Los Angeles where she was sequestered in a hotel for nearly two weeks, he said. Each contestant was given psychological and medical tests as well as put through a series of interviews, he said. Even in the early stages, Larry Jones said, CBS would allow her to tell only her family and close friends where she was going.

Jones' family said they were excited when she was chosen, but the reality of her adventure set in after the first few days she was gone, her father said.

"As a parent, from birth-day to death-day you always know where your kids are," he said. "All you have to do is hear your kid's voice and you have like this sixth sense of how they are."

"And knowing that what she was going through was stressful emotionally and physically, we were really bothered by it and concerned for her. We couldn't just call her to allay our concerns for her. It was really tough."

But now that she's back in California and only a phone call away, her family said they can't wait to see her every week, if only on the small screen. Walters said she thinks Juneau also will enjoy cheering Jones on.

"Juneau is always really good at rallying behind one of its own," Walters said. "I think they'll be really excited for her and it will be a good community thing."

Melanie Plenda can be reached at mplenda@juneauempire.com.

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