Survivor is a challenging game. Everybody says so, even the strapping young contestants who go deep into the game.
So when Nina Poersch joined the cast, she knew she had a few obstacles to overcome. At 51, she was a decade older than the next oldest person on her tribe.
And then there was the biggest obstacle: Poersch had lost her hearing seven years ago. (She is Survivor’s second deaf contestant, after Christy Smith placed sixth on Survivor: Amazon in 2003.) Like Smith, Poersch found herself on the outside, unable to hear a lot of the conversations going on around her.
Poersch talked with PEOPLE about her game – and how deaf contestants face a disadvantage.
Before we get into the show, will you share how you lost your hearing at age 44?
We still don’t know exactly what happened. We believe that it came from over-the-counter pain medication. People who take small doses over a long period of time can lose their hearing, and that’s what I did.
Wow. I had no idea that could happen!
It can! That’s my message: Don’t take over-the-counter medicines for a long period of time!
But we’re speaking now and you can hear me fine.
I was profoundly deaf, and then I had cochlear implants on both ears. On the phone, I can put it on a special setting to hear pretty well.
But how about on the island?
I missed 90 percent of the conversations out there. I have to be looking at people to hear them. I do a little bit of lip reading, to help me understand what people are saying. If you’re not looking at me, I can have some trouble understanding. So I missed a lot of conversation.
So would you say that your deafness is the reason you were voted out?
Not necessarily. I think some of it had to do with my age, as well. I’m 51; the young people didn’t think I was strong enough. But I’m really active. I run, I lift weights. I’m not weak. They underestimated me.
That happens a lot with older contestants. How frustrating is that?
I know! I should have fudged about my age. Maybe dropped off a decade. I do look younger than I am, so I could’ve done that. But my worry is that, during the down time, I would slip and say something that would give it away. I have a 31-year-old son. I’m a grandmother. I would’ve had to change my entire life to shave off a few years, and I didn’t want to be caught.
Your tribe didn’t think you could help in the immunity challenge, so they sidelined you.
That was so frustrating. From day one, Joe didn’t think I could compete. He’d be like, “Nina, are you sure you can do this? What if there’s a calling challenge? Are you sure you’re up to this?” It was frustrating.
And then in the last challenge, they wouldn’t let you compete. You’d think they would have wanted everyone to help.
I had strong legs to run the course. I had ten fingers to plug the holes. But they didn’t want me there.
You seemed angry about that decision.
I was really angry. It was a stupid move, and it cost us. And it cost me.
Was there any strategy on your tribe that we didn’t see?
Well, Vince had told the tribe that I had a hidden immunity idol. So they split the vote between me and Will, figuring that if I pulled out the idol, Will would go.
Maybe the problem was that you were on the wrong tribe.
I identify with White Collar; I thought it was a mistake that I was on the No Collar tribe. I’m not saying I can’t be flexible; I have a lot of free-spirited friends, and we have a blast. But maybe on the White Collar tribe, I would have fit in better.
So do you regret playing the game?
I am so blessed to have had the Survivor experience. I’ve been a fan since the first season, and it was a dream of mine to play the game. Even though I went out early, it was a dream of a lifetime that only a handful of people ever get to do. I’m so happy I did it.
Survivor: Worlds Apart airs Thursdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.