Mother-daughter duo with Aspen ties recalls ‘Survivor’ experience
The Aspen Times
Imagine competing against a loved one and 16 strangers for seven weeks on a remote island for $1 million. What new pressures would you endure? Would the relationship survive?
For daughter Baylor Wilson and mother Missy Payne, who competed this past summer on the 29th season of the reality TV show “Survivor,” what allowed them to withstand the pressure was teamwork. Though neither claimed the survivor title, the mother-daughter duo lasted longer than any other couple, with Wilson finishing fifth and Payne finishing third.
Wilson has spent time between Aspen and Dallas for most of her life, and her father, Joe Wilson, lives in El Jebel. Though now divorced, Joe Wilson and Payne were married in Snowmass.
On Monday, the two recalled how their lives have changed since returning from San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, in July. Reassimilating after seven weeks of eating mostly rice was not easy. Wilson found herself at restaurants worried that someone was going to take her food away. Similarly, Payne began carrying more water bottles around in her purse.
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“It was bizarre just to get back to regular life, sleeping in a bed,” Payne, 47, said Monday.
There’s also been a lot of positives.
Wilson, an aspiring country musician majoring in entertainment studies at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, who just released her first EP in November, has seen her social media handle explode in popularity. Fans will even recognize her and her mother on the street.
The two recently launched a letter-writing campaign with fans where they will attend a fan’s birthday party every month this year. They’re also keeping up with public appearances, with a recent interview on a talk show in Dallas and an upcoming date in Aspen. They will appear from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at the Residence Hotel, where Wilson will perform.
The mother and daughter learned of the opportunity to be on “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” through a friend of a friend who worked for CBS. The network was looking for an athletic mother-daughter duo in their age range, and Wilson and Payne ended up beating out three other couples. CBS told them of the decision in early May, and less than four weeks later, after signing a 113-page contract and receiving eight to 10 immunizations, they were on a plane to Nicaragua.
Wilson put the prospect of summer classes on hold, and Payne rounded up someone to run her competitive cheerleading camp, Express Cheer, in Dallas. Upon arrival, CBS took their phones, ceasing all contact with the outside world. Payne said she had a strategy from the start.
“You have to come in with some sort of notion of how you’re going to play the game,” she said. “My strategy was don’t have too many friends and don’t be the best or worst at challenges. That’s really how I played and stayed consistent throughout.”
Payne said Wilson initially tried to establish a rapport with the men on the island until they teamed up on her like a “fraternity.” Wilson stood by her mother.
“We were both leaning on each other for survival — to last another day together,” Wilson said.
However, Wilson said their closeness might have been their undoing. Once eventual winner Natalie Anderson caught on, she made it her mission to vote Wilson “off the island,” Wilson said. (They aren’t actually sent off the island. When a competitor is voted off, they are relocated to a nearby villa for the remainder of the shoot.)
Payne said she was surprised by the grittiness of the experience. The first night, she said she was mauled by bugs on her forehead and knees, which swelled up for the first three days. She learned quickly that a smoky fire helps with bugs.
The politics of the show were also intriguing. She said the live finale in Los Angeles, when competitors reunited for the first time after the competition, was “a little awkward.” She added that it’s difficult to establish any kind of quality relationship when everyone has the survivor mentality.
Up until the last three remaining participants, each episode culminates with a “tribal council,” where competitors cast their votes for who they want off the island. Once it’s down to three, those who have been voted off decide the winner.
“It is like a chess match because you have to be very charming on how you vote people off because you’re fated in their hands at the end,” Payne said.
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Local officials don’t think Aspen and Pitkin County residents are taking social distancing and isolation rules seriously enough, and reiterated Monday their importance in controlling the spread of the coronavirus.