'Vee' For Victory

The street in the Lower Ninth Ward is covered in heavy dried mud as the water begins to drain from the area, in this Sept. 26, 2005 file photo in New Orleans. Rita struck two years ago, Sept. 24, 2005, a Category 3 storm whose 120-mph(193-kph)winds and 9-foot (2 3/4-meter) storm surge ruined every structure in the southwestern Louisiana towns of Johnson Bayou and Holly Beach, bringing similar destruction to southeastern Texas. (AP Photo/Ric Francis,File) AP (file)

Can Vecepia "Vee" Towery - the big winner of Survivor: Marquesas - live up to her own motto - "No Drama!" - and remain unemotional after she gets her million dollar check?

We wouldn't bet on it.

It's the first Survivor in which the two finalists were women. Towery, a 36-year-old office manager from Portland, Oregon, defeated Neleh Dennis, a 22-year-old psychology student from Layton, Utah, in the final voting broadcast on CBS Sunday night.

The big win was followed, as is Survivor tradition, by a reunion special with the winner and all the losers. This one was broadcast live from New York's Central Park - located on an island, Manhattan, to be sure - but with an atmosphere that couldn't be more different from the South Pacific clime where the Marquesas contestants sweated and schemed for 39 days to outwit and outlast each other.

"We have traveled from the most remote island in the world to the greatest island in the world," said Survivor host Jeff Probst, as he and Survivor Reunion host Rosie O'Donnell kicked off the discussion by the 16 contestants of their experiences on installment four of the popular reality series.

Vecepia has even more to celebrate than her big win. She's a newlywed, having tied the knot on May 5, after leaving the island, with fellow contestants Sean, Neleh and Sarah all attending the big wedding.

Not everyone was gracious about Vecepia's victory, which came in a 4-3 vote by a jury of seven Marquesas contestants who had earlier been booted off the island.

"You beat me at my own game," beefed losing Marquesas contestant Tammy Leitner, at a tribal council before the final votes were cast. "You lied better than I did, you manipulated better than I did, and you deceived everybody better than I did. So congratulations."

Vecepia spent a lot of time mapping out her strategy and says she's "totally pleased" with how she played the game.

"I chose to play the game very mysteriously," says Vecepia, an athlete whose background includes a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force. "You know, only speak when you know it's time to speak. Don't get in other people's problems."

Vecepia, who's now living in Hayward, California, was careful to keep her eyes on the prize.

"Everyone here has a mask on," said Vecepia, in an interview a few weeks ago. "I thought: these folks are not my friends. I'll know when it's over if they're my friends. If nobody calls me, I'll know."

As for the cash - she says some will be given to her church, some will go for home renovations, and the rest is to be invested.

Island life proved to be good for weight loss for Vecepia and several others of the Marquesas gang. But for Vecepia, that was way beside the point.

"I lost 19 pounds," says Vecepia. "When I got back, I ate everything in sight. I gained 25. Now, I'm 8 pounds heavier. I'm in a good place."

Her favorites - cheeseburgers and fries, fried chicken, pork chops, seafood gumbo, and spaghetti with meat sauce - all items unavailable while "surviving," are bound to have had a prominent place in that back-to-civilization feast.

As for the fame, most of the contestants, win or lose, are dealing with that, each in their own way.

"When I came back home, I lost the braids (her hairstyle on the show) and no one recognized me," says Vecepia. "But now they're catching on. People are asking for my autograph. I tell them 'I'm not that important' - but - it's nice."

Vecepia says the trip to the store to develop her wedding photos was not what she expected. "The guy behind the counter said: 'You don't know me, but I know you.' It was funny."

Neleh, who came within a hair of winning, says things have really changed for her.

"It's been crazy since I got home... no matter where I go, people recognize me, they want autographs," says Neleh. "It's different for me. It's not bad - just different."

"I hope to get an agent," Neleh adds. "But I'm not planning on it. Whatever happens, it's a bonus. I want my degree in psychology. I'm only two semesters away from graduation. I have the whole world open to me. I truly believe there's a reason I got on the show - I'm just not sure what that reason is yet."

Neleh, like many of the contestants, says she made friends on the island and is still close with Paschal, Gabe, John, the General and Hunter.

She does have one complaint, however.

"I made my moves, I was being a real person," says Neleh. "I didn't like it when Rosie (O'Donnell) called me a back-stabbing wench, but I understood how she could think that. I hope she gets to see the 'real me.' "

What's next? Survivor: Thailand, of course. It's set to premiere this fall.

  • Amanda Straniero

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