'Survivor' star Twila gets warm welcome

Monday, December 20, 2004
Tanner was swamped with autograph requests including photographs of her from the show and T-shirts celebrating her.

T-shirts worn by several in the audience of an official welcome home for Marshall's newest celebrity sported the quote "I didn't come here to make friends" on the back.

But Twila Tanner was definitely among friends Sunday evening, with hundreds lining up to get her autograph and congratulate her on being the runner-up on the latest edition of CBS' "Survivor" reality television show.

Arriving with her son James, Tanner took a seat behind the screen where a 10-minute synopsis of "Survivor: Vanuatu" was projected for the audience, including a large number of children and Tanner's peers.

A crowd numbering in the hundreds packed Galaxy Hot Wheels skating rink for Sunday's event, hosted by the Marshall Chamber of Commerce.

The wrap-up of the show started with the introduction of all 16 contestants and included several of the fiery Tanner's best-known mo-ments on the show, such as swearing an oath to two other female contestants that she would be loyal to them when it came time to vote the next person off the island. A heated confrontation between Tanner and contestant Ami Cusack drew the loudest cheers from the audience as Tanner refused to back down to anyone on the show.

Called the "least equipped socially" among the 16 would-be millionaires by the show's host before the season's episodes began airing in September, Tanner certainly proved adept at making -- and breaking -- alliances as needed to stretch her run on the show, ultimately to the final four and then the last faceoff against Chris Daugherty of Ohio.

One shirt seen during the evening had "Twila" on one arm and "Survivor" on the other, as did the other long-sleeved T-shirts available, but a little racier quote on the back, possibly summing up much of how the Mis-souri Department of Transportation highway maintenance worker from central Missouri approached the eliminate-or-be-eliminated contest: "I'll whip that scrawny (expletive)'s ass, because I don't care."

Tanner and her son, James, watch highlights from the show during a video montage at Sunday's official welcome home event.

Ultimately, Daughterty walked away with the $1 million top prize while Tanner won $100,000 for making it to the final two.

But as far as those attending Sunday's fete for Tanner were concerned, she was the big winner. Comments ranged from congratulations, to "We're so proud of you" and "Miss Twila, you should have won. Damn Chris."

Asked if she felt like a celebrity yet, with the week's events including a police escort into town and around the square filled with well-wishers, Tanner said, "No," but added that the response has been "overwhelming. Believe me."

With the latest edition of "Survivor" actually being filmed in the South Pacific from late June to early August, Tanner had to keep quiet about her good fortune for over three months. She admitted that some people who know her locally had tried to draw out information about how far she made it, but, in keeping with the agreement signed by all contestants, Tanner kept her secret until the season finale aired last Sunday, Dec. 12.

Tanner and her son James, along with several other friends, were flown to Los Angeles for the finale, broadcast live nationwide.

Squeezing in a few answers between autograph requests, Tanner said she would encourage anyone else to undergo the perils and potential rewards of trying for a reality television show. "It was the most ultimate experience I've ever had. It was awesome," said Tanner.

However, Tanner will be going back to her pre-Survivor life this week, saying she will be back on her job Tuesday.

Contact Mark Lile at