UNC-Chapel Hill med student Kelly Bruno, who lost her leg as an infant due to a birth defect, figured going into "Survivor" that other contestants might view her as a liability in physical competitions because of her prosthetic leg. But she could never have imagined it would inspire such vitriol.
The day after being eliminated from the reality show (and months after shooting took place in Nicaragua), the 26-year-old Durham resident is still scratching her head over how she was repeatedly verbally attacked by NaOnka Mixon, an L.A. phys ed teacher.
Some of Mixon's offenses: She shoved Bruno to the ground in retrieving a game clue during an early episode; later, Mixon said to a camera crew, "Hopefully I'll push you so hard that damn leg will fly off." In a subsequent episode, Mixon suggested that she wanted to toss Bruno's artificial limb into the fire.
"It's hard to believe that someone can be so hateful towards anyone, really, especially for no better reason than because I had one leg," says Bruno, who lasted 15 days (out of 39) before becoming the sixth of 20 contestants voted out. "I'd like to think that it's part of her strategy, part of just creating drama, part of getting in my head. But she was way too emotional and persistent in bringing me down, so I think a good part of it was she actually is that way, and she actually is just an angry individual."
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Bruno, an accomplished triathlete who worked as a personal trainer in the Triangle area after graduating from Duke in 2006, said it was a challenge to keep her leg clean to avoid complications with her prosthesis. "I just was religious about it. Keeping the skin dry and clean (was important) because as soon as you get any sort of abrasion on the leg, any kind of skin breakdown, it's really hard to resolve."
But it was nothing compared to the emotional roller coaster of "Survivor," which is now in its 21st season on CBS and whose famous logo prominently displays the words "outwit," "outplay" and "outlast."
"Physically, it was obviously very difficult, but I could handle that part of it," Bruno says. "It was that constant emotional strain of strategizing, and wondering what people are thinking, and who's out to get you, and obviously my interaction with Nay was quite troubling.
"And you don't have any support out there. You're on the tribe with people, but you're also against them, and so you don't really feel like you can open up to anyone. It's very lonely in that respect."