Q&A with Barbara Raos, Survivor NZ finalist

When two tribes went to war earlier this year, rather than head to Hollywood, Barbara (Barb – aka Queen B) Raos was in the thick of it in the Nicaraguan jungle!

Despite being deprived of basic creature comforts – while being surrounded by dangerous creatures, including 15 fellow contestants – Barb battled on to the final of popular TV show, Survivor NZ. EastLife put a few questions to this gutsy Whitford grandmum.

You grew up in Pakuranga but you’ve lived on a lifestyle property in Whitford for some 26 year, correct?
My husband was living in Howick when we met but it didn’t take much to convince him to move further out as I’d always wanted some land around me for horses and livestock, and to raise a family in a semi rural environment.

We live on 12 acres. My daughters and I share a passion for horses. We lease some land and move sheep around to rotate our paddocks and also have (very!) free range chickens – mainly roosters and chooks that seem to gravitate to our place from somewhere else!

You described Survivor NZ’s winner, Avi, as a ‘Fred Astaire sole survivor; a true gentleman.’ Does this mean a nice guy actually finished first?
Avi is a great winner for the inaugural season of the show. I thought Tom [the third finalist] played a brilliant game too. They’re both lovely and, if it wasn’t to be me, I would have been happy with either of them winning the $100,000 prize.

How does it feel to come so far and fall at the final hurdle? In hindsight, would you have preferred to have left earlier?
I did not fall at the last hurdle! I realised early on how the tribe would vote. I changed my goals and I achieved them all. I won a few challenges and was close to Tom a few times.

Considering he is 27 years younger than me, I was happy to be sniffing at his heels! At times it was hard, knowing that no matter what I did I would not be recognised by my tribe mates, but I’m happy to have outlasted them. I was a major player and I was able to enjoy all the challenges and experience the entire game.

How did you manage to stay in the game for so long?
I hitchhiked on the strength of my tribe at challenges. I knew how to play on egos and insecurities and I’m very good at reading people. I planned out the scenarios and the reactions of players and made sure I planted the right seeds ahead of time.

How much is ‘backstabbing’ a part of these competitions?
Survivor is a game that means you must outlast, so it’s inevitable that you have to vote out an ‘ally’ at some point. For me it was a ‘needs must’ situation; you do what you have to do to stay in the game. I had no qualms voting anyone off.

I am definitely a fan of the strategic side; I loved the mental aspect of playing people off and the balancing act it required.

One of your fellow contestants, Shannon Quinn, said the female competitors (including you and Shay) were ‘completely vilified’ on the show compared to the men. Would you agree?
The women were definitely more strategic. The men had tunnel vision, resting on their laurels of physical fitness and tight alliances, which made them easy to dismantle. I had no problem with how we were portrayed, I don’t bother with armchair critics, and I also don’t read negativity from online trolls – it’s just irrelevant! I think the women were more perceptive and didn’t take things at face value; some were just more strategy-savvy than others.

As the oldest contestant on the show, did your life experience come in handy? Was this appreciated by others?
It certainly gave me the common sense and maturity to realise it was a game and that I had life to go home to at the end. I wasn’t fully appreciated for what I could offer and as I was in the minority, I needed to lie low. I think I achieved that.

What was the toughest challenge?
Running with the sandbag in the sea. I knew I’d struggle as I was not handling the heat and when I fell, I had no strength, my legs would not move and it was as if I had a piano on me! It was disconcerting that, for the first time in my life, my body was letting me down and not responding what I was asking it to do. A bit scary really!

What’s the most important thing this experience has taught you?
That I am resilient and self-aware. Even when I was lonely or frustrated, I knew how to manage myself and refresh my optimism. I trusted myself and was aware of the course I had chosen to take and knew it was the right one for me.

To prepare you walked, swam, ate small meals, and practised starting fires. What more should you have done?
My preparation was enough but I wish I had also practised throwing because I was crap at that!

Before the show, you said your strategy was to ‘stay true’, play as an individual and use your perception and intuition rather than be part of a herd. Did you manage to stick to that?
I believe I stayed on that course. I knew how to play to my strengths and sway people without pinning a target on myself in the process. I was patient and observant, worked out people’s personalities and picked my battles.

You went on Survivor to do something challenging and outrageous and show to your children there was more to their mum. Mission accomplished? My children saw that their mother stayed true to herself and tried her best. Even though sometimes your achievements are subtle and overlooked, if you play to your strengths and back yourself you can reach your goals with your integrity intact.

I think each of my children have seen a different aspect of me; whether they like to admit it or not is another matter! And, yes, I would say they are pretty chuffed at how far their mum went. Before I went on the show they said it would be so embarrassing if I was the first person voted out – cause it’s all about them, right!

If you could grow any plant or raise any animal (real or imagined) what and why?
I guess it would have to be passionfruit as I’ve tried and failed to grow vines on our property many times. It was my favourite fruit as a child – my parents had a huge vine and I would wait for the fruit to ripen before eagerly devouring them.

If I could raise any animal, I would breed a champion dressage horse. My daughter is particularly passionate about horses and they have taught my family a lot. It takes years to accomplish movements, there’s no quick route and for every success there are many disappointments. It’s all about the journey and the connection that develops from mutual trust and respect between rider and horse.

If you could be executive producer of Survivor for one day, what would you do first and why?
I would push the contestants with more physical hardship to challenge their boundaries and emotional resources. That way, viewers would see who has the strength of character to handle anything thrown their way.

If you could invite any three Survivor contestants to dinner, who and why?
I would invite Hana because I found her strong, sassy and inspirational, a role model with regards to challenging preconceived ideas of body image. She had the guts and motivation to prove people wrong.

Secondly, Cirie. I loved how she could read situations and people, as well as her gutsy mindset and respect for the game. Lastly, Russell, because I enjoyed his crafty, strategic side. He had a blatant cleverness and ruthless way of dissecting the game with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude.