04/17/2006 AT 5:00 PM ET
Sally Schumann knew her days were numbered at Gitanos, where former Casaya members held six-strong against her ex-tribe, La Mina. Although she helped win a reward challenge, all attempts to sway someone – anyone – to come to her and tribemate Terry’s side were rebuffed. And in the end, Schumann, 27, became the ninth contestant voted off Survivor: Panama – Exile Island. The Chicago bartender recently talked with PEOPLE about her gritty survival tactics and being a fashion trendsetter.
You deliberately gained weight before leaving for Panama. How did you feel by Day 22?
I was bug-bitten and everything else, but until the game was over for me and my stomach started to bother me, I felt excellent every day. When you look at how I looked those last few days out there, gosh, who knows what I would have been like if I didn’t (put weight on earlier).
What survival tactics did you use?
I was drinking the dirty water from day one because we weren’t able to boil it right off the bat. I thought, “Well, if I’m going to get sick, I’ll get sick, but there is a chance I won’t, and I don’t want to be dehydrated.” That caught up with me in January! And we had finished in December.
On paper, your La Mina tribe was stronger and more cohesive. Why didn’t it succeed?
I think there were some weak links that kept us from winning some key challenges, and we didn’t have the numbers at the merge.
You set a fashion trend on Survivor with your shorts and high socks. What was that about?
That’s just how I grew up. I played soccer and we wore our socks like that, but I would wear them like that even when I wasn’t playing soccer. I have friends who can tell you that’s how I always wore them and they would always make fun of me.
When you won the reward of seeing your family’s video, what else was on the tape?
My boyfriend sent me an absolutely hilarious video. He just had on a powder-blue Speedo and was dancing around and doing this German voice. Jeff Probst’s face was classic – he was like, “What is going on?”
What did you learn about yourself from being on the show?
It’s like someone holds a mirror up to you and says, “This is you in the worst of situations.” I made a lot of mistakes, but at the end of the day I am so okay with who I am. Just to have time to step away and look at my new life, it offered me an affirmation of where I am now.