There was a time, nearly 10 years ago, when Survivor contestants were kept under wraps like a Mafia crime boss in witness protection. No talking with the press until you're shown getting kicked off the show, with a multimillion-dollar penalty at hand for severe violations.
But consider current Survivor: South Pacific star Mikayla Wingle, a model and lingerie football player from Tampa who was on the cover of Playboy months before CBS came calling.
Fans can get up-to-the-minute reports on her activities through her Facebook fan page, website and Twitter feed (@ILuvMiki), she's putting the finishing touches on her own swimsuit calendar for 2012 and she's got an Android app for smartphones (priced at $1.99).
The New Jersey native even admitted last week she was originally recruited to appear on a different unscripted CBS competition, The Amazing Race.
"It didn't work out … they said I have a bit of a manipulative personality," said Wingle. "Which I don't think I do … I just think I'm good at persuading. It's like upselling (in a restaurant); I have a way of wording things that helps me a little bit."
She has lived in the area since 2007, when a visit to her grandmother convinced the then-18-year-old that a scholarship to Lock Haven University of Pennsylvania wasn't worth the winter snows.
Eventually, the standout high school basketball and softball player landed on the Lingerie Football League's Tampa Breeze, playing linebacker on a team featuring women in short shorts, bikini-style tops, shoulder pads and helmets playing what Wingle swears is straight-up, smash-mouth football.
"Come onto my field and I'll show you what it's all about," she said, noting that she missed games last season because of a fractured rib. She was benched only after first trying to play with the injury. "I want some contact; I want to hit people. My old coach once said, 'You can be fast and you can be strong, but (tapping into) crazy, is a whole other thing.' "
Of course, Wingle had to keep a lid on the crazy for her time this summer filming Survivor: South Pacific in Samoa. Just as in the previous season, survivors faced Redemption Island — where two people voted off compete in a challenge to see who actually gets kicked off the show each week — and veterans from a previous edition of the show also joined the contest (this time, Ben "Coach" Wade and Ozzy Lusth competed).
She's not allowed to say anything about what happened; CBS still keeps some details secret. Wingle even let some friends think she was visiting non-existent family in Kentucky to avoid questions about where she was during the summer.
"Everybody asks 'What was your strategy (going in)?' " said Wingle, who compares herself to "Boston Rob" Mariano, who won the previous cycle's $1 million prize. "But you can't figure out what you're going to do until you know who you're facing."
She did admit that her strategy was to keep some aspects of her background quiet, including the fact that she landed on the cover of Playboy in January when the magazine featured girls from the LFL ("It was extremely classy," she says of the photo).
Now on a break from classes at Hillsborough Community College, she's doing publicity and hoping to leverage her Survivor and Playboy fame into greater opportunities. It's a far cry from the schoolteachers and college students who often returned to civilian life after a run on much earlier editions of the show.
"CBS and Survivor, the (public reaction) is like tenfold of what happened with Playboy," she said. "I came down here four years ago with nothing. But with a little hard work and determination, look what you can achieve."