Survivor Makes a Project Runway Connection

The granddaddy of all reality shows, Survivor, is back for a 14th season – this time with a connection to another hit reality program, Project Runway.

Rita Verreos, 38, a former professional ballerina and the older sister of Project Runway veteran and fashion designer Nick Verreos, has joined Survivor: Fiji's band of castaways.

"I only purchased cable TV when my brother was on a reality show," Rita, a part-time image consultant and full-time single mom, tells PEOPLE.

Before Survivor began filming at the end of October 2006, Rita and Nick had a talk about "reality" life. "I have not asked for advice," says Rita, "but he has told me to just be myself. He said the aftermath of the attention could be overwhelming. But a few years ago, I was in the Miss Venezuela pageant, so actually, I gave him the same advice before Project Runway!"

Rita says she hopes fans will make a positive correlation between her and Nick. "Maybe the Verreoses can be like the Osbournes," she jokes, "or people will want the Rita and Nick Show!"

As for the show, this time around, the theme is Haves vs. Have Nots. The new series will begin with all of the contestants in a single tribe. All 19 adventurers are dropped off on an island near a natural cave and given supplies to make for a deluxe camp. But by the third day the group will be split into two and the tribe that wins the first immunity challenge will stay in relative luxury, while the losing tribe will be forced to move to a new island with only a pot, machete and a water source.

Elements of the last two seasons – Exile Island and a hidden immunity idol – will return but with a twist. This time, the person sent to Exile Island will look for clues to where an immunity idol is hidden somewhere at each tribe camp . This means there could be the tantalizing possibility of two hidden immunity idols being in play at the same time.

As for the figure of 19 participants instead of 20, one potential castaway cast herself off the show before it began. Melissa McNulty, a 28-year-old talent manager from Los Angeles, had been flown to Fiji before she decided to bow out of the game. Producers decided not to bring in an alternate and so the series continues with 19 castaways.

Survivor: Fiji premieres on CBS on Feb. 8.


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