Marian de Vos bids farewell to Survivor SA she tells us her strategy in the game and learning to embrace her skin condition

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Marian de Vos developed vitiligo after her first Survivor stint. (PHOTO: Mnet)
Marian de Vos developed vitiligo after her first Survivor stint. (PHOTO: Mnet)

She was known as a villain and rubbed fans the wrong way with her aggressive actions. But it was necessary to use every trick available, she believes – and she has no qualms about doing it again.

In fact, Marian De Vos relishes being given another opportunity to show off her strategic skills in the new season of Survivor South Africa: Return of the Outcasts before being voted off the island on day 38. 

“It was an absolute no-brainer,” Marian tells YOU of her decision to take part in this new season. “I’m a Survivor superfan.”

Marian made her debut on Survivor SA: Champions in 2013 and this time around she’s playing a game that’s true to who she is “whether people like it or not”.

The retail buyer from Kuils River in Cape Town says she did the same the first time she was on the hit show.

“I wore my heart on my sleeve,” she says.

Marian with Survivor SA host Nico Panagio. (PHOTO: Mnet)

But the viewers didn’t approve. “I think fans didn’t really understand the game,” she says. “When I was lying or blindsiding or coming up with strategic plans, they felt a woman shouldn’t behave that way, so I was vilified.”

Long-time fans might recall Marian looking somewhat different to how she does today.

After her first Survivor stint, the 33-year-old developed vitiligo – a condition in which the skin loses its pigment cells, resulting in discoloured patches over various parts of the body.

“When I was diagnosed it was incredibly hard,” Marian says. “I saw a therapist for a very long time.”

READ MORE | Making his mark! How this man with vitiligo is taking the modelling industry by storm

Now she doesn’t shy away from the camera and she’s having fun. “I have an alliance within an alliance within an alliance,” she says smiling. “That was one of my Survivor bucket-list items.”

The vitiligo diagnosis in 2014 hit Marian hard. It came a year after she first noticed a tiny white spot on her lip. “We filmed Survivor in 2013 and I noticed it as soon as I got back.”

Although specialists don’t know what triggered it, they suspect high levels of stress during the game might have brought it on. “As you can imagine there are a few things more stressful than Survivor,” she jokes.

Marian season 9 cast members
The merged Salan tribe: Danté de Villiers, Killarney Jones, Phil Dickson, Tejan Pillay, Meryl Szolkeiwicz, Dino Paulo, Toni Tebbutt, Felix Godlo, Marian, Steffi van Wyk-Brink and Shane Hattingh. (PHOTO: Mnet)

The vitiligo spread quickly. “The doctor gave me one piece of advice, which was not to stress because when I stress, it can flare up.”

She’s the only person in her family to have vitiligo and it was tough to deal with. “To watch yourself physically changing was very traumatic,” she says. “Questions such as, ‘Are people still going to think I’m pretty? Are my friends still going to want to be friends with me? What about having children?’ went through my mind.”

Marian’s condition left her in “a very dark place”. She locked herself in her room for nearly a year and was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

“I needed to go to therapy,” she says. “But I was still not putting myself out there because every time I left the house, people would stare or make ugly remarks like, ‘Oh my God, did you burn or bleach your skin?’”

Marian and Dino
Marian and live escape game owner Dino Paulo after the two tribes on this season’s Survivor merged. (PHOTO: Mnet)

At one point, she resorted to buying heaps of makeup but she later realised that hiding her condition was not an option. “I woke up one day and thought, screw this. I don’t want vanity to rob me of freedom. Somehow I found the courage to wipe the makeup off and just get out there.”

Her boyfriend, Marlon (31), who is in the motor industry and who she’s been dating since 2013, has been a huge support, she adds.

“Marlon is my rock. He accepted my skin condition long before I did. When it spread, he thought it was the most beautiful thing.

“When I was going through therapy and struggling to accept it and buying all the makeup, he was like, ‘You absolutely don’t need it’,” she says.

READ MORE | This Joburg woman has learnt to live with a rare disorder that causes her skin to blister at the merest touch

Ditching the makeup had another benefit: she was signed by two modelling agencies shortly afterwards. But it took some time to find her confidence and during the days she was holed up in her room, she binge-watched Survivor.

“I realised it’s not just a game for me – it’s sort of like a friend,” she says.

Marian, who loves salsa dancing and wine tasting, has loved the show since she was 12 years old. “I remember watching Survivor: Borneo in 2002 and telling my mom I’m going to be on it.”

Marian, who has vitiligo, locked herself up in a dark room for a year after her diagnosis. (PHOTO: Instagram)

The latest season, filmed for the second time in the Eastern Cape, has given Marian an opportunity to forge multiple alliances instead of just sticking to one group.

Two of her stronger alliances have been with Steffi van Wyk-Brink, who was recently voted out, and Meryl Szolkeiwicz, with whom she felt immediate connections. “Being on the island and seeing women of colour there was very important to me. We just found ourselves gravitating towards each other,” she says.

But Marian puts herself first, even if that means breaking an alliance. “I’m going to do what’s best for me,” she says.

In one of the episodes, it’s suggested she and fellow contestant PK Phetoe had a romantic past but she shut the rumour down immediately. “It absolutely never happened,” she maintains. “We hung out all of three times.”

In one of the more painful moments, Marian must address her skin condition after outspoken contestant Antoinette “Toni” Tebbutt tried using her vitiligo as a reason to vote her out. Marian’s skin sensitivity, the implication was, could be a cause of discomfort for her during the show.

“Through the years I’ve learnt that when people talk about my skin, it comes from a place of ignorance,” Marian says. “When I heard that on the island, I was shocked and it was sort of triggering. But with therapy, I’ve learnt to control my triggers.

Marian modelling
She now fully embraces her skin and has been signed by modelling agencies. (PHOTO: Instagram)

“But it did hurt hearing it – I’m hungry, I’m starving, my skin is burning and I’m sleep-deprived, so I was just very emotional,” she says.

“I feel like there were other things people could have mentioned to get me out.” Still, she loves being part of the new season. Of course, she’s been sworn to secrecy about the final outcome.

Filming wrapped at the end of February and the winner will be announced at the finale on 25 August.

“I don’t want to say my game had been flawless but I feel like I played an incredible game,” Marian says.

Meanwhile, she’s looking to the future – growing her career in the fashion industry and starting a family. “When I came back from Survivor, I had a massive operation,” she says. “Doctors found a fibroid in my womb so I was playing Survivor with this thing inside of me.

“I’ve since had it removed. I also suffer from chronic endometriosis. The doctor says I can have a child but it has to be in the next few years.

“My main goal is just to be happy and healthy and have a family.”

Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts is on M-Net (DStv channel 101) from Mondays to Thursdays at 6pm.

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