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Thursday, Jun. 15, 2000

As the entire voyeuristic world now knows, the lawyer on "Survivor" -- the CBS series on which "Real World" meets "Lord of the Flies" on a remote tropical island -- was kicked out on this week's episode. Stacey Stillman, a litigation associate at the Brobeck, Phleger firm in San Francisco, extinguished her torch and disappeared into the stormy night -- only to be spirited off to an island resort for a hot shower. Did Stacey really deserve to be kicked off? Or was this an example of a lawyer joke turned lethal?

A tankini-wearing Ally Sheedy lookalike, Stacey described herself in her official profile as "intuitive, direct and sarcastic." After only knowing Stacey a day or two, her truck-driver colleague Susan, a self-styled "redneck," was even more intuitive, direct and sarcastic: "[Stacey] doesn't move her ass."

Another island colleague, Rudy The Ex-Navy Seal, criticized Stacey for being too "prim-like." He threatened that after three weeks in the jungle, she was "going to learn a lesson." And Richard The Shirtless Gay Motivational Speaker tried to vote her off on the first show for "subtle reasons -- I'm not sure myself what they are." Finally, while Sean The Nipple-Pierced Neurologist said his vote against Stacey was "no reflection on the type of person she is," even he seemed to protest too much.

"Subtle reasons." That's what they always cite, isn't it? The mis-attorney-thropy only continues. As one online commentator opined: "Sucks to be Stacey." Smarmy host Jeff Probst described the show in the first episode as being "a test of social skills, not just survival skills." Maybe Stacey (and all the lawyers among us) should have left right then.

Still, like many lawyers, Stacey seemed unfairly maligned to me. Despite being "prim-like" and complaining about having to eat "disgusting things," Stacey did win the worm-eating challenge for her tribe, swallowing a ghastly s'more of two squirming white larvae. Doesn't sucking face with maggots count for anything in this godforsaken place?

Embarrassingly, however, Stacey reminded teammates of her new status as a female Tom Green to try to convince them not to vote her off -- emphasizing that she was responsible for their win. But that's forgivable: in "Survivor" terms, she was pleading for her life.

After her heroic win, why was Stacey axed? Stacey, it seems, annoyed her island brethren because she was a typical attorney: all talk, no action. A college physics major who published a paper on "The Heat Capacity of Titanium Disilicide," she still couldn't bring fire to her tribe.

Faulted for her lack of "athleticism," Stacey was described as the "weakest member." Yet rather than working harder, she intrigued with the other two women to kick Rudy off the island -- partly because he was "ornery" and barked orders, and partly because "He's a Navy SEAL and doesn't even know how to start fire!" Hello? Stacey who is without sin, cast the first stone! You knew you were going to be shipwrecked too, right? Or was it the island's lack of titanium disilicide that stumped you? (Damn, who forgot to bring the titanium disilicide?)

Stacey contributed to a nasty, backbiting atmosphere among Tagi team members. Meanwhile, those on the Pagong Team rubbed each other down erotically with gray ooze from a belching "mud volcano" and asked each other politely over lunch "Can you pass the rat?"

In the end, Stacey's machinations backfired. Susan The Truck-Driver, who was supposed to be one of Stacey's two women allies, twice betrayed Stacey by vote-switching (and, in the end, by helping to vote Stacey off). Indeed, Stacey's last words on the show were to complain to Susan about her disloyalty.

Stacey's idea of creating a voting bloc composed of three women was actually quite clever. After the first show, there were only seven Tagi team members, so unanimity among the men would have been needed to overcome a three-women bloc -- and the men's strong personalities might have made unanimity quite difficult. For example, Dirk The Devout Dairy Farmer, who spends much of the day praying and reading from the Bible, is no fan of Richard's lengthy discussions about being gay. Nor was Dirk enamored of Richard's Oprah-like attempt to involve everyone in a discussion of "why we are here" before the tribe had built a latrine or found food. And Sean the Doctor spends too many hours stroking Superpole 2000 -- his long, handmade fishing rod that has yet to catch any fish -- to worry about voting coalitions.

The only problem with Stacey's theory was that Susan betrayed her. Again, she was a typical lawyer: people don't like us, and sometimes we don't even know it! Of course, often we don't care. But on "Survivor," we've got to.

Not to sound too much like Richard, but what lessons can we, as lawyers, learn from Stacey's fate? That the Harvard Negotiation Course may be much less valuable than simple advice like "Don't rile the monkeys." That most people's respect is earned through hard work, not power politics. That doing things is often more useful than writing about doing them. And that "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" is much more suited to geeks like us than "Survivor" -- as long as after law school, we still have a friend to call.

Julie Hilden, a Senior Editor at Writ, practiced First Amendment Law at Williams and Connolly from 1996 to 1999, and is the author of the memoir "The Bad Daughter" (Algonquin 1998). Unless Palau Tiga has a secret Starbucks, she would have been eliminated from Survivor long before Stacey.

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