Right before Christmas and almost six months after filming ended, the final episode of Benelux Survivor aired and I was at last able to reveal what I'd been holding back for so long... I won! I'm pretty good at keeping a secret, right?
The night of the final episode, my boyfriend and I had all our friends over to watch. Unlike Survivor in the U.S., a jury of our eliminated peers didn't determine the winner of our season. Instead, a final challenge was the deciding factor. The challenge was really long and I fell a bit behind at one point, but in the end I made up for that lost time by tossing a ball and a stick into a wok with a single throw and won the whole thing.
Ever since I started playing poker, I've realized more and more that everything changes everything. The smallest things can influence how the rest of your day goes. If I'm playing a tournament, and I fold my hand, the fact that I folded that hand and even the way I threw the cards away will influence my table image for the rest of the day. If I get up from the table to use the restroom and skip a few hands, it could change the whole course of the tournament. I might miss pocket aces, but I also might miss getting those aces cracked and busting out.
This whole idea really came into play for me during the final Survivor challenge. Anyone who's had an experience with reality TV can tell you that sometimes you have to stop in the middle of a challenge due to a technical problem. The director will call "freeze" and you hold your position until they tell you to go again. In the last part of the final challenge, we had to toss a ball attached to a stick into a wok. The balls were filled with gasoline and were supposed to burn, but a couple of girls who had already made it up to the platform had trouble lighting it. The crew wanted to put more gasoline in the balls so they'd light better, but just as I was about to throw my ball and stick, they told us to freeze.
The gasoline problem fixed, they got ready to call action and said that the other two girls would get to throw first since they'd had trouble lighting the balls before I even got up there. Although that wasn't really the deal before we stopped, I realized I had a choice here--I could go on tilt about it, or I could just step aside. So, I waited. And because I had to wait for that time, my arm became much more used to the weight of the ball and the stick. It is what made me throw it all in at once, and ultimately, what won the game for me.
Everything that happened to me on that island helped me to win, even the mistakes I made. You never know how the whole course is going to run for you to win something, and it's the same in poker. Sure, when you're stuck with two big blinds you have a little less control, but things can change all the time. If you suffer a bad beat but still have 50 BB behind, you can be annoyed about it, but that hand could also be the reason why the rest of the tournament goes differently for you and results in a win. The older I get, the more and more I realize that I am the one in control of my own destiny. It's within your power to change things in everything you do.
It's been a while since I won. I've done a lot of interviews and everyone excitedly asks me how it feels to win. Well...I feel like it's been a while! Right afterward, I was on top of the world. I went to Vegas to play the WSOP and I remember going to the Wynn buffet for breakfast and just putting everything in sight on my plate. My boyfriend looked at me like I was nuts. But I actually felt really strong. I'd lost weight. I felt thin, I was really tan, and I was just so happy to be eating again. Even though I was feeling great, I did terrible at the WSOP. However, a month later, I went to EPT Barcelona and ended up finishing 16th--my best EPT result so far. The thrill of winning Survivor may be fading just a little, but I still feel so much stronger from the experience. If I can handle the island, I can certainly handle poker!
Fatima Moreira De Melo is a member of PokerStars Team SportStars