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'Survivor' Danni Boatwright is taking her million and going home

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Now that Danni Boatwright has claimed her million-dollar check for winning "Survivor," she's ready to settle down in the big city and kick-start her broadcasting career. But which city? New York? L.A.? Chicago?

"Ohhhh, no," said Boatwright, laughing off the reporter's multiple choice. "I'm going to stay in Kansas for sure. I'm trying to decide between Lawrence (in Kansas) and Kansas City. That's what the dilemma is."

It's not as if the 30-year-old former sports-radio host doesn't have big dreams. She'd love to parlay her triumph on TV's most-watched reality show into a high-profile job in the sports business - ideally one that involves reporting from the sidelines during televised games.

And it's not like Boatwright hates to travel. She has modeled in Milan and London and spent time on the coasts. But even as she was being spirited through Manhattan (the one in New York) during Monday's post-"Survivor" media blitz, she was already itching to get back to that part of the country that TV executives think of as the flyover.

"I looooove home," Boatwright said on Monday during a break between satellite chats. "Judd (another `Survivor' contestant) used to make fun of me. He said I should do a commercial for Kansas."

During the nearly six weeks of competition in the Guatemala jungle, Boatwright lost about one-sixth of her body weight and, at the end, had about 100 pounds on her 5-foot-10-inch frame.

On Sunday night in Los Angeles, Boatwright completed her improbable triumph on "Survivor: Guatemala" by winning the final challenge and then bowling over the seven-person jury of her peers to take home the pot of gold and a new Pontiac.

Boatwright played the game flawlessly. She forged a crucial alliance late in the competition that ensured her survival and left another contestant, Rafe Judkins, in her debt. Indeed, though she claimed to have agonized over which player would join her in the final round, the decisive six-to-one vote suggested that neither runner-up Stephenie LaGrossa nor Judkins, who finished third, stood a chance against Boatwright.

As "Survivor" host Jeff Probst read her name, she looked to heaven and mouthed "Thank you, Jesus," then accepted hugs from family members, including her mother, Vickie Cackler. Five minutes after the broadcast ended, mother and daughter, along with Boatwright's personal assistant Shamika Kennison (wife of Kansas City Chiefs receiver Eddie Kennison), piled into a limo heading for the L.A. airport.

After a sleepless plane ride to New York, Boatwright claimed her prize money on "The Early Show" Monday morning. She also revealed a telling detail about that crucial 38th day in Guatemela, when she seemed to coast to victory in the show's final immunity challenge, a two-and-a-half-hour endurance contest that involved standing on a wobbly board, her body supported only by a wooden pole, no hands.

Although LaGrossa was in obvious agony, Boatwright appeared comfortable and unfazed as she waited for her rival to drop. In fact, she was in great pain. The wooden pole was not pressing against fat or muscle - she had lost all that, subsisting on maize for more than a month - but was rubbing right on her backbone.

Boatwright never let on. Her competitiveness, which she developed growing up around male siblings, had kicked in.

"I was doing a really good acting job," she said on "The Early Show."

After CBS, she was whisked to "Live with Regis and Kelly." Listening to her enthuse about "Live," it's clear that the details of broadcasting fascinate Boatwright.

"I love doing the radio stuff," she said. "I'm so green at it. Right now it's only something I've done on the weekends. But I've had some offers to be a weekend sports anchor. I'd love to do sidelines because I always wanted to be a professional athlete. I was never close to that - I was average at best - but when you're on the sidelines, I'm right there, where the action is."

It also happens to be a job that doesn't require moving to the coast. ABC's top sideline reporter, Michele Tafoya, lives in suburban Minneapolis.

But Boatwright won't have any plans to announce for a while. Because of the confidentiality agreement she signed, nobody could talk to her until "Survivor" ended, not even the sports division of CBS. On the personal side, she told "The Early Show" on Monday that she plans to adopt an international child. She had been thinking of adopting a Chinese baby, but her experience in Guatemala now has her favoring an adoption from that country.

She believes Kansas City is the best place to raise a child. Not only her extended family is here but she has a church family as well.

In the weeks since the competition part of "Survivor" ended, Boatwright has tried to keep her game face, though her emaciated figure and fresh bug bites tipped off most family members that she had gone deep into the competition.

"Her demeanor was so cool that I knew something was up," said Cackler, her mom. "If she'd blown it, she would've been down a little bit. And she wouldn't have been upset because she'd blown the million dollars. She'd have been upset because she lost."

In fact, the hardest part about Sunday was getting over her disappointment that the Chiefs lost their game. Boatwright and Kennison were screaming at the TV as what would've been the tying field goal sailed right.

"It was hard to get me in a good mood after that," she said. "I was like, `I've got a shot at a million dollars. I need to be happy!' "

In several interviews, Boatwright kept comparing her performance on "Survivor" to a jet fighter that takes off not far from Kansas City at Whiteman Air Force Base.

"I'd like to consider myself the stealth bomber," she said. "You didn't know I was there until after I did all the damage."

But when the work is done, the stealth bomber always returns home.


(c) 2005, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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