What's the hardest part of being a castaway on Survivor?
Enduring the physical challenges? Coping with the mind games that other contestants are wont to play?
Actually, Stacey Powell says, those are easy compared to keeping "the big secret."
When Powell, a 44-year-old funeral director and mortician from Grand Prairie, was selected to compete in the new season of Survivor, she wasn't allowed to tell people her exciting news. Then she disappeared for a while to do the show, offering no explanations.
"Neighbors would ask my kids, 'We haven't seen your mom lately. Is everything OK?' They'd give some vague explanation, like, 'Oh, she had to go out of town to tend to something.'"
Powell was WAY out of town.
The 23rd edition of Survivor, which begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday on KTVT/Channel 11, took its 18 competitors all the way to the South Pacific.
Keeping secrets didn't get any easier once CBS announced the names of this year's players. After that happened, family and friends started pumping Powell for inside information about where she went, what she did and how she placed.
"It's hard," she says. "People were really pushing. But I'm under a confidentiality agreement. I have to stick to the rule. All I could say is, 'Just watch the show.' But it's hard trying not to spill anything."
Powell, a mother of four, has lived in North Texas since 2006.
"I'm originally from Wichita Falls, but I lived in San Diego for 19 years," she says. "I came back to Dallas for a good job opportunity."
She's a funeral director-mortician at Golden Gate Funeral Home, which has locations in Dallas and Fort Worth.
She has heard all the jokes, by the way, like, "Competing on Survivor must be quite an undertaking!"
Contestants from other walks of life include a retired NYPD detective, a county music singer, an oil tanker crewman, a medical marijuana specialist and a lingerie football player.
The 18 castaways are divided into two tribes of nine: the Savaii Tribe and the Upolu Tribe, named after two islands of Samoa.
The "Redemption Island" twist returns. Castaways who are voted off get the chance to return after living alone on Redemption Island, then competing against the next person eliminated at Tribal Council.
The player who lasts long enough to be named Sole Survivor wins $1 million.
Powell was chosen to compete after showing up for a casting call last year at Bankston Nissan in Irving. She says she had never been on a reality show or game show before, never even tried to get on one, but she took to being shadowed by the Survivor TV crew as comfortably as a duck takes to water.
"Sometimes you get a little self-conscious, but most of the time, I loved it," she says. "It was too much fun. It was an amazing experience. I would do it again, any place, any time."
Powell has been an on-again/off-again Survivor viewer over the years. She tends to tune out when there's a villainous contestant who rubs her the wrong way. Although Powell can't go into any detail about playing the game, she notes that she won't be thought of as a bad guy.
"Viewers won't hate me," she says. "I'm one of the good guys. People will like me. No, wait, viewers will love me."