(Hollywood Reporter, Sept 23,2017): By stepping into the elements, Simone Nguyen has stepped out of her element.
As the final Hustler tribe member on the board (not to mention the final castaway in our player profile series) sits across from me in Fiji, she’s processing the experience of traveling away from the United States for the very first time, while simultaneously coming closer to her roots than ever before.
“This is my first time leaving our great United States. It feels insane,” says Simone. “We had to do a graduate thesis [at Columbia University], where I majored in East Asian Studies. I studied my parents’ experiences being refugees and their perspectives on the war. I’ve never left the country. We grew up pretty poor. I was never fortunate enough to reconcile all of my parents’ experiences with my own. That means I’ve had a very divorced experience from the South Pacific. Now here I am, in Fiji, swimming in the water where my parents’ boat fled from the Vietnam War.”
Simone tells the story of her parents, who fled Vietnam when Saigon fell in 1975: “They got in a boat to escape to somewhere — anywhere but Vietnam. Their boat was stopped in the South China Sea by pirates. They basically floated on the water for a few days and they were so thirsty and so hungry. They basically prayed until they got to shore, and they did, in Thailand, where they spent a couple of years in a refugee camp. My parents are pretty devout. My mom is Catholic and my father is Buddhist. Made for a pretty interesting marriage — which is probably why they’re divorced!”
Eleven years after her parents arrived in the United States, Simone was born. Not quite three decades later, Simone’s journey toward the South Pacific began, thanks to another seismic historical moment: the events of November 8, 2016.
“It depressed me greatly,” Simone says of President Donald Trump’s election. “I was mortified and I was terrified that a reality star became president. I dealt with it the way so many people do, which is by binge-watching television. In my case, it was Survivor. I thought to myself: ‘I guess you can become a reality star and be president, so there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be me! And if anyone calls me frivolous after this, then clearly they don’t know what country they’re living in!’ So I said, ‘Why not me?'”