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Meet the 'Survivor 46' Cast! Maria Shrime Gonzalez Has a Stacked Resume of Dance, Healthcare, and Coaching

Maria Shrime Gonzalez

Maria Shrime Gonzalez first applied to Survivor 20 years ago. Despite feeling she was in peak physical shape from her salsa dancing, the show was not willing to partner up with her. And so Maria moved on, becoming a physical therapist, working on Broadway, having three kids, and even pivoting her career to parent coach. It was then she realized, this was the version of her that needed to play. And though the 48-year-old assumes there's a target on her back as the oldest player this season, she hopes her strength and determination will keep her dancing to Day 26.

Read on for my interview with Maria, and check in with Parade.com daily for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 46 premieres on February 28 with a two-hour premiere on CBS.

Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 46

Interview with Maria from Survivor 46

To start, give me your name, age, and occupation.
My name is Maria Shrime Gonzalez, and I am 47. And I'm a doctor of physical therapy and a parent coach.

Define "parent coach" for me. You coach parents?
I coach parents on how to be better versions of themselves. That's been a year only.

How did that career pivot end up coming about?
I actually stepped away from physical therapy to become a mom and pursue momhood. And I did that. And it was amazing. But then I wanted something else. So I actually sought out this occupational therapist who had all kinds of tools and tricks to really get to know who you are, and how to understand your emotions, and how to understand your nervous system, what makes you tick, what sets you off, how to calm yourself when you are set off, and how to build deeper bonds with your kids. Because you're learning that about the kids too, and about your partner and workers and all that stuff. And so the goal was to learn it for myself first, to help me sort of engage and be better connected to the kids and to my husband. But then I just was so in love with it, and she brought me on as one of our coaches.

So now you have another job to incorporate into your resume: Survivor player. What got you to apply for the show?
So, I applied to Survivor when I was twentysomething. I used to watch a long time ago, and I was–I would say [in] my late 20s. And I was in my prime physically. I was a salsa dancer. And I just had so much ego and selfishness and sort of self-centeredness. And I was like, "This is perfect for me." I didn't even get a "Hello." [Laughs.] And then life got in the way. Then, I went on to grad school and had a family. And then, during the pandemic, like most people, I started watching again. And I was like, "[expletive], this is my time. Right now is my time."

Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner you identify with the most.
Okay, they are both strong-ass women. So, Natalie Anderson is an amazing person for me to emulate. And Stephenie LaGrossa, who never quite won. There are so many times in my life where I've been sort of alone and had to dig deep for inner strength. And so really sort of admire them and admire how they played the game as just strong badass women.

That experience of being able to change careers and climb that ladder to becoming a parent coach, do you think that's going to apply to playing Survivor?
Absolutely. I think that number one, there'll be probably a massive target on my back because I'm the old person.

You think so?
Probably. Although I've hid my grays before I came out here. [Laughs.] So maybe they won't notice.

Well, if you last long in this game, they'll come out. So, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] They're gonna show. I might try to lie about it. But then, really, after a couple of weeks, they're gonna show. But I think that there have been many times in my life where I've had to pull from inner strength. I birthed all three kids at home without any medication. So, natural childbirth, I've run three marathons. I even nursed one of my kids right after I crossed the finish line of the marathon.

Wait, so you were crossing the finish line, and you said, "Give me the baby?"
I'm not even joking. My husband ran the baby to me, and I lifted up my sweaty sports bra, and I nursed him after a marathon. So being alone and being sort of forced to dig deep, not a problem.

That's incredible. What would you say is your biggest superpower in life?
Individuality, determination. I'm like a horse with blinders on. If someone tells me, "I don't think you can do this," or they kind of give you that look, I'm like, "Watch me." If I put my mind to something, it's gonna happen.

On the other side, what would you say is your biggest piece of kryptonite?
I would say control, as in lack thereof. Lack thereof is a big problem for me. Which is also part of why I'm applying. Because the times in my life where I haven't had control have been the times where I've grown the most as a person. And so putting myself out there again in a situation where I will not have control, that's another opportunity for me to see what I made of.

In your career as a parent coach, do you plan on bringing those motivational qualities to the beach? I know it's a bit of apples and oranges between that and other types of coaches. But I would imagine, in an environment where everyone hits their low at some point, it helps to have someone say, "Come on, we can push through this. We're stronger than the worst thing that has happened to us."
Definitely, it'll be twofold. It'll be using that using those skills to sort of connect to people and being vulnerable myself and building trust. But I can also use it against people. If I can tell that somebody's spiraling, I can tell if somebody's starting to be triggered by something, if they're in my alliance, sure as hell, I'm going to help them out. If they're not, I might just sit back and watch.

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I read in your bio about how you moved to Costa Rica to teach English. Talk to me more about that. Because in a game full of big moves, this was a literal big move to make.
That was another time where I was by myself. So, I knew I wanted to go to grad school, but I wasn't ready to go yet. I needed sort of that bridge year, whatever that year is. And so I just wanted to go somewhere tropical, and I wanted to learn Spanish. And so I lived with a family and learned Spanish in four months. I was fluent in four months. Never spoke Spanish beforehand. And it was a lot of growing pains. It was painful and uncomfortable and very much in the wilderness and foraging for food and farming. And it's very different from my comfortable life. And it was one of the biggest growth experiences in my life.

Was there anything you took from that experience that you carry forward to this day?
I think that might be the first life lesson. [Actually], I think after the loss of my father was probably my first life lesson. Just understanding that it's important to be who I am, and I don't need to fit in. Being different is actually super awesome. But I would say that living in Costa Rica was probably my first challenge of who I am.

You talk about being different. How do you think you're going to be perceived in this game?
That's a really good question. Hopefully, they'll perceive me well. I think I make connections with people pretty easily. I find myself to be funny, but maybe I'm laughing at my own jokes. [Laughs.] As they say, "She's so annoying." I think people will perceive me to be easy to get along with and work with, strong.

You talked before about your age. Do you feel you get along with people younger than you?
Yeah, I work with people younger than me. So I'm used to talking to people younger than me, interacting with people younger than me. I have a five-year-old kid. It's not like I'm an empty nester or anything. I've got young children.

What are you looking for in an alliance partner?
I want the Monica to my Rachel. [Laughs.]

[Laughs.] Well, just look for the people with the frizziest hair out here.
Well, that's me! [Laughs.] So it's gotta be the second-frizziest. Honestly, I'm looking for my ride or die. I'm looking for somebody that wants to play the game with me as a couple. And play hard. I don't want to be afraid, and I don't want that person to be afraid. I want us to look at each other and be like, 'Yeah, we're gonna do this."

Now you talked about the Monica to your Rachel? Are you looking for any specific qualities? And is that just segmented to working with a woman?
No, I'm just more like two peas in a pod. But all you hear about is Wendell and Dom and Jesse and Cody. Were there ever [any women alliances] other than the Black Widow Brigade? Maybe we'll be 2.0. But there was never a pair of women that I can think of. And I don't know all the trivia that a lot of people know. But it'd be super cool to have Maria and…who knows!

To that point, if you do find that partner in crime, how difficult would it be for you to cut them at the end if it meant bettering your game?
And I say that sitting here, yeah, of course. Surely, I could do that. But really, at the end of the day, l told my children, "Mommy's gonna lie, cheat and steal." And they're like, "It's okay, Mommy, you can do it." So, yeah, I don't have any problem when it's time. I think there's a way to sort of do it with grace. And there's a way to do it in a mean way. And I hope to be able to do it with grace and someone who congratulates, "That was a really good move."

Related: Everything to Know About Survivor 46

Are you picking up any good vibes from particular people in the preseason?
There's a guy that's got a beard, scruffy beard, maybe late 20s, early 30s like most people out here. I get a good vibe from him. He definitely makes good eye contact. He has a very animated face. I like him. There's another woman, she's taller than I am, braids. She's got a nose ring. And she looks super strong. And I admire strength in a woman. And so I feel like if she were on my tribe, I would go for her first. Then, there are a couple of other women that I have noticed. The ones that make eye contact with you. It's the ones that look like they're engaged. Those are the ones that I'd like to get to know.

On the other side, are you picking up some not-so-good vibes from anyone?
I would say that, in general, the ones that are not making eye contact. There are two or three that just don't make eye contact. Like, what are we even doing? We should be sort of sending each other signals with our eyes.

Can you walk me through an important decision you made in your life and the reasoning you used to get there?
So, I was living in New York City. Well, before that, I was living in Los Angeles, and I hated the East Coast. I'm like, "Never in my life would I ever live in New York City." Funnily, I'm like, "I need to move to New York." My mom's like, "What are you doing? I thought you didn't like it." I'm like, "I need to be in New York." So I landed a gig at The Lion King on Broadway, I worked at the physical therapist for the show.

Yeah, from what I hear about that stage, you must have been very much in demand.
Yeah, in-demand. So my year contract was up. And my boss at the time said, "It's time for you to go on to a different show. We want to send you on tour with Wicked." And I'm like, "No, there's something for me here. Intuitively, there's something I need to do here that I haven't found yet." And she said, "Okay." And I don't know, maybe a month later, I met my husband. So intuition has always been that if I listen to it, I really listen. It's pretty clear.

How are you approaching advantages? If you find something, are you hiding it or keeping it to yourself?
I am sure everyone says, "I'm keeping it to myself," right? I really, really want to keep it to myself. I do have a hard time when I get really excited. I do like to share. So it's gonna be a challenge for me to keep it to myself. Except for that first journey when everybody knows you went out and you got something. I think that first one might be more important to share. Just because I think you can actually bring distrust if you lie about it or you don't say what it is.

On that note, let's say a boat shows up at your camp on Day 2, asking for one person to go on a journey. How would you approach the situation?
Oh, I'm going.

Are you rigging the rock draw, Lauren-style?
I really liked that. We'll do sticks or leaves or something else. Which one's the prettiest?

So, talk to me more about how you would handle that conversation upon returning to camp, as you mentioned before.
I mean, you saw Jaime. She was being honest, and nobody believed her. So, in reality, if I have something to show, I would show it. Just the first time.

I read in your bio that you were Ms. February in a salsa vixen swimsuit calendar. I never knew those words could exist in the same sentence. I need to hear this story.
I was super deep into salsa dancing. It's what got me through grad school. It was how I kept practicing my Spanish. And it was just a hobby. I would study really late. And then I'd have two Red Bulls and then go out at 10:00 p.m., come back and have cups of coffee, and go to grad school the next day. I got really, really into it. And then, I don't know. They just put together a calendar and asked me to be Miss February.

Do you think your experience with salsa dancing is going to help your dexterity and balance in the challenges?
Absolutely. I've been practicing puzzles. I think I have really good balance. It's been a while since I've done salsa, but I'm used to dancing three-inch heels. And so there was definitely an element of strength that grows in your feet. So I do hope to be pretty good at the balance stuff and holding stuff up.

In general, what's been your preparation to come onto Survivor?
I've been working out since August. Actually, I applied, and I'm like, "I'm going to be on the show." Even though I didn't know, I'm like, "No, I'm going to be on." So, I started training three days a week. I wake up at five in the morning, and I go with a trainer and workout. Just to get some baby weight off and COVID weight and just build up strength. I've done an outdoor wilderness two-day survival school of learning how to make fire and all this sort of important things. How to use a knife, if you don't have a knife, how do you use a wedge? And then puzzles. I've gotten a ton of puzzles. I've been working on puzzles. And every time I saw a puzzle on this last season, [I'm like], "Okay, they're not gonna use that one again." [Laughs.] But I'm studying the ones that they didn't use, and I've gotten really good at those ones.

What's your opinion on the new era of Survivor in general?
I love it. I mean, I also am like an old-school lover at heart because that's where I started watching. But I do love the new era. There's a lot of strategy involved. We play a game at home called Mafia. We've been playing for 20-plus years. And so there's a lot of strategy that happens sometimes just with your eyes. So, I do like a lot of the gameplay.

Is any of that experience going to be applicable? Because I think there are similarities in trying to plan a blindside without getting too much of a target on you like planning a murder in Mafia.
And that's exactly why I want an accomplice. I want somebody with me that we can just lock eyes and be like, "Oh yeah, it's go time." [Laughs.]

What celebrity or fictional character would you want to come out for a Loved Ones visit?
I mean, I love Celeste Barber. She's an Australian comedian. She's just funny. Super funny. And I love to laugh. And I think that sometimes, on the island, things get sad, things get lonely. To just somebody to laugh with, make me laugh.

Laughter can be the best medicine!
Yeah, it raises your vibration.

Next, check out our interview with Survivor 46 contestant Jemila "Jem" Hussain-Adams.