Cash game grinders at Atlantic City casinos have a history of going on to great things. Phil Ivey went from an underaged kid sleeping under the Boardwalk to the best player in the game. Three-time World Poker Tour champ Anthony Zinno built his bankroll playing in cash games at the Borgata.
Starting Wednesday night Anna Khait is hoping to rise to stardom, albeit through a very different path. The 26-year-old Brooklyn native is one of 18 contestants on Survivor: Kaôh Rōng.
A lifelong fan of the show, Khait first applied by sending in a video application in 2014. When she didn’t hear back, she figured it wasn’t going to happen.
“I told one of my friends and he said there was a live casting call tomorrow at Caesars. I’m already at Borgata all the time and he said ‘why don’t you go to Caesars?’,” said Khait.
Being new to the entire casting process, Khait had no idea what she was in for when she got in line. Others that were waiting with her hit her with a harsh dose of reality pretty quick.
“I made friends with the people around me and they were telling me they’ve tried out for six years … eight years … four years and have never gotten a phone call, never gotten an email, nothing,” said Khait. “I was like ‘that’s great, I’m just going to waste my time right now’ but I just said whatever. I got really nervous in front of the camera and thought I’d messed it up that interview.”
That was late 2014. CBS was casting for two seasons of the show at the time. Over the next few months producers kept in touch with Khait.
“It was a six or seven month long process of paperwork, interviews, doctor visits and more interviews and then they flew me out to finals in December,” said Khait. “I had interviews there and stuff and met Jeff (Probst) and CBS executives and it still wasn’t a done deal.”
In those meetings producers asked Khait what she did for a living. When she told them she was a professional poker player, they pushed back a little bit.
“They were like ‘well we’ve never heard of you’ and I was like, yeah I don’t really play in the public eye,” said Khait. “I play mostly cash, I don’t really play tournaments, I don’t play WPTs.”
Khait eventually got the call that she had been cast for Season 32 of the hit reality show. The theme for the season is Brawn vs. Brains vs. Beauty and Khait is a member of the “Beauty” tribe. Once she got to Cambodia, where the show was being filmed, she decided to keep her poker playing identity hidden.
“I didn’t tell anyone that I play a strategy game for a living, I thought that would be a good move. There were poker players that did. I mean, Jean-Robert (Bellande) couldn’t really get away form it because he was in the public eye and somebody might have known,” said Khait, who instead told her fellow competitors that she was a medical school student who worked as a cocktail waitress at The Borgata.
“Not exactly a lie, but it is, whatever. But I didn’t tell them what I did because I didn’t want them to know I play a strategy game, that I’m very analytical and can read body language,” said Khait.
As a Survivor superfan, Khait felt she had a pretty good understanding of what to expect once the game began. She quickly learned she was wrong.
“You don’t really realize how much rain there is and how much down time there is. There’s so much down time in between challenges, sometimes two to three days where you’re just sitting around camp, finding food, cooking food, getting water,” said Khait. “You don’t realize how tough it is until you’re out there and you have to fend for yourself.”
Dealing with the constant buzz of mosquitos, the 130 degree temperatures all while sleeping on hard, uneven bamboo beds can be a mental challenge as much as physical. Through all of that, and the physical and mental nature of the game, Khait feels like she discovered some things about herself she didn’t know going in, including something that will come in hand as she resumes her poker career.
“I learned that I’m pretty tough, that I can handle any situation that’s thrown my way,” said Khait. “I also realized how competitive I am.”