Sunday, August 31, 2003

Warren County Scoutmaster pitches camp with 'Survivor'


Television

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE]
Lillian Morris
If Boy Scouts must be "truthful" and "loyal," then how did Scoutmaster Lillian Morris explain her absence from summer camp and her troop's July trip to Alabama so she could participate in CBS' Survivor: The Pearl Islands?

"Let's not call it a 'lie.' Let's call it 'misdirection,' " says her husband, Lonnie.

"We had to come up with a story, and I'm the one who did it. I gave her the story," says Lonnie, 54, who founded Troop 617 in Kings Mills 11 years ago with his wife.

The 78-member troop was led to believe the Scoutmaster was on another mission to distribute "Gift of Sight" eyewear for her employer, LensCrafters, like the trip she took to Thailand awhile ago.

"I told them she was on a mission, and she'd be gone for three or four weeks," says Lonnie, who lives in Deerfield Township with his wife, 51, and their two children, Clayton, 22, a Wright State University senior, and Megan, 18, a Kings High School senior.

Lillian's co-workers at LensCrafters' headquarters in Symmes Township were led to believe that she was on an extended Boy Scout outing, like the trips she has made to Colorado, Minnesota, Maine and New Mexico.

Finally, on Thursday, she could tell the truth.

She had spent June and July in Panama taping Survivor 7, which premieres Sept. 18 (8-9:30 p.m., Channels 12, 7).

"It just killed her to lie to us, because she's not that way," says Dale Hahn, a Wyoming police officer and assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 617. He led the eight-day Alabama camping trip that Lillian had planned but couldn't make.

"She was kind of vague about why she couldn't go. She just told us she had to be on this mission," Hahn says. "She must have apologized to me 30 times (for lying). She felt so bad about it."

Marooned in scout uniform

Scouting is such a major part of Lillian's life that she wore her uniform to the filming in Panama, after receiving permission from the national Boy Scouts office, Hahn says.

Viewers will see a lot of the green outfit because the castaways, in a surprise twist by creator Mark Burnett, were marooned with only the clothes they were wearing.

Friends and family say Lillian has all the survival skills to compete for the $1 million top prize in the reality show. She had led her Scouts on many "high-adventure" rock- climbing, canoeing, hiking, backpacking and kayaking trips.

"If I had to pick anyone to be on the show, it would be my mom," says Megan, one of the thousands of Survivor fans here that makes Greater Cincinnati the top-rated market for the CBS show. "She loves the outdoors, camping, the kids, and she's a people person. This is her area of expertise."

"She's a very outgoing person, ambitious and fun," says Cindy Green, one of her best friends and the assistant Scoutmaster who supervised 52 Scouts at summer camp in Lillian's absence.

And she's a great mom, Megan says: "At the end of the day, when Boy Scouts are done, she always has time to come home and be with her family," Megan says. "She still makes me breakfast every morning, and packs my lunch for school."

Lillian has remained dedicated to her troop, even after her son left Scouting.

"She's very well respected by parents and kids. You don't get 70-plus kids in a program if you're not a quality leader," says Andy Swallows, marketing and finance director for the Boy Scouts' Dan Beard Council office in Cincinnati. Lillian is one of 17 female Scoutmasters for the 235 troops in the council, he says.

Before going to Central America, Lillian adhered to the Boy Scouts' "Be prepared" motto.

"She did a lot of research before she left. She went out and bought survivor-type handbooks," says Lonnie about his wife of 30 years and fellow Loveland High School graduate. "She knows about knots and fires and all that stuff. She could camp out all the time and never stay in a house."

Oldest by nine years

At 51, she is the oldest contestant on the show by nine years. Nearly half of the 16 contestants are ages 22-28, and only three are 40 or older.

LensCrafters co-workers had encouraged her to audition for the show at the Newport on the Levee tryout Feb. 10. But when she arrived after work, she was told that the line was too long and that she would not be able to participate. So she quickly made an audition video - in her Scout uniform - and sent it by overnight mail to Los Angeles.

"She said, 'I wanted to do something that shows who I am,' so she used her Scout uniform," Hahn says.

Lonnie says his wife learned in late April or early May that she had been picked for the show. She quit her job in June and headed to Panama a few weeks before the troop's week at Camp Friedlander in Clermont County.

A fan of Survivor, Lillian would watch the show on tape, because Troop 617 meets Thursday nights.

"We're going to change our meeting night, just for a while, so she can be home with her family to watch the show - and so the kids can watch, too. The kids are just thrilled," Hahn says.

"This is going to be huge for Cincinnati. Everybody is so excited," says daughter Megan.

Lillian is pumped, too - but she's not permitted by CBS to talk about the experience until the network airs the episode in which she's wins or is eliminated from the game. Rodger Bingham from Crittenden, who participated in Survivor 2 in 2001, and all other contestants had to sign similar confidentiality contracts with CBS.

"She's very, very excited and kind of in awe. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She loves the fact that she did this on her own," her husband says.

Other than that, she can't say much about Survivor. So Lonnie ordered her to unplug the phone after CBS announced the cast.

"She didn't want to say anything wrong," Lonnie explains. "She's not very good at storytelling. Now she knows just two words: 'No comment.' "

E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com




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