Emaciated Waitress on 'Survivor' Sparks Speculation, Debate

Courtney Yates, the tough, but emaciated New York waitress who has fought her way to stay on the reality TV show "Survivor," has fans asking: Will she die of malnutrition before the season finale?

Images of the waiflike blond in a bikini have popped up on the Internet with bloggers wondering whether the 26-year-old is anorexic.

"If she makes it past today, I don't see how she's going to live 30 days," said one blogger on a Web site devoted to the topic. "Light as a Feather, Thin as a Rail." "I've seen anorexic girls with more meat on their bones than this girl has."

"What will the producers of 'Survivor' do if Courtney falls down and dies?" asked another.

CBS News has fueled the anorexia speculation on its Web site by featuring the photo of a bikini-clad Yates with links to what viewers think about her weight loss.

Good publicity, indeed. But, according to those who know Yates, there's not a shred of truth.

"It's complete nonsense," said Tom Connolly, who taught Yates in three English classes at Suffolk University in her hometown of Boston. "She looks exactly the same now as in college."

Easy to Lose Weight on Show

CBS was concerned about Yates' weight when she auditioned for a part on the 7-year-old series, according to Colleen Sullivan, vice president of publicity at CBS.

"We are confident she is not anorexic," said Sullivan. "She came into the game alarmingly thin, and we went through a whole process with mental and physical tests, and she passed every one."

Sullivan admits the demands of the show take a toll on all contestants. "It's the real deal," she said about foraging for fish, boiling water and chopping coconuts for sustenance.

Former contestant Sean Kenniff, who appeared on the first season in Africa, says he lost 32 pounds in 36 days on the show.

Healthy and Back at Work

Attempts by ABCNEWS.com to reach Yates were unsuccessful. The contestant is prohibited by contract from talking about the show until after the season finale, according to Sullivan.

Filming for "Survivor China" ended Aug. 16, and rest assured, said Sullivan, Yates is now healthy and back to work.

Casting Yates "wasn't an easy decision for us," according to Sullivan, who said television executives eventually believed the contestant's claim that skinniness was in her genes. "Don't judge a book by its cover."

Connolly told ABCNEWS.com that he can confirm her body type runs in the family.

"I've met her mother, and they are clones," he said.

"She was a brilliant student," he said, "completely different from the image you might see on TV."

She has been described as "honest" and "cruel," "sarcastic" and "bitchy," and "tough as nails."

But, said, Connolly, "She is literate and articulate. She is as perfectly comfortable with the Renaissance in Venice as Jewel, the singer and songwriter. She named her cat after the Latin poet Catullus."

[Catullus -- say Latin scholars - means "puppy."]

As questions about Yates' health bubble across the blogs, media watchers wonder whether images of ultra-thin women like Yates contribute to a rise in anorexia nervosa.

The biologically based disorder affects 10 million women and 1 million men in the United States, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Dangers of Anorexia

"It has the highest death rate of any mental illness," said association CEO Lynn Grefe.

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