First in an occasional series of articles catching up with Long Islanders who have appeared on reality TV shows.
Plainview's Tiffany Seely still teaches English language arts at the Jamaica Academy Alternate Learning Center in Queens. The only difference is that after having been on "Survivor 41" last year, sometimes a student will recognize her.
"I have rolling admissions, so I might have a kid with me for only 10 days," Seely, 49, says of her class of students temporarily suspended from regular school for behavioral issues. “So it's not like any of them know me from before. But you get that occasional student who watches the show and looks at me and looks at me and all of a sudden realizes where he knows me from. You wish you had a camera for a minute, because the kid is, like, ‘Ohmigod! I didn't know they have a famous person teaching me!’ ”
Seely says this with the rat-a-tat patois by which viewers came to know her on the CBS island-survival reality show, where she was the season's eighth competitor eliminated. Comparisons to equally fast-talking teacher Melissa Schemmenti (played by Lisa Ann Walter) of the ABC sitcom hit "Abbott Elementary" are, Seely assures, frequent.
"I've been told so many times already!" she says, laughing. "It is hysterical. That show could be my school! It is actually laugh-out-loud funny because we have every single character, as far as the grown-ups."
And while the fictional Schemmenti is from South Philly and Seely from Long Island, they share each area's formidable reputation. "Listen, I'm tough," Seely says. “The students are like, ‘You're one of those people that all you have to do is look at us and you really scare the [expletive] out of us!’ ” She laughs again. "That's funny because, really, I'm just not going to yell or scream because I don't do that."
Long Islanders recognize her as well. “It happens at least once a day where I'm somewhere and people stop me and freak out, and I'm, like, ‘Ohmigod, what's happening?’ ” Fans ask for selfies and occasionally “see me at ShopRite and follow me around. It's really funny. They're behind you, like, the wife and husband. And the wife is, like, ‘Ohmigod, I think that's …’ and then the husband's like, ‘Oh, just leave her alone.’ It's like you're this little celebrity but not really, because a reality show celebrity is not really a celebrity. But it is super fun."
She has used her cachet to help raise funds for charity. In addition to her longtime efforts for breast-cancer research, "I helped Mike Turner ["Survivor 42"] with his support for a homeless shelter in Hoboken," and with numerous other reality TV stars helps raise money for Florida's Give Kids The World Village, an organization that provides critically ill children and their families a free weeklong vacation in its storybook-themed resort.
Partly due to her post-show visibility, Seely, who is married to New York City-based FBI agent Steve Gonzalez and has two sons from a previous marriage, has since adopted a fitness routine and shed, she says, 30 pounds — visually evident in her Instagram photos.
And she remains friends with her "Survivor" castmates. "Sometimes I come home from work on a Friday and Evvie [Jagoda]'s driven four hours from Boston and is sitting on my stoop. She's, like, ‘I just need to be with you and give you a hug,’ and she stays for the weekend. I see Sara [Wilson] all the time. I see [David] Voce all the time. Sydney [Segal]. I'm close to a lot of the new folks as well," she says, calling herself part of "a sorority" of series alumni. "It's been a really amazing journey as far as the community," she says. "It is strikingly close."