When the current season of "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains" was launched, its cast featured nine contestants making their third appearances on the popular reality show. But nowhere to be found was Vecepia Robinson.
In fact, Robinson, who earned a niche in reality-TV history as the show's first black winner in 2002, never has returned to "Survivor" since capturing the $1 million prize in the Season 4 Marquesas edition. When producers initially sent out their wide casting net for "Heroes vs. Villains," the resident of Hayward, Calif., didn't get an invite -- not even a casual inquiry.
Just call her the forgotten "Survivor."
"I don't know if there's any rhyme or reason to it. I don't know if it's a political thing, or what," Robinson says. "But it does get a little frustrating. It would be nice to play again."
Robinson, 44, who works as the guest relations manager for St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, says she constantly hears from "Survivor" fans asking why she hasn't been back on the show. Her supervisor, Pam Russo, a die-hard "Survivor" devotee, wants to start a campaign imploring producers to give her another shot.
"I would think she would definitely be on their list," Russo says. "I see things about her every day that show why she was a winner -- her strategies, her mindfulness and resourcefulness. She has incredible energy. Vee can walk in a room and change the dynamic. She's an all-star in everything she does."
Perhaps part of the problem is that not enough of those qualities were on display during the Marquesas season. Robinson, then Towery, was a quintessential "under the radar" winner, taking a strategic, laid-back approach to capture the $1 million prize.
One website ranked her No. 2 among the "worst winners" in reality-TV history, behind Taylor Hicks of "American Idol." Another placed her in its reality-TV "Hall of Shame," calling her "boring and lazy."
Even "Survivor" host Jeff Probst doesn't seem to be a big fan. Before "Heroes vs. Villains" was launched, he was asked by Entertainment Weekly to rank the previous nine "Survivor" seasons in terms of memorable drama. He placed Marquesas next to last, calling it the "worst location ever." He described Robinson as a good player but a "snoozer" in terms of casting.
Like many reality-TV personalities, Robinson defends her honor by finding fault with the way she was portrayed on the show.
"I've learned that editing plays a huge factor in how you're perceived," she says. "They [editors] have in their power to make certain people shine, and they have their favorites who they can market in the way they see fit. There were aspects of my personality that never got any screen time. When people meet me today, they invariably say that I'm so different from the person they saw on the show."
Robinson also believes that her status as a history-making winner might have carried more weight.
But those disappointments haven't weakened her love for "Survivor." She continues to follow the show and recently attended a 10th-anniversary reunion party, where she had a blast reconnecting with former castaways. She even holds no ill will toward Probst.
When asked about Robinson's absence from the show, casting director Lynne Spillman says, "We appreciate Vecepia and all her contributions to 'Survivor.' We think she's amazing. There are so many former contestants such as her who we would have loved to include."
These days, in addition to her home and work life, Robinson works out at a gym at least four days a week and enjoys playing basketball. Her competitive nature has her thinking of trying out with Russo for "The Amazing Race."
But you get the feeling that what she really wants is another chance to outwit, outlast and outplay the castaways on "Survivor."
"I'd go back for the thrill of the game and I'd go in with a totally different perspective," she says. "I think I'd shake things up."