TNT adventuress has Philly roots

Philly-raised Michelle Lamelza, who manages an Irish pub in Queens, competes on the premiere of TNT's "72 Hours," scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 6, 2013. Nine contestants are dropped off the coast of a remote island group in Fiji and have to find a briefcase containing $100,000 in cash.
Philly-raised Michelle Lamelza, who manages an Irish pub in Queens, competes on the premiere of TNT's "72 Hours," scheduled for 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 6, 2013. Nine contestants are dropped off the coast of a remote island group in Fiji and have to find a briefcase containing $100,000 in cash.

'72 Hours' debuts at 9 tonight, with castaways hunting 100 G's in 100 degrees.

Posted: June 07, 2013

Nothing like starting a reality show thinking you're about to die.

Michelle Lamelza was in a helicopter nearing Fiji's remote Yasawa Islands, when the competitors were told to take a flying leap into the Pacific - without shark repellent.

But Michelle, who spent her early years in Northeast Philadelphia, just laughed as she reflected on three grueling days far from civilization - with no food and only one bottle of water to drink - trying to find a hidden briefcase containing $100,000.

"Castaways hunt cash" is the basic premise of 72 Hours, which debuts tonight at 9 on TNT, with Michelle on one of the three teams with three contestants - scores of relatives around Philly likely to be watching.

Unlike Survivor, each hourlong episode has a winner - or three sets of losers. (Hint: One team does win tonight.)

Indeed, next week, Eric Martin, a ski instructor from Harleysville, Montgomery County, endures wild New Zealand coastline.

Some of Michelle's friends acted as if she had a free stay in paradise.

"Oh, my God, it was insanity," said Lamelza, who began high school at St. Hubert's, before moving to Florida. "It was jungle and then climbing mountains that were like vertical walls. No matter what you did there really was no easy path."

"Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it would," she said.

Clothes, yes. But no supplies. No sunglasses, hats, matches, knives, tools, toothbrushes, toilet paper ("we just had leaves"), tents or sleeping bags. Just a GPS with info about the terrain, but clues about where to find the loot.

"We had to sleep the first night in monsoon rain, "literally, in like mud sliding down a hill, spooning each other," said Lamelza.

She put her pants on her head for protection from the tropical sun. (A hundred G's ... but more than 100 degrees. And cold at night.)

Plus there were snakes, "spiders as big as your hand," and that "rat that actually crawled over like the three of us." And "funky, funky noises from afar."

No, the rat didn't become dinner. They had to make do with coconuts and coconut milk.

"We were trying not to think about food," said Lamelza, who manages Donovan's, an Irish pub in Queens.

No, she wouldn't have quit the quest for a quick trip to a taco stand.

"People fast all the time. We can do this," she told herself, she said.

Did she win?

You'll have to tune in tonight to find out.


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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