As if surviving Rob, Sean, Tammy and Vecepia wasn't tough enough, Neleh Dennis is now trying to survive Ron, Mary, Sterling and assorted microphones and cameras.

Dennis, who charmed America en route to a second-place finish in "Survivor: Marquesas," began work this week trying to charm Utah's early morning TV viewers as the newest member of KUTV-Ch. 2's team. The station has put her to work doing features and light interviews on its 5:30-8 a.m. telecast.

And it's on-the-job training.

"I have a lot of stuff to learn," she said. "I can only go out there and be myself. But I can laugh at my mistakes, thank goodness, because I'm going to have a lot of them."

"She is literally learning on the air," said KUTV news director Steve Charlier. "When the producer said 'wrap' in her ear this morning she didn't know what to do."

Just as there was something charming about Neleh the "Survivor," there's something charming about Neleh the features reporter-in-training. Like Thursday morning when, doing an interview at Thanksgiving Point, she asked her question and forgot to put the mike in front of her interviewee.

And then when she remembered, she nearly smacked the poor guy in the face with the thing.

"Once I get the whole microphone, camera-system down I think I'll be all right," she said on the air.

Dennis is just what she appeared to be on "Survivor" — a bright, bubbly young woman who's as smart as she is attractive. Shrewd, even.

Since "Survivor" ended, she and her agent have fielded myriad offers. And neither was expecting the one that came from Ch. 2.

"Obviously, they followed me during 'Survivor.' Just when I thought they were sick of me, they gave me a call and asked me to come work for them," Dennis said with a laugh.

And, while offers to audition for bigger things — including movies and national TV shows — came her way, Dennis knows she has a few things to learn first.

"A lot of people think that, after 'Survivor,' you have all these doors open to you," she said. "Yeah, you do, but if you act at the wrong time when you're so new at it, it could actually end up hurting you."

She's seen other "Survivor" alumni who reached too far, too fast and, proving unqualified for the big time, have effectively run out of opportunities.

"I need to get some training and experience," Dennis said. "I want to be sure I have the background I need before I try some of those things. Then I could go pursue other things — maybe even acting.

"And I think this will be a lot of fun. I'm loving it so far. . . . This is a great way to get my foot in the door. This is definitely something I could see me doing for a long time."

If KUTV continues to use her correctly, this could work. Dennis won't be sitting down and doing issues-and-answers interviews with world leaders, she'll be doing light stuff. Personality profiles. Entertainment. "Fun" movie reviews.

And, despite her current lack of experience, she has the screen presence — what Charlier called an "infectious personality" — to pull it off.

"I couldn't ask for a better person to represent us," Charlier said.


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com