June 08, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Richard Hatch may have a Pontiac Aztek hatchback full of cash, but it’s starting to look like the ”Survivor” booby prize. His strategic alliance sent the perkily no-nonsense Colleen Haskell home to collect the ultimate jackpot: a lead role in the new comedy ”The Animal,” in which she plays an animal-shelter worker wooed by man-beast Rob Schneider. (Then again, Schneider runs his tongue across her face in the movie, so perhaps ”jackpot” is an overstatement.)

During her post-ejection round of ”Survivor” interviews, the tousled pixie (who projects a Diane Keatonesque combination of ditziness and intelligence) vehemently denied any showbiz aspirations, which seemed only to make casting directors more intent on making her famous. ”I was on a game show, for Christ’s sake, what am I doing here?” laughs the 24-year-old Bethesda, Md., native before a photo shoot at a Manhattan studio. But after being interrogated by Jay, Rosie, Regis, and countless reporters, she still maintains an assured, self-deprecating charm — even when explaining how her director tricked her into saying ”fart” for a scene (”I don’t ever say that word!”). ”What drives me crazy is she’s never nervous, ever,” says ”Animal” director Luke Greenfield. ”She has fantastic improv skills, and she’s eerily talented.” The immunity continues.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: All that talk to Bryant Gumbel last year about not wanting to be in show business, and now look at you, Ms. Summer Movie. Pretty shrewd.

COLLEEN HASKELL: ”That sneaky little girl!” No, after ”Survivor,” my life was turning upside down and all I wanted was for the show to be over. Have fun, smile, do the interviews, and then go back to normal life. And my mom was the one who pointed out, ”Colleen, your normal life is this now.”

EW: So you decided to get an agent?

HASKELL: I was introduced to somebody at ICM through a family friend, and I told her, ”All I need from you is somebody to take these phone calls. I don’t want these people calling my house anymore. I don’t want them sending faxes to my parents. I don’t want them calling my friends from fifth grade.” Because that’s what was happening after ”Survivor.”

EW: And the first step was being the Blistex queen.

HASKELL: I thought, ”If I do this commercial I can pay off all my student loans, and that’s a great deal.” So I started to take a little more advantage of the situation, with encouragement from my parents, who were [saying], ”Yeah, [turning offers down] is all well and great, but when you say no to this money, we’re going to be paying. Get a job.”

EW: Before ”Survivor,” you were studying design at the Miami Ad School, and never went back, so I guess the Blistex commercial wasn’t that inspiring.

HASKELL: I knew I wasn’t going into advertising. That was maybe also why I did ”Survivor,” as an excuse to get away from it. I did the Blistex commercial to make sure, and it was not something I want to be doing. I said, ”Wow!” like 15,000 times in one day. I didn’t even know there was that many ways to say it. But it’s gonna sell Blistex!

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