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Sue Yen Pupo is one tough cookie. As an attorney for the Philadelphia public defender’s office, the 28-year-old is not new to hard work, sweat and tears. But she experienced the combination in a new setting. Pupo recently appeared on “Boot Camp,” the most recent Fox reality series where 16 “recruits” endure a real-life, military-style boot camp run by four former Marine Corps drill instructors. From the outside, Pupo is petite and athletic. What she lacks in height, she makes up in attitude and endurance. Last fall, she decided to temporarily abandon the courtroom for the challenge of experiencing “Boot Camp.” “I said to myself, ‘If I can go to court and argue for somebody where the evidence is completely against them and do it well, then I can do this,’ ” Pupo said. FROM COURT TO BOOT CAMP Pupo saw an advertisement that said the Fox network was looking for people to audition for “Boot Camp.” The show begins with a squad of 16 recruits, eight men and eight women. The teams take part in missions that test their training and reveal the weaker members of the squad. Pupo went to the audition just for kicks. She had to run through an obstacle course and perform some other physical challenges. She was sick and had to be in court the next day, but she filled out the long application and consented to an on-camera interview. She didn’t think further about the audition until Fox called her. The network asked her to send in a four-minute video describing herself. “I did the goofy video thinking, ‘This is never going to happen,’ ” Pupo said. But something did happen. Pupo learned she was a finalist, narrowed down from 8,000 candidates. Then the final word came from Fox, and Pupo learned she had been selected as one of 16 people to appear on the show. She had a week’s notice before being shipped out of Philadelphia. Pupo hadn’t told many people about auditioning for “Boot Camp.” But she had to tell her boss, Defender Ellen Greenlee at the Defender’s Association of Philadelphia, that there was a small but real possibility she might have to leave work. Greenlee was very supportive, which was a good thing considering Pupo ended up missing six weeks of work while she lived in a military complex just outside Jacksonville, Fla., last October and November. Pupo’s co-workers at the Defendant’s Association were also supportive — although they enjoyed making fun of her once they learned she was going to appear on “Boot Camp.” “My mom was horrified,” Pupo said. “She told me, ‘You did not go to Georgetown University to go on that Jerry Springer-type TV show.’ She asked me to change my name.” Pupo said she was slightly worried about how appearing on “Boot Camp” would affect her reputation. She didn’t want other attorneys or district attorneys to take her less seriously. But the more she reflected on the opportunity, Pupo knew she couldn’t turn it down. “Reality shows are the signature of the new millennium,” Pupo said. “It was very interesting to be a part of that and see how they edit and spin things in ‘reality’ television.” PHYSICAL AND MENTAL EXHAUSTION Before she left for Florida, Pupo decided to get some pre-training for “Boot Camp.” A friend told her to go to Platoon Fitness, an exercise program that’s run in the military style, although the instructors aren’t as mean and fierce as real drill sergeants. Pupo had to be on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum at 5:45 a.m. — sharp — to do basic training like sit-ups, push-ups and running. “I was in the best shape I’d been in after four days,” Pupo said. “But you can’t really prepare. [The drill sergeants at "Boot Camp"] push you to exhaustion.” The recruits didn’t know anything about the game until they arrived in Florida. Each week on “Boot Camp,” the recruits vote out one fellow squad member. In an added twist, that squad member can remove anybody he or she chooses. The last remaining recruit wins the jackpot of $500,000. From the moment they arrived at camp, the 16 participants were thrown into stressful situations. Pupo said she and the other recruits were yelled at all day, they slept for less than five hours a night, they were barely allowed to eat, and they had to do strenuous physical exercise in hot fatigues. “Plus, you have 16 people who don’t know each other,” Pupo said. “There were all these stressors.” One of the more dire situations Pupo recalled was the bathroom regimen. The eight women were given literally 45 seconds to use the bathroom, which had four stalls and two sinks. GETTING THE BOOT FROM “BOOT CAMP” On the second episode of “Boot Camp,” which aired on April 4, Becky Haar, a pig farmer from Georgia, was voted off the show. Upon being dismissed, Haar took Pupo out of the game with her. Haar said Pupo had an attitude and was not a team player. “That’s no secret — I do have an attitude,” Pupo said. “That’s why [Fox] picked me to be on the show. They thought I would be antagonistic and attitude-laden, but really that wasn’t true.” Pupo said Fox did a lot of editing to try and portray her as having an attitude. In reality, Pupo said she was tame on the set. Rather than being disappointed about losing the game, Pupo said she was incredibly relieved. The day of her dismissal, Pupo had to stand at attention for hours wearing a heavy backpack. She had gotten into an earlier spat with the drill instructor, and had to do 45 push-ups as a result. “I was tired. Both my groins were pulled,” Pupo said. “I had had enough.” Plus, Pupo said she knew she’d never make it to the end. She describes herself as having a very strong, edgy personality. She said she was picked to be on the show because of her weaknesses: a short temper and an opinionated attitude. But Pupo didn’t show her attitude often. She stayed quiet and didn’t argue too much with the other contestants. There were times, she said, when she felt like getting upset, but she kept the perspective that “Boot Camp” was just a game. After her dismissal, Pupo was sequestered in a hotel for four weeks. She referred to the isolation period as “a nightmare.” Pupo couldn’t talk to her family or her friends. She had a permanent chaperone and couldn’t leave the hotel without being supervised. When she did venture out in public, Pupo had to deny she was involved with “Boot Camp.” She went by an alias, claiming she was a religious youth director on a retreat. Needless to say, she was anxious to return to the courtroom. LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE Pupo still retains a bit of that fighting spirit she learned from her “Boot Camp” experience. She said it’s not easy to be a public defender, just like it wasn’t easy to be a recruit at “Boot Camp.” Likewise, in both roles she has to give 100 percent every day; she has to be tough and she can’t be sensitive to criticism. Being a recruit and being a public defender both take “some level of balls,” Pupo said. “It takes balls to [defend] with spirit. It took balls to go on ‘Boot Camp’ and be exposed on national TV for everyone to see, including my critics.” She said because she can’t choose her clients as a public defender, she often has to defend people who may appear to be blatantly guilty. When the opposing side has video or photographic evidence that her client is guilty, Pupo still has to stand in front of the jury with a straight face and say something. But that’s what she loves about being a public defender: the challenge. And that’s what attracted her to “Boot Camp.” “The tougher the case, the bigger the challenge, the more inspired I get,” Pupo said. “On ‘Boot Camp,’ I was challenging myself for the whole world to see.”

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