There’s no need to outwit, outplay or outlast this backyard; just enjoy its relaxing vibe.
Story by Ann Butenas | Photography by Matt Kocourek
While critical thinking and problem solving skills definitely come in handy when one is left to his or her own devices out in the unforgiving heat and humidity that envelope the vanished ruins of a Central American country, curiosity and imagination are called upon when it comes to designing a backyard dreamscape worthy of a bona fide survivor.
When Kansas native Danni Boatwright, actress, TV host, model and winner of the popular reality show “Survivor,” Season 11, was ready to relax and unwind at her Western Shawnee home with her husband Casey Wiegmann, former Kansas City Chiefs player and their two sons, Bo and Stone, it seemed fitting to turn their backyard into a welcoming paradise. However, when they moved into the home a couple of years ago, the backyard needed some work and the original pool was in definite need of an overhaul.
“The liner was old, and the heater was broken, so at the time we just decided to see what options there were for something else,” recalled Danni. “We have a nice home on two acres but really wanted to create a yard for our two boys to enjoy with their friends and their sports teams.”
And when it came time to revamp her backyard, Danni jumped right in with all the tenacity and fervor she displayed during her “Survivor” days. She relied on her instincts (and on a great tip from former neighbor Joe Layne) to lead her to Matt Alberts, owner of Land Art, Inc., Kansas City’s premier landscape design build firm, who enthusiastically put his skills to the test to design and install this one-of-a-kind oasis. After taking out the former swimming pool and stripping the yard down to virtually nothing, Alberts had the perfect blank canvas from which to create this outdoor masterpiece.
“Danni and Casey gave me the direction they wanted to go with this, and it involved elements of both of their personalities,” expressed Alberts, who indicated it is a blend of Danni’s “Survivor” days and a rustic rocky mountain vibe.
At the heart of the design is the heated salt water swimming pool, which enjoys a grotto-style water fall. If you are brave enough, you can climb up the attached stones and dive off the top into the pool, which is nine feet at its deepest end. If you prefer, you can take the slide and just ease on into the pool.
One of the design features also included an expansive cabana comprised of a changing area, large bathroom, and enough space to store all of the pool equipment. There is a functional kitchen area by the cabana, complete with a grill, refrigerator, ample storage, a TV, and a bar. Other captivating highlights of the space include a free form fire pit, a sun deck/reef area, large boulders in the water to naturalize the area, and an outdoor shower by the cabana. All stone used throughout are natural. Alberts also made sure to add a “Survivor” logo plaque, which is embedded into one of the posts of the cabana.
“This is truly resort-style living you can enjoy without ever having to leave home,” noted Alberts.
And after spending 39 gut-wrenching days on the set of “Survivor” back in 2005, Danni definitely appreciates her cozy little corner of the world, which stands in stark contrast to what she endured while navigating the Mayan ruins in heat-soaked Guatemala in pursuit of claiming the title of Sole Survivor and winning the $1 million top prize. Thanks to her competitive inner fire, Danni reached that goal and remembers those days fondly and with a healthy dose of humor.
“When my two boys ever tell me they are hungry, I just laugh and say, ‘Hey! I didn’t eat for 39 days’!”
As Danni reflects to her time on the show when maggots and termites where the highlight of the daily menu. “During the show, we were out in the jungle, and it was tough. We had no food and the heat was unbearable,” recalled Danni, who, along with fellow cast members, subsisted on crushed corn just like the Mayans ate, but when it got wet from the rain, it would get moldy. That, in turn, would attract maggots, which Danni eventually ate over a fire.
“The first week was tough, especially since it was 114 degrees, but eventually your body adjusts,” said Danni, who kept herself hydrated by boiling lake water and kept herself clean by bathing in the local waters whenever the crocodiles weren’t around. Needless to say, personal grooming took a backseat to the pursuit of the prize! Bad hair days were nothing when compared to becoming a champion. A fierce competitor at heart and a natural-born athlete, Danni was raised in a blended family with seven brothers, a couple of whom joked before she left Kansas to film the show, “Don’t come home unless you win!” Challenge accepted!
“I trained really hard before I left, working out with a trainer and really preparing myself for the physical challenges I knew I would face in the jungle,” Danni said. “I also worked on puzzles to prepare my mind and watched all prior seasons of the show and read books on it, as well.” Preparing her mindset to win the show was a fulltime endeavor for her, and when it was announced she had won at the end of the season, she was thrilled but relieved it was over.
“It wasn’t just about the money. It was just fun to win,” she smiled.
Once back at home, it was time for Danni to resume her “normal” life, which meant regaining the 30 pounds she lost while on the show and focusing on her next chapter in life. It was during this time she met her husband through her friends, Eddie and Shimika Kennison. Eddie, also a former Kansas City Chiefs player, introduced Danni and Casey and the rest is history. However, Casey didn’t initially realize he was in the presence of such a star.
“I invited Casey to a watch party for the show, and he was shocked when he realized I was on it,” said Danni. “Until that point, he had not put two and two together.”
Danni describes Casey as her anchor and one who is reliable yet strong willed.
“He is good for me, as I am someone who is all over the place,” laughed Danni.
With her “Survivor” days behind her, Danni has focused her winning attitude on other endeavors and continues to do so with the attitude of a champion. In addition to owning Sideline Chic, a fun and stylish game day apparel company that offers products to wholesalers as well as sells in local boutiques and online, Danni has also written a series of children’s books with a focus on how to overcome obstacles in life.
“I want to motivate kids and help them understand they all have talents and skills that will help them respond to challenges and adversities in life,” she reflected.
Casey spends his time overseeing a few businesses as well as coaching his son’s baseball team, the KC Crusaders. Not one to sit on the sidelines, Danni coaches her younger son’s basketball team, the Fainting Goats. She also enjoys visiting her favorite coffee shop in Bonner Springs called Third Space Coffee.
“It’s the best kept secret,” she smiled.
No matter what they do, however, everything is approached with a fun-loving attitude. Yes, Danni still likes to win and will probably never lose that competitive drive, but she also enjoys sharing in all the fun with others, which is why her backyard paradise truly speaks to her heart.
“This is a great place for us to relax and unwind, as well as hang out with friends,” she said. “I grew up in the country and this just feels like the country. Matt did a great job and he is so incredible to work with. It was a great decision on our part to do this.”
Landscape, Boulders and Slabs, Landscape Lighting, Drainage System: Land Art Design
Pool and Spa: Midwest Pools
Masonry, Boulders and Slabs, Grill Station: Natures Touch
Pool Cabana and Carpentry: D. Rau Construction
Outdoor Furnishings and Accessories: Lifestyles By Design