Heidi Hamels Is More Than Just Mrs. Cole Hamels

The former Survivor contestant is doing something far bigger than reality TV—trying to save Africa.

At a photo studio in Fishtown, Heidi cuddles with Cole, who brushes a wisp of hair from her face. They hold hands, so at ease with each other, so distractingly good-looking. Let’s face it—it’s easy to mock these two, mostly because we’re jealous. If you can fault them for something, it’s for being so damn earnest. Remember that ad for the condos at Liberty Two, the one where Cole’s cradling Heidi’s pregnant belly and they’re both dressed in white, like we’re bearing witness to a modern-day Immaculate Conception? Sometimes celebrities do strange things.

But sometimes, celebrities can surprise you if you watch them when they think no one’s watching. The cameras stop clicking, and Heidi chats with the makeup artist like they’re old friends. After the shoot, she thanks everyone and carries her own bags to the car. Cole’s quieter, but while Heidi’s taking solo shots, he slips naturally into bro mode. Last week he was in New Orleans for an old San Diego buddy’s bachelor party—two dudes to a bed, their rented bus broke down, they bought cheesy t-shirts from every gas station they could find. There’s no sign of the Cole who was on guard at the Hotel Monaco, even when talk turns to last season. “Our hitting sucked,” he says. “We’d had so much success. It was hard for our organization to cut it off. If you want to be successful again, you have to know when to start over.” He’s already looking forward to what he describes as his new role as a clubhouse leader. “I still think of myself as a kid,” he says. “This season, I realized I’m that guy.”

It’s hard to miss the echoes of Heidi’s philosophy on life in her husband’s words. She told me that whenever her girlfriends met someone they thought might be The One, her advice was always the same—don’t hesitate, go for it. The Phils froze when it was time to rebuild; now they’re paying for it. Cole knows it’s his turn to lead, and rather than rest on his $144 million contract, the ace is stepping up his own social game, not unlike the way his wife once did, years ago. It would have been easy to start a small charity, throw some money at it and rush back to their fabulous lives. Instead, they went all in. “You just gotta believe,” Heidi says, “that something great is on the other side.”

I know your eyes are rolling. Easy to “believe” when you’re Mrs. Cole Hamels and you can whine about the same fame that led you to become Mrs. Cole Hamels, which affords you the opportunity to do great things. But plenty of one-percenters like Mrs. Cole Hamels don’t do anything great. Reality stars, especially. Just ask Jeff Probst, who emails me to explain why he hasn’t seen Heidi much in recent years: “Heidi was not one of those contestants that hung around lobbying to be on the show again. In fact, we asked her to be on the first All-Star season and she turned us down. Very few people have turned us down for a second shot. Heidi played one season, had her fun and moved on with the rest of her life. I really respect that.”

Though her story began on that perch in the Amazon, it’s not going back there. It’s going forward—Heidi is going for it, whenever she can, because she believes good things come to those who trust in their big ideas. And in those moments when the chasm between big ideas and reality seems too wide, she leaps. That’s the teachable moment of Heidi’s story, one that doesn’t require a TV show or fame or a rich husband to learn. In her car, waiting for Caleb, Heidi’s eager to talk about Malawi and motherhood. A self-described “master planner”—she maintains three calendars at home to keep everyone’s schedules in synch—she’s constantly thinking about her kids’ future. “I’m preparing them to be the best human beings they can be,” she says with complete sincerity. “That’s why I’ve rehearsed this so many times in my head. When they say, ‘Mom, I met a girl,’ I’m gonna be like, ‘Jump.’”