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Utah model Brooke Mangum was not a natural to compete on the USA Network's reality/competition show "Summer Camp."

"Camping is not my thing," said the woman described by USA as a "nerd-turned-supermodel." "I am not what you'd call a happy camper. My family's idea of camping was staying at a really bad motel."

Mangum is one of 16 contestants on the show, which debuts Thursday at 9 p.m. on USA. They were isolated at California camp, where they took part in battle-of-the sexes competitions inspired by camp games. It all culminated in a "Camp-athlon," with the winner taking home $250,000.

"I never thought in a million years that I would do a reality show," Mangum said. "And then when the opportunity came up, I thought, 'Why not? You only live once.' And it ended up being an amazing experience."

It's not the first time that she's surprised herself. The 23-year-old model was a self-professed tomboy not that long ago.

"I was an ugly duckling through-and-through," she said. "I was chubby and I had a mullet.

"I remember when I first got scouted [to be a model], I thought, 'Why is this person following me?' "

But when she was 12, she suddenly sprouted up to 5 feet 9 inches tall. And lost the mullet.

"I definitely got picked on when I was younger," Mangum said. "So many times people talk about how modeling can be so hard on kids and it's so difficult. But for me, I had never had confidence before and it gave me that confidence."

And that confidence carried through to "Summer Camp," where she went in with a healthy attitude and an unusual reality-show tactic — be nice.

"That's my whole life strategy," Mangum said. "It's so much easier to be nice than it is to be rude. And I don't understand why people go out of their way to be rude to each other. So my strategy is that if you put good out, you'll typically get good back."

She said she tried to remain aware "that I was going to have to come home and I was going to have to live with the decisions that I made there, and I wanted to be proud of what I did and who I was."

She can't talk about what happened during production of the show, of course, but she did say she had a "great time." Although it didn't make her eager to go camping again anytime soon.

"I love the idea of summer camp. But I wouldn't mind if we had beds instead of bunkbeds, that's for sure," Mangum said. "And I would like an indoor bathroom.

"It didn't make me want to run out and go camping, but the experiences and relationships that I made, I will cherish them always."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.