It’s no way to land a TV series.
In 1991, more than five years before she would don a Sunnydale High cheerleader uniform as mean girl Cordelia on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Las Vegas native Charisma Carpenter and two friends were attacked by a serial rapist on a San Diego beach. They fought back, and Carpenter was the only one of the four who wasn’t shot.
That ordeal is the focus of the first episode of “Surviving Evil” (7 p.m. Wednesday, Investigation Discovery), a true-crime series hosted by Carpenter that offers in-depth looks at horrifying acts of violence and the people who overcame them.
“We learn that there are a lot of people out there that have been really, really hurt, but they’re not broken,” she says of the series. “And it’s inspiring to see these people tell their stories. My jaw’s been on the floor listening and reading the scripts.”
Viewers will get to know victims of stalkings, home invasions, rapes, shootings and machete attacks. One abducted teen even had a bomb strapped to her. But as the host and the most famous of the show’s survivors, Carpenter’s story is garnering the most attention.
“I wasn’t ever willing to tell this story before,” she says. “I’ve had plenty of opportunity to do that, but it really was something that I did not want to talk about or discuss. And I think mainly because I thought it would be told or exploited in a way, or kind of taken the wrong way as to why I was talking about it.”
Carpenter, 43, was born and raised in Las Vegas but moved away when she was a 15-year-old freshman at Bishop Gorman High School.
As a 21-year-old in 1991, she was working as a leasing agent at the San Diego apartment complex where she lived. It was already an unsettling summer as, more than once, she’d heard someone trying to gain access to her second-floor apartment.
Then, on Aug. 15, she and friends Arthur Gracia and Aldo Ochoa went to Torrey Pines State Beach for a late-night swim.
Before Carpenter could even make it to the water, she was held at gunpoint by a masked man. When Gracia and Ochoa approached the gunman, he ordered Carpenter to bind their hands. They fought back before Carpenter could be harmed, but in the ensuing struggle, Gracia was shot in the chest, Ochoa was shot in the stomach and the gunman was shot through the hand.
After they escaped, the trio were receiving medical attention when San Diego police officer Henry Hubbard Jr. walked into a different hospital with a hand wound. That injury, combined with a police-issued flashlight bearing Hubbard’s name that Carpenter brought from the crime scene, led to the officer’s arrest.
Hubbard is serving a 56-year prison sentence for that attack and several others, including a string of rapes. He was later revealed to have been a tenant at Carpenter’s apartment complex.
“I’ve had a lot of counseling, and I’ve gotten help, and I have a wonderful support group in my family,” she says of why she both wanted to — and is emotionally able to — host “Surviving Evil.” “Now, I’m in a place where not only have I survived my story, I have also thrived, and I have a family and a positive job, and I’m functioning on a really positive level, so if there’s a way for me to impart that or share that with other people, I want to do that.”
Still, even though she’s spent more than two decades with the memories of that night — she’s now lived more years as a survivor than she’d lived before the attack — Carpenter was surprised by some of what was brought up while filming her episode.
“Talking about it on camera is a lot different from talking about it with a therapist,” she says, with a bit of nervous laughter. “I was a little caught off guard by my emotions when I would talk about Aldo or Arthur. … It was very difficult to talk about, because I care for these people and they fought for us and saved my life and saved their own lives. They’re heroes to me, and I haven’t really ever had the chance in the past to say thank you to them. It was a wonderful opportunity to see Arthur again.”
She and Gracia reconnected during the filming, with Gracia being interviewed alongside detectives, a criminal profiler and one of Hubbard’s earlier victims. (Ochoa declined to be a part of the episode.)
“We kind of, like, went into our separate survival modes,” Carpenter says of her relationship with Gracia. “It had been a lot of years since I’d seen him. And I never really did have the chance to say ‘Thank you.’ That was a beautiful opportunity for me.”
“Surviving Evil” presents Carpenter as a prototypical Southern California beach girl, but she’s still very much in touch with her Las Vegas roots.
“It’s very different from when I left. It’s more like Disneyland now,” she says of her hometown. “But I do miss sort of the old landmark buildings. The Dunes Hotel especially. My dad used to work there (as a craps dealer), so it had, like, a special place in my heart.”
She still has friends and family in the valley and works with the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, among many other charities.
“I try to sort of stay as connected as I can” to Las Vegas, she says.
She also stays connected to her fans — many of whom have remained loyal since her days on “Buffy” and its spinoff, “Angel” — through social media. Earlier this month, the Internet almost ground to a halt after she tweeted out a couple of bikini pictures that would have made many women half her age squeal their tires on the way to the nearest gym.
“I was really surprised, because I’ve posted on my Instagram pictures before, and I’ve never had anybody pick it up or anything,” she says of the dozens of gossip sites, and even some legitimate news sites, that repurposed the photos. “I mean, I’m not upset about it. I’m flattered. It’s flattering. But it did surprise me.”
After co-starring in the first two installments, she’s still waiting to learn whether she’ll be a part of “The Expendables 3,” which started filming Monday.
“I haven’t heard from them, so I’m thinking I’m not,” she says. “But, you know, this is the deal with them. They call at the last minute.”
She also missed out on a chance to be a part of the Kickstarter-fueled “Veronica Mars” movie when her character, the fantastically monikered Kendall Casablancas, was killed off in the drama’s third season.
“You never saw the body, so I do kind of harbor some kind of hope that they would bring her back. I won’t lie. I wanna work with them. I loved them,” Carpenter says, describing herself as “such a big, dorky fan” of “Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas and star Kristen Bell.
And she’s still not sure what happened to her most recent series, ABC Family’s “The Lying Game,” which was canceled in July after two seasons despite the final episode’s ending on a cliffhanger.
“It was really disappointing. It would have been nice to wrap up our story lines. … I really, really did not see that coming.”
Carpenter only looks back when prompted, though. For now, she’s focusing her energy on “Surviving Evil” and its message of inspiration.
“I want to be a part of the positive,” she says. “I want to be a part of the healing. I want to be a part of asserting more compassion in the world.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.