“How will you win the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge?” the interviewer asked before blindfolding me and whisking me away.
“If I can play a good social game in four days, I can win,” I heard myself answer.
What I told myself though- heart pounding with nerves, excitement, adrenalin- was that I’d already won. Just by showing up I had won. This became my mantra as I was driven to an undisclosed location, perched on a rock for what seemed like forever, waiting for the game to begin.
I’m a huge Survivor fan. I’ve never missed an episode. You could say I’m addicted. I love the adventure, but the social experiment interests me more, because each time it’s different. And now, for four days, three nights, I was going to live it.
Once the blindfold came off, there was no time for mantras. I was in it 100%. Boom! I was playing Survivor. Within minutes, I was maneuvering a raft down a river with eight strangers-assessing them, making mental notes of who I’d like to work with, of who was playing too hard.
It’s hard to explain how real the next four days were. How impactful it was to be inside this game that I love. I made alliances (and had to break them), felt euphoric when my first tribe won challenges and real heartbreak when we were divided. Twists in the game both hurt and helped me. My best game was not the one I planned, but the one I adapted to moment by moment.
Physically, I pushed myself immeasurably. I was cold, hungry, dehydrated-literally sick one night. And I loved it because it was real, because I survived it, because I surprised myself. I won two individual immunity challenges. I survived the disgusting food challenge. I expected the physical game to be my biggest challenge, but it actually wasn’t.
The mental game was. I lost my dominant alliance in a tribe swap and became a minority member of a tribe with four real Survivors already aligned. How could I overcome that? My head was spinning. Later, at the merge, I became a swing vote. My closest ally was gone; my only true friend was my instinct.
It was exhausting, but also exhilarating. Because in the end, I made it through the tribe swap, the merge, a season’s worth of challenges, myriad tribal councils and a final immunity win. In four days, I played a physical game, a mental game, an emotional game and, yes, a social one too.
So there I was at last tribal council, pleading my case to the jury (my case! the case of a 5 foot tall, 47 year old mother from Virginia!), when I quickly flashed back to my mantra. Had I won by just showing up? Definitely. I played my favorite game ever, I pushed my outer limits, I hustled, I competed, I made lifelong friends, I supported a wonderful charity.
But still that original question. Could I win the whole game, The Bobster, the Title of Sole Survivor, by playing a good social game in a short four day time span?
It’s the adventure of a lifetime.
As a mega fan of the CBS reality show “Survivor,” I have heard the game described by this phrase season after season. Sitting on the couch, I had often dreamed of and wondered how well I might be able to do in tackling this adventure. But thanks to the fact that I have asthma, I’d believed there was no way I would ever get to experience playing the game.
Durham Warriors Survival Challenge changed all that. And in the process of finding out if I was able to play the game, I learned so much more about myself, certainly more than I expected – And it changed my life!
Okay, let me back up here and give some more details, because, like you are right now, I read the testimonials from the people who took part in this challenge last year. I read how real they felt the game was and all that they experienced. It sounded fun and, quite honestly, surreal. But could it really be THAT real? I mean, it’s a 4 day event, and the show Survivor is 39 days. Can you get the same level of experience out of that short of a version? You bet!
My story begins and ends with a blindside. I actually wasn’t initially picked for DWSC 2015. There were 60-some applicants from 25 states who wanted to play, and I wasn’t one of the lucky 18 chosen. Any applicant not picked had the opportunity to be on the alternates list, so I took that chance and got myself on that list. The morning the event started I got a phone call that someone had backed out and I had an opportunity to play. I had less than 6 hours to gather my things and get to Maine Forest Yurts. First piece of advice for future alternates- prep for the game until the event starts! You never know when you might get that phone call!
The game itself was REAL, and it played just like the many seasons of Survivor I’d watched on TV. The 18 of us fans spent the first night all together in one area, outside on a chilly Maine evening with no shelter, just a blanket for warmth. The next day the challenges began, and they were authentic, very fun, and very difficult. Some were actual re-creations of challenges from the show, and some were brand new. I wore an old pair of shoes to the event and lost all the traction pads off the bottom of BOTH shoes by the end of the second challenge on Friday. Pretty much wore slippers for most of the game, but even that made the experience memorable.
Perhaps what made the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge most memorable was the fact that I got to play the game with actual Survivor contestants. I had seen the pictures and available video from both previous years and anticipated playing the game with 3 former Survivors. Well, they doubled it and I got to play the game with 6 of them! Joel from Borneo, Jill from Nicaragua, Troyzan from One World, Nina from Worlds Apart, and Brooke and Jamie from Guatemala. They all brought their A-game to this event, and these Favorites made it as real as it could be for us Fans.
There were twists in the Durham Warriors Challenge too. I got separated from my entire original tribe on Friday night and ended up with a new tribe that was half Fans, half Favorites. Feeling alone in the game was hard, but as a result of my situation and my sub-par performances in the Friday challenges, the Favorites jumped on getting me into an alliance with them, and I got to spend that night in the tent with just me and them. That may have been worth my entry donation right there! I can’t think of any other fundraising event that lets fans get that much time with Survivors.
My tribe turned out to be the dominant tribe on Saturday, winning the first 5 Immunity challenges in a row. I felt like I managed to redeem myself by showing that I could be a dominant force in solving puzzles. I have often thought that I’d be really good at mental challenges, and to have that proven true was awesome. I had made a major goal for myself to not be the first person out, and that was more than accomplished. I made a couple moves toward the end of the day that didn’t sit well with the Favorites, so some of them decided to throw the last challenge before the merge, and they blindsided me at that last Tribal Council that afternoon. Almost made the merge. Ah well.
Truthfully, I had so many positive things happen as a result of taking part in Durham Warriors. Being an alternate, I had no means to get my family to the location to watch the game, so I started with no one in the audience to cheer for me. By the end, however, it felt like the whole audience was rooting for me, and they treated me as though I was a part of the actual Survivor show. The children especially touched my heart, and being able to be a positive role model for them is something I cherish greatly.
On a personal note, the greatest gift I got from participating in this event was learning that I could beat my asthma. During the 4 days I was there, I fully expected it to kick in between the cold weather and the smoke from the campfires. Yet each day when I woke up I wasn’t having an attack, not even wheezing. I had never tested myself with the possible outdoor triggers I would encounter, so to have no issues was beyond my expectations. At one point early Saturday, Dr. Jill asked me some questions about my asthma: how often I took my medication, what were my symptoms and triggers, etc. After giving her all this information, she gave me her diagnosis: You don’t need that medication anymore.
I’ve spent almost 30 years of being told that, because of my asthma, I had a certain limit, like a glass ceiling over my head. Finding out that I didn’t need my medicine was like shattering that glass. Participating in this event has given me the courage and the drive to do things I thought I’d never be able to do. My limits aren’t defined by my asthma, they’re defined by me. And it’s because of this that I can call this event life-changing.
I just went in wanting to know if I could play Survivor, and I left with a newfound self-confidence and a brighter outlook for my future. And I got to play the game with 17 other super fans and 6 amazing Survivors. I didn’t win the game. And yet I won.
And if you apply for Durham Warriors Survival Challenge, you can write your own Survivor story. Trust me, it’s worth it.
⁃ Matt McCarthy
Pulling into the Crowley driveway that Thursday afternoon my mind was racing, my nerves were on edge — I knew I was about to play survivor (and for charity nonetheless) but I don’t think I fully grasped what was about to happen. I parked, and before being whisked away by my handler, I made sure to scarf down the last of my chicken parm in my car, knowing that could be my last real meal for the next four days. Next thing I knew my bags were taken, I was being interviewed and BOOM — I was then marooned and blindfolded. I just remember thinking to myself, “shit, things got real… REAL FAST”.
As a big fan of the show, I always wondered what the contestants felt like as they departed for their season and what it would be like walking on the beach for first time with the rest of the contestants. I knew this wasn’t the “real thing” but I’ll tell you, the nerves are real, even if it was for only a 4-day adventure in Maine.
The second my blindfold came off, it was sensory overload. Your brain is moving a thousand miles a minute, you are tryingto survey the locale and you immediately begin sizing up the other contestants. The worst part is —- you can’t friggin talk! Your adrenaline is shooting through the roof, and as a fan, it’s a bit hard to contain yourself because you know you’re about to play SURVIVOR and you’re going crazy inside.
If there is any advice I can give to future contestants it would be this:
TAKE A DEEP BREATH & TAKE IT ALL IN.
Those opening seconds are like no other sporting event or athletics competition I’ve been part of before. From the kayak ride in, to standing around waiting for the opening ceremony to start, everything about Durham Warriors Survival Challenge feels like the real deal.
I remember walking into tribal, my heart was beating out of my chest (the bongo drums didn’t help ease the tension at all), and I literally have zero clue what to expect. I was nervous, scared, anxious, a little hungry and excited all rolled into one. The second you are told you can FINALLY talk, it’s like this big hallelujah moment and you don’t want to shut up…but you instantly remember, the GAME IS ON! You become super cautious of your surroundings and catch yourself thinking: who is chatting with who, who do you want to align with, who is already playing too hard, what is that person’s name again? Am I talking too much or too little? And I kept reminding myself not to be the first person asleep.
The paranoia of the first night is legit… but at least you forget you’re hungry.
I love Survivor. I love it more than Billy Garcia loves Candice Cody, Yau-Man Chan loves lemon trees, and Bob Crowley loves making fake idols.
In August I was given the opportunity to partake in the closest thing to Survivor as you can get; The Durham Warrior Survival Warrior Challenge.
Going into the game I had no idea what to expect, all I knew was that I was going to get to play survivor! We rowed in (poorly in my case) to tribal council and were introduced to our fellow castaways. Among the other 20 competitors were Coby Archa from Survivor Palau, Kathy Sleckman from Survivor Micronesia, and Matt Bischoff from Survivor Caramoan.
That’s when it hit me that I was in for a real challenge. We were left to mingle with one another much like they did on Survivor Palau. It was quickly discovered that I was the youngest. If you’re a big fan of the show you know that you don’t want to have anything that makes you stick out, and being at least three years younger than everyone else was a bit nerve wracking.
I wasn’t too worried about it however, I thought that being such a big fan I’d at least have the advantage of encyclopedic knowledge of the show. I found out that I was not as prepared as I thought I was. Over the next three days I was challenged in ways I never thought possible. I was cold hungry and paranoid… it was amazing.
This has to be as close to playing survivor as you can get. I got to win immunities, look for idols, and eventually get my torch snuffed. While I finished in 11th place and was the first member of the Jury I wouldn’t change a single second of it. So if you’re a superfan of the show like I am, and want to experience what it’s like to be on the show while supporting a great cause I suggest applying to the Durham Survival Warrior Challenge!