“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?