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