After my three children left for college, I decided it was time for a challenge and an adventure in my own life. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and that is when I decided to apply to be on the CBS reality show, “Survivor”. After sending in one application, one audition DVD, and having one casting call, I made the show for season 21, “Survivor Nicaragua“. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of my journey. I feel that what I learned from being on the reality show, I have been able to apply to the real world of survival. I finished fourth at the end of the season and was the last woman standing as well as the last member of my tribe!

When I applied to be on the reality show, “Survivor”, in 2009, I would never have dreamt in a million years that it would take me to where I am today. When I started the show, I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t realize how hard. Contestants had to last 39 days in the middle of the jungle in Nicaragua to make it to the end to be the sole survivor, with very little food and shelter, and none of the conveniences we all take for granted in our lives here at home. I had a bad start, and it was on day five that I wanted to quit. As I was sitting out there, with people attacking my character and without the support of my family or friends, I remembered that I wasn’t just representing myself – I was representing my family, my friends, and the entire state of South Dakota. Was I really going to walk off on national television? Quitting was the easy way out, and I had to dig deep within myself and tell myself that I can do this.

Being at the finale in Los Angeles in December of 2010, I just thought that I would go back home to my real life. But even while the show was airing, (I was home when it went on the air, because it was filmed four months prior), I couldn’t go to a restaurant or store without people recognizing me and wanting to talk or have their picture taken with me. Little did I know that this was only the beginning. I truly feel that, in life, things happen for a reason.

Making one audition tape, applying one time, having one casting call, when most people have to apply at least five times, (Jane from our season applied 17 times), I truly believe that there was a reason that I was put on this show; not only to make myself better, but also to share my story with others so they can better themselves, as well.

What I was able to take away from “Survivor” is that it wasn’t just surviving on a reality show that matters but how we survive in the real world. I have learned that a true survivor is someone who is battling cancer, who has lost a loved one, who has lost their home in a fire or flood, or someone with any adversity who perseveres; because it’s really how we survive hardships in our lives, that once you get through them, you are a stronger person.

After the show was over, Jeff Probst, the host of “Survivor”, told me I had a story to tell and that I should do some public speaking. Also, a producer told me that in the 21 seasons of “Survivor”, they had never had a castaway do a 180 like I did. My first thought was that there was no way that I could get up in front of people and speak; but after the show was over, I remember receiving my first call to speak at an event. After accepting the speaking engagement, I remember sitting down and working on that speech. I was surprised how easy it was to write and relate my experiences to the key characteristics that I feel are needed to survive in the real world.

With the opportunity I was given to be on this reality show, (there were right around 100,000 people who applied), it’s really what you take away from the experience. Some reality stars better themselves, and some don’t. Fortunately, this experience has changed my life for the better.

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