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How 'Survivor' Mirrors My Experience Living With Cerebral Palsy

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“Survivor” has no doubt become an American staple. While some may attribute it to the start of reality TV, and thus lament it, I have no qualms about being a “Survivor” superfan.

In my life with cerebral palsy, there are some hard moments. “Survivor” has been with me through them all. This is my humble opinion on why “Survivor” has resonated with so many and why I love the show: it is the challenge of all challenges. Not only do you have to survive the physical elements and weather, but also each other and yourself. I say yourself because CP, like “Survivor,” can bring out the best and the worst in you. It can make you do things you once thought were impossible and things you would never do in real life.

One of the most fascinating things about competing on “Survivor” is that it will make even the most evil, self-righteous person lean on something greater than themselves. Sandra, the best to ever play the game in my opinion, said that when they were getting on the plane to go to Fiji for “Heroes V. Villains,” one of her all-star seasons, she saw fellow castaway Russell Hantz carrying a Bible. Just type his name into YouTube and you’ll see why that is so amazing; let’s just say I would not want to hang out with him, even in real life.

The gameplay is amazing to watch as when five hidden immunity idols were played at one tribal council or when one castaway led a group that brilliantly masterminded a castaway to give up immunity for a girl and then voted him out. The show has also dealt with serious social issues, as when castaway Zeke was outed as transgender at a tribal council, or PTSD for a veteran castaway.

In season 39, they even had a touching moment involving disability. Every season, there is a “loved ones visit,” where a loved one of each of the contestants comes out to see them. They each get to briefly see their loved one and then there is a reward challenge where the reward is spending some time at camp with them. One of the contestants on the show had her sister, Lana, who is visually impaired, come to see her. Right before the challenge started, host Jeff Probst calmly asked Lana, “You’re visually impaired, right?”

When she replied “Yes,” he asked the rest of the loved ones, who were sitting on a bench, “Is it OK if she rides shotgun with me?” (stand beside him while he delivers commentary, similar to sports commentators, on the challenge.) When they both walked down, the contestant who Lana had come to see, asked Jeff, “What are you doing?” Sensing contestants were puzzled, Jeff simply replied, “Lana has a little bit of a vision issue, so we are just bringing her closer so she can see.” Jeff then started the challenge, leaving what had just happened a non-issue. Lana’s sister was almost moved to tears.

What I like best about “Survivor,” though, is that it presents challenge upon challenge, and when you come out on the other side, you find out that you just might be able to be your own hero. The same is true with any challenge I’ve faced with cerebral palsy!

Getty image by Robert Pavsic.

Originally published: June 21, 2021
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