August 24, 2000
A cozy one-bedroom apartment in D.C.
It wasn’t exactly a deserted island in the South China Sea. I didn’t exactly live off rice or have to be a predator to find meals everyday, but I was a survivor. I dealt with the bugs, the spiders and all kinds of creepy crawly things that nature created. For fifty-nine days and fifty-eight nights I was trapped in the secluded serene woods of upstate New York. There were no computers, no phones, no newspapers, and no signs of the outside world.
Similar to the contestants of the game show Survivor, I signed a contract. It was made clear that I would have no free time. I would be on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I would have to take orders without hesitation, contempt or questioning. I would be responsible for maintaining a comfort level within the civilization and was to make sure that the other members of the civilization were happy and satisfied.
At any point of the fifty-nine days I could have been kicked out of the civilization. I would lose my chance at the monetary reward. There was no comfort to be found in immunity challenges because there were none. Each day began a new adventure. Each day a new struggle.
I experienced the same backstabbing and two-facedness of the Survivor castaways, but I was not given the chance to vote others out of the woods. What I signed on for was not a reality show. It was reality.
I signed on to be a sleep-a-way camp counselor.
As the real Survivor castaways have said, you learn a lot about people and yourself in an adventure like this. I can testify to the same. I was put in charge of making 26 thirteen-year-old girls have the best summer of their lives. What I didn’t know was that it would probably be mine as well.
I lived in a bunk with eight other girls and two co-counselors. Each day we woke up at 8 a.m. and had breakfast, cleaned our bunk, went to three activities, had lunch, three more activities, shower hour, dinner and then participated in a co-ed evening activity. Activities included sports like soccer, volleyball, hockey, softball and tennis, along with arts and crafts, drama, horseback riding and lake games.
The campers and counselors formed alliances and clicks with each other. When the alliances were broken or disrupted, problems arose that the counselor castaways had to work through. I never thought the small group communication class I took last year would end up being so valuable.
The division of my 26 girls and six co-counselors were required to do everything as a group. Finding consensus among 32 people is no easy task, especially when we were all from different places, backgrounds, religions and upbringings. We shared many moments laughing and others crying, but we all grew this summer and learned a lot about humanity and ourselves.
The most interesting part of this adventure was reliving some of the experiences of being an adolescent vicariously through those whom I watched over. One of my campers was kissed for the first time and another got her period for the first time. Others hit their first softball homerun, met their first boyfriend, and for some it was their first time away from home. I became envious of their youth and naivetes, but the same games these thirteen-year-old girls were playing with their thirteen-year-old male counterparts at the camp all too closely modeled the counselor relationships between the male and female staff.
There were no secrets in the civilization. Everybody knew everything every other member of the civilization did. Without information coming from the outside world, new gossip of the civilization spread quickly, probably because the members were excited to have something new and interesting to talk about. There were no separate rooms to get dressed in, and a private shower or bathroom experience was far from existent. Secrets just had no place at our camp.
Similar to the Survivor castaways, there was a final challenge to my survivor experience. It was a battle known as color war. The entire civilization was split into two different tribes or groups, the gold and the blue. One male leader and one female leader were chosen to lead each of the two groups, and I was one of them. The simple goal was victory. For the last five days of the containment, the two teams were pinned up against each other in a battle of willpower, athletics, strength, intelligence and determination. Friends and bunkmates became enemies. Siblings were pitted against each other. Alliances were broken.
In the end the blue team won the battle. It was a bittersweet victory, in that the only reward for the hard work, sweat and tears was simply a congratulation by the host of game, the camp owner.
On the last day of the adventure I said goodbye to my fellow castaways and slowly walked off the secluded serene woods property. I had managed to last all 59 days. I was a survivor. Where is my $1 million?