Students form a community of competition at Survivor Northeastern

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Students form a community of competition at Survivor Northeastern

The final four contestants in season five of Survivor Northeastern prepare for their last challenge.

The final four contestants in season five of Survivor Northeastern prepare for their last challenge.

Jenna Clark

The final four contestants in season five of Survivor Northeastern prepare for their last challenge.

Jenna Clark

Jenna Clark

The final four contestants in season five of Survivor Northeastern prepare for their last challenge.

Jenna Clark, news staff

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On the first day of competition at Survivor Northeastern, between 16 and 20 competitors show up with no idea of what to expect. They listen to the host explain the rules of the game before they go outside and are bombarded with cameras in their faces and a drone in the sky. Players receive buffs and face paint, see the equipment for a challenge set up and wait for the game to begin.

“That transformation on day one of [the participants] coming in knowing nothing and exiting three hours later realizing what they got themselves into is a funny thing to watch from our perspective,” said Rob Mennuti, a fifth-year mathematics and biology combined major and the president and host of Survivor Northeastern.

Survivor Northeastern is a club and competition modeled after the popular CBS reality show “Survivor,” in which contestants are put in tribes, compete in challenges and vote each other off the show. For the final vote, eliminated contestants choose between the remaining contenders to cast their vote for the season winner who receives a $1 million prize. The club emulates this model as much as possible but makes changes to adapt the concept to a college campus; they offer a $100 prize to the winner.

“It’s just full of angst. It’s like this big social experiment, but it’s also just really fun, and you do things you’d never be able to do,” said fifth-year media and screen studies major and current contestant Alex Sharp. “You also lose your dignity doing it, but it’s super fun, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Survivor Northeastern is currently in its fifth season. Northeastern graduate student Casey Abel created the show in 2017 before graduating the following year. The production team, which consists of about 40 people, starts planning for a season weeks in advance. Production for each season involves creating challenges and working out logistics.

“What we really want to do with these challenges is to make them fun for the players,” Mennuti said, “because that’s ultimately what this is all about: having fun, doing things you wouldn’t normally be able to do on a Northeastern campus, but also to test all aspects of their capacity. It’s about pushing yourself and finding out new things about yourself.”

Jenna Clark
Fifth-year media and screen studies major Alex Sharp stacks the final block to win the last challenge of season five of Survivor Northeastern.

Over five seasons, the club has set up challenges of all kinds across campus, including an escape room and a scavenger hunt. When resources were scarce, even hanging from a table for as long as possible became a challenge.

“Anywhere we can put a challenge and we’re not going to get in trouble, we’ll do a challenge,” said Andrew Carlson, a second-year business administration major who will be the president and host of Survivor Northeastern for season six.

Aside from the challenges, other elements of the game include forming alliances and finding immunity idols, which are hidden advantages that keep a competitor safe from elimination. Participants use Facebook Messenger to communicate with each other and form group chats when they want to start an alliance. During the first week of season five, there were approximately 60 alliance group chats, Carlson said.

Contestants spend hours looking for immunity idols around campus, sometimes without any clues to guide them. On one occasion in February, two players found an idol after searching from 11 p.m. until 4 a.m. without any clues. It later saved one of the players from elimination at the next tribal council.

On another occasion, a player used the maps feature on Snapchat to track the location of another contestant who was looking for an idol. That individual ended up finding it after their fellow competitor failed to do so.

Players also create fake idols to trick each other into a false sense of security. This season, contestants created almost 30 fake idols, Mennuti said.

One aspect of the game unique to its college setting is that competitors might know or see each other outside of the game. Players have to manage this social aspect while trying to remain competitive.

“That kind of extra dynamic in the relationship is very interesting to watch, because you have sometimes real friendships that are on the line, and you don’t really want to risk that for a game, but sometimes you do,” Mennuti said. “People go hard in this game.”

That may all seem like a lot of work and stress for a $100 prize, but club leaders said most players compete more for bragging rights and glory and to challenge themselves than for the money.

“I’ve seen four seasons of Survivor Northeastern play out, and every single time without fail, it’s amazing how into it these players get, how their competitive nature comes out,” Mennuti said. “The amount of time, effort and resources they’re willing to spend just to get themselves one step closer to winning is extraordinary.”

To many members, Survivor Northeastern is not only a difficult competition, but also a community of friends. Most contestants join the production team after competing, although no prior Survivor experience is required to join production. Survivor Northeastern was the first organization Carlson joined when he was a first-year, and he made more than 25 new friends on his first day.

“There’s the random assortment of majors, the random assortment of years, people interested in totally different things, but the one thing we all share is our love for competition, friendship and Survivor,” said Caitlyn Ark, a first-year mathematics and biology combined major and current contestant. “Every single person is completely different, but completely awesome in their own special way. I feel like I found the hidden treasure where all the gems hang out.”

Survivor Northeastern will begin its sixth season in the fall. The organization was recently granted club recognition status, which will allow them to receive funding they hope to use to improve the quality of challenges.

“Because you’re centered around this game, it allows for such beautiful friendships to be made, because you’re all committed to this activity,” said second-year linguistics major and current competitor Emma Lord. “You never expect how into it you’ll get. It’s one of the most inclusive groups I’ve ever been involved with or seen. I always felt like a weirdo and like there’s not a ton of places I can be myself, but I can totally be myself here.”