That Time I Applied to be on Survivor

image2In 2002, I was twenty-five-years-old and had been teaching kindergarten for three years when I ended an eight-year-long, live-in relationship.

Looking to “find” myself and escape the monotony of day-to-day life, I applied for the wildly popular television show, Survivor, after watching the beautiful friendship unfold between Elizabeth Hasselbeck (nee DelPadre) and the older, gentlemanly, father-figure, Rodger Bingham (from Crittendon, KY) during the show’s second season.

Between the time I submitted my audition tape in early December and got a call back to interview in Miami, FL in March, I spent a few days in Cancun with my cousin over winter break during the 2002-2003 school year.

After soaking up the sun and rejuvenating my soul in the ocean, my cousin and I reluctantly boarded the plane home, saying goodbye to beautiful Mexico.

Shortly after take off, I began to feel an excruciating amount of pain in my right ear; it was as if someone had hammered a screw into it and was twisting it from side-to-side while pulling it in-and-out.

The little girl behind me, who couldn’t have been more than 7- or 8-years-old, noticed my struggles, asking “Are you alright?!?!

Before I could even answer, my eardrum fully ruptured and blood began to stream out of my ear, and then down my neck.

Unfortunately, that was only our FIRST flight of the day; we had a connecting flight in Atlanta, meaning I needed to board another plane –and take off again– IMMEDIATELY after we landed at ATL.

Terrified, I began drinking. Heavily.

A couple weeks later, I received a call from Survivor, offering me two options for an in-person interview (both of which required connecting flights out of CVG) and, because I didn’t have any available time off work, I needed to book all four flights in one weekend.

Unable to pass up the opportunity, I put my “big girl pants” on and sucked it up, taking ALL FOUR FLIGHTS in one day… ONE DAY… because I needed to be back in time for the start of school on Monday.

The morning I was scheduled to leave, I not only put my “big girl pants” on and “sucked it up,” but I also sucked up a few Vicodin and SEVERAL mini-bottles of Jack Daniels that were offered to me by the flight attendant, hoping to “take the edge off” our take-off.

Never having taken prescription pain-medicine while drinking (because you’re NOT SUPPOSED TO!), I didn’t really know what to expect and so, as you can imagine, my interview didn’t go so well.

After arriving via taxi cab, I signed in at the front desk before being whisked away to a small room set up with a camera and lights, as well as an extremely handsome young man who promptly said, “You look kind of nerdy… like a librarian.”

Dumbfounded, I replied, “Well, I do read.

Unamused,  he asked a few more surface-level questions before diving fairly deep into my personal life, asking VERY personal questions I was NOT comfortable answering, considering I was a Kindergarten teacher and knew the interview was being taped.

Within five minutes, he said we were “finished.”

I immediately hailed a cab and headed back to the airport, catching my first of two flights back home.

Obviously, I knew I was not going to be selected for the show, but receiving my rejection letter later that month confirming it was devastating none-the-less.

I was at a point in my life where I was looking for an adventure; something new to do somewhere new with some people who were new.

Basically, I didn’t want to be myself any more… I desperately wanted to escape the reality of my life (which is extremely ironic when you consider the fact that I auditioned for a REALITY TV show?!?).

In the years since, I’ve watched my audition video when feeling down, reminding myself of who I was back then (a pretty cool chick!) and how it’s shaped who I am today (still, a pretty cool chick!).

Problem is, back then I didn’t think I was a pretty cool chick… and I REALLY wish I would have.

I was so unhappy with “who” I was and “where” I was that I was constantly looking for the next “BIG” thing.

Looking back, I don’t necessarily have any regrets because I love my life NOW and changing just one little thing would have changed “who” I am and “where” I am TODAY. I just wish I would have had more confidence in “who” I was going to become and “where” I was going go.

Sure… you might watch my video and think, “Looks like you were pretty confident to me!

But the truth is, I wasn’t.

I may have looked confident on the OUTSIDE , but on the INSIDE I was numb…. so numb that all I wanted to do was to live.

After putting “all my eggs in one basket” with Survivor, and then failing to make the cut, I went through yet another round of deep depression before chasing the next “BIG” thing, assuming IT would be the thing I was searching for that might make me happy.

If “who” I am today could have said one thing to “who” I was back then, it would be this:

“Instead of waiting for the world’s next “BIG” thing to heal your hurts, start trying to heal your own hurts NOW so you’ll have something to offer the world LATER.

Chasing the next “BIG” thing will, someday, become a habit – one that makes it far too easy to overlook all the “small” things that are right in front of you, like your friends, your family, your talents, your skills, your hobbies, your joys and your passions.

THOSE are the things that define you, NOT the next “big” thing you’re always hoping will.

“Big” things have a tendency to be fleeting, but the “small” things are what will grow with you, over time, to someday BECOME the “big” things, much bigger than you could ever imagine.

Be grateful for the “small” things, cultivating them and helping them grow today and every day. “

Fortunately, I’ve been given the chance to speak at local high schools, sharing that exact message – as well as my many struggles with depression, anxiety and the addictions that ensued as a result – but I’m also sharing with them the healing power I’ve experienced from helping others and the importance of helping yourself FIRST.

If you need a good laugh, here’s my audition tape. If you need a reminder to enjoy the little things in life that make you a “pretty cool chick” (or chap:) too, I suggest you make your own. You never know when you’ll need the reminder.

Beth NowakBeth Nowak is a believer, dreamer, wife and mother, former Kindergarten teacher, and founder of where she helps parents and children (ages 4+) “make memories while making a difference.” She’s also a mental health activist, TEDx presenter and inspirational speaker promoting civic engagement as a holistic approach to healing. For more information on the many topics she presents on, please click here.

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