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Keep on surviving: A Bruin’s journey on reality television

Imagine not knowing when your next meal will come or finding your own shelter from the baking heat of the sun. All the while, America is watching you.

Recently, this was a normal day in the life of Baylor Wilson.

Wilson, a junior and former Belmont cheerleader, participated as a contestant alongside her mother on “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur–Blood vs Water,” the 29th season of CBS’s popular reality show, “Survivor.”

The series features a group of castaways stranded in an isolated area— typically an island — where they must work to find their own food and shelter while simultaneously competing in challenges in hopes of becoming the “sole survivor” and winning $1 million.

Wilson made it to the final five in the season finale, something she said she never honestly expected to achieve.

“I never doubted myself, but I never truly believed I could do it,” she said.

Wilson previously tried out for “The Voice,” but then last March she received a Facebook message from her mother, Missy Payne. A contact in California told Payne that the producers of “Survivor” were looking for a mother-daughter duo.

Wilson decided to accept the offer and audition for “Survivor.” Her main motivation, she said, was “to try out another show that didn’t involve music,” and give her an experience different from what she was used to doing.

Wilson sent in a video for her audition, and before she knew it she and her mother were on their way to Nicaragua for filming during the summer.

A day on “Survivor” begins with the contestants awakening to cameras literally in their faces. Three to four camera crews work around the clock in shifts and capture every moment in the lives of the castaways.

From the challenges and the tribal voting sessions to the private, intimate moments of confidence, doubt, fear and isolation, the audience sees everything the castaways experience.

Every detail of excitement or sorrow Wilson felt was captured for the American public’s viewing pleasure, something she said you learn to deal with quickly.

“The cameras were weird at first, but I got used to them after about five days,” Wilson said.

Contrary to what some viewers may think, nothing about “Survivor” is planned by any writers.

“Nothing is scripted. We wake up and no one tells us anything. We never know what time it is,” Wilson said.

In fact, not even the camera crews nor the producers know what time it is. No one on “Survivor” is allowed to wear a watch, which only adds to the feeling of isolation the contestants experience.

In the morning, the contestants have the opportunity to check their “tree mail,” which is their only contact to the outside world.

After this, the players, who are split into two “tribes,” spend their days competing in challenges and earning rewards. At the end of every episode, castaways are eliminated.

Eventually, the two tribes merge into one and the group challenges become individual challenges, which determine who will go and who will stay until the finale.

While struggling to stay in the game, the players must also struggle to find their own food and water. Each contestant is given an allotment of rice each day, but beyond that, they’re on their own when it comes to nourishment. By the end of filming, Wilson said she lost 20 pounds.

But the hardest thing by far Wilson dealt with, she said, was the male contestants. The fact she was both the youngest player and a girl made the male contestants believe they could pick on her and her mother, Wilson said.

If that weren’t enough, mother and daughter were forced to take it with a straight face, because making enemies could potentially mean getting voted off the show.

“My mom and I couldn’t really stand up for ourselves because we were constantly playing a game,” Wilson said. “Normally I have no problem standing up for myself, but on ‘Survivor’ I had to think about what I said.”

Through all the on-screen intrigue, the battle against the elements and the isolation, Wilson said her relationship with God sustained even when she didn’t believe she could continue.

“I continually repeated Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’” Wilson said. “It truly kept me going.”

Looking back, Wilson said she felt trapped within herself at the start of filming. She was having a difficult time dealing with her mother Payne’s third divorce. As filming progressed, the two bonded as they learned to rely on each other, and Wilson said she also learned to see other people differently through her experience.

She learned how to be better at giving others a chance to prove themselves, since she was forced by the game to work together with other castaways whom she otherwise may not have liked, said Wilson.

“You kind of had to be fake, but it was a learning experience on how to give people a chance,” Wilson said. “I have a better view and vision of people as a whole.”

Although finishing the show feels bittersweet, Wilson said she is also relieved it’s over and that she plans to focus on school and her music career. While she plans to try out for other shows in the future, she wants to finish her undergraduate education at Belmont first.

Anyone who wants to can try out for a show like “Survivor” and succeed, Wilson said.

“You gotta have the right beliefs in yourself and what you can do.”

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