Home Others How to survive on 'Survivor'

How to survive on 'Survivor'


We're talking to Dean Kowalski's 13CC, runner-up on season 39 of the hit show.

By Julia joy |January 28, 2020

Robert Voets / CBS Entertainment © 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

In autumn 2018, Dean Kowalski ’13CC, who studied economics at Columbia and now works as an advertising manager at Google, has taken a bold step. He auditioned for Survivors , the reality competition series that takes ordinary people to a remote tropical island for 39 days of endurance competitions, mind games and extreme hardship. Each week one participant is chosen from the other players and the last person left wins a million dollar cash prize.

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Kowalski's leap of faith paid off: In December he was runner-up in Survivors 39th season , filmed in Fiji last spring and broadcast on CBS late last year. We recently spoke to the New Jersey native about his experience on the show and how he made it to the finals.

How did you get on Survivors ?

First, I had to submit a video introducing myself. I was filming myself walking down the street in Chelsea with my phone in selfie mode and thinking, Hey guys, I'm Dean Kowalski, I'm twenty-eight, I live in New York City and that's why I'm going to outsmart it , outsmart and survive Survivors . I went to random New Yorkers, like a construction worker and a pizza delivery boy, and asked them on camera why they thought I was going to win. I think it turned out to be a good video because I heard from the casting department and went to the interview round on the same day.

How did you prepare for the competition?

I trained for the endurance challenges by doing yoga, practicing balance, and holding weights and uncomfortable positions for long periods of time. I knew we would have little to eat on the island, so I tried to get my body used to hunger and only ate between noon and 8 p.m. To prepare for the many puzzle challenges, I practiced crossword puzzles, slide puzzles and Sudoku. I also stopped by Stagger the show to get a feel for the strategy.

How were the living conditions on the island?

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I initially thought the show was a farce, we were going to the island and there were emergency granola bars and basic amenities. But it wasn't like that - there were no showers, no bathrooms, no deodorant, no toothpaste, and only rice and coconuts to eat. The only things people were allowed to bring were medical supplies, including contacts. And we got bug spray and sunscreen. But that's it.

The conditions were absolutely miserable. Just getting a decent sleep was a struggle. First we built a bamboo mattress to avoid scary crawling animals like rats and crabs, but it was too uncomfortable. In the end we slept in the dirt.

The people who see the show see the sunshine in Fiji; in reality it can be freezing at night and the rain was the hardest thing I have ever faced. Despite our efforts to build a watertight shelter, there would always be rain; sometimes it was just one drop at a time, like the Chinese water torture. I reached the lowest point of my twenty-nine years when it was raining outside. In addition, the firewood got soaking wet that we couldn't make a fire or cook rice. We got stuck on coconuts, and what people don't know is that coconuts are a natural laxative. We learned very quickly that if you had more than two or three of them in a day, you had extreme stomach pain.

What was your competitive strategy?

In the beginning, I deliberately did badly in the challenges so that I wouldn't be perceived as a threat and therefore nobody would vote me out. I tried to Not Be the sportiest, most social, popular, and aggressive person out there because that's how you stand out and become a target. I got all of these qualities under control by the time we reached the final weeks of competition and I got everything up to speed.

I've also completely hidden from everyone the fact that I went to Columbia and played Division 1 basketball and worked for Google. I didn't want people to be on high alert thinking this guy is smart, he's going to be strategic and chase us, we have to get him out. I came up with a backstory that rules out those things. Overall, I'm proud of the way I've done it all.

Dean plays basketball for Columbia.

Can you describe the challenges?

Everyone was team-oriented from the start - relay races with physical obstacle courses that culminated in puzzles. Later, when more people were eliminated, most of the challenges were individual. These were probably the most difficult for me. They focused on strength and endurance; You sometimes had to stay in a static pose and hold an object for a long time.

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It was a particularly difficult challenge in which we both had to hold on to a rope with both hands behind us while we were standing over a platform ledge about ten feet above the sea. The ropes were attached to a pulley system controlled by Jeff Probst, the Survivors Host, and every five minutes he continued to slacken the ropes. After all, our heads and torsos were almost parallel to the water. We just had to persevere because if you let go you fall into the water and lose the challenge.

Did you tell people that you were filming the show?

I spilled the beans by posting a clip from my application video on Instagram back in September 2018. So everyone knew. When I was selected, my manager and HR were very supportive and took me on leave, which was great.

What was it like to be filmed day and night?

To be honest, you get used to it very quickly. At the beginning of the show you try to see what you say around the crews and then after a while you say everything. They don't actually interact with you; they are just there and become part of the whole experience.

Robert Voets / CBS Entertainment © 2019 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Did you receive a cash prize as runner-up?

Yes, everyone gets prizes for participating. There is a tiered prize money scale that depends on when you are voted out. In second place, I got a hundred thousand dollars. It was a nice payday but to be honest the experience would have been worth it without her.

Do people now recognize you in public?

Not that I'm Derek Jeter, but yeah, I've been stopped many times - while snowboarding in Colorado, at the airport, in the grocery store, on the street. Fortunately, everyone who shows up says nice things, like, you've been robbed or you've done great things. Children came to me and asked for photos. It was fun, but I can handle it because I know that when a new season comes out it will be old news.

What's your biggest asset if you've been on the show?

It was a great experience, even if it was overwhelming at times. I found it so rewarding to part with everything and live on the land. I've been so grateful for all I have - work at Google, go to Columbia, have a loving family, and live in New York City. There were times when I was out on the island and it was pouring rain and I just wanted warm clothes and a roof over my head. It's easy to forget those moments when you come back to society and be inside, eating snacks at work and texting your mom anytime you want. But I try not to lose sight of the value of such simple conveniences today.

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