Outwit, outplay, outlast: Who will be the last 5C Survivor?

Brandon Piel CM ’21 founded the reality TV show-inspired 5C Survival Club. (Chloe Ortiz • The Student Life)

Sixteen students competed in various challenges testing the limits of their bodies in the new 5C Survivor Club this semester. Inspired by “Survivor,” the CBS reality television show that began in 2000, Brandon Piel CM ’21 decided to bring the competition to the 5Cs the summer after his first year.

“It’s collaborative and competitive at the same time,” Piel said. “I don’t think there’s anything else on campus that tests you physically, mentally, socially, and strategically all at the same time. It’s a unique experience.”

Piel grew up watching the show and became a huge fan. His goal is to eventually be a part of the real show one day, but after seeing similar versions of the game filmed on other college campuses, he knew he could first host the competition at the 5Cs and air it for all to enjoy.

“Obviously, I’m a huge ‘Survivor’ fan,” Piel said. “I’ve been watching the show since I was very little. I went on YouTube and found that University of Maryland was doing something very similar. I binged all four seasons. At that point, I really wished I could participate in something like [that] … I wanted to give people the opportunity to do this and to see how it goes.”

After developing the idea further and getting a film crew together, he began to search for contestants. Piel publicized the new club with posters around campus and participated in club fairs early in the semester. The club, open to all 5Cs, was mostly filled with CMC students. The potential contestants all went through an interview process, where Piel obtained a better sense of the personality each student would bring to the show.

“I think it’s very easy to be someone different outside the game and bring a character to the game,” he said.

The 5C Survivor Club follows the format of the television show for the most part, with a few Claremont twists. It starts with the contestants being divided up into tribes that undergo challenges each week. The losing tribe then participates in tribal council, where they vote for one of their team members to be eliminated.

Once the teams dwindle down to a small number, the tribes merge and each competitor competes in challenges individually, against everyone remaining. At the end, every contestant that was eliminated returns to become part of the jury that determines the final champion of Survivor.

“I thought it would be a lot about who is the most skillful at the challenges we are doing,” said Adrienne Kafka CM ’21, 5C Survivor contestant. “But since we have lives outside the game, a lot of it has depended on the relationships that people are able to build inside the game.”

The challenges are filmed each week and take about an hour to complete, but footage also consists of confessionals by contestants that break the fourth wall to give the reality show internal perspectives. Kafka became a contestant initially because Piel highly recommended the show to her, and the club seemed to be a special experience.

“I think it’s really cool because a lot of extracurriculars are super pre-professional and have a really specific purpose in the minds of students … But [Survivor] is just a club to have fun doing something that everyone enjoys.” Kafka said. “And it’s also pretty cool that we are making our own reality TV show.”

The show is developed through significant group effort, as it is spearheaded by Piel, produced by Ally So CM ’21, directed by Tyler Welty CM ’19, and edited by a film crew of six students, including Maxwell Fisher CM ’21.  

“It’s really interesting to see a social and psychological experiment unfolding in Claremont’s backyard, which is what Survivor is basically,” Fisher said. “There is just a ton of creativity and effort that goes behind making such an intense TV show and producing it without too many resources, and Brandon has done really well leading it so far.”

The filming of the first season will most likely finish by the end of this semester, and will ideally air on YouTube in early 2019. Even though Piel will be studying abroad next semester, he has high hopes for its continuation in the spring, and for the club to ultimately become a lasting legacy that continues even after he graduates from CMC.

“I hope that [the club] will continue to be a consistent club on campus … And I think people will be excited when the episodes start coming out,” Piel said. “This definitely won’t be the only season. So if you’re interested, just be aware and keep an eye out for the next season.”

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