If you’re a reality TV junkie like me, then chances are you’ve probably watched Survivor at some point during its 20-year (and counting) run.
And if you’ve never seen a single episode, it’s still highly likely that you’re familiar with the concept of the show:
- Find a group of strangers willing to be stranded on an island for 40 days
- Make them compete against one another in tribes, then individually, for food/other rewards and “immunity” from tribal council
- Force the losing tribe to go to tribal council and vote one of their own off the island (“the tribe has spoken”, anyone?)
- Watch as a jury of voted-off contestants selects a winner, also known as the sole survivor
- Plunk a bunch of cameras in front of these people and watch all of their antics, including plenty of twists and turns introduced by the producers, that happen in-between
- Marvel over how Jeff Probst has not aged a day in the 20-year time span and looks like a million bucks in front of these dirty, hungry people who are actually competing for a million bucks
So yeah, that’s the basic premise…it might sound like a stupid show to some, but I know that Survivor has a devout and large fan following that includes my dad.
Growing up, my dad, my brother, and I watched Survivor almost religiously. We’d ooh and ahh when tribes pulled off unsuspected victories and make bets on who would be voted off the show each week. We’d have our favorites and our far-from-favorites that we rooted for and against. The three of us were nuts about the show for years, until one day we weren’t and only my dad continued to tune in.
Things changed for me this season, though…Survivor, Season 40 (!), takes previous winners and pits them against each other for the title of perhaps the ultimate sole survivor. The prize is a cool two million this time around, and I decided to start watching because I wanted to see how winners from when I watched fared in a show that would be a very different experience for them compared to when they first played.
And I’m having a lot more fun watching than I expected. Even though a couple of my early favorites were voted off too soon, there’s a chance for someone to re-enter the game thanks to the “edge of extinction” rules. This means that, for a few minutes each episode (so far), the camera focuses on the voted-off survivors who are trying to earn a way back into the game by surviving the edge of extinction.
Again…I get that this all sounds hokey so far. But what’s actually pretty cool to me is that I found a bit of inspiration from one of the survivors who is trying to fight the edge of extinction.
And that survivor is Ethan. I remember watching Ethan in two previous seasons of Survivor. I tooooootally had a crush on him (my brother made fun of me for it and yes, I know Ethan is happily married now) in his first season, which he won, and I remember being thrilled when it was announced that he’d compete a second time in an all-star contestant season. On TV, he came across as a friendly, smart guy who wasn’t cutthroat like some of the other contestants, but just as determined to win, so rooting for him was natural and it was crushing when he was eventually voted off.
It’s been 16 years since he last played the game, and a lot has happened to the guy in that span of time. In 2009, Ethan was diagnosed with a rare form of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. From what I’ve read, he endured a difficult battle with cancer that lasted four years. Obviously, I don’t know details about that time in his life, but I can only imagine how emotionally and physically challenging it was to face that ordeal…certainly, though, it was much more difficult than competing on Survivor.
Fast-forward to the present: Ethan’s back in the game after that long gap of time away from it in which he’s faced a serious health condition. He might be on the Survivor-dubbed edge of extinction right now, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t fighting to stay in the game.
In fact, during last week’s episode, Ethan was struggling to complete the challenge that he and the other voted-off contestants had to do before sundown. It was a physically grueling task that required Ethan and the others to climb up and down a treacherous, steep path over and over again. As a viewer, seeing him lose his balance, become super pale, and admit to the other contestants that he wasn’t okay was hard to watch – he looked like what it feels like to have a severe low blood sugar. I was practically convinced that he was going to be forced to tap out of the game altogether, especially when he was visited by one of the show’s paramedics.
But then…he turned it all around, drawing on the strength he gleaned from literally fighting his way back from a different kind of edge of extinction from his cancer battle, and finished the challenge. It was a pretty spectacular comeback.
On-camera, Ethan explained how he was able to push through:
I wanted to complete this for myself, I did not want to quit. I want to set a good example for everyone who’s been through a health challenge and thinks that they can’t do it anymore…you can do it, you can get through those hard moments.
I kept saying to myself, remember when you were getting spinal taps, radiation…I started saying the mantras I was saying when I was going through chemotherapy to get me through those moments.
Watching this, I felt incredibly awe-struck by Ethan’s courage and resilience…and I felt like he was speaking directly to me, as well as any other person who is dealing with a health problem, whether it’s type 1 diabetes, cancer, or anything else. While all of these conditions vary greatly from each other, it’s amazing just how much the right mindset can help fight against whatever it may be.
So I’m writing this post to say thank you to Ethan for sending some inspiration my way, and undoubtedly, the ways of so many other individuals who struggle with the mental and physical side effects of an illness. Thank you for reminding us that we have to just keep going and do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacles we face.
Watch the clip in question below: