The old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” is an adage former Marlton resident Chelsea Walker took to heart in pursuit of a long-held dream to one day appear as a contestant on the CBS reality show “Survivor.”
Walker had applied for the show, a favorite of hers since it first aired in 2000, a total of six times (about once every year since she reached the minimum age requirement).
“I’m what they call a ‘superfan,’ this has definitely been a lifelong dream for me,” said Walker.
This year, her persistence finally paid off and, after submitting around 10 audition tapes over the past six years, she was finally selected as one of 20 contestants to appear on the show’s 39th season.
Last spring, Walker spent 39 days in the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji where the newest season is set. Although she could not go into detail about anything that happened on the show ahead of its air date, Sept. 25, she took some time to speak with her hometown newspaper about her experience actually living something for which she had been preparing for years.
Walker was only 8 years old when the show first premiered. It became a family tradition in her household each Thursday for everyone to get together and watch.
“We used to do those ‘Survivor’ pools where you throw the contestants’ names into a hat and everyone picks out one,” said Walker. “Now my grandparents and family are all fighting over who’s going to get my name.”
As soon as she turned 21, Walker began submitting audition videos, hoping to be selected as a contestant. Although she got some calls in response to her submissions over the years and says she came close a few times, ultimately, she was passed over for another hopeful.
“I’m the type of person who doesn’t like being told no, and deep down inside me I always knew I had what it takes to play this game,” said Walker.
With each audition video, Walker honed her approach. Having come close with a few of her previous attempts, she became more familiar with the casting process.
“I’d say the best advice for anyone applying is don’t add all the special effects and all the gimmicky stuff. The last year I just sat in front of my computer screen and recorded myself speaking,” said Walker. “I think this year they may have just seen another side to me. It’s funny, in a way I’ve kind of grown up through the casting process.”
Deep down, Walker says she had a feeling it would finally happen for her this year, and before she knew for certain began training as if it was a sure thing. Everything from her diet to her exercise routine became preparation for this eventuality.
Walker recently started working for the website IMDb and when she got the call she had been waiting for all these years, she was on the job covering the Sundance Film Festival.
Her casting contact toyed with her a bit at first over the phone, making it seem as if she hadn’t been selected, before finally breaking the good news.
“I just started screaming and running up and down the streets of Sundance,” said Walker, recalling the moment she found out it was really happening. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”
Walker had to calm herself down enough to return to work as she was unable to share the news with anyone just yet.
Having since returned home from the island after the filming of this season, Walker says, as a life-long superfan mentally preparing herself for Survivor, her expectations for the show were realistic, and for the most part, met by her actual experience on it.
She insists everything you see the contestants on the show going through is real.
“You’re not being handed candy bars off camera, if it’s raining you’re sleeping in the rain. You’re starving and if you don’t have fire, then you’re not making rice. It’s very much real and authentic and raw,” said Walker.
Despite experiencing the island hardships she had been expecting like hunger, weather and sleeping conditions, Walker describes her adventure as “a dream come true.”
“I’m grateful I got to live out my childhood dream,” said Walker. “It was a long journey to get there.”
“Survivor: Island of the Idols” will be airing Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 8 p.m. on CBS. You can follow along with Walker as the season airs on her Twitter and Instagram @chelseawalker.