We Were Contestants in the Reality TV Show Survivalists!

When a casting director first reached out to me on Instagram about wanting to cast our family on a reality tv show, my first reaction was one of skepticism. Reality tv show? Aren’t they mostly drama-inducing entertainment that puts people in a bad spotlight for the world to see? My first memories of reality tv, unfortunately, fell into the category of the Jerry Springer show. But, the casting director persuaded me to hop onto a call to explain further what this particular show was about, and after the brief 15 minute call, I became more open to the idea.

The show was called Survivalists, and it was a family show featuring 2 families on each episode competing against one another. They would be in a completely remote location, hiking through difficult terrains and going through various challenges together, with nothing but backpacks that would carry their tenting equipment, food, and water for 4 days. Whomever reaches the destination flag first at the end will win the grand prize of $10,000 but the real reward will be the incredible growth each family will inevitably gain through the experience.

I was immediately drawn to the idea of doing something really hard as a family, way outside our comfort zone. “We can do hard things,” have become somewhat of a family motto for us through the years, and we’re constantly trying to push each other to go outside our comfort zones. In fact, the whole premise of the show falls way outside my own personal comfort zone. I am terrified of any and all insects. I have a phobia of heights. I am not a strong swimmer. I dislike being on camera. I am usually on the sidelines filming and cheering Alan and Bridgette on as they do crazy things like jumping off a cliff. Being on a reality tv show was probably the last thing I would strive to do in my lifetime. But ever since we’ve decided to embark on this Worldschooling journey 7 years ago, I’ve learned the importance of being uncomfortable. Bridgette and I have traveled to 40+ different countries for her Worldschooling, the majority of which were places that were completely new and foreign to us. It required being very uncomfortable much of the time, and it has brought us tremendous growth.

We discussed it thoroughly as a family. We watched the 2 previous seasons of the show to get a better sense of what it was about. We prayed about it. And then we discussed some more. In the end, we decided that it wouldn’t hurt to agree to the next steps of the casting process, because it would be an opportunity for Bridgette (and really, for all of us) to learn something new. We may not even get casted in the end, but why not give it a try?

And so we did. We went through several rounds of interviews with different casting associates and producers. The focus was mainly on Bridgette, but Alan and I also got some screen time in to talk about our family dynamics and lifestyle. Bridgette ended up thoroughly enjoying the process of talking to everyone, being the extrovert that she is. Two months went by and we didn’t hear anything, so we figured we didn’t make it, and the topic dropped from our household.

But then one early morning in Madrid, Spain in early December 2021, I opened my email and there it was…the email announcing that we were one of the families chosen to be on Season 3 of Survivalists! I was in a brief state of panic as it hit me that we would actually be doing this. Alan and Bridgette were equally stunned when I shared the news with them, as it suddenly became so much more real.

For the next few months, we did more interviews with different producers of the show as they strived to get to know our family in deep, intimate ways. They wanted to know everything from our family dynamics to our faith to our values and everything in between. They interviewed each of us separately to ensure we all got a chance to share our specific perspectives. Their goal was to be able to identify an opportunity of growth for our family, and to hone in on developing that as we go through the 4 days of grueling competition.

Fast forward almost 4 months later, we were flying off to Baja, Mexico for the filming of the show.

What happened that week in Mexico still feels surreal to us when we talk about it now, nearly a year later. The name of the show is quite telling….it truly is about surviving in the wild as a family. But it’s not simply about surviving the environment, although that’s a huge part of it. It’s also about surviving hardships together, as a team, and how we maneuver through those dynamics. It’s as much about gathering the courage to jump off a cliff as it is to figure out how to encourage your family member that they are capable of doing it. These things are brought to the surface unintentionally when you go through hard times together. We realized that even though we thought we prepared well going in, by watching the previous seasons, by working out more consistently, and by hiking more, we in fact were completely oblivious to just how excruciating this competition would be.

We arrived to Cabos in good spirits, as they flew us in a day early to get acclimated. We spent some time at the beach, ate at a really nice restaurant, and almost felt like we were on vacation! The next day, we met with our producer Jeremy and spent some time getting acquainted. Jeremy briefed us on what to expect for the week, which all sounded more exciting than scary at the time. We met the medic (KC) that was assigned to stay with us through the week, in case of any accidents or medical emergencies (gulp). We were taken into this hotel ballroom that was filled with supplies, as we got our vitals taken by our medic and then got fitted into the clothes, jackets, and hiking shoes we’d be wearing for the entire duration of the competition.

I’ll admit that I had a hard time sleeping that night as I tried to imagine what was in store for us in the next few days. The scale of the production appeared to be way bigger than what I had thought, which felt intimidating. We woke up the next morning before 6am for our 7am departure and left our phones behind for what we be our longest separation from our phones! We were driven for hours into the desert, to the most remote location possible, to reach the starting line of the competition.

Now I obviously cannot disclose in detail all that happened, particularly behind the scenes, of this show. But what I can share is that the production team was absolutely remarkable and professional, and getting to work with them will undoubtedly be one of our most favorite memories. Each family was assigned one producer, 2 cameramen, 1 audio person and 1 medic to run the entire competition with them. We’d be filmed the entire time throughout the day, but once we set up tent for the night, the crew would leave and set up their tent in a separate location.

Those 4 days definitely pushed us wayyyyy beyond our limits in every way. We’d wake up at the crack of dawn each day, fold up our tents and sleeping bags to fit them back into our backpacks, boil hot water for a quick instant breakfast, chug down a whole lot of water to be hydrated, and then be ready to embark on the journey ahead. We’d get our first clue and map, work together to figure out where we were going, and then hike through the most torturous terrain…carrying our 30+ lb backpacks in hot, humid Mexico weather! There were hardly any real hiking trails…they were mostly cow trails filled with cactus and prickly bushes. I eventually got numb from the pain of all the scratches on my body. I’m horrible with maps and directions, so I left it to Alan and Bridgette to figure out where we were going, which sometimes was impossible to tell simply by the map and compass. Yup, no phones, no GPS. There is nothing more defeating than to know you went the wrong way after a grueling uphill hike underneath the scorching sun. Did any of us throw a tantrum from the frustration? You’ll have to tune in to see.

In between each pit stop throughout the day, there would be additional challenges waiting for us. Some required one of us to do the challenge, but most required a team effort. These challenges ranged from physical challenges like horseback riding, sea kayaking, mountain biking, off roading, and cliff jumping, to mental challenges like deciphering morse codes, to survival challenges like building a fire the old fashion way, and so much more. I prayed really hard that I wouldn’t be challenged to eat an insect. Did I end up eating one? You’ll have to tune in to see.

Our day sometimes ended around sunset, sometimes much later. Usually by the time we reach the final pit stop for the day, we’re just dead from exhaustion. But we still had to muster up the energy to set up our tent, sleeping pads and sleeping bags. Alan was mainly in charge of that. Bridge was in charge of boiling water for our freeze dried dinners and getting that all set up. And me? I was given a camera by our producer to film some of our evening reflections since the camera crew would not be around then. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there were no showers for the entire duration of the competition. Bathroom was the great outdoors, but you always had to be careful there were no snakes and scorpions around. Each family got one roll of toilet paper and we used it sparingly, lol. I cannot even explain how gross I felt every night, falling asleep in the same dirty clothes I wore for the last few days, filled with sweat and blood and who knows what else…but fortunately, I was too tired to ever complain. My energy needed to be conserved for the challenges ahead.

I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’re also intrigued with this show and will consider tuning in this Sunday, January 15th, when it premieres on BYUtv! Our episode won’t air until March 5th, but do tune in to watch all the other courageous families go through the adventure of a lifetime. Here are a few trailers to reel you in! 😁

Some behind the scene photos we can share….

SV_0301_Unit_LeungO_HorneB_0527.ARW March 29, 2022 Survivalists Season 03 Episode 01 Unit Photo by: Steve Olpin © 2022 BYU Broadcasting. All rights reserved.
SV_0301_Unit_LeungO_HorneB_0506.ARW March 29, 2022 Survivalists Season 03 Episode 01 Unit Photo by: Steve Olpin © 2022 BYU Broadcasting. All rights reserved.
SV_0301_Unit_LeungO_HorneB_0474.ARW March 28, 2022 Survivalists Season 03 Episode 01 Unit Photo by: Steve Olpin © 2022 BYU Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

I can honestly say that while this was probably THE hardest thing we’ve ever done as a family, it was also THE most rewarding experience we’ve ever had. Obviously I cannot disclose whether or not we won, but we realized at the end that the real prize truly was what the casting director told me from the very beginning– the incredible ways our family grew through being in the wild, disconnected from the rest of the world while being challenged to our very core. Going through such an experience revealed that we’re much stronger than we think. Mind over matter was a consistent reminder we gave each other during times when we wanted to throw in the towel. Our faith also hugely impacted how we ran this race. We continually prayed and leaned into God, especially during times of defeat and fear, remembering that we follow a Jesus that is always in control, even in circumstances that feel scary. Praying helped us to remain calm, and reminded us the importance of showing grace towards each other.

Lastly, I must end with a huge shoutout to the production team at INE Entertainment, to BYUtv, and to the host of the show Colin O’Brady. Throughout the competition, besides the crew that followed us each day there were a ton of other production staff that contributed…there were specific cameramen to fly drones for arial footage and to capture additional angles, there was staff setting up specific challenges for us to do along the way, there was staff bringing in additional water for us to refill, and so on. Having done event planning for so many years, I was absolutely in awe watching the behind the scenes production element and when I had an ounce of extra energy, I’d bombard our producer and cameramen with production questions. 😂 It was mind blowing that they could do so much in such a remote, off the grid location! I have such high respect for each person that contributed to this show because I witnessed first hand the insane amount of professionalism, work ethics, patience, and perseverance that is required. While our family felt that our week in the wild was hard to endure, at the end of the week we were able to hop onto a plane and head back to the comfort of our home while the crew stayed behind another 5 weeks to do it all over again with other families! Hats off to those in the entertainment industry!! We appreciate you! 👏🏻

I’ll end with this picture of our amazing crew that became our family that week. They made an otherwise unbearable week much more fun, safe, and memorable! Thank you!!!!

Link to watch Survivalists: https://www.byutv.org/survivalists?utm_source=contestants&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=Leung&utm_content=streamfree

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