Nick Manco can hear the tribal council music from any episode of “Survivor” and immediately name the season it’s from.
Manco, a 20-year-old UF biological engineering sophomore, is one of 17 UF students selected to compete in Season 5 of Survivor: Florida, “March Madness.”
The two-day competition, an ambitious challenge of wits and strength — both physical and mental — proved to leave only one survivor. Any member of the UF student body, graduate or undergraduate, was able to apply and audition to be placed in one of the opposing tribes, named Yasa or Saku.
Contenders strategized between challenges and built their interpersonal skills while attempting to endure the length of competition — simultaneously upkeeping positive relationships with the other players so as to not get voted off “the island.”
The flagship event for the Survivor: Florida club is modeled almost exactly after the original CBS Show, sans the 39-day length and on-location shooting. Instead, the competition was compressed into two consecutive seven-hour sessions on Flavet Field over the weekend of March 4-5.
Despite the physical differences, the club’s production team works hard to approximately emulate the experience real survivors go through on the show.
“They get the same feelings out of it as if they were playing the regular show,” Manco said. “Their heart's racing. They get a good sense of the competition.”
Tension increased as players were eliminated one after the other while their hunger and exhaustion levels increased. After continuously competing for hours on end, some players felt betrayed when voted off and others understood, but after the eighth player was voted out, a jury formed from the eliminated “castaways” to parliament at Tribal Council and decide who the last remaining person should be.
Benjamin Schlichte, a 20-year-old UF pre-dental biology sophomore of the Yasa tribe secured the title of sole survivor for Season 5.
The Survivor: Florida club has been meeting since January 2022, officially becoming a UF club last Fall. The club hosts weekly watch parties in the Reitz Union Wednesdays from 8-10 p.m. as social opportunities for “Survivor” fanatics to discuss the show.
Some watchers have generated a slightly cult-like disposition to the show — loyal club members like Manco return for the weekly ritual “Survivor” cultivates.
“I immediately fell in love with it,” Manco said. “I immediately had to watch all the seasons. I think within like a year, I had seen all the seasons.”
The watch parties, though, pale in comparison to the riveting adventure the challenging days bring.
No matter rain or harsh heat, the competitors plowed through relay races, puzzle-solving, and endurance challenges to gain immunity or advantages against their opposing tribe. The Yasa and Saku Tribes battled it out in muddy matches of crab soccer and hoopsa palooza, and they weren’t afraid to get messy.
One relay-style puzzle piece game put contestants’ problem-solving skills to the test by adding a time crunch — partners swapped chances to solve word and shape puzzles against their tribemates every 30 seconds.
Bringing in the ‘wow’ factor was Cole Groth. The 18-year-old UF media production, management and technology freshman serves as secretary of Survivor: Florida, and after previous work for the club as a photographer, Groth was invited to host this season.
As secretary, Groth was able to secure base funding for the semester, he said. With UF Student Government funding, the club was able to order customized official Survivor buffs, or headwear, for players to wear during the season. Authentic touches like this, Groth said, shape the experience for players to fully immerse themselves and unlock their potential.
“Physicality seems like a lot of the game, but it really amounts to 10%, 15%,” Groth said. “Whereas the rest of it is all social and strategic. A lot of players tend to forget that part.”
This year, the club upped its ante by changing the traditional contestant entry structure: Instead of arriving and being assigned to two even teams, the contests were split into two teams of eight with one odd man out. The exile is immune for the first round, but votes with the losing team when deciding who should be eliminated.
The casting and production teams work to create diversity in the tribes to create both an entertaining and distinctive experience for the viewers. Executive producer Hannah Engle says they try to cast evenly based on different characteristics, such as physical aptitude or mental acuity.
“We definitely want to get a variety of people,” Engle said. “If you don't want to be like a bunch of really sporty people, or really smart people.”
Engle, 25, has been a club member since its second season. The graduate sciences student said in its first season, Survivor: Florida only received 30 applications. This season, that number more than doubled to 67.
The lure of meeting like-minded people from different backgrounds on campus has added positive energy to the competition for players, Engle said, some of which began camaraderie and allyships during their episodes that continued to blossom after the season ended.
“This is a great way to connect people from just all different places,” Engle said. “We're united over this love for Survivor. You can just kind of geek out over this show.”
Self-confidence and courage seeped from the contestants into the crowd, albeit small. Spectating was father-daughter duo Lilly and John Crichett. The pair are originally from West Palm Beach, and John traveled to visit Lilly for her sorority’s parents’ weekend.
Their idea of quality family time: watching their favorite show together, live.
“I can’t wait to see how the strategy works,” Lilly said.
Her two friends who she came to watch compete, Clarissa Benjamin and Campbell Graze, were the first two contestants eliminated, but they still had a great time despite the early loss.
A playful, adventurous twist on campus is just what some Gators need to de-stress and get their adrenaline pumping, the fourth-place scoring player said. The true reward, Marco added, wasn’t any idol or immunity that the players received during the game — rather, the feeling of self-satisfaction players gain after putting themselves through the elements and testing their survival instincts.
“It’s almost like this leap of faith,” Marco said. “It's just your weekend…But the reward, I don't think people realize.”
Contact Loren at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LorenMiranda13.
Loren Miranda is a second-year journalism major and a staff writer for the Avenue. She is also a copy editor for Rowdy Magazine. When she's not writing, she enjoys watching either critically acclaimed films or cheesy reality TV, no in-betweens.