brian_tnThe blistering Guatemalan sun beat down on the hungry and sleep deprived contestants as they awaited instructions and swatted away mosquitos that latched onto the sweaty bodies in the 100-degree-plus heat. In the jungle, home to jaguars, tarantulas, and crocodiles, these 18 people were competing for a $1 million and the title of  ‘Sole Survivor’ on the popular reality television show Survivor. 

Even 10 years later, Brian Corridan, the youngest competitor on Survivor Guatemala, vividly remembers the horrific conditions.  “You are sitting there sweating being eaten alive by mosquitos, fending off the tarantulas,” said Corridan, 22 at the time. “You’re in this jungle grinding corn, which was the only food we had to eat.” In 15 days, Corridan lost 20 pounds.

Survivor Guatemala marked the 11th season of Survivor in 2005. Corridan had been a fan since he was 16 when the show debuted.  The competition and psychological strategy it took to win appealed Corridan, who was the “Most Likely to Succeed” valedictorian of his Connecticut high school.

Corridan was able to fulfill his dream of competing on Survivor and now at the age 32, he loves watching Survivor more than ever, especially as a veteran of the battle. He currently works at Test Takers, a company that helps to prepare high school students for the SATs, writing the curriculums, and hiring and training the teachers. While he has a “day job,” his survivor experience continues both online and in real life. He has gained a huge fan base through social media as well as a new community of friends with past and present Survivor contestants.

Debuting in 2000, Survivor is now in its 30th season, with two seasons running per year. At its peak popularity the show drew 30 million views; now it averages around 10 million. The format of the show brings together 20 strangers on a remote island where their mental and physical ability is put to multiple tests. They are split among various teams called “tribes,” and compete in strenuous challenges. Tribes vote off weakest—or less popular—members until the remaining constants compete as individuals.  They eventually face the “Tribal Council,” of eliminated fellow contestants, to figure out who will become the ‘Sole Survivor ’ and winner of $1 million.

Corridan continued to watch the show throughout college at Columbia University where he majored in psychology.  By senior year he was ready to apply by completing a 14-page application and three-minute video. He was up against 600,000 other applicants so he planned to stand out by pitching an exaggerated version of himself: an Ivy League, cocky New England stereotype. In his video, he revealed his Survivor strategy: pinpoint people’s insecurities and weaknesses and manipulate them to his advantage. Once he got past that round, he had the psychological and medical tests along with 500 other applicants. “It is as much of a psychological battle as the game was,” said Corridan while reminiscing in his office at Test Takers, fidgeting with a pen good. “They try to break you down; they try to see where your breaking point is. How well you can endure stressful situations. I loved it. It was a game to me.”

For the final round of the application process, against 50 applicants, he was flown to LA for a week. Corridan was pent up in a hotel room and constantly got tested by casting agents, where they tried to make him feel secluded and distressed by leaving him alone and not tending to his needs to see how he would deal with the situation. Through that process, the final survivors were chosen.

On the day of his Columbia graduation, Corridan got the call that he was chosen for Survivor Guatemala. Under the show’s contract, he had to keep this secret from all except immediate family so he told friends that he was spending the next month and a half traveling around South America as a summer post graduation vacation.

When recalling his first challenge on Survivor, Corridan remembers feeling confident after all the physical training he went through preparing for it. Corridan and his tribe had to work together to canoe across the lake to get a torch and bring it to the top of the hill to light the victory cauldron. Yaxha, Corridan’s tribe, won this challenge and gained immunity. Challenges after this, though, weren’t as successful for the Yaxha tribe causing them to vote off their teammates. Originally, Corridan didn’t think it would be a disadvantage being the youngest contestant but as his team started dwindling down, he was on the chopping block. “It was pretty tough competing against people in their 30’s and 40’s,” said Corridan. The older players were able to take control of the game and make the decisions of who would be voted off. He lasted 15 days and was voted out seventh out of a total of 18 contestants.

Corridan blames his lack of life experience because his teammates didn’t take him seriously being so young. He wishes that he had waited five years to apply, so he could gain authority over his teammates, allowing him to move further in the game.

Going onto the show, Corridan did not expect to get famous but he had a taste of celebrity for a few years right after his season was aired when Survivor was watched by millions. “Fans would host parties all around the country for charity, things like beach parties in Florida, and they would fly survivors down to make appearances,” said Corridan. “It was this weird two or three-year period where I was flown to Florida, got put in a hotel, and hung out with my friends from the show and people bought tickets to get our autograph.”  For these events, which were promoted by the fans and the show, the survivors’ flight, hotel, and meals were paid for.

However, the best after-effect for Corridan is the great friends with other “Survivor” alumni gained, even those not on his season. Corridan and his close survivor friends get together every week to watch and tweet about the current Survivor season.

One of Corridan’s close friends from the Survivor community is winner from season 23, South Pacific, Sophie Clarke. At age 22, Clarke won her season in 2011 and is currently a media student producer/ researcher for the Dr. Oz Show. “The friendships are initially based off of shared experiences both being on survivor, but also weathering the aftermath,” Clarke wrote via email. “Over time, however, I’ve found these people turn into genuine friends because we are all pretty similar. Type A and competitive.” Her experience on Survivor has been an extremely positive one and has made her feel like nothing is beyond her reach.

Thanks to social media, Corridan’s fame live on, especially on Facebook and Twitter. Although Corridan only got his Twitter a few months ago, he already has 862 followers and on Facebook he has 2,154 friends. Survivor may not be as popular as it use to be but it’s still apparent they have a loyal audience that latches on and never lets go.

In the past, Survivor has invited back previous contestants. Corridan loves his job but Survivor is his passion. “I would go again,” said Corridan. “If they called me, I would drop everything to go.”