Liana Wallace (MSB ’23) first started watching the CBS reality show “Survivor” as a 3-year-old with her mother and older brothers after bathtime. Now, 17 years later, Wallace is set to star on the latest season of the hit competition series.
Wallace, a junior in the McDonough School of Business (MSB) studying international business and finance, was first inspired to apply to the reality competition after she and her mom finished watching the former winners face off during the 40th season of the show, titled “Winners at War.” Monotonous online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic further cemented her decision to apply.
“The world is literally in chaos. I don’t want to be doing school virtually anyway, let me just take this shot and see what happens,” Wallace said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “If I had the opportunity to go, I was going to do it.”
This season, Wallace joins 17 other competitors, including a former NFL player, a neurosurgeon and a pastor, on the 41st season, which is set to premiere Sept. 22. During the competition, contestants are split into competing tribes and must navigate physical conditions, difficult team and individual challenges, elimination rounds and social maneuvering in order to win the grand prize of $1 million.
This year’s competition also features some changes to the game’s format, including reducing the length of the game from 39 to 26 days, as well as a new “Game Within the Game,” where viewers can solve puzzles while the show is happening for a chance to win a prize at the end of the season. Despite the changes, the game is still expected to be both physically and mentally taxing.
Once Wallace was accepted to the competition, she began mentally and physically training for the competition in anticipation of the grueling conditions. She focused on nutrition, meditation and weightlifting to build muscle before the show.
“I really just tried to think about the best way that I could just stay in touch with myself, so meditation was something I thought about,” Wallace said. “I write poetry and spoken word. So I believe writing things down is important to me. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that out there. So I needed something else.”
While Wallace’s individual physical and mental training were helpful during the game, her experiences as a Black woman in the MSB also informed her “Survivor” strategy.
“Being a woman of color in the business school, where it’s predominantly white and predominantly male, I’ve had to find my own community as a minority in that space,” Wallace said. “Oftentimes there’s this dynamic where if I raise my hand in a class, I have to be right because people are questioning: Why am I there as a woman? Why am I there as a Black person? And so, there’s that constant pressure. I’m used to performing under pressure because of Georgetown and because of the business school.”
The new season of the show, which was filmed in the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji from April 15 to May 10 of this year, also features a new casting initiative incorporated by CBS. Under the initiative, all reality shows on the network must have 50% of cast members identify as BIPOC.
In July 2020, a group of former Black contestants spoke out about their experiences with the show, citing white production personnel’s amplification of racist storylines and mishandling of racist incidents. In response, executives from CBS met with several of the former contestants to discuss reforming the show.
The new casting initiative will bring about positive changes to the game, according to Wallace.
“I think it’s incredibly important because it reflects what the real world looks like, to have that in the game, and then to make the game a bit more of an equal footing,” Wallace said. “Everyone comes with these preconceived notions, and that is not going to change, but to have other people that look like you out there I think is really important. So, I am really glad CBS did make that change and I hope that more changes like that continue.”
Still, Wallace sought to make the most of her “Survivor” experience by staying positive and pursuing happiness. Many Georgetown University students should similarly learn to seek joy, according to Wallace.
“I think, especially as Georgetown students, we’re oftentimes fed lots of things you should be doing or do this to check off this box. But I think it’s important that people take the time to pursue things that make you really happy and things that you would never consider yourself doing,” Wallace said.