Lindsey Reynolds | Reporter
Season 38 of “Survivor: Edge of Extinction” premiered Wednesday night, and with it came a few surprises and a very familiar face. Baylor alumna Lauren O’Connell is competing as one of the 18 contestants. The competition took place on the hot beaches and in the humid rainforests of Fiji.
O’Connell grew up watching “Survivor” and even named her toys after well-known players of the show.
“When I was little, I used to have Barbies that I named Tina and Colby because I had watched the show since I was so little,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell, former Baylor soccer center back and December 2018 graduate, is also an alumna of Baylor’s chapter of Pi Beta Phi sorority. Between a full course load, the demands of Baylor athletics and sorority member obligations, O’Connell had no time to spare.
“I knew that I just wanted to be on the show, but with soccer I never had the time,” O’Connell said.
Watching the show became a family event for O’Connell. When she was younger, she could guarantee her family would be watching “Survivor” together on Wednesday nights at 5 p.m.
She explained that while she was at Baylor, away from her family in Bakersfield, Calif., her mom would record the episodes. When she came home for Christmas break, she and her family would binge-watch the season.
One could imagine her surprise when she was chosen to compete on season 38 in Fiji.
“I was driving when I got the call. I had to pull over because I was crying and screaming,” O’Connell said. “I called my parents right away and told them ‘Oh my gosh, I am going to be on ‘Survivor!’”
O’Connell said her initial feelings were gratitude and luck for being chosen to be on the show. As the competition grew closer, those feelings gave way to her tenacity and determination — traits that were promoted during her time as a Baylor soccer player.
O’Connell’s former teammate, junior forward Camryn Wendlandt, explained how the team is mentally and physically tested every day. The motivation that fuels the team’s hard work is cultivated through the passion for the game and the people who doubt their success.
“The Baylor soccer mentality is fighting with everything you have,” Wendlandt said. “In college soccer you learn how to be mentally tough, how to be gritty, and you learn how to train your body past its limits.”
When asked how she felt O’Connell would perform, she responded undoubtingly that her teammate would perform well.
With 14 contestants, four returnees and one big twist, the whole game was changed. In this season of “Survivor,” eliminated players will get the option to leave the game or survive on their own limited resources for a chance to get back in. Mentality mattered in these games now more than ever for O’Connell.
“It didn’t even feel real until I was on the boat at the marooning,” O’Connell said. “I had that Baylor soccer mentality of ‘I’m going out there and I am going to do whatever I can to win.’”
O’Connell recalled Tuesday afternoons of rigorous training and unrelenting competition during soccer practice. It was during those grueling moments in the ferocious Texas heat that she said she developed the mental strength needed to excel in testing situations.
Houston senior James Iler started watching the show as a senior in high school and was so hooked that he watched every season.
“I binged every season that was available at that point,” Iler said. “It was over 30 seasons. I’ve always been a fan of reality competitions and “Survivor” is the one that started it all.”
As a seasoned “Survivor” fan, Iler thinks O’Connell is a strong competitor with tremendous potential for success on the show.
“We’ve only had the premiere come out so far, and so far I think she is in a really good position aligning herself with one of the returning players, a Miss Kelley Wentworth.”
Iler said O’Connell’s athleticism has already been a helpful asset on the show.
“Lauren has also proven to be quite a great asset for her team in challenges, seeing as she proved to be quite the athlete during the first immunity challenge,” Iler said. “Her social game is really on point so far … She definitely seems like a go-get-her athlete.”
“I’m going to go in there and no matter what is thrown at me, no matter what happens, never say die,” O’Connell said.
“Survivor” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on CBS.