BYU continues its takeover of fall television this year by adding a BYU professor to the reality TV mix.
Dawn Meehan, an English professor at BYU, will compete in “Survivor: South Pacific,” the 23rd season of the popular CBS show. The series premiered last Wednesday to 10.6 million views.
Meehan, 41, said she first tried out for the reality show 10 years ago. She auditioned repeatedly throughout the years until finally being cast this season.
“I had been close so many times before that I felt that it was supposed to happen,” Meehan said. “I loved the idea [of the show] and thought it was an amazing social experiment. I knew that I could get along with these people if given the chance.”
In preparation for the show, Meehan worked out twice a day for 10 months. Exercises included weight lifting, kayaking and biking an average of 21 miles a day. The training paid off, she said, and the show was just as grueling as she expected.
“The challenges were pretty much what I expected,” Meehan said. “The overall experience was maybe even better than I expected.”
Meehan, who is a the member of the Savaii tribe in the show, said she learned several important lessons from her experience on “Survivor,” which wrapped up filming in the summer. One of these included learning how important the physical body is, she said.
“I came home and exclaimed to my family, ‘Did you know all the things your body can do?'” Meehan said. “It’s empowering,”
Another lesson Meehan learned was the importance of adapting to one’s circumstances and learning to find common ground with those who are different.
“You have to be a part of the community and put others above yourself,” Meehan said. “But you have to do that while also looking out for yourself. It’s a delicate balance you have to learn.”
Finding this balance was hard to do in a game that relies on outwitting and outlasting the other players, but Meehan said her faith and values helped keep things in perspective. She also said it was important to remember she was only playing a game, citing football as an example.
“The BYU Cougars don’t tackle each other in real life, but they do when it’s in the game and they need to win,” Meehan said. “I had to remember that it wasn’t real life. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland; nothing at all was familiar to what I was used to. You have to balance your choices and remember that you’re playing a game.”
On the premiere episode, the stress of the game got to Meehan on the first day, who broke down a little when confronted with the reality of surviving with strangers. However, Jennifer Lindsey, BYU’s writing program assistant, is a close colleague of Meehan’s and believes that moment of distress was uncharacteristic of Meehan and she has what it takes to go all the way.
“Dawn is just so strong and a good, nice person who takes care of people,” Lindsey said. “She had a little bit of a shock and got over it. She’s really enthusiastic and is able to get things done. I can’t see people wanting to get rid of her anytime soon.”
Meehan said she is grateful for experiences on the show and that she got to live her dream.
“I’m proud to represent BYU and hope everyone enjoys the show,” Meehan said.
“Survivor: South Pacific” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m.