Part-time BYU English instructor Dawn Meehan took second place on CBS’ “Survivor” on May 12.
Meehan tied with 41-year-old business woman, Sherri Biethman. Meehan and Biethman fell behind winner, John Cochran, a student at Harvard Law School.
“I wanted to challenge myself,” Meehan said. “I wanted to see what I would do under really extraordinary circumstances.”
While on the show, Meehan lived for more than a month on the remote Caramoan Islands of the Philippines. Contestants were stranded on the islands with one outfit, no food, and were forced to live off the land.
“I’m not sure if anything in life prepares someone from the United States for what it’s like to live 40 days on an ocean-side beach, as beautiful as it is,” Meehan said. “It’s very stressful. It’s hard on your body.”
While on the islands, Meehan lost 27 pounds and suffered a coral infection in her foot. She received treatment after returning home but reported she took eight weeks to get healthy.
In addition to the physical stress, the game was emotionally challenging for Meehan. She struggled with the deception required to outwit her opponents. Having determined to play the game strategically, she formed alliances with individuals and later betrayed them by eliminating them from the game.
“That was devastating to live through,” Meehan said. “I think I cried absolutely every day in the game. It reflected how difficult it was for me to go against my core — what’s normal and natural for me. I don’t like to hurt people. I’m compassionate. … My life doesn’t resemble the game at all and I’m so thankful for that.”
Many viewers of the show saw Meehan’s betrayals as hypocritical. They responded with a flood of social media hate mail, causing Meehan to eventually close both her Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Hayley Thayer, a senior from Mansfield, Texas, said she is a die-hard fan of the show and watched the entire season. She believes Meehan was merely playing the game.
“She did seem really genuine,” Thayer said. “I know the game was hard for her because she did genuinely love the people, and then she had to vote them off. I always thought that she was being honest and true to who she was. In the end, it is just a game. ‘Survivor’ isn’t her real life.”
Despite the opposition of some viewers, Meehan had a lot of support at home. A mother of six children, Meehan decision to leave her family for several weeks was not an easy one. Support from friends and neighbors, however, made the departure possible.
“I don’t know how any other woman could do it that wasn’t part of the Latter-day Saint community,” Meehan said. “Our kids had 30 surrogate mothers who took them everywhere from haircuts to drop-offs at school. It made me come home recognizing how important it is to be a support to other people.”
Meehan’s family members enjoyed watching the show together after their mother’s return. Her 14-year-old daughter, Kaya, said it was a little difficult at times to watch her mother struggle, but overall the show was fun.
“She was our mom during the day and then at night she was like a ‘Survivor’ all-star,” Kaya said. “It was pretty cool.”
The 40-year-old mother is a source of inspiration for her family. Her experience on “Survivor” has motivated them to strive toward difficult goals.
“‘Survivor’ is more of a metaphor for this idea that you should challenge yourself,” Meehan said. “Even if something is difficult, push through. Even if you don’t win, push through. Even if it causes tears, push through.”