After spending 39 days in the Fijian wilderness as a castaway on the 37th season of “Survivor,” Dr. Alison Raybould, chief resident at the UNC Department of Medicine, is back in Chapel Hill and experiencing life as a local celebrity. During last Wednesday’s episode, Raybould secured a spot as one of the competition’s final eight contestants, getting one step closer to taking home the show’s $1 million prize. Raybould took time to reflect on life after the island with Daily Tar Heel senior writer Zach Goins.
The Daily Tar Heel: What part of the game were you least prepared for?
Alison Raybould: As a super fan of this game, I knew exactly what I was signing up for. I was prepared for the starvation, the fatigue, and the psychological turmoil. I knew that some seasons are hit with terrible weather, but I have to say, the first 14 days were truly miserable. It poured buckets of rain the whole time with horrific winds too, and we faced two cyclones. But even in those moments of sheer misery, I was still smiling because I was playing “Survivor.”
DTH: What was your main strategy heading into the season? Did you know what kind of player you wanted to be?
AR: I thought a lot about whether or not I reveal being a physician with my tribe, as I worried it would cause me to be an early threat. The theme of David vs. Goliath forced the Goliaths to not only explain their accomplishments but also to own those achievements, and this was something that I contested the first day on the barge. I wanted to be the underdog that everyone rooted for, yet here I was being told that I was some awful giant who needed to fall.
With that being said, even before the theme was revealed, I knew that I had to share the details of my profession with my fellow castaways because I wanted my strategy to hinge on forming genuine connections. I figured I could use the stories from the hospital – both humorous and tragic – to bond with my tribemates and gain their trust. I felt like I would be telling plenty of other lies in the context of game play; I did not want to also lie about my personal makeup. I love the social manipulation, but I think it would feel inauthentic from me.
DTH: What has it been like watching yourself on TV? Do you have watch parties with friends or anything like that?
AR: It has been very surreal watching myself on TV. I did not do this for the fame. I just felt called to play this game. I was looking for a challenge unlike any other and wanted to test the grit that I believed I had from years of rigorous training.
The best part of watching myself on TV is getting to share this incredible, transformative experience with the people that I love. My mom flew in for the merge episode, when I won individual immunity. After I won, Jeff (Probst) commented on how my body seemed to be having a visceral response and asked me what was going through my mind. In that moment, I could only think about my family watching me win immunity and was overcome with sheer exhilaration and joy. To then watch it back with my mom at my side, it was truly a magical experience.
For the premiere, I invited the whole Department of Medicine at UNC to my watch party. It was incredibly moving to see how many people came out to support me. Since the premiere, I have kept my watch parties pretty small. But a group of my closest friends join me every Wednesday, and it means the world to have them there. I do plan on having one more public watch party before the finale. It will be for the December 12 episode, but I am still working out the details. Super fans, stay tuned!
DTH: Have your friends, family, coworkers, etc. made a big deal about seeing you on national TV?
AR: We joke that I am a local celebrity, but I don’t really see it that way. I just got to be a part of this really cool experience and credit for that goes to the remarkable support system within my friends, family and at the hospital. I know that this “celebrity” will all fade, and honestly, I look forward to my next great adventure within the field on oncology.
DTH: So, obviously you’ve got a big couple weeks coming up with the finale. If you end up taking home the million, can we still expect to see you around UNC Hospitals, or will you be living lavish somewhere?
AR: I will definitely keep working at UNC! Over the last four years, UNC has become my heart and my home. I am incredibly passionate about what I do, and I do not see a million dollars changing that. I cannot wait for my next great adventure as a (hematology/oncology) fellow. Seems like UNC is stuck with me for another three years. Plus, those student loans already take up a big chunk of the million.
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