BY JUSTIN HERDMAN
Imagine choking down a slimy platter of sea mullet. Then picture yourself gagging as the salty Aboriginal dish slithers into your near empty belly. Now do it in front of 30 million Americans.
For Nick Brown ’02, such a scenario was all in a day’s work on the smash television hit “Survivor”. Selected out of a pool of nearly 50,000 applicants, Brown spent last semester in the arid wasteland of the Australian Outback.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the weekly program pits sixteen contestants, marooned in a remote location, against each other in a quest for big bucks. Each week, one member of the cast is voted off. Last season’s winner was Richard Hatch, a 39 year old corporate trainer from Rhode Island who captivated the nation with his unique combination of Machiavellian scheming and nude fish spearing. This season’s contestants will square off on the hardscrabble desert of Queensland, Australia.
Brown, who will be 24 in April, is the latest HLS student to meet with TV-provided celebrity. Justin Deabler ’00 starred on the reality-based MTV program “The Real World”, which recorded the lives of seven roommates selected to live in a Hawaiian beach house.
Harvard Law has also provided a number of game show contestants. Recently, first year student Andrew McNair ’03 tested his fate on the “Wheel of Fortune.” Last year, Rahim Oberholtzer ’00 raked in $1.12 million on “Twenty-One”. Such a haul tops even the $1 million that Brown stands to win if he can outlast the Outback.
Unlike other game shows, the massive popularity of Survivor makes all of its participants into instant celebrities. Since the ultimate winner must combine elements of friendliness, cunning, and physical prowess, the show is heavily reliant on individual personalities.
Thus far, Brown has not distinguished himself on the show. As one Survivor-based website mocked in a recent episode summary, “Oh my god, Nick (yes he’s on this show) just talked for the first time since he got here.” Brown was also panned by other cast members during the first episode because he had trouble leading his “tribe” to their campsite.
Such reticence may benefit Brown in the long run, however. “Nick’s probably a leader by nature, but he’s very willing to go with the flow and not draw attention to himself,” said Brian Lutz ’02, who is a friend of Brown’s.
“Nick’s a really laid back dude – not one to really ruffle anyone’s feathers. I think he’s been pretty effective and non-confrontational thus far, and I have little doubt that it will continue as such,” Lutz said.
Another friend, Carmen Alexander ’02, agreed. “He’s not doing much – not being a leader, not complaining – just doing what he has to,” Alexander said.
The last seven castaways left in the Outback will vote to determine the final survivor. The program’s two hour finale, which drew almost 52 million viewers last summer, will track the fortunes of the final four cast members on April 26.
Alexander believes that Brown will be there. “I think he’s going to win, at least go to the final four,” she said.
Lutz also thought that Brown stands a good chance of going all the way. “I fully expect Nick to kick ass on the show. Will he win? Who knows? But I really wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.
Due to a penalty clause in his contract, Brown is prevented from speaking with anyone about his success, or lack thereof, on the show until he is either banished or wins. Even during the application process, Brown was forced to remain silent about his selection to the show.
Brown was informed during the first week of fall semester, when Survivor producer Mark Burnett gave him the news. “My initial reaction was excitement, but then I was scared for him,” Alexander said. “I heard that this show was going to be a lot harder than the first, and I did not want him to get hurt or anything. When he called from Sydney after he was done with filming, I cannot tell you how relieved I was.”
This season’s cast members have already waded through crocodile-infested waters, plunged from a thirty foot cliff into frigid water and subsisted solely on a daily ration of rice. Scenes of castaways bitterly sniping at each other due to the tension contribute to the show’s popularity, but Brown has not yet succumbed to the infighting.
“One thing about Nick is that he never really gets freaked out about anything,” Lutz said. “He’s laid back and takes things pretty easily. Whether that will help when he’s hungry, smelly and cold, I don’t know,” he continued.
“I think the fact that he enjoys himself no matter what helps him,” Alexander said. “Instead of stressing about the bad stuff he finds the good in things.”
Cast members are only allowed to bring one “luxury” item with them. Such items have included journals, bibles, razors, and the Texas flag. Brown chose to bring along a frisbee, which was a gift from his friends at HLS.
“[Brown] was trying to decide what to take as his luxury item, and Cara [Sedlak ’02] suggested a frisbee. He liked that idea because it was a game that brought people together,” Alexander said. “So, as a going away gift they got him the frisbee he took to the Outback.”
Lutz said that the frisbee came in handy, though Brown did not divulge any details. “He’s told us that they used the frisbee all the time, but not for its intended purpose,” Lutz said.
With the rest of the castaways, Brown has already appeared in national magazines like Newsweek, TV Guide, People and Entertainment Weekly. This instant brush with celebrity has led to recognition by strangers. During a dinner at Chili’s, Alexander watched as Brown graciously signed a photograph for an admiring busboy. “Nick is handling it well,” she said. “I think he enjoys it.”
Lutz added, “Nick can’t let this Survivor thing go to his head too much, though, because every time he starts bragging a little, one of us makes fun of him.”
What about other Harvard Law students who have “survived” the first year? Would they be able to outlast the Australian wilderness as well? “Dealing with annoying HLS people might help him when certain cast members get on his nerves,” Lutz said. “But I don’t think there’s a huge correlation between success at HLS and the Outback.”