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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

GW alum competing on ‘Survivor’ booted in blindside vote

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS
GW alum Kellie Nalbandian perches against a tree on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji.

Kellie Nalbandian was waiting to leave for her night shift as a nurse when she got a text that made her jaw drop. She turned to her girlfriend sitting next to her, who asked what was going on, and simply replied: “Survivor.’’

The text was an invitation for the 30-year-old Nalbandian to compete in season 45 of “Survivor,” a competition TV show that involves a group of castaway contestants, 18 this season, who inhabit an island for 26 days and earn supplies through challenges that test the player’s physical and mental strength. The players compete to survive and win a cash prize of $1 million, with contestants voting out one of the players every episode until three remain and a jury of eliminated contestants decides the winner.

Nalbandian — a 2015 GW graduate with a bachelor’s degree in speech, language and hearing sciences and minors in biology and psychology from Weston, Connecticut, who works as a critical care nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital and attends Yale University part-time — said she first started watching “Survivor” as a nurse in New York City during the peak of the pandemic and applied to the show in January 2022. After facing “death and despair” in her career, she decided that her life was too short to hold her back from anything, she said.

“I just kind of kept this thought in my head, I was like, I feel like maybe I could do this,” Nalbandian said.

Nalbandian traveled to the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji this spring for the filming of the 45th season of “Survivor.”

After 16 days, Nalbandian became a beloved ally and leader on the island. But in “Survivor,” that kind of influence makes you a threat — and a target. While Nalbandian rallied players to oust widely disliked contestant, Jake, a group of mutineers plotted behind her back to vote the GW alum off the island.

During the vote, the host, Jeff Probst, counted off three ballots in a row for Jake. It seemed like the unpopular contestant was on the way out. At this point in the competition, players only needed five votes to get cast off the island. Jake was two away.

Then, Probst pulled out a vote for Nalbandian. He pulled out a second, then a third, then a fourth. Probst unfolded the final vote: Kellie.

“What the hell guys,” she said after the vote.

Nalbandian, the tenth player eliminated from the show of 18, said the vote was a “blindside.” She said she “blacked out” after Probst read the first few votes.

“I wanted to play the game so bad. I felt like I had more to play. And that’s what you see is that devastation of all that hard work that I put into it,” she said. “And maybe it’s a little embarrassing, but I feel like if you go out there you should want to win and play hard.”

While she was disappointed to leave the game, she said it was an “honor to be blindsided” because she knew it meant she was playing the game well.

After being eliminated, Nalbandian served on the jury to decide the final winner, who will be announced in the finale of season 45, airing Dec. 20.

Courtesy of Robert Voets/CBS

Nalbandian said one of her proudest moments on “Survivor” was competing in the “Get a Grip” challenge, a recurring obstacle on the show where contestants must hold onto a pole with tiny footholds using only their bodies to win individual immunity — contestant’s with immunity cannot be eliminated during that night’s vote. Nalbandian held onto her pole for 17 minutes, outlasting her teammates and winning immunity. She called it a “surreal moment” to win immunity through a challenge she had seen many of her favorite players do before her.

“It came down to me and one other girl, and I think that was a really cool, empowering moment,” she said. “It was a lot of big dudes with big muscles and that it was the two of us hanging on for so long together. That was definitely one of my top moments.”

While a student at GW, Nalbandian said she became an emergency medical technician and served as the president of the GW Emergency Medical Response Group her senior year. She said working as an EMT and later becoming a nurse helped her develop stress management and relaxation skills that she applied to “Survivor.”

She said competing on the show reminded her of the summer of 2014, which she spent working as an orientation leader with a group of strangers for the Colonial Cabinet, the group of student leaders who direct GW’s orientation program. She attributed her time working on the cabinet to her success getting along with different types of people as a contestant on “Survivor.”

Nalbandian added that she came out as a lesbian while at GW and found comfort and acceptance from her orientation leaders while she was a first-year, which made her want to do the same for incoming students.

“That cabinet experience is, there’s nervous freshmen, everyone’s in a scary zone there, being able to be someone who provides accessibility and comfort in maybe a little bit of a chaotic situation, is what I think still serves me super well in the game,” she said.

Nalbandian said the hunger in “Survivor” is one of the most physically difficult parts of the game, but she got used to it. She said the constant stress of thinking about the game, like deciding how her team would eat that day and where the group would sleep, were the more challenging aspects.

“There’s no supplies, there’s nothing, like I barely ate,” she said. “I pushed myself beyond anything I’ve done before, and that’s a really cool experience to be able to do something like that and come out the other side.”

While Nalbandian did not take home the title of “Sole Survivor,” she said the experience of competing was “empowering,” putting herself in a vulnerable environment amid a group of strangers and pushing herself to her absolute limits. Nalbandian said she likes to be prepared, so learning to cope with the “lack of control” both in the game and being on a reality show was one of her main takeaways from her experience.

“Learning how to sit in uncertainty and be able to be okay with accepting the things I can’t control and working on the things that I can control to move forward through the game or through life is one of the main lessons I want to take from this,” Nalbandian said.

Nalbandian said she would return to “Survivor” “in a heartbeat” if she were to be called back again for a return season.

“I loved every second,” Nalbandian said. “I loved playing the game. I think it’s the most complex, interesting game that you can play. I would always go back out there for sure.”

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About the Contributor
Fiona Bork, Assistant News Editor
Fiona Bork is a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication from San Diego, California. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 assistant news editor for the Student Life beat.
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