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The Journal Gazette

  • Bechtold and her family have always been fans of “Survivor,” and they'll be able to see her live the adventure when the show premieres Wednesday.

  • CBS The Naviti and Malolo Tribes compete on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS Tribes Malolo and Naviti on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS Morgan Ricke, Angela Perkins, Sebastian Noel, Desiree Afuye, Chris Noble, Chelsea Townsend, Bradley Kleihege, Domenick Abbate, Wendell Holland, and Kellyn Bechtold on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS "Can You Reverse the Curse?" - Angela Perkins and Kellyn Bechtold on "Survivor: Ghost Island." 

  • CBS Wendell Holland, Chris Noble, Domenick Abbate, Kellyn Bechtold, Morgan Ricke, Chelsea Townsend, Angela Perkins, Sebastian Noel, Desiree Afuye, and Bradley Kleihege on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS Wendell Holland, Brendan Shapiro, Chris Noble, Donathan Hurley, James Lim, and the Naviti and Malolo Tribes on "Survivor: Ghost Island." 

  • CBS Wendell Holland, Domenick Abbate, Bradley Kleihege, Morgan Ricke, Angela Perkins and Kellyn Bechtold on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS The 20 castaways competing on SURVIVOR this season, themed "Ghost Island," include Kellyn Bechtold, fourth from right in the back row.

  • CBS From left: Morgan Ricke, Angela Perkins, Sebastian Noel, Bradley Kleihege, Chelsea Townsend, Kellyn Bechtold, Desiree Afuye, and Domenick Abbate on "Survivor: Ghost Island." 

  • CBS The Naviti tribe, which includes Kellyn Bechtold, arrives on the island.

  • CBS From left: Morgan Ricke, Sebastian Noel, Domenick Abbate, Chelsea Townsend and Kellyn Bechtold on "Survivor: Ghost Island." 

  • CBS North Manchester native Kellyn Bechtold is one of the 20 castaways competing on "Survivor" this season.

  • CBS Domenick Abbate, Desiree Afuye, Sebastian Noel, Bradley Kleihege, Angela Perkins, Wendell Holland, Chelsea Townsend, Chris Noble, Kellyn Bechtold, and Morgan Ricke on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS North Manchester native Kellyn Bechtold is one of the 20 castaways competing on "Survivor" this season.

  • CBS Tribes Malolo and Naviti compete on "Survivor: Ghost Island." 

  • CBS Naviti Tribe members (Back Row L-R: Wendell Holland, Chris Noble, Sebastian Noel, Bradley Kleihege, Domenic Abbate, Front Row L-R: Morgan Ricke, Angela Perkins, Desiree Afuye, Chelsea Townsend, Kellyn Bechtold) 

  • CBS The Naviti tribe, from left, Desiree Afuye, Sebastian Noel, Chelsea Townsend, Chris Noble, Domenick Abbate, Bradley Kleihege, Angela Perkins, Morgan Ricke, Kellyn Bechtold and Wendell Holland.

  • CBS From left, Bradley Kleihege, Desiree Afuye, Kellyn Bechtold, Morgan Ricke, Sebastian Noel, and Domenick Abbate on "Survivor: Ghost Island."

  • CBS photos North Manchester native Kellyn Bechtold, right, arrives for “Survivor: Ghost Island” with fellow castaways, from left, Chelsea Townsend, Angela Perkins, Chris Noble, Sebastian Noel, Desiree Afuye and Bradley Kleihege.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018 1:00 am

North Manchester native lives dream on 'Survivor'

Kellyn Bechtold puts skills to test on CBS series

COREY MCMAKEN | The Journal Gazette

Kellyn Bechtold remembers sitting on the floor with her parents watching the first season of “Survivor.” And now the North Manchester native is living it.

The 31-year-old career counselor will be seen on the new season of “Survivor.”

Bechtold lives in Denver, but her family is still in the North Manchester area and she says she visits often. Even when she's away from home, the family shares “Survivor” nights by texting and group messaging with her parents and brother's family. The family has “Survivor” pools and even trivia games at Christmas.

“I'm a huge fan of 'Survivor,'” she says. “I love watching it. It's a family affair.”

The bulk of Bechtold's season was filmed last summer in Fiji. The show premieres at 8 p.m. Wednesday on CBS and the winner will be crowned in a live cast reunion at the end of the season. The Sole Survivor takes home $1 million.

Fiji has been the backdrop for many recent seasons of the competition series where “castaways” are divided into tribes and must survive the elements, competitions and ultimately Tribal Council where one contestant is voted off the island each episode.

Bechtold says her Hoosier roots helped prepare her for the challenge. For one, she notes the strong sense of community and wanting to protect your community that she experienced growing up in the Midwest. She also learned the importance of hard work.

“If you want to get somewhere, I learned growing up on a farm in Indiana that you've got to get out there and work hard for what you want,” she says. “And I carried that with me as I went and started 'Survivor.'”

Bechtold spoke with The Journal Gazette by phone about preparing for and appearing in the show's 36th season. The conversation has been edited.

What did you do in preparation for the show?

Bechtold: I'm not exactly the most athletic person, but to get ready for the game I did start working out a bit.

My doctor told me, “Just put on whatever weight you can.” So I really ate a lot of pizza. I became a fast-food queen! So I probably didn't do it the healthiest way, but I thought “What better way to prepare to starve on an island than to bulk up a little bit?”

That makes sense!

Bechtold: You know with Beast Mode Cowboy (two-time castaway Caleb Reynolds), who was a really ripped guy ...

And he had to be medically evacuated from “Kaoh Rong” after collapsing in a competition!

Bechtold: Yeah, they really struggle. So I was like, “Eh, I don't need to be buff, I just need to be sure I have enough stores to get me through.”

Was there anything mentally you did or studied to prepare?

Bechtold: Of course you need to learn how to make fire, so I went and bought flint and was practicing starting fires in my kitchen. (Fire-making is a skill castaways need not only to survive at camp, but it is also used as a tie-breaker in some Tribal Councils when deciding who will leave the game. Castaways are given flint to help make fire.)

The kitchen? That sounds safe!

Bechtold: I was living in Chicago at the time and there wasn't really a place outdoors. (laughs) So I was practicing starting fire with flint and newspaper in the kitchen. You'll have to tune in to see if that really prepares you for making fire out in the wild.

Mentally, I did do a lot of meditation and a lot of really trusting my body and my mind and preparing for being out there all alone. So I had my own personal mantras.

What exactly do you do as a career counselor?

Bechtold: One of the things I do is work with people who are looking to change jobs or have been unexpectedly let go from their jobs to get ready for their next career. Who they are, what they want to do and how they get there is the career prep that I help people through.

How does that translate to being on a beach with “Survivor” castaways?

Bechtold: Learning how to interview and being prepped for a job search is a lot about understanding who the person is that you're talking to across the table. What do they need? What are they looking for in the next person they want to work with?

And on “Survivor,” you are sitting across from people and you need to learn,what are they looking for and who do they want to work with?

So I think it translates really well when you think about interviewing and putting forth the version of yourself that the person across the table wants to see, and the game of “Survivor” is a lot of that.

The theme of this season is “Ghost Island” with the idea that the mistakes of former players are haunting you. Were there any mistakes that, going into this, you really hoped you wouldn't make?

Bechtold: Of course you don't know what you're getting into (as far as the theme of the season), but I did have a few rules to myself.

First of all, my dad's advice was, “Don't be a Debbie.” (laughs) (Eccentric and outspoken two-time castaway Debbie Wanner was seen by some tribemates as unreliable and overconfident.) I can be quirky, and I can be odd and all that stuff. But I think my dad meant to try to read the room, and that was my goal – to really try to always read the room. 

One of the mistakes I didn't want to make going in was to let my emotions get the best of me. You go into this game and you play with your head, and these people aren't your friends. You're there to win $1 million, so keep your head in the game.

You compared yourself to previous castaways Kelley Wentworth and Aubry Bracco. How crazy is it that a future castaway might be saying, “Oh, I want to be a Kellyn?”

Bechtold: That's crazy! I haven't even really thought about that to be honest.

I guess overall, to think that someday somebody is going to want to play “Survivor” like Kellyn is an honor and it's humbling. If people say “I want to play like Kellyn,” I hope they think “I'm going to do what's best for me, and I'm going to work really hard to build my own dreams, and those can come true.”

As a fan of this game, how did things stack up to your expectations?

Bechtold: On the first day, all 20 of us walk up to the mat on the beach to meet Jeff Probst. You look around and you see the other competitors, and people have their “Survivor” buffs on.

I think I remember reaching up and touching my head and being like “Holy cow, I'm wearing a 'Survivor' buff ... that is Jeff Probst. This whole world that I've seen on TV is just coming to life. It's bigger, it's grander, it's more colorful, it's so much more intense and there's so much more adrenaline rushing through my body than I ever expected.”

So from being a fan watching on TV to then getting to be in it, it was just larger than life and anything I ever expected.

As someone who watches the show myself, I've always wondered if you really walk all the way from camp to tribal? Or do they, like, stop you part way and get you on ATVs?

Bechtold: (laughs) I don't know if that's something I'm allowed to answer!

I guess what I can say is “Survivor” is real, and it is hard. So any time that viewers think that castaways get food snuck to them or “Oh, they're actually sleeping in a five-star hotel” – no, it's the real deal.

Obviously there are things you can't talk about to avoid spoiling the show for viewers. How hard has it been to keep these secrets for months?

Bechtold: You know, to play “Survivor,” you've got to be good at keeping secrets and so it hasn't been that hard.

We often hear “fire is life” in “Survivor.” What for you, outside the game, is “life?”

Bechtold: The fire for me in life is trying my best all the time to live in the present. And what that means for me is always being so appreciative that every day is a gift. With my family, my friends and the life of adventure that I've chosen to live, but also been privileged to live.

I recognize my privilege and also recognize my ability to work hard to live a life of adventure. So “fire is life” for me is living in the present with gratitude, always being open to the next adventure.

Veterans of this show often pop up in later seasons. Would you do it again?

Bechtold: (chuckles) If “Survivor” ever asked me to play again, I would be out there on whatever faraway island it would be as soon as possible.

I've been saying for years that I would love to see a cold-weather season of “Survivor,” like Alaska ...

Bechtold: OK, except that! Nope, I'm not doing that! (laughs) Put an asterisk by my answer!