Chelsea Townsend’s years as a Utah Jazz Dancer didn’t really prepare her for “Survivor,” but her family did.
The Utah native, who’s on Season 36 of the hit CBS reality/competition show, said “Survivor” was “kind of a family tradition” as she was growing up in North Salt Lake.
“We all kind of hang out, having little watch parties, and talk strategy during commercial breaks,” Townsend told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We just have the funnest time with it.”
The Woods Cross High grad spent five years as a Jazz Dancer (2010-15) while she was getting a degree in exercise and sport science at the University of Utah. She was a Los Angeles Rams cheerleader in 2016. She’s been an EMT; she’s currently working as a medical assistant; she’s planning to go to graduate school to become a physician assistant.
And Townsend is a huge fan of “Survivor,” which returns Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS/Channel 2.
“I always thought — oh my gosh, I’d love to be on the show. That’s so up my alley,” she said. “Being from Utah, we were outdoorsy people. And I just thought it would be a super cool experience. But I never really thought it would be something I could do.”
Host/executive producer Jeff Probst and the casting producers at “Survivor” disagreed. Many of Townsend’s fellow contestants had been trying to get on the show for years — some for more than a decade; this was Townsend’s first attempt.
“I was really lucky,” she said. “It just worked out for me, and I feel super grateful for that.”
And she’s grateful she spent all that time strategizing with her family. The new season, subtitled “Ghost Island,” features 20 contestants who are students of the game.
“Everybody out there was a mega, mega super fan. They knew every single detail from every season. Every move ever made,” Townsend said. “It’s intimidating when you have these people that really, really seem to know what they’re doing. You would kind of hope that you’d be on a season when people don’t know a lot of the ins and outs. But everybody knew everything, so it made it pretty cutthroat.”
(“Survivor: Ghost Island” was filmed on the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji last summer.)
Every “Survivor” contestant I’ve ever spoken to — dozens, at this point — has always said it’s a lot more demanding than it appears on TV. The physical trials and deprivations are real. And for “Ghost Island,” the contestants were given only half as much rice as in past seasons, making it even tougher.
“It was definitely a lot harder than I expected, and I expected that it would be hard,” Townsend said. “And you don’t factor in how lack of food and sleep will affect your ability to function mentally.”
But the toughest part for Townsend was not being able to talk to her family and being “surrounded by a bunch of strangers, and all of them most likely going to backstab me,” she said with a laugh. “You can’t trust anything that anyone’s saying.”
Well, that is the game of “Survivor.” You have to outwit, outplay and outlast all the other contestants to win the million dollars.
Not surprisingly, her family was “ecstatic” when Townsend was cast on the show. Even less surprisingly, they were full of advice.
“They had a million opinions, like, ‘Oh, you should play this way.’ Or ‘Don’t be dumb and do this like this person did,’” said Townsend.
“My dad told me I wasn’t allowed to cry,” she said with a laugh. “He was joking, of course.”
Actually, her parents advised her to “just go out there and give it your all and try your hardest. And enjoy the experience, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Unless she’s invited back for another season at some point, which Townsend would be up for.
“Definitely,” she said. “It was so cool, even when it was so hard.”