Two Alums Compete on New Season of ‘Survivor’
“Survivor” season 39 contestants Noura Salman ’04, left, and Chelsea Walker ’13 help make up “the most powerful group of women we’ve ever had,” host Jeff Probst said in a promo video.
Thirty-nine days, 20 people, one survivor: It’s a phrase that Jeff Probst, host of reality show stalwart “Survivor,” has enthusiastically recited to kick off many a season.
This time, he could’ve added, “two Terps.”
The cast of “Survivor” season 39, “Island of the Idols,” which premieres with a 90-minute episode tonight at 8 on CBS, features a pair of University of Maryland alumni. Chelsea Walker ’13, who studied broadcast journalism and is now a digital content creator for IMDb in Los Angeles, and Noura Salman ‘04, who studied accounting and is now a health and wellness coach and entrepreneur in North Potomac, Md., help make up “the most powerful group of women we’ve ever had,” Probst said in a promo video.
The show will maroon Walker, Salman and their fellow contestants on Fiji to compete in physical and mental challenges and vote each other off until a sole “survivor” claims a $1 million prize. Before watching them in their journeys to outwit, outplay and outlast, see how these two Terps made it to the “Survivor” stage:
Walker has been a “Survivor” fan since she began watching in season 1—when she was 8. She and her brothers created a pool where they’d draw contestant names out of a hat and emerge victorious if that player ended up winning the season.
“It’s kind of been that one show that’s stuck with me,” Walker said. “Even at Maryland when I was in a sorority, I still made time for ‘Survivor.’”
That devotion led her in 2013 to submit her first audition tape (which has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube). When producers didn’t select her, she tried again, and again, and again—10 times, she estimates, in the last six years. She describes her older videos as “so cringe,” but this time, she veered from that super-fan angle and showed more vulnerability—even cried. Finally, while working at the Sundance Film Festival, she got the call.
“I lost it,” Walker said. “I started screaming, running up and down the streets.”
She doubled down on her prep from there. The former UMD club soccer player had four gym memberships—“I don’t recommend people do that,” she said—cut out caffeine and alcohol, and rewatched a bunch of old seasons. She’d take screengrabs of puzzles used in challenges and buy similar ones on Etsy to practice at home. The dedication took a hit on her social life, but the Jeff Probst cutout at her desk probably gave people an idea of what she was up to.
Now, after getting to live out her childhood dream, and with her entertainment business background, Walker has a newfound appreciation for the seriousness of the game.
“People always ask, ‘Are you getting help behind the scenes?’ The answer is a hard no,” she said. “There’s no toilet paper, no hairbrushes.”
Salman admits that her “Survivor” fandom started out the “complete opposite” of her fellow Terp’s—for a while, she didn’t even know what the show was. Friends told her that she’d be a good fit, and eventually, she went back and watched seasons that sounded interesting.
“OK, I get along with people. OK, I’m physically strong,” said Salman, who competed in triathlons with a club team at UMD. “This does suit me.”
Like Walker, she didn’t make it on her first try, auditioning five times since 2012. While her first tapes presented a pretty composed, even contrived image, the key for her latest was leaving her resume behind.
“’Survivor’ doesn’t want that,” she said. “They don’t want to know about you, they want to know who you are. What’s Noura like on the playground? This time around, I was like, ‘I know I’m awesome.’”
While that big personality got her on the show, Salman knew it could play as both a strength and a weakness.
“I’m intense, so that’s gonna help me perform, but it can be overwhelming for people,” she said. “I’m not a good liar. Friends will say, ‘Do I look fat in this?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yeah.’”
So to prepare, besides also ordering “Survivor”-inspired puzzles, as well as flint to practice the art of fire-making, Salman upped her yoga and meditation to help with patience and focus. While she worked out often, the already-lean coach also ate more than usual to gain weight and prep for the limited diet on the island, going against her usual advice for health and wellness clients.
Despite the challenges—even her mom advised maybe not wasting her time auditioning once more—she’d do it all over again.
“You have to go through a lot of noes and rejections to get what you want, and most people give up too quickly,” Salman said. “I almost didn’t have this amazing experience because I listened to the noes.”
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