Alumna finds TCU experience helped prepare her for ‘Survivor’

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TCU aims to help students prepare for their lives and career after college, and for one alumna this experience prepared her to live on a deserted island while competing for a $1 million.

Michaela Bradshaw on the third episode of SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X. Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS Entertainment ©2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Michaela Bradshaw, class of 2012, said her study abroad experience and lessons in power dynamics helped her navigate on Survivor.

“The fact that I had survived four months in Spain speaking very bad Spanish and living with a host mom, it’s not the same thing at all, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Bradshaw said. “That study abroad experience gave me the courage to jump out and do something.”

Bradshaw is one of only a few people who has competed on Survivor in back-to-back seasons. Despite not making it to the final three, in either the “Millennials vs. Gen X” or “Game Changers” season, Bradshaw became known for her spirit in challenges and sometimes explosive attitude.

Bradshaw said she wanted to do Survivor because she was “underwhelmed” with life after graduation while working as an admissions counselor for TCU.

“I did the whole work hard, study hard, get a job and paid off my student loans,” Bradshaw said. “I felt that life was a little bit boring and I was looking for some adventure and some fun.”

Bradshaw said the game goes way deeper than just starving and pushing your body and is really a “social experiment.”

“It’s a microcosm of the social dynamics that already exists in our society,” Bradshaw said. “There is power in that game, privilege in that game. Who is allowed to do what is based on who they are.”

Bradshaw said she saw these power dynamics during her time at TCU, both as a student and a staff member, whether through the actions of her classmates, not wanting to do a group project with her, or through the different expectations given for staff members. Seeing these expectations and entitlements on the Survivor island surprised her at first.

“TCU has great people, but college is a reflection of society, so coming to a realization that that was not a TCU issue, but it was an American issue, was my unexpected moment,” Bradshaw said. “It’s not a Michaela issue either. Cirie [another castaway] was able to articulate the same issue. She’s worked in corporate America as a nurse manager, she’s one of the few black women in that position. It’s just because black people are minorities, so the further up you go the more disperse we become. TCU was a great introduction for the rest of the world if you want to become successful.”

Bradshaw said she struggled with this inequity throughout her time at TCU.

“It’s not all a race thing, but it’s that certain people have more privilege and power, and it’s more acceptable for some people to do things but not others,” Bradshaw said. “The fact that it wasn’t fair, that everyone didn’t seem to be given the same latitude or the same starting place in other people’s eyes, that really frustrated me. I dealt with it in an unhealthy way, I isolated myself.”

Her time on Survivor, and the $1 million goal, taught her how to deal and maneuver around these social expectations.

“I just realized that when people look at me, they think certain things based on where they come from,” Bradshaw. “As a result, ceratinthings are more cofmtable to them. I learned in that game, okay you’ve got to get along in the world, so when you need people you have to play within the box they provide for you.”

More than just helping her overcome expectations of others, Bradshaw said Survivor helped her practice the art of facing something you’re afraid of and just doing it anyways. This was her attitude in what would end up being her final challenge of the season, she said.  

For the challenge, the castaways were perched on top of a pole in the ocean and had to use a bucket full of holes to gather water from the ocean and pour it into a tube to unlock keys. After receiving the keys the castaways had to jump off the pole, swim ashore, and complete a puzzle using heavy pieces they unlocked with the key.

Bradshaw said that as soon as she saw that challenged, she was afraid.

“I don’t get afraid often, but something about being way up in the air, just was not my cup of tea,” Bradshaw said. “The reason it was my favorite though is because I noticed when I’m afraid I just have to do whatever scares me, so the fact that I just pushed through the fear, I just thought it was fitting.”

In addition to being known for her all-out competition in challenges, Bradshaw also became known for her alliance and friendship with fellow castaway Cirie Fields. Bradshaw said she was immediately drawn to Fields after their two tribes merged.

“Mainsteam reality shows are infamous for only casting one or two African Americans at a time,” Bradshaw said. “When I was swapped to Cirie I just had to see who this person was. It was like an instant connection as soon as we started talking.”

Bradshaw said she and Fields planned to make it to the final three together, making Survivor history for two black women to make the final three.

“That idea, that hey, we’re trying to make a point that goes beyond this game that’s what created that bond,” Bradshaw said. “It’s definitely something that continues outside the game.”

As for Bradshaw’s career after the game, she’s currently working as a human resources recruiter full time, and for the group Dream Trips which Bradshaw describes as a “really cool travel club” for young professionals. 

Don’t think she’s happy to just stay where she’s at though, Bradshaw is already planning her next move – this time into real estate by purchasing a duplex or triplex she can rent out for extra income. While Bradshaw is hard working, she advises college students to realize that life after college is about more than just a job.

“Don’t think of the job as an end end goal but as a tool,” Bradshaw said. “You can have a passion and find a way for that passion to pay you. Go do something different.  If you go too many years without people thinking you’re crazy you’re not doing anything.”  

If that something different is going on a reality TV show yourself, Bradshaw warns that people should have their priorities sorted out before they go.

“It just depends, what’s in it for you,” Bradshaw said. “It is putting yourself in the position to be judged. With social media the way it is, people can be very mean. My purpose, was the million dollars. For me, that opportunity is way more important than anyone’s opinion.”

As for if we’ll ever see Bradshaw back on the island competing for a million dollars, she said that there is always hope.

“I told everyone I would do it again, just not right now,” Bradshaw said. “I want to be more like Cirie, a little older, a little wiser. A little more contained. The goal is to win.”