For years, all Dawn Meehan wanted was a shot at playing the game of “Survivor,” to outwit, outlast and outplay other castaways and win a $1 million prize.
She started applying at the second season and was almost part of a cast on a later season. Finally, she got a chance to play in the show’s 23rd season, "Survivor: South Pacific."
There, when the two tribes merged, a member of her tribe flipped alliances and her tribe members were systematically voted out. She was voted out on Day 28 and was the third jury member.
Now, she’s getting a second shot at the game.
Meehan is one of the 10 returning players on the Bikal tribe in “Survivor: Caramoan — Fans vs. Favorites,” which premieres Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. on CBS.
After the initial shock of the invitation, the 42-year-old South Jordan mother of six adopted children and English professor at Brigham Young University said she “was obviously super, super excited.”
While her striped knee socks may be back (she wears them to remind her of her family and the striped socks her children wear), don’t expect Meehan to play the game of "Survivor" the same way twice.
“I’m putting more pressure on myself because I want to do better,” Meehan said. She watched “Survivor: South Pacific” and watched for ways she could improve playing the game, including how to be more aggressive in making decisions and, of course, last longer.
“I want to challenge myself and play the strategic part of the game differently,” she said. She’s seen all of the other seasons except for “Survivor: Philippines,” and knows how all but one of the other returning favorites played on their seasons.
“I knew I was going into the game playing differently and I needed to let go (of) preconceived 'this is what they are like,'” she said. Two of the returning players are from her season — John Cochran and Brandon Hantz.
Physically, she feels she is prepared for living in very primitive conditions — as she’s done it before. After “Survivor: South Pacific” aired, she and her husband trained for a Tough Mudder race, that includes 10 to 12 miles of obstacles, so she stayed in shape. And she put on 6 pounds before the show.
Having been on the show once, she knows what to anticipate in terms of surviving on a primitive island with minimal tools.
“I was legitimately hungry,” Meehan said of her time on “Survivor: South Pacific.”
In “Survivor,” players are in tribal groups and at about halfway through the 39 days the tribes merge. After they merge, players that are subsequently voted out are part of a jury to decide which of the final three will receive the grand prize.
And in looking for a final three, she said she would start with Cochran and Hantz, as she knows them from “Survivor: South Pacific.”
“I’ll first seek out the first two players from my season and get a gauge of where they are at,” Meehan said. “I feel like I trust both of them.”
And she’s been a fan of 27-year-old Erik Reichenbach, who was on “Survivor: Micronesia” and would like to see if a final-three scenario would work with him.
Even as she’s preparing for the airing of “Survivor,” she sees herself a mother.
“I like where my life is being a mom and a teacher,” Meehan said.
She goes to the local library consistently and it’s the place where she gets recognized the most.
Her children have autographed photos of other Survivors on their walls and Meehan still keeps in touch with the cast from Season 23.
Meehan, who lives in the Founders Park 8th Ward, South Jordan Utah Founders Park Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now teaches the Valiant 11 Primary class. And a few of the children in her class have seen “Survivor.”
Being a Mormon didn’t really come up much on “Survivor: South Pacific” broadcasts, but she did have a few off-camera conversations with some of the other castaways.
“I wear (my religion) on my heart and not on my sleeve,” Meehan said. “It’s intrinsic to who I am.”
And she’s hoping to represent her religion well, while recognizing that it’s a televised game.
“This time, I see it a lot more as a game,” she added.
The lessons that she has learned from being on "Survivor" include spiritual ones.
“I believe I was half meeting my potential in a spiritual and physical sense,” Meehan said of her life before being on the show, which “requires you to see if you can give 100 percent.”
“Life is more fulfilling when you challenge yourself,” Meehan said. “Now, I’m not as nervous about challenges.”
And she encourages her family to set challenging goals for themselves as she and her husband have them set physical and academic goals. Including a trio of them who wanted to learn how to do a back handspring. They enrolled in a gym class and within a few weeks, they were doing two back handsprings in a row.
“Growth takes place and life is more satisfying,” Meehan said. “It’s exciting to see what your body can do.”
No matter how the game ends up, there is one thing Meehan can count on.
After cheering on her mom in “Survivor” twice in 11 months, one of Meehan's younger daughters is hoping that the show continues for several years so that she can at least apply to be on it.
“Survivor: Caramoan Islands — Fans vs. Favorites” airs Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on CBS.
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