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I Will Survive

I Will Survive

by Joy Martin, Set Me Free Ministries Co-founder

I’m going to start out this week’s blog with a little confession. Almost eleven years ago now, Zach and I sat down to eat dinner in front of the TV and flipped to the final episode of the very first season of Survivor. I’ve been hooked ever since. I think a lot of the draw for me is that every season is a new study in human nature. I am always amazed at the different personalities the casting directors seem to find, and I love to watch how the relationships between castaways develop as each episode unfolds. 

In case you aren’t familiar with Survivor, let me give you the low down. Each season a group of strangers is selected to spend 39 days in a remote location. They are given little food and virtually no supplies to start off the game (although they are able to win additional food and supplies through challenges as the season goes on). Every few days, the survivors go to Tribal Council where they vote off one person. Near the end of the season, the people they vote off are placed on a jury. At the end of the 39 days, there are three people left who then “face the jury” where they are able to state their case as to why they should be awarded the $1 million prize. In the end, it’s the jury that selects the winner.   

The game has remained largely the same for the past eleven years. This season, however, something interesting happened. Survivor introduced a new “twist” to the game—Redemption Island. For the first time, being voted out during Tribal Council didn’t necessarily mean you were out of the game. No, instead of leaving the game, being voted out meant that you were sent to Redemption Island where you would compete against others who had been voted out for a chance to return to the game. 

The second unfortunate person to be voted out this season was Matt—a young, good looking man with long blonde hair and a killer smile. His crime? Congratulating the other team on winning a challenge. Early on, the audience learned something about Matt—he’s a Christian, and he wasn’t afraid to discuss his faith. And so began my fascination with how this season would play out. 

(If you’re a Survivor fan and haven’t been able to watch the finale yet, stop reading now, but be sure to come back when you’re done!)

Now, from a spectator’s perspective, I had to wonder if God would see Matt through to the end and reward him with the million dollars for his faithfulness. After all, that would be fitting. Here’s a man who didn’t really have any chance to play the game, so to speak, because he was cast out and separated from everyone else. He was able to remain true to himself and God. And because of his faith, he was rewarded. At least that’s how I thought it should end. God obviously didn’t see it that way.  

Matt spent something like 26 out of his 35 days in the game of Survivor on Redemption Island, and most of that time was spent alone. He faced duel after duel, and never lost. When he was being interviewed by the crew, Matt was honest about how he struggled with being cast out to Redemption Island. He admitted that he questioned God’s reasons for leaving him out there—alone. At one point he was given the opportunity to re-enter the game with the rest of the Survivors only to immediately be voted off and sent back to Redemption Island. In one poignant moment, Matt admitted that he had broken down, and through his tears, Matt said that God had literally been carrying him through the past several days. 

Matt had made it through every challenge that was put before him—except the last one. While attempting to balance a clay pot on the end of a wobbly board, he wavered. As the pot started to rock back and forth, I actually held my breath, and as it crashed to the ground, my head dropped and my shoulders sank. I was so disappointed to see Matt’s quest for the million dollars end. And while I was happy with the man who was awarded the million dollars and the title of Sole Survivor and thought he was deserving, I wondered why God’s plan involved seeing Matt lose after what an amazing witness he’d been. 

See, there were several times throughout the season that Matt spoke to the camera, saying that he didn’t know why God had him there, but he knew that God’s will would be done. Through it all, Matt had the opportunity to share his faith with everyone who crossed his path. He was able to pray with other Survivors and openly and honestly talk about not only his “religion” but his relationship with Jesus. Wow! What a witness. 

At the reunion show, one man said that Matt had helped him rediscover his faith. Another woman said she planned on finding a new church family when she returned home from her time playing Survivor. And in addition to the lives he touched face-to-face, millions of viewers had front-row seats to every second of it. Every time Matt prayed in the name of Jesus, every time he explained that he was there to follow God’s will for his life, every time he proclaimed his faith, millions of people saw it. Only God knows how many lives Matt touched through his ordeal on Survivor. But I’m left standing in awe. God may not have chosen Matt to win the million dollars, but I think Matt was chosen for a much greater prize—winning souls for the Kingdom. Are you willing to take the challenge? 

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