The Compelling Motivation of a 'Survivor' Winner

Photo: Monty Brinton/2016 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

In 16 years and 33 seasons, Adam Klein, ’13, has never missed an episode of the CBS reality show Survivor. This past year, his superfandom earned him a casting call and, ultimately, the grand prize of $1 million.

Klein, along with the rest of his family members, had long dreamed of competing on the show. In fact, he and his mother applied together a few years ago. That’s why it was particularly bittersweet when Klein received a spot in early 2016: The previous summer, his mother had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” he said, but “there was no question what I should do. Everyone agreed . . . we needed something to look forward to.”

He left for Fiji in late March and was soon climbing his way up the various stages of competition, buoyed by the knowledge that “she was sending me all of her energy.” Although the results wouldn’t be revealed until December, he flew home in May knowing he’d won, which he shared with his mother upon his return. She died within the hour.

The loss was devastating, but recalling a woman “who always lived at 100 percent,” Klein realized he had an opportunity: He created an online fund-raising campaign for lung cancer research, and partnered with CBS and StandUp2Cancer, a fund-raising organization, to request donations during the show’s finale. Including $100,000 of his prize money, Klein raised more than $400,000.

“You have two choices when tragedy strikes,” he says. “You can bury your head and take pity on yourself, or you can lift your head up and live.”