Six weeks after Elizabeth Olson gave birth to her son by cesarean section, she started running and working out five to seven days a week.
She refreshed her memory on Bible verses she learned as a child, began working puzzles on her phone, memorizing math problems, watching survival videos on YouTube — but not the obvious ones, such as how to start a fire.
“Anybody can learn to start a fire,” Olson said this past week. “How do you open a coconut?”
The Longview resident couldn’t say whether all her mental and physical preparation paid off, but, starting Wednesday, fans of the longtime hit reality show “Survivor” will be able to watch her progress each week when the Emmy-award winning series returns to CBS for its 37th season.
The show is set this season in the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji, with 20 people divided into two tribes: “David vs. Goliath.”
“You know it’s going to be hard,” Olson said, explaining why she turned to relearning scriptures to help her through her time on “Survivor.”
“I knew I wasn’t going to have my Bible,” she said, but she knew she would need God’s word during her time on the show.
“You don’t really have anybody that’s on your side,” said Olson, who is in the David tribe on the show.
Olson, 31, and her husband of about eight years, Kirk, have three children — 6-year-old Karis, 4-year-old Abi and Shane, now 11 months. Olson works at Texas Roadhouse, where she helps coordinate between the kitchen staff and serving staff. Her husband is from Longview, which is why they moved here almost five years ago after meeting at a Christian ranch where they were working in Colorado.
She’s had a date with “Survivor” for most of her life — although she wasn’t allowed to watch the show as a child. She’s from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but also spent part of her childhood in Kentucky. Olson is one of eight children, from a family she describes as Christian and conservative. Her father had concerns about the show, but she was allowed to watch one season when she was about 11.
That was all it took.
“I dreamed from the time I was a little kid, the first time I ever saw an episode of ‘Survivor,’ “ Olson said. “I literally knew in my bones, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m going to do this one day.’ I love competition. I love adventure, and I don’t really care about the limelight or about the fame at all, not at all. I knew I could beat everybody. I knew I was smart enough.”
She’s also a social person, she said, and understands people.
“Everything about this game is literally the core of who I am,” she said, explaining that as an adult, she binge-watched past “Survivor” seasons over a period of about six months.
She started pursuing the show a couple of years ago through an online application and an open casting call in the Dallas area, but when a “Survivor” representative first called her, she couldn’t be on the show because she was pregnant. She let the show know, though, after he was born — at the same time that someone from the show was calling her back based on the open casting call.
“I’m an extremely unique person,” she said of why she might have been tapped for “Survivor.” “I’ve had a pretty unique life.”
While she was living in Kentucky, she got involved in 4-H and showing horses. Her signature cowboy hat goes everywhere with her — even into the delivery room three times, her show biography says.
Her baby, Shane, was 3 months old when she flew to Los Angeles for the final phase of casting. She knew then she’d have to stop breastfeeding.
“To follow my dream, I’m doing this,” she recalled of her decision to wean him. “It’s a huge change and not something I would normally do.”
She recalls the faces of people in the room for that final casting phase: Their “jaws dropped” when she told them about her baby, she said. It made her realize it wasn’t something she should tell people on the island — but she couldn’t say whether she did.
She laughed as she said she wasn’t sure her husband has ever watched an entire episode of “Survivor.”
“He loves me so much. We’ve been through a lot,” she said. “When the whole ‘Survivor’ thing was starting to happen, he was super-supportive. I was shocked. This is a huge deal, and we’ve got three little kids.”
She said she didn’t worry about her children while she was gone for the 39 days of filming — plus a little more time for travel, because she knew they would be fine with their dad. (Contestants who are voted off the show don’t return home until all the filming is complete to help keep the results secret.)
“My husband is a rock star and a half. He deserves a gold medal,” Olson said.
She said she went into the season wanting to represent moms — and rednecks, too.
“I think I did both pretty well,” Olson said
She didn’t know during casting that the show’s theme this year would be David vs. Goliath. Given her religious background, it was “super-exciting” when she learned about the theme.
“I definitely want to represent the David tribe well,” Olson said. “I think a lot of East Texans will resonate with the David Tribe being the underdog, being the one that didn’t get spoon-fed all the advantages. You had to work for what you got, and it doesn’t come easy.”