While most students in Currier House dining hall chatted and studied on the night of Oct. 20, a group in the back, drenched and exhausted, drew confused and curious glances from Currierites. The final three contestants in Harvard Survivor — Abigail Romero ’23, Conor R. Meyer ’26, and Jonah W. Brenner ’25, shivering and cold from persistent rain from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. — wait to see who will be voted off by the students who had played alongside them just hours before.
The event, hosted by Swati Goel ’25, Terry M. McCafferty ’26, and Meyer, began when 16 players arrived at Cambridge Common at 9 a.m. By the end of the final tribal council, one victor would walk away with a $100 bill.
Along the way, the contestants battled through different challenges, searched for hidden idols, and experienced “blindsiding” — a term from Survivor that refers to voting out an unaware contestant.
To arrange the event, Goel sent out emails inviting people to apply to be a part of the gameplay, garnering attention for what she hopes will become a new Harvard tradition.
“Honestly, I just wanted to have fun. This random email popped up in my inbox one day,” says Romero. Romero was excited to get into the game to meet new people and explore new communities, as well as to meet Goel, a former player on the popular CBS show. Romero was familiar with the game, having watched the show for many years, and was excited to jump in.
Preparation for execution and production of the game started at the beginning of the semester. Working with limited resources, McCafferty designed the different challenges included in gameplay, testing contestants’ ingenuity, endurance, and speed. Meyer focused on writing the rules and expectations of the game.
The group met regularly and gathered supplies, with Goel focusing on publicizing the event to create buzz at Harvard. Organizers also read through the applications of potential contestants and tried to create a fair cast. They didn’t want it to be possible for one friend group to be overly represented and have strong bonds between people before gameplay began. A production team of about five worked with Goel, Meyer, and McCafferty to make the game possible, taking on tasks such as playing the role of the host — whom fans call Jeff — and filming the game the day of.
“It’s been a long time in the making. We really have been making this an event,” says Goel. Many of the producers and contestants of Survivor Harvard are big fans of the show and want to see it come alive in their lives by bringing it to Harvard.
The players brought out their best gameplay, focusing on every aspect of Survivor’s motto: “Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast.” Outwitting manifested as trying to beat opponents by making allies they could trust and building what players call social resumes. Outplaying took the form of competing in immunity and reward challenges, from mixing together dining hall food for opponents to finish in three minutes to holding a cup on a flat extended hand while balancing on one foot. Outlasting involved enduring a frigid and merciless Cambridge downpour, potentially a difficult task given that many players brought only t-shirts and light rain jackets.
As the day went on, players made alliances, found immunity idols, and won immunity challenges as they were voted off each tribal council. Slowly the number of contestants dwindled.
Back in Currier that evening, as the final tribal council concludes, McCafferty stood in front of the final three, holding a piece of paper containing the name of the winner of Harvard Survivor. Not long after he opens the piece of paper, Meyer’s fists punch the open air.
Meyer’s path to victory was marked by maneuvering through both the social and physical games.
“No matter what tribe I’m on, I’m gonna try to make the alliance that had the most people that were closest to me where I was their number one so that if anything happened or my name got thrown out they would tell me,” Meyer says. “It feels good. It’s been one of my childhood dreams to win Survivor.”
During the reunion that took place after the final vote, some other players also noted a blindside vote that Meyer had been a part of that resulted in someone going home that round.
“I really like villains on Survivor, but I know that my actual personality is pretty straight up,” says Meyer. “I was willing to go back on some deals if it was the right strategic move, but I tried to be as straight-up as I could.”
For many, the successful completion of the game was a dream that was a long time coming. “My sister Julia, Zoe, and I, whenever we were at summer vacation somewhere or on trips to national parks or even just around our house, would do Survivor challenges,” McCafferty says. “I have had a dream of putting on my own Survivor for a really long time.”