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San Clemente Journal

Alec Merlino – CBS’s Survivor Castaway

Mar 01, 2019 12:01PM ● By Rebecca Parsons

Alec Merlino in Survivor


by Rebecca Parsons
photos by Robert Voets, CBS

Alec Merlino is one of those people you can’t help but like. He’s smart, charming, and athletic, and he radiates positivity. It’s for those very reasons that he was selected by CBS as one of twenty castaways to compete on Season 37 of Survivor: David vs. Goliath.

Merlino grew up in San Clemente, scouring the local beaches and partaking in any and every challenge his daredevil friends would throw his way. He found himself in the water regularly and spent his free time surfing, swimming, and competing on his high school’s water polo team. When Survivor called it seemed like a match made in heaven: Merlino had spent his entire life living as a castaway of sorts. 

We had the chance to sit down with Merlino and pick his brain on the mental, physical, and social aspects of the game. Here’s what he had to say. 

 What inspired you to go out for the show?
The idea of living on an island, climbing up coconut trees, using a machete, and participating in the challenges was very appealing to me. It was something we would watch religiously as a family and I always told my parents, ‘I’m going to be on that show someday. I’m going to win immunity, and Jeff’s going to say my name.’ As I got older and started bartending, my friends told me I could sell anything. I knew I had to do it. 
When you got to the island, what about the show was like you expected it to be and what was different?

It’s not real until you step on the mat and Jeff announces the new season. And I was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ On TV you see us but you don’t see the amount of people that work on the show, which is literally hundreds of people that are standing behind the camera. It’s crazy. 

There’s also no how-to handbook on how to play the game. You just get thrown on an island with a bunch of people you don’t know and have never talked to before. It’s a really interesting game and something that you wouldn’t be able to replicate. 
What were some of the highlights?

The whole thing …. everyone really wants to make it to the end but I really appreciated each minute I had out there. Even though it was raining every day and we were miserable there were a lot of times that we’d go to bed and I’d think, ‘I’m on Survivor right now. That is so sick!’ What you don’t see is that we have a good time out there—we’re laughing, we’re telling stories, and we’re cracking up down by the water. Even though it’s a messed up game, sometimes, you do have a lot of fun out there.

What were the biggest challenges?
The weather was so hard to deal with. We had a really terrible shelter for the first six days and there was this really miserable rain that would not let up. There was one night where we had been wet for three or four days and it was pouring rain, windy, I had no dry clothes, and the sun was going down. I was standing under the shelter and I was wet and cold, my hands were pruning, and I remember thinking, ‘It’s probably 5 or 6 pm and I have to sit like this for eleven hours until the sun comes up.’ It was in that moment that I realized just how gnarly, real, and intense the game is. 

What were your thoughts on the David vs. Goliath theme and being cast 
as a Goliath?
Everyone calls me the biggest head scratcher of the Goliath tribe. I was up against a doctor, a Hollywood writer, a famous wrestler, an engineer, and a lawyer. Career-wise I wouldn’t see a bartender as a Goliath career, per say. But once I understood everything I thought, ‘Yeah, I’m a Goliath.’  I think it’s more how you perceive yourself – I’m very competitive and I’ve always looked at myself as a winner. Everyone had a little bit of both in them and then there were certainly people that formed into Goliath’s during the show.
What was the biggest takeaway from the experience?

Alec wins Individual Immunity.

 The weather was so gnarly but the silver lining is that we all learned a lot. I remember when I realized I had dry socks. My sweatshirt was still damp and wet but I had dry socks. It made me realize that everything in life, besides what you need to live, is a luxury. The thing that kept us going out there was the people around us. It sounds so cliché, but appreciate the people that have your back and love you and don’t ever take that for granted. Because that’s what we really crave in life, not material things. Survivor also teaches you what you’re actually capable of and it teaches you not to quit. You learn that you’re capable of so much more than you ever thought. 

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