A Real Survivor

For Survivor contestant Dirk Been, the pressure to conform tested everything he believed in.
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Dirk Been knows the not-so-subtle pull to conform to the crowd. He's watched eyes roll upward after saying something "uncool." He's had that awful feeling you get in your gut when the clique snubs you. He's experienced what it's like to say no when everyone else says yes.

No doubt about it. Dirk understands the uncomfortable intensity of peer pressure. Real well. Especially now. While the 24-year-old former youth pastor is a long way from the halls of high school, he's only a few short months away from Survivor—the hot CBS TV show that had everybody buzzing last summer. (Survivor began its second season on January 28.)

Last spring Dirk spent 15 days marooned on a remote island in the South China Sea, 10,000 miles from home. He and 15 others were part of the reality-based show that promised a million dollars to whomever could outwit, outplay and outlast all the others.

One of the Chosen Few

Dirk's Survivor experience began in the fall of '99, when he saw TV ads soliciting contestants for the show's first season. Between jobs and living with his parents in Spring Green, Wisconsin, Dirk decided to give the show a try. So he sent in a video resume.

He wasn't alone. Around 6,500 other would-be contestants did the same. Dirk was one of 48 chosen to audition. As a finalist, he was flown to California to see if he'd make the final cut.

Early on in the auditions, Dirk began to feel like an outsider.

"When I was in LA being interviewed for the show, I didn't hide the fact that I was a Christian," Dirk says. "When I added that I was still a virgin, they gave me some funny looks."

Dirk's confidence and sexual innocence were intriguing to the show's producers. They also saw him as a likable guy who certainly had camera appeal. He was the type of contestant they were looking for. In a few weeks he was flown to Malaysia. Once there, he was taken by boat and dropped just off the coast—yes, they had to swim to shore—of a jungle island called "Pulau Tiga," about 10 miles from the larger island of Borneo.

Early on, Dirk wondered if he'd fit in with the rest of the contestants. Would he click with anybody? Would he have common interests? All in all, he hoped the shared adventure would lead to friendships with the others.

Dirk didn't need to worry—at least not for a while. The moment the CBS sailboat dropped them into the water—just off the shore of the island—they were literally plunged into a team-building experience.

"It was exhilarating," says Dirk. "As we swam to shore we knew we were sharing in an adventure we would never forget. And I was sure it would unify us."

Once on the island, Dirk hit it off with other members of the Survivor cast. He could talk music, TV and movies with the best of them. They laughed together. Shared stories around the campfire. He discovered that small stuff, like the fact that he enjoyed dancing and watching Saturday Night Live, helped him fit in.

Later that first evening, the castaways had another friendship-building experience. Dirk and a couple of others tested the seaworthiness of a raft they'd built together from driftwood. The tide and the wind blew them out beyond the reef—and beyond the view of Survivor cameras. Because the waves had a mind of their own, the new friends had to work together to get the raft to go where they wanted. Eventually, they managed to land the raft back on the island.

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