Jacquie Berg ’05: Soul Survivor

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Competing on Survivor: Gabon gave Jacquie Berg a new life direction. Photo Courtesy of CBS

Jacquie Berg ’05 doesn’t just conquer challenges; she welcomes them. The California resident recently competed as a contestant on the CBS reality show Survivor: Gabon, where her daily life included meals of termites and ferns, and a less-than-ideal survival wardrobe.

When she applied to the show, Berg was employed as a medical sales representative with the Santa Barbara-based Medtronic. She was promoted five times in three years, accomplishing career goals she thought would take ten years or more. But her busy schedule allowed little time to do anything else, and Berg applied for the show just one day before the deadline.

“I actually hadn’t watched the show much,” she admits, “but it looked fun and extremely challenging, and I love trying to overcome obstacles like that.”

Berg’s application was a hastily made, three-minute video, but interesting enough to capture the attention of the producers, who then asked her to submit a new video. This time, she carefully demonstrated her active lifestyle, including clips of her running, swimming, cliff jumping, and even boxing.

“Madison made me very well rounded,” says Berg, who was a member of the UW track, crew, and water polo teams, as well as Kappa Kappa Gamma and the 2004 UW Homecoming Court. “Going to school with forty thousand other students, you try to stand out as much as you can. There were so many things to do at the UW that I was constantly looking for a new adventure.”

That love of adventure served her well with Survivor: Gabon. Berg and her fellow contestants were taken in for (what they thought was) a photo shoot in their business clothes, at which point the competition abruptly began — with Berg in her shirt, skirt, and heels. Dehydrated and hungry, she found the first few days difficult, eating handfuls of termites, ants, and grasshoppers for food.

“I think the hardest part was sleeping on the rocky ground,” she says. “We had no blankets, and it got extremely cold at night. We could hear live animals all around us, including panthers. I wasn’t ready for the loss of mental clarity and sharpness [that came] from being dehydrated and sleep deprived.”

Contestants compete for cash and other prizes, progressively voting members off the show until only one remains, deemed the “Sole Survivor.” Reaching that goal includes equal amounts of skill, strategy, and luck … and Berg, unfortunately, was unlucky. She kept a low profile, forming close alliances with several other contestants as a member of the Kota tribe (opposite the Fang tribe) and was ranked the most useful woman and the fifth most useful tribemate overall. But a surprise shake-up exposed her prowess for the game, and she soon found herself on the Fang tribe and the fourth contestant voted off.

A born competitor, Berg was devastated. But she put her experience to use as motivation to accomplish several big goals, recently writing a book and founding her own charity, 2nd Family, which matches underprivileged children with mentors around the world.

“When you step away from the busy pace of life, it’s a great time to truly figure out what you want to do,” she says. “Knowing that I could accomplish this made me want to accomplish a lot of other challenging goals, and I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Published in the Spring 2009 issue

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