Forming work tribes through “Survivor”


Addie Gleason

Art teacher Katy Mangrich and journalism adviser Debra Klevens analyze the “Survivor” competitors together. Mangrich won the competition a couple times in the past by picking the correct contestant that she believed would win. “[Winning] was exciting. I’ve picked a couple people for Klevens when she was not available for pick day, and she’s won on my picks too. I’d say I’m pretty good at making picks, whether it’s luck or whether I have good intuition,” Mangrich said.

English, art and special education staff await anxiously every Wednesday night, eyes glowing from the TV screen light, ears listening as names are read. This night’s elimination announcement would determine their chance of victory later in the season. Was this their moment of success or demise?

Thirteen years ago, a group of staff members and their families joined together to participate in a “Survivor” competition. Initially created by librarian Brian Welch, the competition formed bonds across departments over the group’s shared love for “Survivor,” a reality TV show featuring contestants living on an island for almost 39 days. The contestants, split into tribes, participate in physical and mental challenges, with the losers going to Tribal Council to vote off one member of their tribe.

“I found a bunch of people; we all talked about ‘Survivor,’ and it was a way to interact with different people and have another reason to get excited about watching. Amongst the group, there’s a community that formed,” Welch said. “Everyone’s got their little ideas [about who will win], and we geek out about it. It’s another way to touch base with someone and have some fun.”

The group meets in person to take turns choosing contestants at the start of the season, with each participant choosing two people to root for in the hopes that their contestant will win the season. Afterward, it is up to each participant to keep up with watching the new episodes.

“[Journalism adviser Debra] Klevens, myself and [former receptionist Vickie] Hankammer all compulsively text throughout the episodes, depending on how heated the episode gets,” art teacher Katy Mangrich said. “It almost adds a competitive nature, like a combative, playful energy to the [work] relationship, so it makes for fun banter. It makes for conversation and things that are not school related, which is nice to take a mental break from school-related things.”

Once there are about 14 contestants left, the group makes “edits” to their choices, basing their choices on a contestant’s gameplay, social standing and confessionals — where contestants speak to the camera about game strategy or their personal life. Principal secretary Susan Lowenstein joined the competition in 2013 after hearing about it from Hankammer.

“I had no idea they were doing [the competition], and I was very excited to hear that I could be a part of it. I met people I didn’t know [like] the interpreters in the group and some of the special education teachers; it’s been fun,” Lowenstein said.

The group consists of Welch, Lowenstein, Hankammer, Mangrich, Klevens and DHH interpreter Jackie Vickrey, with English teacher Kaleb Schumer being the group’s newest addition.

“‘Survivor’ is something that I really like and enjoy. Knowing that there are other people in the building that appreciate it too has been pretty cool. Given that I started [teaching] in the pandemic year, it has been hard reaching out, so this has been a step in the right direction,” Schumer said.

A total of seven people participated this year; however, the number is constantly changing. As new staff members discover their shared love for “Survivor,” the group continues to invite new participants to join the fun. Throughout the competition, staff members found a community of shared interests at work and a furthered love for “Survivor.”

“Watch ‘Survivor.’ It’s a good show to learn about people. Every year you get to watch people from different walks of life and how they mix,” Welch said. “There’s a lot of genuine moments that are a reflection of what’s going on in the United States, and social issues get pulled out. It’s more than just a TV show.”