Monks hummed in perfect unison. Gongs echoed throughout the still air. Golden Buddha statues adorned the walls. Intoxicating incense mixed with thick humidity hung heavily in the air.
This was Leslie Nease's newfound reality. She was a contestant on season 15 of Survivor: China.
A fan since the show's beginning, Nease admits, "I felt called to be on the show, but, at first, it didn't make sense. Why would God want me to be on a reality television show that is often very un-Christian? I mean, most of the time people are stabbing each other in the back, lying, and cheating. But as I prayed about it, he opened my eyes to Scriptures confirming God's call to go with a spirit of love and integrity as his witness."
Her first audition was in January 2002. Sending in her written application and video tape, which connected mothering four children to being a successful Survivor, Nease was only at the beginning of a journey that would prove not only to be about Survivor but also about passionate personal faith.
Survivor is a reality show game where 16 Americans from every walk of life are stranded in the middle of nowhere and are left to fend for themselves. They're divided into two tribes of eight, and every three days they battle it out through an Immunity Challenge. The losing tribe goes to Tribal Council where they vote out one of their members. When only 10 Survivors remain in the game, they form a jury as they are voted out. This means they're officially out of the game, but they return to witness Tribal Councils and, in the end, they vote for the winner of the game's million dollar prize.
Because of the show's popularity and revered monetary winnings, approximately 30,000 people audition for each Survivor season. Knowing the odds of being selected as a contestant were against her, Nease still auditioned, feeling confident God was calling her to the show and optimistic that she would be quickly chosen. To her surprise, it took her 11 auditions—every six months for five years—before she was chosen.
"[With each new rejection,] I started to stress out thinking, What if this doesn't happen?" Nease admits. "But the Lord seemed to say, What if it doesn't? Do you still trust me? That was challenging because it shifted the focus off the show and onto my heart and motives."
Although she shed many tears over not being chosen over and over, Nease realized that sometimes God's lessons are more about the journey than the anticipated destination. But still, she felt strongly that God was leading her to continue auditioning. "God has given me an incredible sense of adventure and a desire for a good challenge," Nease says. "Survivor seemed perfect for me! So I kept trying."