Kent alumnus to compete in ‘Survivor’

Malolo Tribe members (Back Row L-R: James Lim, Jacob Derwin, Laurel Johnson, Michael Yerger, Janna Bowman, Front Row L-R: Stephanie Gonzalez, Brendan Shapiro, Stephanie Johnson, Libby Vincek, Donathan Hurley) will 10 of the 20 castaways competing on SURVIVOR this season, themed “Ghost Island,” when the Emmy Award-winning series returns for its 36th season premiere on, Wednesday, February 28 (8:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS Entertainment ©2017 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Dylan Reynolds

Jacob Derwin has been enthralled by the reality TV competition “Survivor” since he first watched the show as a four-year-old. He has seen every season at least once and studied the game as a Survivor blogger.

Now, the 22-year-old Kent State graduate has the opportunity of a lifetime — a chance to compete in the upcoming season.

“I do something like this for the fun of it, for the excitement, for the adventure,” Derwin said.

It was his love for adventure and winning that led the New York native to apply for the show every year since he turned 18. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Derwin was selected to compete in the 36th season, “Survivor: Ghost Island,” set to premiere Feb. 28 on CBS.

“They didn’t cast me for my looks,” he said. “I got on because I think I’m a good storyteller. I’m good at explaining things and talking about things in a very unique, funny, personable manner.”

Personality plays a major role in “Survivor,” with contestants forming social alliances and voting disliked players off the island. But physical strength is also crucial for “immunity challenges” — athletic competitions in which players on the winning team are safe from elimination.

Derwin is quick to admit he doesn’t have an ideal body for athletic competition.

“I am far and away the most out-of-shape person on the cast,” he said. “So I knew going into the game that I had to work. So I was in the gym multiple times a week, running a lot, lifting, doing all this exercise I’d never done before (and) dieting.”

He ended up losing 30 pounds between the casting process and the start of the game.

“I put a lot of work in and it was worth it, because I got out there and I felt good,” he said. “I could have felt sluggish and slobbish, but I felt like I had energy.”

In addition to his workouts, Derwin prepared by practicing survival techniques in his backyard. He tied knots, gathered sticks and lit fires with flint.

“I felt comfortable with certain aspects (of outdoor survival),” he said, although there were some things he couldn’t practice in New York. “I still hadn’t built a shelter before or chopped open a coconut. Those were all going to be brand-new.”

While his physical preparation took months, Derwin said he’s been working on social improvement his whole life.

“I was kind of alienated and bullied a bit as a kid,” he said. “I really kind of pulled myself up by my bootstraps and figured things out myself.”

He left New York to study in Kent, meeting new people and improving his social skills in the process.

“I appreciate all that Kent gave me,” he said. “I appreciate the people that I met there. It was a great idea for me to get out of New York for a while and Ohio was — I consider it a second home.”

One of the people he met at Kent was associate professor of journalism Mitch McKenney, who co-led a spring break trip to Cyprus that Derwin participated in.

“He is determined,” McKenney said. “He’s a pretty good diplomat too. So if you had a situation where you needed to bring a couple of factions together who don’t agree, I can see him figuring out a way to say, ‘What if we just do this?’ And it’s something that would be satisfying to people with different opinions.”

With his friends, professors and millions of others watching, Derwin hopes to use his experiences with loneliness to empathize with other contestants.

“I guess it’s a little bit cheesy, but I know I have the ability in everyday life to talk to some person and comfort them because I know how I wanted to be comforted when I was down,” he said. “Going into the game, I think that plays into my strengths. I can always make people comfortable around me.”

But his empathy and comforting demeanor benefit Derwin outside of Survivor, as well. His day jobs — preschool teacher and Jewish music instructor — require the same amount of approachability.

Both of Derwin’s parents are Jewish educators, his mother a schoolteacher and his father a youth group adviser, so he joked he “really had no choice” when choosing a career path. The first time he taught music was in high school as a camp song leader, and he has been teaching songs to different groups of kids ever since.

“Think of it like a youth pastor with his guitar and stuff, except I’m Jewish,” Derwin said. “(Music is) a different way to approach faith and approach prayer. It’s a more communal experience. It makes it a more communal, social, musical, artistic experience.”

In the future, he hopes to use his experience to become a singer-songwriter and voice actor. But his more immediate concern is taking home the $1 million prize for being named “Sole Survivor.”

“I am going into this game to win,” he said.

The quest for victory begins when “Survivor: Ghost Island” premieres Feb. 28 on CBS.

Dylan Reynolds is a feature writer. Contact him at [email protected]