Rather than try to eke out a living teaching snowboarding on the slopes of Mount Spokane and doing whatever jobs he could cobble together in town, Taylor Lee Stocker decided in 2014 to go to North Dakota to work in the oil fields.
It wasn’t, as he put it in a phone interview on Monday, a “fun adventure.” Still, the money was good.
But in late spring of 2015, when the snow shut down his job, Stocker had time on his hands. So he decided to try something he’d always wanted to do: apply to be on CBS’ long-running reality series “Survivor.”
Stocker, who grew up in Liberty Lake and now lives in Post Falls, is among the contestants in the 33rd edition of “Survivor,” which premieres Wednesday. The season was filmed earlier this year in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji with a “millennials vs. Gen X” theme. Stocker, 24, is in the Vanua Tribe of millennials (along with Yakima resident Michelle Schubert).
“I basically grew up watching the show,” Stocker said. “I remember being a young kid and seeing the first episode of the first season, and not really understanding the concepts, but thinking this is kind of cool.”
He loved the idea of going out into the wilderness, something he does often, whether for fishing, camping or other adventures. It was “crazy and appealing to me at the same time,” he said.
When he decided to apply, the 2011 Central Valley High School graduate pulled together some clips of himself snowboarding and slack-lining, “just a bunch of crazy things. My goal was to make a video that would give them a perfect example of my personality, in under five minutes or so.”
He spent a week on the video, then sent it in. And heard nothing. He was about to check it off his list when he heard from “Survivor” producers in early November that he’d made it to the next round. He went to the casting event in Los Angeles, and kept moving on. While he was never told he’d made the show, he wasn’t ever cut. He said he figured he had a 1 in 75 chance of making it. “The best gambling odds I’ve ever had,” Stocker said. “I had high hopes.”
Survivor, which premiered as a summer series in 2000, takes a group of people to a remote, typically tropical place, throws up a bunch of different challenges, gives them meager supplies and films it all. Each week, contestants are eliminated, and at the end, the winner claims a $1 million prize. The host, as it has been for all 16 years, is Jeff Probst.
Stocker was born in California and his family moved to Liberty Lake from Seattle in 2000. The son of Lee and Angie Stocker, he started working at Mount Spokane in high school.
“It’s been a great way to ski for free,” he said.
The past few summers he worked for a window cleaning company in downtown Spokane, cleaning high rises and other buildings.
All this outdoor work helped prepare him for “Survivor,” he said. He did what he could to get ready for the heat. He would hang out in saunas and go on really long runs. He was already pretty lean, and knew that might be an issue on “Survivor,” where contestants typically lose weight. So Stocker opted for a high-protein, high-calorie diet to help him build some extra muscle, and give his body something to burn while on the island.
“Every week I could go and have a ton of pizza or a pot of spaghetti,” he said with a laugh. “It was awesome.”
Stocker can’t talk at all about about the filming experience, and obviously can’t indicate how long he lasts. But he can say that his “Survivor” experience has fueled his desire for other adventures – an Alaska fishing trip, perhaps – and to make a career in outdoor adventure planning.
“The whole process made me realize that I really would like to do some kind of adventuring company,” he said. “Hopefully in the next year I’ll have something set up where we’re doing vacation tours, with our primary focus on adventuring or intense sports.”
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