After 39 days of harsh competition, a new "Survivor" has been named, and sadly it isn't the Bakersfield woman who participated in the latest chapter of the long-running reality TV series.
Lauren O'Connell, a 22-year-old Frontier High graduate, competed in the 38th season of "Survivor," titled "Edge of Extinction," and made it all the way to the top five before she was voted out. South Carolina native Chris Underwood, who was ultimately named the winner, took home the $1 million prize.
O'Connell went home empty handed.
O'Connell, who was born and raised in Bakersfield and now lives in Washington, D.C., said competing in the show was both demanding and exhilarating.
"It was the most incredible experience I've ever had in my life. It's something that just can't be simulated any other way," O'Connell said. "The competitive aspect of it, the social aspects of it, just the physical and mental demands that it has on you, is incredible, and difficult, and exciting, and challenging all at once."
The months-long taping in the Mamanuca Islands of Fiji forced her to tap into deep reservoirs of physical and emotional strength.
"The hardest part is not just one thing, it's everything combined together so it's the fact that you're hungry, it's the fact that you're tired, it's the fact that you can't trust anyone," O'Connell said. "You never have a second to rest. You always have to be turned on."
She credits her ability to connect with people as a chief reason she made it to the top five.
"... My ability to make relationships with anyone and everyone" was vital, O'Connell said. "I was able to make genuine relationships with people and make them want me around, make them want to work with me."
O'Connell said the support of Bakersfield residents helped pull her through the challenges of the show.
"As the show aired, I will never be able to express my gratitude for the Bakersfield residents," O'Connell said. "I am just so thankful for the people that watch the show because it makes the show so much more powerful."
If given a second chance, O'Connell said, she would compete all over again.
"I would absolutely do it all over again. If they called me today I would get on a plane tomorrow," O'Connell said.
Now that her battle for "survival" on a lonely island are over, O'Connell will continue her pursuit of becoming a doctor. She recently graduated from Georgetown University with her Master's degree in Physiology and Biophysics and plans to apply to medical school within the next month.
The series finale aired on May 15. "Survivor" will return for its 39th season this fall on CBS and Bakersfield affiliate KBAK.