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"I’d hate to come across as competitive, but I secretly am": Meet the AI Ethics MPhil competing on Survivor UK

Laurence is a competitor on the new BBC survivor gameshow
07/11/2023

TV personality and ҹѰ MPhil Laurence Cardwell is famous for becoming "King of the Cows" on BBC3's World's Toughest Jobs - now he's taking on a new challenge - Survivor UK.

Laurence is a competitor on the new BBC survivor gameshow

is a gruelling test of "brains, brawn and betrayal" as players compete to outwit, outplay and outlast their rivals to be crowned the Sole Survivor.

18 people from across the UK are marooned in a tropical location, where they are divided into two tribes, competing against each other in a range of physical and mental challenges for reward or immunity.

One by one, players are voted out until the game becomes a head-to-head battle. Ultimately only one person can triumph, winning the cash prize of £100,000 and the title of Sole Survivor.

This year, ҹѰ MPhil Laurence Cardwell is among the players competing for the top prize, and shares his outlook on the show as well as the steps he took to prepare.

What made you want to be a contestant on Survivor?

Coming across Survivor and getting chosen to be one of the contestants was an enormous coincidence as I run a health-tech start-up selling anti-hangover capsules with the same name as the show! The show hit the spot as I felt I’d become too comfortable in life and I’ve come to depend on all sorts of unnecessary creature comforts. It was time to shake things up a bit and prove to myself that I could live on bare necessities, in order to appreciate the luxuries of life. I wanted to see whether my character would remain the same when put to the test, or whether I would crack under pressure like most other fellow soft millennials.

I also celebrate absurdity - and instead of doing the rational thing and working in some dull accountancy firm towards buying an overpriced house and a boring retirement, I would much rather do something absurd like this. I crave new experiences. As George Mallory said, on why he wanted to climb Everest: “Because it is there.” And finally, I thought I could at least make a big enough fool of myself on national television to amuse myself for the next few years.

What qualities did you think you’d bring to the game?

I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger in terms of biceps, or Machiavelli in cunning - nor did I know much about the show itself before starting. So, all I could rely upon is being the source of good morale through buffoonery, and the ability to adapt to everything and everywhere as a product of globalism and having worked in 11 countries. Crucially, the hidden ace up my sleeve was having the home field advantage, having grown up just around the corner in Costa Rica – consequently speaking fluent Spanish, and knowing the geography, flora, and fauna like the back of my hand. What was for some a foreign and hostile environment was for me my childhood although admittedly with less air conditioning and food!

How did you prepare yourself mentally and physically for taking part?

I bought a flint and proceeded to practice setting fire to the kitchen, much to my family’s horror. I asked a friend to join me at a Thai restaurant famous for serving bugs and forced myself to eat every creepy crawly in sight. I went all-out on sports – convincing a terrifying Austrian Schwarzenegger-lookalike to be my coach. He nailed it by brutalising me daily with cruel and unusual forms of exercise. On top of this, I did a fair amount of rock climbing, allowed my father to thrash me thrice at squash, a lot of long-distance running, and some strange balancing acts in the garden.

I had not watched a single full episode of Survivor, so I set about absorbing Survivor highlights and strategy reels on YouTube, and reading forums and Quora articles chock-full of advice, with questionable results. I did, however, absorb various books on survival skills, and very geographically specific books on flora and fauna.

Did you have a strategy for how you were going to play the game?

My aim was to play the role of harmless buffoon or village idiot (comes naturally!), and get along with my fellow tribemates, building strong relationships all while having a laugh. I aimed to avoid politics and would play a neutral Switzerland. The goal was to avoid coming across as a threat, and thereby placing a target on my back. Consistency and integrity – before bringing out the dagger when necessary!

How competitive are you?

Though I’d hate to come across as competitive, I secretly am. To compare myself to a swimming duck – I’d always want to appear cool as a cucumber on the surface, while paddling like a madman underneath the water.

What kind of challenges were you most looking forward to?

All looked intimidating to me. I looked at the endurance challenges with a combination of fascination and dread – a chance to prove oneself through pain. I was certainly keen to avoid the puzzle challenges as that risked quickly puncturing any perception of me as a clever cookie.

How did you cope with living on a beach with no home comforts?

Living on a beach with none of the comforts of home combined many things I hate – excess heat bordering on 40 degrees at 90% humidity (I’m a particularly 'sweaty Betty’), no booze, no lip balm (you’d be surprised), clouds of mosquitoes, and severe sleep deprivation. However, experiencing these was part of my motivation for joining Survivor in the first place – testing myself.

Two coping mechanisms proved to be crucial bits of self-care. A strong morning routine, which involved going to the far edge of the beach at sunrise, away from the others, offering up a cheeky prayer, doing some improvised yoga, and finishing it off by pulling down my underpants, and going for a liberating skinny dip amidst the azure waves. And secondly, sneaking off for a nap whenever I could in a hidden cave I had to myself.

How did you cope with the hunger?

At first, I felt triumphant as I knew hunger was going to be a big problem so I had prepared through some fairly intense intermittent fasting beforehand, thereby getting my body used to not eating at regular mealtimes, and capable of enduring long stretches without food. I was surrounded by some world-class athletes who were used to eating 4,000 calories a day, and were suddenly operating on nothing, and they were really suffering. However, their advantage kicked in when they had big stores of energy in their muscles (or fat), while skinny beanstalk Laurence had nothing left. Either way, throughout I was always a professional bottom-of-pot scraper, and became an expert forager and even caught one particularly large hermit crab, which we cooked and ate with shell and all – resulting in me chipping a tooth.

What did you learn from being on the show or what is the biggest takeaway?

Though I came out weak, bedraggled and wearing rags, I came out considerably stronger. I achieved the impossible for a Brit - lasting more than a day without tea, coffee, or a drink – the latter of which was certainly a whacking surprise to the liver. I learnt not only how to set aside comforts, but actively embrace discomfort – be that enduring six wasp stings in a row, starvation or swarms of mosquitoes,.

Ultimately, I came to realise that I don’t need very much at all to be broadly happy – keeping busy, a well-cooked batch of rice and beans, good friends, a roof over one’s head, quality sleep, and perhaps a solid sunset.

Everything else we have is a bonus and yet often in our day-to-day lives we are weighed down and made miserable by all these add-ons. I certainly came out with a very real appreciation for life – and learnt some new skills along the way, such as how to crack a coconut and cook a hermit crab.

Survivor UK is on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Saturdays and Sundays. .

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