Educator gone Survivor, Special Education alumna achieves Final Five status on Survivor 44

Fourth-grade Mont Belvieu ISD special education instructor and Lamar University College of Education & Human Development and Texas Academy alumna, Lauren Harpe ’14, ‘21, experienced an opportunity of a lifetime when she was selected to participate on “Survivor 44”, one of the longest-running reality shows in TV history. Here, Harpe shares her experiences and reminisces on the wildest adventure of her life and her time at Lamar University.

Q: Tell me about your experience on the show! What was it like preparing for it and going on it?
Harpe TwoA: It was phenomenal going into “Survivor.” The theme of the year in the school district I teach at was “Survivor,” and I wanted to apply for the show because of our school’s theme. It was super spur-of-the-moment and random, but I got a callback for it! Up to that moment, I was preparing and training, learning how to swim, and doing all those things. I really prepared physically, but it was so much harder than I expected. It was such a challenge. ‘Survivor’ not only challenges you physically but also mentally and emotionally, in every aspect. It was tough, but I grew as an individual and human being by pushing myself to the limit and seeing how far I could go.

Q: How does it feel to be a finalist on such a long-running and successful show?
A: Unbelievable. I could’ve never imagined being in something of this capacity. I am very into my faith, and I believe that God does so many different things to bring you where He wants you to be. I had this idea of what my future would look like, but He has surpassed every expectation. Survivor has been such a great experience and opened the door for so many future opportunities, especially for me as a single mother, as a teacher, and as a woman of color. It’s amazing to even have gotten this far in the game. Unimaginable!

Q: What is something you’ve learned from this experience?
A: From being a single mom and getting out of a divorce, going onto the show I had the mentality of ‘I got this. I’m going to prove to everyone that I can do this on my own. I don’t need anybody else.’ But I learned from the show that I need my support system to be able to thrive. I need those people around me, and it takes a village to not only raise a child but to be successful and operate in general. When I got out there, I realized that I cannot play this game by myself. I needed people around me to help me get to the next day and to the next point. My people are so important to me.

Q: Looking back, what was your favorite moment from the show?
A: One of the biggest and coolest things I did was that I learned how to gut fish! Before then, I didn’t know how and I thought to myself, ‘How am I going to eat this?’ The coolest thing about being on the show was learning new skills, even how to make fire, and learning all these different things I would’ve never learned otherwise. Also, building relationships with the people there was great. There are so many people from different background I would’ve never talked to in my day-to-day life, like Yamil "Yam Yam" Arocho and Heidi Lagares-Greenblatt from Puerto Rico, and Kane Fritzler from Canada. Meeting and getting to know everyone as their real and raw self, without the distraction of technology and the stressors of daily life, was amazing. I loved learning from them without all the extra things normally around us.

Q: Tell me about your time at Lamar University! What was your experience like as a student?
A: I started off at Lamar as a 12th-grade student in the Texas Academy Program, which was the first part of my journey. I graduated from that program and went to another university but came back to Lamar after three years. I had gotten married and had my first child, so when I went back to Lamar I was pregnant and wasn’t involved in many things at the time. At Lamar, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Community Health Education and went back for my master’s degree in Special Education. It was so much closer to home, and I had my village around me here. I had a great support system.

Q: Do you feel that your Lamar University experience has prepared you in any way for “Survivor?”
A: I’ll start with my Texas Academy experience. Going into that program, you must be able to take risks and be confident in yourself. There is an interview process to get in and you need to showcase who you are. They teach you all of these great skills like liberal arts and building confidence in yourself to realize, ‘I am great, I am smart, and I can do this.’ It was very liberating to be accepted and graduate from the Texas Academy Program. Being at Lamar University in general was a great learning experience to just navigate the world and campus. Lamar is so diverse. I met so many different types of people there compared to the schools I grew up at that were predominantly one race, whether it was predominantly all white or black and brown. But at Lamar, you’re immersed in this world of so many different people and cultures; people come from all over the world to attend this school. It really prepared me to socialize, mingle and be comfortable in different social settings. Lamar really helped me to have a great social game on the show as well!

Q: What are your plans after the show ends?
A: I want to continue teaching, motivating and inspiring students. I teach Special Education, and I would like to further my efforts there. Right now, I’m in the classroom but I’d love to go more into a resource setting. With my finances from “Survivor,” I’d love to figure out how to start or be involved in a business like Bitty and Beau’s Coffee Shop. I am highly invested in Special Education, and this is a coffee shop that hires people with disabilities. I’d love to invest in that type of business in some way, so we’ll see! I want to create this space for students to transition into the workforce. That’s where my heart is right now.

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