UMD Club Adding Mental Health Position to Their Exec Board

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

He’s vice president of a club that changes people’s lives, for better or worse. He’s pushing to ensure it’s the former.

Meet Amani Desormeaux, 23, a sixth year senior and vice president of Survivor Maryland, a club modeled off the CBS show, which follows strangers surviving on an island and getting voted off week to week. 

He laughs as he sits down with me. “I mean technically I’m just vice president of challenges, but the title has become pretty all-encompassing”

How did an information science major end up being so invested in a college club modeled after a reality TV show? Desormeaux claims it started with his best friend who played in the season before him.

Before delving further, here’s a brief explanation of CBS’s Survivor and the University of Maryland’s fan made version. On the real show, 18 characters are put on an isolated island. They compete over 39 days in grueling challenges while braving the wild around them. Each week they must vote someone out until there is only one “sole survivor” remaining.

For the Maryland version, 18 students compete over the course of a semester. There’s no island, no wilderness, no camping or eating the wildlife for sustenance. There are however, midterms, social lives and dining halls. “It’s a similar format [to the real show],” says Desormeaux, “but hard in a different way.” So hard, in fact, that some students report struggling with their mental health while playing the game.

Image by 1388843 from Pixabay

“After I got voted out, I spent so many nights wondering what I could have done differently.” Desormeaux says, staring off at a memory only he’s privy to. “The game, it becomes your whole life.”

Another former player, Leanna Rathbun, 19, says that she grew as a person because of Survivor Maryland, but not before enduring a lot of depression and anxiety from the game. “The game really does consume your life,” she spins around to face me as she says it, fiddling with the wheely chairs in which we’re conducting the interview. 

It’s late, and this is one of the only times she’s free to meet.“If you let it, it can make you isolate yourself from your friends… it starts to make you feel like you can’t trust people,” she said.  

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Those kinds of trust issues are the reason Desormeaux and his president decided to implement a mental health position for Survivor Maryland. Both he and Rathbun believe the move was “100% necessary” for the continued existence of the game and the health of its players.

While he’s on the executive board now with plenty of friends from Survivor Maryland, Desormeaux says it took a long time. He was convinced that people didn’t like him. He didn’t talk to the people in his season after being voted off and they didn’t reach out, either. “The people who make it farther in the game are the people who understand it’s a game,” he said.

Rathbun, who made it farther than the vice president (albeit in a different season) agrees, but says the stakes get higher as you progress. “It starts to mean a lot more.”

Ultimately, Desormeaux says he would do it all over again. “I learned so much about myself,” he shakes his head, “I don’t think another experience would have made me feel like this. There’s nothing like it.” He’s grateful, should he decide to play again, there are more resources available this time around.