Thirty minutes into the season premiere of Survivor's 45th season last week, contestant Hannah Rose, who earned her master's degree in clinical mental health from the School of Education in 2015, makes a tearful admission to a teammate: "I am not survivorly."
What does it mean to be survivorly, anyway? The long-running CBS reality show maroons its contestants in the wilderness, where they compete against the elements and each other for a $1 million prize. Endurance goes a long way in succeeding, a high tolerance for suffering even further. Quickly after arriving in Fiji, Rose discovered that for her, being "survivorly" meant prioritizing the competition over her health and well-being, something she wasn't willing to do, so she shocked viewers by volunteering to leave in the very first episode.
The Hub caught up with Rose to discuss self care, authenticity, and how studying mental health at Hopkins gave her the confidence to both audition for—and boldly depart from—Survivor.
How did you end up pursuing a master's at Hopkins?
As an undergrad, I majored in psychology at Goucher College. And I knew that I wanted to do counseling in some capacity, and I really wanted to do a practitioner track, so a master's seemed potentially doable, although I wasn't sure if I would get into Hopkins. The program looked really phenomenal, though, so I just decided to shoot my shot. And when I got in, I had already gotten into a couple of different programs, both domestically and abroad, but I just knew that Hopkins was where I needed to go.
After graduating from Hopkins, I had my practicum and then my internship at substance use treatment centers, and I worked in the addiction field for about five or six years. And then in 2019, I decided to start my own part-time private practice. And within a couple months, I had a full caseload, so I made that terrifying leap and quit my full-time job. Then COVID hit, and I was constantly full and saying no to new client inquiries. So in late 2021, I decided to take on a therapist or two and transition to a group practice model. Now we have 14 therapists, and I'm just running it.
How did you handle operations for your private practice while you were filming Survivor?
Great question [laughs]. I had a short period of time in between finding out that I was cast and flying out to Fiji for filming, so I had no choice but to quickly learn how to delegate responsibilities and ensure the practice would be self-sustaining and run smoothly without my physical presence, which was so stressful. But we made it work. And by the time I came home, it was like I was never gone.
How did you make the leap from therapy to Survivor?
So at Hopkins, they taught us to find ways to practice self-care, and during COVID, I started watching Survivor since it wasn't too deep or traumatizing. And so Survivor was my self-care during COVID. Plus, as someone with a background in clinical mental health counseling, that show is fascinating psychologically. I was just like, "Oh my God, I'm obsessed with this show."
Deciding to apply to Survivor felt similar to the way I applied to Hopkins, which was like, what do I have to lose? Worst case scenario, I get rejected. One morning I just said, "Yeah, I'm gonna apply to this. I'm never gonna hear back. It's fine [laughs]." And so I just sent in a quick video, and the rest is history.
How did you physically and emotionally prepare yourself for the show?
I really gravitated towards some of the things I picked up in school, actually. While I was a grad student, I discovered [professor and author] Brené Brown, and before going on Survivor, I reread all of her books about resilience, shame, fear, vulnerability, and not trading your authenticity for approval, because even if there are cameras in my face or I'm sitting across from [Survivor host] Jeff Probst, I just want to be grounded in myself.
And of course went to my own counseling. I'm such a huge advocate for therapy. I think it's unethical to be a therapist if you're not in therapy or haven't done your own work. That's actually something a professor at Hopkins said. They said, "We're not allowed to mandate this, but if you have not done your own work in therapy, it's unethical to provide therapy to others." And I'm just like, yes. What a hot take that I love. So I stayed in therapy and processed all of the fears and anticipation and excitement–which is what I would tell a client to do. And that's a good barometer for me: what would I tell a client? When I answer that question, there's usually a lot more compassion and empathy than if I'm telling myself something.
Did anything else from your master's program help you prepare?
Yes, 1,000%! My experience at Hopkins was so special because our cohort was small enough that we really got to know each other and our professors on a deeper level. And I really feel like my journey of self-exploration started at Hopkins because I felt such intense imposter syndrome when I got there. I was not the best student in college. I used to joke that Hopkins accepted me by mistake. That's so self-deprecating, but that's how I felt. And I minimized the strengths I did have because I was like, oh, these must be flukes. And so during my experience at Hopkins, the compassion and empathy from professors and the connections I made with my cohort helped me really begin to accept that I am enough, that I can go to this amazing university and learn to be a therapist. Instead of shutting down my imposter syndrome, I could talk about and own it. Our professors made it safe to talk about things that shame tells us not to. Before that, I had so much shame and fear. And I feel like in that second year of grad school and the beginning of my career, I morphed into who I really am. If I didn't have that experience, I don't think I would've been able to apply to Survivor because of fear.
On the flip side, how do you think your background in mental health informed your decision to leave the show?
Jeff actually asked me during tribal council what I would say to a client who was experiencing the same thing as me; would I tell them to just quit or stick it out? I immediately responded that I would never tell a client to stick with something they knew in their gut wasn't for them, especially if it was detrimental to their mental and physical health. I don't think my training as a therapist necessarily informed my decision to leave, but rather the years I spent in therapy with a phenomenal practitioner who demonstrated how to make decisions for myself, despite fear of what people may think.
On the show, you told your teammates that "everything in my body is telling me not to go back to that camp." I think it takes a lot of self-awareness to recognize that, let alone admit that. Was it difficult for you?
Oh wow, I'm glad you pointed this out—I don't even remember saying that! That's definitely a trauma-informed statement. I am so used to tapping into my somatic experience, because I know that sometimes our brains and bodies tell us different things. If we aren't aware of our physical reactions [to stressors], it's easier to fall into the cognitive distortions that our brain creates. It wasn't that my head was saying, "You can't do this Hannah"; if anything, my head was telling me all the reasons to stay in the game. My body, however, said, "Absolutely not." It was a mix of anxiety and complete deprivation—the episode didn't show the monsoon we braved without a shelter, how I had absolutely no food except for a couple pieces of coconut and papaya, or the fact that I didn't sleep one minute on that island. My body was saying, "Nope," so I listened to that.
The online discourse around your departure strikes me as unhealthy; viewers seem to feel entitled to your suffering for their entertainment—the same could be said about engagement with public personalities in general. Where do you think that attitude comes from, and is there any hope of fixing it?
I love the way you worded this question. It's an interesting cognitive dissonance I'm feeling about this because I love watching reality TV, Survivor included, and have definitely had strong opinions about people's personalities or gameplay. What I don't relate to, however, is making a point to directly message or publicly comment on someone with vitriol. The day after the premiere was the worst. I'm not even on social media, so I'm sure I didn't see the majority of it, but the general consensus appeared to be that I "took someone's spot" who could have really competed. It minimized the fact that, prior to the game starting, I wanted to be there. We don't just wind up on a beach one day; casting is a long process and I prepared for hours physically, mentally, and emotionally. I've made a point not to Google myself, which has been surprisingly easy, and it almost feels like all the hate online isn't real. I know this will pass, that my identity isn't wrapped into one episode of Survivor, and hopefully those "superfans" will take a breather, go outside, maybe connect with a real human, and find out what's driving them to wish death upon someone who quit a reality TV game.
What was the best part about getting back to civilization?
Oh my god, I can't describe the euphoria I felt walking away from tribal council. I couldn't eat for a few days because my stomach was super messed up, and I immediately got strep throat and needed antibiotics, but after that—I was in Fiji for another few weeks after I left tribal—eating was a spiritual experience! I love food so much. The night I left the game, brushing my teeth, showering, and getting into a real bed all had me crying with joy and gratitude. Even now, months and months later, I still feel palpable gratitude every single night that I get into bed.