For Drew Basile’s (C ‘23) middle school self, competing on Survivor was a dream come true. Being just a few days short of winning a million dollars, less so. “Now, I’m a broke grad student living in Europe,” he tells me of his post–Survivor life.

Drew is the latest Penn grad to participate in the long–running reality competition show, following in the footsteps of iconic players like Cyndey Gillion (C ‘14) and Chrissy Bass Hofbeck (C ‘93). Dedicated to determining who is the “Sole Survivor,” the show follows contestants placed in a castaway–type situation as they scavenge for food, build fires, and find shelter, all the while competing in both physical and mental challenges. Contestants are successively voted off the show by their fellow contestants until only one remains, winning the million–dollar grand prize and dubbed the “Sole Survivor.”

After applying online, Drew received the phone call all Survivor–hopefuls pray to receive, confirming that he would appear on the upcoming season. For him, it was a no–brainer to drop everything and fly to Fiji, even if it meant missing finals season. “I was like 'Oh my god, I can’t turn down the opportunity of a lifetime, because I gotta take my psychology final. I can’t do that,'” Drew said. 

With the legalities surrounding reality TV production and the intense no–spoiler culture of the fanbase, Drew was unable to share the great news he had heard. If keeping his acceptance onto the show a secret was hard, begging professors to let him skip finals with no explanation was even harder. “I sat down with one teacher in the philosophy department and I was like, ‘Listen, I’ve been chosen for a once–in–a–lifetime opportunity. I can’t tell you anything; I have to go.’ All she said was, ‘When I was at UChicago, I had a close friend, Spencer Bledsoe, who had to drop out in the middle of the year to go play Survivor. Is it anything like that?’ And I said, ‘It’s nothing like that at all.’” 

Keeping the secret after coming back from filming was even stranger for Drew. “My first day back in America was my graduation,” he said. Though he was still allowed to walk across the stage despite missing the end of the semester, not even the pull of President Joe Biden’s attendance could convince him to go. He did, however, attend an English department event to celebrate his just–earned degree. The physical and mental toll of his time on Survivor was apparent, and unfortunately, temporarily unexplainable to those around him. “I had lost quite a considerable amount of weight after a four–week disappearance, so people were pretty surprised,” he says. “But it’s just kind of a situation where you laugh and nod and everything’s fine. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll find out in a few months. I’ll tell you another time.’”

The sacrifices—missed finals and senior year memories—were worth it. Drew had watched Survivor since his middle school years and found solace in it through the worst of times. He describes the show as a “real laboratory” and a “transcendental test,” even going so far as to liken it to Robinson Crusoe’s own adventure (revealing his true English major ways). 

However, reading about one man’s journey to survive a deserted island, versus actually attempting to do just that very thing, live, for millions of viewers, proved to be exponentially more difficult. One of the hardest parts, he explains, was that very first step onto the beach. “I was scared shitless. I was so terrified,” he tells me. “There’s no shower. This was even before the game started, and I was thinking to myself, ‘What have I gotten into?’” 

And the game was not entirely smooth–sailing for Drew. For the first half of the show, the “castaways” are divided into “tribes” that work together to survive and compete in challenges. He had started on the Reba Tribe, which often won challenges and was able to create a deep bond and made it to “The Merge,” where the game goes from team challenges to individual challenges. 

But playing an individual game as opposed to always being on the winning team, requires strategic, carefully planned gameplay. Being a part of the season’s integral Reba alliance, Drew found himself in control of the game and often on the right side of the vote. However, the alliance wasn’t as cement–strong as it seemed, and as the players got closer to tasting that million–dollar win, half of Drew’s alliance ultimately blindsided him and he became the thirteenth player to leave, giving him a sixth place finish. 

But all is fair in love and war, and Drew has remained good friends with his fellow playmates, even if they were the cause of his eventual downfall. “I mean, we’ve seen each other naked. We’ve seen each other at our worst lows. There’s nothing real life is gonna change.” Just in the last month, Drew and the other half of the season’s iconic bromance, Austin Li Coon, took a trip to South Korea. The Survivor bond runs even deeper with contestants across all seasons building an elaborate network. Drew and his fellow Season 45 players are only the most recent additions to this web, and he talks fondly of meeting the infamous repeat player Jonny Fairplay, and his ongoing online chess game with Season 43’s Sole Survivor Mike Gabler

Coming down from the high of playing such an intense game has been almost as character revealing as the game itself. Speaking of his life in the months following the season’s release, he says, “There is really a moment of like, 'Holy fuck, what next? How do I keep going?' To have this and come to the realization that some things you can’t top. Sometimes you have to change your direction a little bit.” 

And change directions—and countries—he did. As much as he enjoyed his time in the limelight, he quickly decided that continued reality TV celebrity status was not for him. Academics is where his passion truly lies. Drew is currently pursuing his master's at Oxford. He’s working on a novel and sending out job applications, although he admits, rather unsuccessfully. He thinks that maybe he’ll “actually join the workforce and face the inevitable.” Either way, he’s along for the ride, describing it as a “transitional chrysalis period.”