Ron Clark hosts ‘Survivor’ watch party with several show alums

"Survivor" watch party Oct. 27, 2021 at Ron Clark Academy with Teresa "T-Dog" Cooper, Rick Devins, Ron Clark, Missy Boyd, Sherea Lloyd and Davie Rickenbacker. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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"Survivor" watch party Oct. 27, 2021 at Ron Clark Academy with Teresa "T-Dog" Cooper, Rick Devins, Ron Clark, Missy Boyd, Sherea Lloyd and Davie Rickenbacker. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

The CBS show is now in its 41st season; Clark finished eighth in season 38.

Ron Clark, best known as an innovative educator who runs the Ron Clark Academy, an experimental Atlanta non-profit middle school, also adores the CBS reality competition show “Survivor.” He proved it by going on the show two years ago and finishing eighth during season 38.

He had planned a huge “Survivor” party in May of 2020 at his academy with more than 600 people and as many as 80 “Survivor” alums. But COVID-19 got in the way.

He decided to hold a more modest affair this past Wednesday and invited several local “Survivor” alums to watch the most recent episode of the 41st season of “Survivor” at Ron Clark Academy along with about 100 hardcore “Survivor” fans.

Dressed as a Scottish vampire, 49-year-old Clark showed off his new addition to the school, which was finished just last year after seven years of fundraising and building. Thematically, he said it was designed as an homage to “Harry Potter,” “Game of Thrones” and “Scooby Doo,” a magical place full of wonder, dragons (created by actual designers from “Game of Thrones”) and Hogwarts. He set aside an area in the rotunda where fans could try puzzles that were comparable to what “Survivor” contestants had to contend with on the show.

The former Georgia-based contestants who showed up to join Clark included Teresa “T-Dog” Cooper (fifth place, season 3), Sherea Lloyd (11th place, season 15), Davie Rickenbacker (sixth place, season 37), Rick Devins (fourth place, season 38), and Missy Byrd (10th place, season 39). Showing the show’s staying power, Cooper ― still a Delta Air Lines flight attendant ― appeared on “Survivor” a whopping two decades ago and still follows it with fervor.

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Ron Clark during a screening of "Survivor" at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Ron Clark during a screening of "Survivor" at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Caption
Ron Clark during a screening of "Survivor" at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

“We want to build the Atlanta spirit for the show,” said Clark in an interview Thursday. “We want more people from here to apply. We all truly love this show.”

Having fans in one room cheering and groaning in unison while watching the episode in his auditorium, he said, was a delight.

“They’re rejoicing and clapping,” he said. “During the challenge when one team is trying to push out a huge ball and climb up a wall, the audience got excited when someone was successful. I love the energy!”

Clark said he is enjoying the current season, which was the first one taped under COVID-19 restrictions in Fuji last year. Due to quarantine rules, they had to trim production from 40 days to 26 days. As a tradeoff, the show deprived the contestants of rice and generally made the conditions tougher to balance the shorter play time.

He likes how the show paints some contestants as villains, and Shan Smith and Ricard Foye of the Ua tribe fit the bill.

“They are so wonderfully bad together,” he said. “They are so evil and not trusting in each other. It’s delicious.” He anticipates they will not stick it out to the end and one of them will devour the other: “It’s just a matter of time.”

Wednesday’s episode featured the merger of three tribes with some twists. Two contestants were randomly left out of an immunity challenge while the other 10 were split into teams of two. The winning team, who were immune from the next tribal council elimination, picked one of the two for their reward feast: Naseer Mutalif. They left Erika Casupanan out. Erika, realizing she was at the bottom of her previous tribe of six, was left marooned on an exile island for two days by herself.

In an unusual move, host Jeff Probst came to tell Erika about a huge advantage personally. “I liked how he sat down and explained it to her,” Clark said. “I liked the intimacy of that moment. It was nice to me.”

Good news for Erika: She received a huge potential advantage, allowing her to swap out the winners and losers and giving herself immunity at the same time. The folks who had just won that challenge would now have to compete for individual immunity.

To make the decision more visually compelling, Probst brought an hourglass and a mallet. Erika could smash the hourglass if she wanted to “turn back time” and reverse the previous challenge win.

The show did not reveal what she would do, but Clark said based on how the producers edited it and Erika’s knowledge of her own situation, it was almost certain she opted to take the advantage. (He asked the audience what they thought she’d do and almost everyone agreed with him.)

The season’s cast was the most diverse ever, and four of the Black contestants decided after the merger to have an alliance similar to what happened on “Big Brother” this season. But will it stick?

Clark heard that while in quarantine in Fiji, contestants only had one English-language channel to watch: CNN International. The network at the time was airing the trial of Derek Chauvin, the cop who killed George Floyd. But they did not know the trial conclusion when they started actually competing on the show.

This, he said, may inform how firm the Black contestants will be in terms of sticking together. But, as he noted, if other contestants suss out their alliance, it could be easily broken up. He said he suffered a similar fate during his season when others noticed him and another player kibbitzing too often.

He said it can be difficult to create a tight alliance without others knowing about it. Cameras, he noted, are always on you. One thing he noticed is that if a group of people was talking about something innocuous like food, two cameras were placed on them. But if “Survivor” producers suddenly send five or six cameras to that location, it’s likely something strategic is happening and pertinent to the game.

Clark also noted that at night, allied people tended to sleep closer together while those on the “outs” were left by themselves. “Human nature,” he said.

After the screening, Clark showed the “Survivor” contestants around his school. He had several of them go down the slide near the entrance and play a game he had set up for his students in the gym involving jumping on boards, some stable, some not so much. He added a visual of Netflix’s “Squid Game” on the wall for kicks.

Clark also told his fellow ‘Survivor” alumni about the school itself and how he espouses an intriguing blend of academic rigor, manners and fearless creativity. And there is a lot of choreographed dancing, as anyone who has watched a Ron Clark Academy video knows.

More than 95,000 educators from all over the world have come to his school to learn his techniques over the past 15 years. The average income of his students’ families is $27,000 and many enter his school with potential but lacking enough tools to thrive.

He said almost all his former students have gone to college and many are now thriving in fields ranging from engineering to medicine to law.

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Missy Byrd and Theresa "T-Dog" Cooper during the "Survivor" watch party Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@

Missy Byrd and Theresa "T-Dog" Cooper during the "Survivor" watch party Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
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Missy Byrd and Theresa "T-Dog" Cooper during the "Survivor" watch party Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@

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Rick Devins and Ron Clark at the "Survivor" watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rhO@ajc.com

Rick Devins and Ron Clark at the "Survivor" watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Caption
Rick Devins and Ron Clark at the "Survivor" watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rhO@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rhO@ajc.com

Caption
Claire Jackson trying to solve a "Survivor"-like puzzle during the watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Claire Jackson trying to solve a "Survivor"-like puzzle during the watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com
Caption
Claire Jackson trying to solve a "Survivor"-like puzzle during the watch party at Ron Clark Academy Oct. 27, 2021. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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