Former “Survivor” contestant wants to bring charity adventure race to campus

Chandler Gibson • Editor-in-Chief

Former "Survivor" contestant Missy Payne

“There was a message on Facebook from one of my old employees that said ‘CBS’ ‘Survivor’ is looking for a mother-daughter team for ‘Survivor: Season 29,’ Mom in her forties, Daughter in her twenties, athletic,” Missy Payne said. “So I sent it to my daughter at Belmont in Nashville, saying ‘what do you think?’ and she said ‘let's do this’ I said ‘you don't even like to camp like you know this isn’t going to work.’ So we write back and forth, and at one point she was go, then I was go, then she was go.”

It’s a Friday afternoon, sunny and cold. Lunchtime at The Grove is powering along. Communications Graduate Student Missy Payne was a contestant on CBS’ “Survivor: San Juan Del Sur--Blood vs. Water.” She is planning on starting on-campus watching parties for the newest season--Season 40.

She made it to the top three of Season 29, and was never voted off. The way she describes it, they sent in a video application, and the producers loved them. They were flown to Los Angeles and the filming began.

“So we got on and I'm one of those people, like I said, I do not do anything half-assed,” Payne said. “If you put me to the test and you challenge me, I think it's a great thing to experience … I'm going to play this is full as I can so I'm binge-watching the show trying to learn the strategies of how you play. It was the hardest thing I've ever done, I got badly injured ripping hard. I tore my ankle so bad on Day 30 and I had to limp across the finish line. I didn’t quit.

Her experience, according to Payne, inconvenienced the production crew--big time.

“Usually in the show they’ll pull you if you get a significant injury,” she laughed. “It made a production little complicated because they probably thought ‘we wish you would have quit!’”

At the time she was a contestant on “Survivor,” Payne was a cheer instructor for Highland Park ISD. She taught at what was then Highland Park Middle School, despite having never been a competitive cheerleader herself.

In college I graduated from Alabama but I flunked out freshman year,” Payne explained. “Which led me to a smaller school in Colorado and then going to an acting academy in LA, which is where all this musical theater stuff happened. I went back [to Colorado] to finish after I have had a chance to kinda figure this whole deal out, and I wanted to teach but this small school said ‘well you want to teach theater, we have one theater teacher and there's really no signs of relieving her anytime soon, well why don't you coach for a year at cheerleading to get your foot in the door.’

Payne pauses and dramatically rolled her eyes for effect.

“I'm a water-skier from Texas. I have been in dance, I've been in theater and one of my husbands that I was married to at the time--God, he was such a blur on the map--was a cheerleader in college, and my brother cheerleaders in college … this has all the aspects of theater because of the drama, this is all the aspects of athletics which I love, this is like an actual sport and I was one of the ones that was making fun of them like everybody else!”

For the next almost 30 years, Payne taught cheerleading. She taught private lessons, and eventually built up a cheerleading gym business. She sold the business after several years and went into private lessons.

“I came home and I thought there's going to be mostly young girls [in my business] because that was my cheerleading league but mostly young girls for my cheer past to my teaching past are about to see me on national TV,” Payne said. “How am I going to take this experience and make it something that would impact them in a way that would be better? So I started this nonprofit.”

Cheer 4 Your Life is Payne’s 501c3 registered nonprofit, and their largest event is the Warriors Games. An adventure race modeled after competition shows like “Survivor” or “The Amazing Race,” features reality TV stars competing and hosting the games. Proceeds from the games go towards funding for individuals’ extracurriculars and other performance-based programs.

“I kids have nationwide who I give money to,” Payne said. “I have a ski-racer in Colorado, a soccer player who lives in New York City, a cheerleader who lives in Virginia. So yeah, I’ve used the ‘Survivor’ platform to go to these kids and say ‘hey, if I were to give you some challenges to go out and do in your community, and give you the opportunity to then compete against ‘Survivor’ players on a ‘Survivor’-esque adventure race thing, would you do it?’ What’s the goal? You’re gonna get a sponsor, and for every challenge you complete, they’re going to give you X-amount of dollars, and it’s going to be donated to our nonprofit, and our nonprofit is going to divvy it up to all these other kids that you don’t even know you’ll be helping.

Essentially, teens with means helping teens without the means that they have never met.

“I went up to New York to visit these kids who are out doing these challenges for us--all over the nation,” Payne said. “I was basically babysitting schools and nurturing these programs who had asked me to come speak on behalf of my experience on ‘Survivor.’ I said ‘okay, only if you let me pitch my nonprofit, and if you’ll let me build a leadership program using your students to get out in your community and serve.’ It blew up--it exploded into this deal. I ended up writing a book from it, ‘The Invisible Seven.’”

Some of the community challenges Payne gives her participants in the charity include learning the proper etiquette of the American flag through local veterans’ groups, making up a handshake with an intimidating teacher, sleeping outside with no shelter for a weekend to experience homelessness and even making a backpack of food for food insecure students.

“From that is where [Warriors Games], which hopefully will happen on the UT Tyler campus and to which many will come, came from,” Payne said. “So leading up to that, I need students to go out and make relationships with people. This is one of those events where we’re doing great things for the community, but we’re doing great things for the young adults as well.”

Payne is currently in the process of getting her student organization registered through the Office of Student Engagement.

She requested that anyone interested in more information email her at

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