Hoffman: ‘Survivor’ experience difficult but enjoyable

Holly Hoffman applied for "Survivor" for the challenge and adventure.

But five days into filming the 21st season of the CBS show, Hoffman, a 44-year-old swimming coach from Eureka, went up to the show's producer and told him to get her out of there of the remote setting in Nicaraugua – the place where she and participants were expected to do their best to "survive."

Holly said one of the reasons she initially struggled was because she could have absolutely no contact with her family for the two months the show was filmed in Nicaragua.

"It was tough to leave my family. Even if you are voted off, you have to stay the whole time. CBS will have you stay in a hotel," said the Eureka native. "I missed my family horribly, and I felt I needed to quit."

However, Holly, who was at the University of South Dakota Thursday night, Oct. 28, to watch an episode with USD students at the Muenster University Center, persevered through the ordeal and stuck with the project through its entirety.

"One thing I learned about myself is that it doesn't pay to give up, as easy as it may seem," she said. "I spent many hours on the beach praying, asking God to get me through this, and he did.

"Whether I make it to the end or I am voted off or I win the million – I can't say if I did – I was totally pleased with the end results," Holly added. "I hope America remembers me for showing my determination."

One of Holly's teammates on the show did help convince her to stay, and it was from a person who is familiar with giving motivational speeches.

Jimmy Johnson, who coached the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in the NFL, helped persuade Hoffman to stay on the show.

"If it wasn't for Jimmy Johnson, I would've quit the game. He was an absolute true inspiration to me," Holly said. "In the second episode I talked to him and he asked me if I have ever quit anything in my life. I told him I have never quit anything, and he said 'then you can't quit this.'"

Holly is still going strong on the show. Two weeks ago she earned individual immunity, and this past week her team won immunity, ensuring her at least another week on the show.

Holly couldn't elaborate any further on what will happen on future episodes in the show, and cannot give individual interviews until the show's live finale, which will be in the middle of December.

Holly was one of 20 contestants who were chosen for "Survivor's" 21st season in Nicaragua. She said she was one of 100,000 to apply for a spot on the show.

Holly was given a call when she made the Top 800, and was kept in the loop by CBS as they whittled down the contestants each time before bringing her in for a casting call in Los Angeles.

Holly only had one reaction when she found out she was selected for the show.

"We were coming home from Pierre, and when I got the call, I just screamed," she said.

She wasn't the only one who had that same reaction. Her daughter Elizabeth, who is a junior on USD's swimming and diving team, remembers exactly where she was when her mom told her she made the show.

"I was sitting in biology class in the second row, and when I got the text from my mom, I literally screamed in class," Elizabeth said. "I couldn't tell anyone why I screamed either, except for my roommate who was right next to me and saw the text, until it was all over."

Elizabeth and her mom are very close. They talk on the phone twice a day. That routine ended for two months as the two could have no contact with one another as the show was being filmed.

"It was extremely hard because my mom and I are best friends," Elizabeth said. "But I knew she wanted to do this, and I was very supportive."

Even though Elizabeth had no idea what was happening to her mom down in Nicaragua, her instincts tried to keep her up to date on what was going on.

"I constantly thought how she was doing, and at certain points, I would get this weird feeling that something happened to her down there," she said. "I could just feel it in my gut that something was going well for her or not."

Holly is the second person from South Dakota to be cast on "Survivor." In the second season in Australia, Vermillion native Mitchell Olson made it to the fourth episode before being voted off.

Olson's parents were at the showing of the latest episode, and Holly said Olson and his parents have been a great support group for her.

Wednesday night was the first time Hoffman had seen the seventh episode. In fact, she doesn't see the episode each week until it airs.

"There are three days on set, and they film more than 400 hours, so when you see it is when I see it," she said. "There are a lot of edits. The tribal councils seem like 10 minutes, but they actually last about two hours."

Holly also gets surprised by a few things because she only knows what's going on in her own tribe.

"The two tribes are separated by about an hour, so we really don't know what's going on over there," she said.

Holly may have a chance to be on the show again after this season. In the past, "Survivor" has had all-star seasons in which fan favorites come back on the show.

Holly doesn't know if she was a fan favorite yet. The voting starts two weeks before the show is over, but she doesn't know for sure if she would do it again even though she enjoyed the experience.

"I said after the show was done filming that I would do it again, but now that I am watching it, I would have to think about it," she said. "I applied for the challenge and adventure, but not the fame and fortune."

Right now, Holly has just one thing she wants to do with her "Survivor" experience.

"My goal is to travel around the state and share my experience with as many people as possible," she said.

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