Faith has been a recurring topic of conversation on CBS’ Survivor: Redemption Island as of late. At the center of these discussions is contestant Matt Elrod, 22, of Nashville, Tennessee. Tonight’s episode (on CBS @ 8 p.m.) picks up with Matt struggling to stay in the game after being once again voted off the main tribal island in Nicaragua to an isolated camp known on the show as “Redemption Island”.
In an email to CBN.com, the still-hangin’-in-there Survivor contestant openly discusses his personal walk with God, how he’s played the game, and what his hopes are for his life after Redemption Island.
When did you start following Christ? And what led to that decision?
I grew up in the Church and felt I always knew I needed to follow Jesus. I was baptized when I was in 4th grade at church camp with several of my closest friends. My dad drove up in the middle of the night to baptize me in the river. It was an amazing moment, but I don’t believe I understood the fullness, deepness, and power or Christ’s love until I was 19 or so.
Will you go back to studying medicine or see if there's a career for you in Hollywood?
I am a pre-med student and believe I would like to go to med school and become a doctor someday. But while I have the opportunity, I would like to explore different paths. I love to travel, so hopefully I will do a great deal of that once I graduate. As for Hollywood…If God opens any doors, I’d be a fool not to walk through them.
CBS Video: Matt Praying on Redemption Island
What kind of encouragement or discouragement have you gotten from producers to bring up your faith in front of the cameras?
The producers simply ask questions relevant to what is currently going on in the game. Since I spoke so openly about my faith, it was a common topic brought up in interviews. They never attempted to sway me one way or the other.
What in your understanding of faith said that playing this Survivor game was a good idea?
Haha… Nothing of my understanding said it was a good idea. I really had no clue how God could glorify Himself in that environment, but I was putting God in a box. It’s sort of a funny thing to forget: God is bigger than the game of Survivor (not to mention everything else He created!)
Boston Rob comments on camera that there's a Christian coalition growing there in Nicaragua. How did he and the other Survivors first respond to your faith?
Everyone was very respectful. Rob and I even had a very powerful conversation about prayer. Through his experience, he knows how to flip the switch and go back and forth from being real to playing the game. So he may get a villainous stamp, but he is a really great guy.
And did anyone come around, change their opinion?
There was one castaway who, over their life, lost the faith or didn’t put as much emphasis on it, but is now attending Church every Sunday and seems to have a passion and zeal for their walk with Christ.
In sports, players are aggressive, and everyone knows it’s part of the game. Kurt Warner and David Robinson are solid Christians and yet they played their respective games. So why did you feel you'd be going against your faith if you decided to change directions and switch allegiances?
That sort of seems like a loaded question comparing two very different types of competition. I’ve fouled out of my fair share of basketball games, so I know what it’s like to compete aggressively, but I felt that there was a greater purpose in being on the show. I could have gone back of my word I gave to Rob, but my heart was almost telling me not to. I wanted to flip. Believe me, I did. But I think it was a much bolder statement to continue to play the game as if it were real life with integrity. I was trying to emulate Jesus to the best of my ability. Even though it was a game, I wanted to show the world Jesus. That was my priority, and I don’t see Jesus backstabbing people.
You spent quite a bit of time in isolation. What did you do to pass the time?
Well, let’s just say I have a stellar Nicaraguan rock collection! When I wasn’t sitting in the surf or looking for rocks, I had to collect fire wood, start a fire, boil water, cook the rice, collect fire wood… it was very cyclical. However, once Krista left me her Bible, I could hardly put it down. It brought so much peace and joy and comfort. So I read the Bible often.
In the most recently aired episode, you're seen praying, saying that you don't want to be in this game anymore. What made you keep going?
I felt God put me there for His purposes, not mine. That made me feel like if I quit, I’d essentially be saying, “God, I don’t trust you enough to protect me and give me the strength to get through this.” That is something I never want to say to God. So, I kept going. I also thought a lot about my family and how they wouldn’t quit and drew from their strength.
Do you plan on inviting Boston Rob to church with you?
Ha, I’m not sure Rob would be safe in Nashville right now, but if the Holy Spirit is leading me to ask him… Who am I to say no? But like I said, Rob is a good guy and it’s hard to get a good grasp on the show of who people are in real life.
How has this Survivor experience influenced the way you live your life?
Survivor was the most difficult/rewarding thing I have ever done. I learned an invaluable lesson in trusting God. I still struggle daily as I try to be more like Jesus to everyone around me, but I know God is good. If I put my trust in Him, He is able to do so much more with my life than I would ever come close to accomplishing.