Nease, a member of Tega Cay Baptist Church, learned cast members were expected to bow before a statue of Buddha in a traditional welcoming ceremony. Convinced that bowing before the idol would have constituted worship, Nease decided she would put her face on the ground only before God. Feeling the discomfort, she walked away quietly in tears. She knew an alternate player was waiting in the wings. Would she be put out of the game because of this decision?
Nease, a Christian talk show host from 91.9 FM in Charlotte, had auditioned 11 times for “Survivor,” before finally being selected for the 15th season which aired in the fall of 2007. The show places 16 people in a remote location to see who can “outwit, outplay and outlast” the others for 39 days and win $1 million. Contestants are divided into tribes and are sent into the wild to struggle for food and shelter. Along the way they make alliances with other players, devise ways to win the game and face off in physical or mental challenges to win rewards and immunity from being voted off by other members at the tribal council at the end of each three-day episode.
When Nease was faced with having to bow before the idol, she discovered that her Lord meant more to her than even the dream of being on “Survivor.” She realized the Buddha ceremony was meant for her. “God showed me He is first in my life,” she said.
Nease wasn’t replaced by the alternate. Instead, her decision not to bow gave her an identity for the show — “Sister Christian.” All the other players knew where she stood, as did the entire worldwide television audience.
“I’m not religious,” Nease said to the TV cameras, “but I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I’m only going to put my face on the floor for Him.”
Now, after her once-in-a-lifetime experience, Nease has compiled a list of the top 10 things she learned from being on one of TV’s most celebrated reality shows.
10. Never give up on a God-given dream and trust His timing.
For Nease, coming onto “Survivor” was a dream come true. She had filled out 11 applications for the show and made 11 audition tapes, with ranging content from “How to survive being a mom” to bungee jumping and skydiving videos to a Survivor-inspired rap song.
“I really wanted to be on ‘Survivor’,” Nease said, acknowledging that she did, however, also want the dream to be from God. For her, that meant her husband, Rod, had to be in complete agreement with the idea.
“And my husband did agree,” she exclaimed. “So much so, that he pretty much kicked me onto the plane … and I am so glad he did!”
9. Holy huddles are great but you can’t stay there.
“Trust me. If we don’t break up our holy huddle, (God) will do it for us,” Nease said.
She pointed to Acts 1:8 where Jesus tells the early church that they must go out and be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. But Acts 8:1 tells about the great persecution that broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
For Nease, “Survivor” was a chance to break away from her own holy huddle of a Christian job and Christian friends and family and be surrounded by non-Christians.
8. First impressions aren’t always accurate.
Before the game started, Nease and the contestants were not allowed to speak to each other. Still, New York City waitress Courtney Yates’ rolling eyes made her attitude very clear. Nease’s first impression of her wasn’t very favorable.
But when Nease was voted off, Yates was the one crying for her. She was the only one who voted for Nease to stay.
“Survivor” brings out the real you,” Nease said. “Courtney started out cranky, but she would get up in the middle of the night to walk with me when I was sick. I saw her like God saw her, and I am very thankful for her.”
7. We are “crazy blessed” to be able to own and read God’s word in our country.
Nease had requested her Bible as her “luxury item” (one personal item that she could bring along), but program executives denied the request. As the days passed, she longed for her Bible. When she got sick, she longed for the reassurance it gave her.
“I had memorized scripture, but I was surrounded by deception and needed truth,” she said. She hadn’t always felt that way about the Bible. For 20 years, her “Sunday” Bible sat on a shelf, she said.
6. Know what it means to “dig deep for Jesus.”
Nease admits she was a mess on “Survivor.” She had caught a parasite and lost 17 pounds in nine days.
“It had to be God that carried me through. He showed me that He is enough,” she said. “I didn’t have my reputation, my family or even shampoo and a toothbrush!”
The situation was complicated by the fact that her tribe was very cynical. She was “kidnapped” by the other tribe, which proved to have “a strong heart.” When Nease shared her findings with her tribe, they became distrustful of her, ultimately deciding her fate as the third contestant to be voted off the show.
5. A good reputation means more than a million bucks.
Before the vote, Nease realized her dilemma, but knew she had to be true to her values. She had to admit she had told the other tribe things about her own tribe.
“I knew my kids were watching. I knew God was watching,” she shared. “My goal was to be obedient to God, not to win the million dollars. Had I not been honest, I would not have been in God’s will.”
4. Forming relationships with people opens doors to share one’s faith.
“My body may have not been strong, but my faith was strong. And the other contestants were starting to get it,” Nease shared. “I listened to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Questions were asked, but I didn’t preach.”
When voted off, several of the contestants dubbed her “Mom,” indicating their affection for her.
3. Others’ opinions do not define you.
Nease has made attempts to gain human approval. She won the Mrs. North Carolina pageant in 2001. She also partied with her friends, living a double life between church and her world.
“When I said I believed Jesus is the Son of God, I finally realized I didn’t understand what ‘belief’ meant,” she said. “It is a firm conviction, a full surrender and a lifestyle that reflects that surrender.”
When she finally understood what faith in Christ really meant, Nease’s life changed radically and she focused wholeheartedly on the Lord. She affirmed she only wanted to please God and that stance allowed her to be herself on the show.
2. Man’s rejection is God’s protection.
Though Nease wanted to stay longer in the game, she was at peace with being voted off.
“God will not allow you to be rejected by anyone unless it is a part of His plan,” she said, pointing to the Old Testament story of Jacob. “It is the darkest when you are struggling, but don’t let go and give up before the blessing comes.”
1. Nothing is more important than a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Nease had promised God: “If you allow this dream to come true, not only will I tell them my story, but I’ll tell them Yours.”
“Jesus is not just your Savior, but also your Lord,” she said. “He doesn’t want just part of your life. He wants all of your life.”
She said that Christians should have “symptoms of Christianity” (life change, sensitivity to sin and evangelism, a love for God’s word). “If you don’t have the symptoms, then you don’t have it,” she said, admitting that for years she was a “Sunday Christian” only. But her life dramatically changed when she relaxed and let God do the work in her.
“Many people told me they were sorry when I didn’t win ‘Survivor,’ but I did win,” she said. “Jesus just doesn’t work the way we do.”
For more information on Nease’s ministry, visit online at www.leslienease.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Baker is the national correspondent for BaptistLIFE, news journal of the Maryland/Delaware Baptist Convention.)