Appearing at this year’s Reality Rally was a no-brainer for “SURVIVOR: Millennials vs. Gen. X,” winner Adam Klein. The twenty-something player lost his mother to lung cancer shortly after his return from playing the game that has earned a huge following since it first aired in May 2000.
Klein said that his mother, Susie, was diagnosed with lung cancer before he left to play the popular CBS reality show.
“She was diagnosed in August 2015,” he said. “One of the things that they did that they never really do is they said, ‘Look if now is not the right time, we want you to play ‘SURVIVOR’ so if it would be better for you and your family to play next year, we will basically reserve a spot for you.’ It was just so generous of them.”
Klein talked to his family, who are all big fans of the game, about CBS’s offer to play at a later time, but his mother encouraged him not to wait.
“My mother said, and we all agreed, ‘Now is the time,’” Klein recalled. “We needed something to look forward to. We needed something good to happen in our lives.”
Klein said the family had been through some dark times. They had to put his dog down, his grandfather had died and his father’s best friend had been diagnosed with ALS in addition to his mother’s diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. His opportunity to play “SURVIVOR” was the first thing the family had in a long time that was exciting.
“It was something to look forward to, something to work toward,” he said. “We were all imaging watching the show together as a family and looking forward to each week of the show. Ultimately, while leaving for the show was the hardest thing I had ever done, I knew and I still know it was the right thing to do. I brought my mom so much joy by living out that shared dream for all of us than I possibly could have by sitting at home.”
Klein said the whole time he was out on the island, he knew that every milestone he reached would bring a moment of joy to his family who were going through so much.
“Every time I found an idol, every time I won an immunity, I knew it was one more thing my family would be able to celebrate,” he explained. “We needed as many celebrations as possible. I don’t know that many people have had quite the same kind of motivation that I had to do well throughout the whole time I was out there. It wasn’t just about the money of getting the title for myself, it was about bringing as many moments of joy to my family as possible.”
After the game ended, Klein returned home to his family, where his mother had taken a turn for the worse.
“My mom did not want to pull me from the game and no one thought it was so seriously dire that she would pass away before I got home,” he said. “My mom, two days before she died, was still out walking around the block. She was living, she was thriving. I realize now that so much of that was due to the fact that she knew I was still out there playing the game.”
While Klein was away playing the game, his mother recorded videos for him – 11 in total – that he watched after the corresponding episode aired.
“I could see her getting stronger and stronger and more exuberant as the season went on,” he said. “No one had any idea that she was as close to the end as she was until the game ended.”
Klein reminisced that the day the final tribal council was held and at the end of his time in Fuji, his mother’s health began to rapidly decline.
“I had no idea what I was coming home to. When I got home, I got to talk to my mom. She was so overwhelmed that I was there,” he said. “We told each other how much we loved each other.”
Klein said as his mother began to slip away he told her everything that happened in the game.
“I told her that I had won and literally moments later she took her last breath,” he said as his voice cracked. “There is no doubt in my mind by doing as well in the game as I did, I may have extended her life. At the very least, I made her final weeks as joyous as they could possibly be under the circumstances.”
Klein had mixed feelings, losing his beloved mother yet knowing he had won “SURVIVOR.”
“I have been literally dreaming of winning ‘SURVIVOR’ since I was 9 years old and to have my greatest dream come true at the same time as my worst nightmare, it just doesn’t add up, like how could that possibly be,” Klein said.
Shortly after, he was contacted by Reality Rally Organizer and Founder Gillian Larson to participate in Reality Rally.
“Very shortly after my mom passed away I had started a ‘youcaring’ campaign to raise money for lung cancer research,” he said. “It helped me to channel my grief into something positive. Doing things like the Reality Rally help me to focus on something that is meaningful while also honoring my mom’s legacy and inspiring others to live the way she always did, which was so full of life, so full of energy, always smiling, laughing, dancing and loving.”
Klein had words of praise for Larson and how she used what she calls her “15 minutes of fame” to help others.
“The way she approached her time on ‘SURVIVOR’ is inspiring to me because it is how I would like to leverage whatever fleeting visibility I have from all of this to do something really meaningful and change people’s lives,” he said. “That’s why I dedicated that time and still am to raising money for lung cancer research in particular but also for Reality Rally and Michelle’s Place.”
Klein has already raised over $400,000 for lung cancer research through his own foundation, Live Like Susie Memorial Fund for Lung Cancer Research and other various projects including Stand Up To Cancer.
“Gillian is an inspiration to all of us,” Klein said. “She leveraged her 15 minutes to start this, but now it has taken on a life of its own.”
Klein said that he hopes as many people come to Reality Rally as possible and that his participation helps to raise much-needed funds for Michelle’s place.
“It’s a wonderful cause and I hope my participation contributes to that as much as I can.”
To learn more about Klein’s efforts to raise money for lung cancer research, visit www.youcaring.com/SusieKlein. For more information on Reality Rally, including how to participate, visit www.realityrally.com.