From the moment she was dropped into the vast waters of the Pacific and forced to swim to her island destination in the 10th season of Survivor, Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones put her best asset to use—and early on it became clear that she was a contender for the million-dollar prize.
“I am super-competitive,” she said. “I beat all but one of the guys and all of the girls, and the guys said, ‘We gotta get rid of her.’”
Soon, Jones had the dubious honor of being the first survivor to be voted off by her companions in spite of winning immunity from elimination. Despite the loss, she’s made some strong friendships and almost immediately organized a four-day charity event of her own, the Houston Reality Challenge. Formerly known as the Houston Survivor Challenge and now in its third year, the event has become a national attraction that brings everyday Houstonians face-to-face with dozens of participants from reality shows such as Survivor, Big Brother, and The Amazing Race.
“We all sort of know each other; it’s a weird fraternity,” Jones said. “Thankfully, we’ve put on such a good event over the past three years that people really want to do it. We fly some people in, but I have a number of my friends who are flying themselves in because they want to be part of it.”
Proceeds from the event benefit the U’Jana Conley Foundation for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, the group that’s restoring the historic International Coffee Building at Allen’s Landing.
Jones, who includes gay and transgender staffers in her diverse city council member’s office, has continued that effort by scheduling openly gay Survivor: Palau contestant Coby Archa and bi-curious Survivor: Micronesia contestant Ami Cusack.
“We have all become a pretty close-knit group of people, because we go through a lot together,” Cusack said. “Once you have the experience of being on the show, getting sick and cranky in the forest, you really get to know each other.”
Cusack is eager to attend the event to see her friends and interact with the many reality-show fans who come to watch the competitions. She said that staying open to opportunities to help others is one of her goals, and seeing Jones’ event shows how much a few people can do to help others.
“I’m really inspired by Jolanda taking the power and creating something so great for people,” she said. “I think it’s so inpirational. She’s so strong, because she put this thing together with all of the others things she’s doing. It’s great.”
For more information about the Houston Reality Challenge, visit houstonrealitychallenge.com, call 832-335-3999, or e-mail [email protected] —Josef Molnar