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Wednesday June 13, 2001

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Trying to survive the odds

By Michelle McCollum

Arizona Summer Wildcat

UA alumna competes for spot on Survivor in honor of grandmother

What do Survivor winners Richard Hatch and Tina Wesson have in common with UA alumna Kendra Carlson?

Not much - yet.

Carlson, a 1997 merchandising and consumer studies graduate, hopes to follow their example to "outwit, outplay and outlast" thousands of other potential contestants for a position on Survivor IV and claim the $1 million prize.

"I applied to be on Survivor Four because number three is already full," said Carlson, 27. "We Wildcats are strong people, and none of us have been on the show yet. I hope I can be the first."

To Carlson, moreover, the term "survivor" is more than just a catchy television game show. She uses it to describe her recently deceased grandmother, Barbara Swinton Mordy, who was a survivor of the Santo Tomas internment camp in Manila, Philippines during World War II.

On Dec. 8, 1941, the Japanese bombed American Clark Air Force Base in Manila mere hours after destroying Pearl Harbor. Less than a month later, hundreds of Americans and Filipinos were forced into the Santo Tomas internment camp.

Mordy, 19 at the time, was among them.

"The Japanese took the civilians to be prisoners of war, and they took my grandmother too," Carlson said. "She ate one bowl of rice every day for four years."

"Even until she died, she wouldn't talk about (her experience at the camp)," Carlson added. "But I think of how brave she must have been in the camp all alone and pregnant, and I think if she did that for four years, I can certainly do that for forty days."

Carlson's mother, Joyce Jeckell, was born in the internment camp on December 5, 1944, one month before the prisoners were freed by American troops.

"I thought it was rather brave of Kendra to put herself up like this," Jeckell said. "She's doing it in tribute of her grandmother and that touched me a great deal. I was born (in the camp), so to me it is important that those people are honored for the individuals they were."

Jeckell described Carlson as intense, compassionate, determined, and "a little too hard on herself."

When Carlson announced she was going to apply, Jeckell feared the events of her mother's life would be trivialized, but she was soon put to ease when she saw her daughter's sincerity.

"I don't think Kendra would ever do anything to exploit what happened." Jeckell said. "I am proud of her and I support her, and if it's meant to be, then it's meant to be."

Her family's hardships inspired Carlson, now a senior communications manager at Cadence Design Systems in Palto Alto, Calif., to apply for a spot on Survivor IV.

She sees the show as a character-building experience and a forum to publicize her strong views on prisoner of war and veteran organizations, especially those relating to non-military POWs.

"(The POWs) never got reimbursed by the government," Carlson said. "I'm not necessarily saying its bad for the government to not have done that, but it wasn't a good thing. These people deserve recognition.

"If I get on the show, I would make it known that my main motivation is to gain recognition for those who were non-military POWs."

Carlson said she would keep only a small amount the million-dollar prize to pay off college loans and to use for personal expenses. The rest, she said, would be donated to POW and Veteran Organizations.

"We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the veterans, and they're so forgotten. (Non-veterans) do not teach the children anymore what they have done for us," said Carol Edwards of the American Legion, the world's largest veteran organization. "We just have to fight tooth and nail for our veterans."

Carlson plans to "fight tooth and nail" for the title of "Survivor" and the $1 million prize.

"My strategy would be to be myself," Carlson said. "I think I'm a fighter, and I'll eat what I can find and I'll do what I can do. I'll have benefits my grandmother didn't have."

Carlson's motives for being on the show may seem opportunistic, but Carlson said they are far from it.

"Everyone's life has tragedy," Carlson said. "Everyone's life has lessons to be learned. I have been given the opportunity to take my family's grief and hardship and use it to show the sacrifices a lot of people made."

"I'm not using it as an excuse," she added. "It is not my intent to trivialize the events. I want to use it as a time of recognition, and I want to use it to redeem the memory of those people who suffered."

Carlson is currently listed on the Survivor application Website ( which features the 200 top contenders for the 16 spots on the show.

There are eight groups of 25 people, and visitors to the site can vote on their favorite contestant. Carlson is in group seven, and is currently in second place with 16% of the votes.

While the website voters do not actually decide who gets to be on the show, the distribution of votes will certainly have an effect on how the show's casting crew picks the contestants.

"I want UA support," Carlson said. "UA has made me who I am, so I definitely know we can get in and win."