'Survivor' Season 35 Player Profile: Meet Roark Luskin

The California social worker plans to use her skills as a therapist to terminate the 'Survivor' competition.
Courtesy of CBS

Welcome to the Survivor: Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason! THR's Josh Wigler reports from his exclusive visit to the show's shooting location in Fiji, where he interviewed host Jeff Probst, as well as the 18 new castaways battling it out for the million-dollar prize.

Click here to make sure you're all caught up on our stories from the island, including our weekly podcast series "First One Out," an in-depth look at all of the new players, culminating in an interview with the first person voted out of the season.

Roark Luskin hasn't watched every single season of Survivor live as it aired, but her relationship with the series nevertheless dates back to the very beginning.

"Survivor premiered when I was a fifth-grader," she tells me on the beach of Fiji. "I'm sure many people across the country can identify with this: Our graduation party was themed 'Survivors of Fifth Grade!' We had to do challenges, and in a very millennial twist, somebody actually cried during the gross food challenge — which was ambrosia mixed with gummy worms. So, technically, it was fine; it had a weird texture, and ambrosia's not great. She cried, and demanded a trophy because she cried."

There were no participation trophies handed out on that day long ago, thankfully, and all these years later, Roark is participating in the actual Survivor, with her eye on securing the actual trophy. Roark's road toward the upcoming 39-day adventure once again finds its roots in school — this time, college, where she missed out on Survivor due to not having a TV. ("I ended up back-watching a couple of seasons, and I've been on ever since," she reassures.)

"I graduated college early," says Roark. "I never did study abroad. I went instantly to work when everyone else told me to travel and enjoy my time. I had been watching Survivor recently, and last February, I went, 'These are normal people. I can do this. I totally have the skills to do this. I've studied psychology. I'm a therapist. I have all of these skills and a diverse background I can bring to create assets for myself. This could be a really weird, unique study abroad program.' So here we are!"

Here we are indeed, as Roark steps up to the plate as our final Healer on the field. She wasn't always a lock for the tribe that's built on the idea of healing others, however. Before she started the path that's led her to social work, Roark was working as a buyer for Bloomingdale's in New York City. 

"I was volunteering on the weekends for a great organization for students who will be the first in their family to attend college," she remembers of that time. "English is typically not spoken in the home. They don't have a whole lot of social collateral to navigate the process. [In the program, you] pair with a student when they're a sophomore, age with them through their senior year, and you see them through the whole process. I was so much more excited to completely give away my Saturday, to do this, than to show up for my nine to five. Not to say Bloomingdale's wasn't wonderful, it was, but I was much more inspired by what I was doing there."

Listen to the podcast below to hear Roark and the rest of the Healers in the third episode of our preseason series, "First One Out."

She continues: "My boss had this work-life balance where he would say: 'We're not curing cancer. We're selling clothes. Go home, be with your family, do what's important to you.' And I just kind of thought one day, 'That's a great work-life balance attitude. However, what if I wanted to move the needle a little closer to curing cancer and a little bit away from selling clothes?' I spent some time reflecting on what I wanted to do, I debated a Ph.D. route, and now I'm going for the MSW — Master of Social Work — and then I'm going to get a law degree and do mental health-informed law."

First, she's hoping to emerge as the top of her class on Survivor: Study Abroad. 

"What speaks to me most is the psychological aspects, for sure," Roark says about what draws her to Survivor. "I love the physical element. I'm not somebody who fast-forwards through the challenges. I'm excited for that part. I love being physical. I work out a lot, and that's a very fun thing for me. A friend of mine works for one of those Spartan race companies, and when she came into town we did it with her. I'm totally into all of that crap. But the most interesting part is how do you get people to like you, do what you want, but they still think it's what they want, and they still like you at the end of the day. That's such a complicated equation. It's such an insane tight rope. It's the ultimate test of anyone who believes that they're a people person or good at this stuff. That's what really pulls me to this."

In that regard, Roark plans to use the skills she's learned as a therapist to help navigate the game ahead: "I think the therapy techniques will translate really well. I would say my biggest flaw is that I can be a know-it-all and a corrector. What I will need to rely on is who I am as a therapist: a really active listener, someone who can reflect and validate people on how they're doing, take people's temperature very effectively, and instead of coming at them with: 'Trust me, this is a good plan, I swear!' You essentially have to incept people in therapy. If somebody has generalized anxiety and they're worried that the Yellowstone supervolcano is going to blow, you can't just shake them and say, 'I swear to you, this isn't going to happen.' Or, 'I swear to you, child, your stuffed animal isn't going to eat you.' That's not effective. You have to slowly pivot them and develop that rapport so they trust you to pivot them. All of that stuff is what you have to do on Survivor."

For Roark, there are two distinct phases of Survivor therapy, beginning with the premerge, in which you're building "the foundation so you can make a change." Then comes the harder part: the postmerge phase, or "the action phase," in which "you're doing all the little steps to get them to see your way and see things differently. In therapy, you're trying to get them to see things the best for themselves. But, obviously I want them to see what's best for me on Survivor."

"The second you are so rigid in your strategy that you can't accommodate a twist mentally, you're done," she says about wanting to enter the game without any hard-and-fast ideas about how to play. "Flexibility is key. Realizing where you're standing in that moment instead of looking back is key. My goal is to stay very present and look forward where I can, but never really look back."

Watch the video below for more from Roark on why she's going to win Survivor.

That's Roark in her own words. But what does everyone else think? Over the course of these interviews, I showed the castaways pictures of each other from casting, to get their pre-game impressions of their future competitors. Read on for their takes on Roark.

Note: comments from the castaways have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Ryan Ulrich (Bellhop, Hustlers Tribe): She's probably the person I would want to work with the most. She just seems really sweet, really nice, and someone who really loves the game. I think it's a big deal for her to be out here.

Devon Pinto (Surf Instructor, Hustlers Tribe): She seems really cool. I've connected with her very well. I could see her being a part of my alliance, easily. Definitely seems genuine, I see trust in her eyes. She seems smart, intelligent, and fairly physical, so I could see her doing well in challenges as well. 

Joe Mena (Probation Officer, Healers Tribe): I call her Aubry/Hannah 2.0. I think that's who she is. I think she knows the game, but she's more of a physical threat than Hannah and Aubry would ever be. But I like her. We spend a lot of time with each other going throughout the week, and she gets me, she knows me. She knows I'm not the a-hole. I'm cool with people. I say thank you, welcome, I give up stuff. I'll give up my seat, I'll give up my towel, I'll give up my food. So, she gets me.

Mike Zahalsky (Urologist, Healers Tribe): She seems eager to please and get along with everybody. A little insecure, I think. The way she sits on the boats, the way she talks to other people ... she's not bold in her movements.

Ben Driebergen (Marine, Heroes Tribe): She's quiet. Quiet and reserved. I don't have a good read on her yet.

Cole Medders (Wilderness Therapy Guide, Healers Tribe): She seems a little awkward, out of place sometimes. Doesn't really know what to do with herself. I haven't quite made up my mind about her. It's going to be really interesting to see her actual play style and what she's like as a person. If she's just playing the game already and being quiet right now, or if she's just actually kind of awkward.

Katrina Radke (Olympian, Heroes Tribe): She seems nice. She seems preppy, because she carries around a preppy L.L. Bean type bag, and I think it has her name on it. She may not be as much of an athlete compared to some other people, or maybe she just doesn't show it as much, but you can tell she's fit and strong.

Ashley Nolan (Lifeguard, Heroes Tribe): She looks like a swimmer, just from looking at her, and knowing the swimmer's body type. She looks like a swimmer, but she also seems very mousy, if that's the word? Kind of seems shy, kind of hunched over all the time, with poor posture, almost like she wants to be hidden. So I'm reading into that a little bit. I don't know how outspoken she's going to be, or if she'll just kind of follow the pack.

Watch the video below for an early look at what Roark's victory speech might look like.

Chrissy Hofbeck (Actuary, Heroes Tribe): She is not confident in herself. I'm sure she is an absolute lovely person. She looks like a lovely person. But I think that something like that could get you sent home very early.  She doesn't walk into a room and command the room, like most of the other people do. And I'm sure she is a wonderful person, I'm just not sure who's gonna want to align with her given the fact that she does seem sort of more just ... I don't even know how to explain it. Just looks down or maybe more into herself. Not into herself egotistical, more just introverted. 

JP Hilsabeck (Firefighter, Heroes Tribe): Don't know too much about her. She seems like she has herself together, squared away, so we'll see what happens.

Simone Nguyen (Diversity Advocate, Hustlers Tribe): I think she's probably going to trip on something. I see her tripping all the time. I don't know if it's an act or whatever, but she definitely doesn't seem to be connecting with either the cool people or the misfits.

Ali Elliott (Celebrity Assistant, Hustlers Tribe): She seems sweet. She was actually back in casting with me, in my group. She likes to read a lot. I would guess that she's very smart. She would be someone [worth having on your side], at least for the social game.

Desi Williams (Physical Therapist, Healers Tribe): I like her. She seems nice enough. She and I also went through casting together. I can't figure her out — like, where she's from, or... not giving off any clues as to her personality; but she seems nice enough.

Alan Ball (NFL Player, Heroes Tribe): She's the second superfan to me. Studier, quiet, doesn't say much, but she's very, very observant. If you catch her at the right time, you catch her taking notes. You don't know what she's taking notes on, but she's taking notes. She's the second superfan to me. If you've got a lens on a camera, she's not going to be in focus, but she's right there. 

Jessica Johnston (Nurse Practitioner, Healers Tribe): I think she's going to be a good player. I have noticed that she watches people too, because we hit eyes. I like that. I want a person who is thinking about the game and thinking, "OK if they're on my tribe, is their personality going to be something that I can mesh with?" People should already be playing. Old girl is playing the game already.

Roark Luskin (Social Worker, Healers Tribe): My whole thing is, I'm going to try and be my therapist/sorority girl self, and then open up into this smart, strategic self as we go. The analogy I've used is that I think my game style is like a frog in the water, where you have to very slowly turn the temperature up on the frog to kill it. You can't just drop a frog in boiling water, or it'll jump out. My game style is going to be slowly turning up the temperature.

Click through the gallery below for photos of Roark and the rest of the Season 35 castaways.

Keep checking THR.com/Survivor for more coverage of the Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers preseason.

 

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