DURHAM — When Kyle Jason got the call last week, he didn’t hesitate to hop on a plane and fly to Maine.

It was last minute, sure, giving him just days to prepare for a competition that taxes contestants physically, mentally and emotionally. But the 32-year-old Detroit man, who had been a contestant on the latest season of “Survivor,” couldn’t wait to be a survivor again.

Not on the TV show — as part of the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge

“Bob (Crowley) does great things for the community and for veterans and anyone he can help, so why not help him out when he’s in need? It’s the least I can do,” said Jason, taking a short break Friday morning after his team won a challenge involving barrels and boards.”It’s a lot of fun. I get to meet new people, hang out with other former cast mates. We get to kind of help other people live what we lived in the closest way possible.”

Jason was one of about 20 former “Survivor” contestants who on Friday helped kick off the fourth annual Durham Warriors Survival Challenge — a three-day event that mimics the “Survivor” TV show, with physical challenges and hardships, alliances, tribal councils and an audience.

Six of the former “Survivor” contestants are playing in the weekend challenge and the rest are volunteering or watching the games.

The event is hosted by “Survivor” Season 17 winner and Maine native Bob Crowley to raise money for his nonprofit Durham Warriors Project, which provides free stays at Crowley’s Durham retreat, Maine Forest Yurts, to veterans, schoolchildren, Scouts and nonprofits.

Players spend three days living a lot like contestants do on the TV show — sleeping outside with little shelter (unless they win it), eating very little food (unless they win it) and generally vying by any means necessary to be the last one off the island.

Or, in this case, the last one out of the woods.

The stakes are a little different. The winner of the TV show gets $1 million. The winner of the Durham challenge gets “Bobster,” a trophy made of lobster shells. 

This year, 65 people from all over the country applied to compete in the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge. Eighteen were selected, largely based on their love of the “Survivor” TV show.

“We’re getting fans,” said Peggy Crowley, Bob Crowley’s wife. “A lot of these people want to be on ‘Survivor.’ They want to be on ‘Survivor,’ but they’re not getting their chance. This is the next-best thing.”

That’s why 51-year-old Maria Bruno of New Jersey applied. And why she was glad she got in.

“It’s been fantastic,” said Bruno, a member of Sawa, one of three tribes competing Friday. “I love it. Bonding with everybody, getting to know new people. And the challenges — we’ve won three!”

The event is open to the public. As the challenges started Friday, dozens of people filled the viewing area  just yards from contestants. Some were there to cheer on a favorite player. Others were fans who wanted to see a “Survivor”-like competition live. 

More than 30 had been challenge participants in years past and were there to watch this year’s crop of players or volunteer to help run the show.

Jordan Szechowycz played in the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge in 2013 and was so enthusiastic about the experience that her husband, Ian, joined the following year. They had different outcomes: She was one of the first players knocked out in an early round; he came in fourth and was voted a fan favorite. But both loved it so much that they traveled to Maine from their home in Illinois to volunteer this year.

“It’s probably the closest thing to ‘Survivor’ that I’ll ever get to experience,” Ian Szechowycz said. “It’s great playing in it, but volunteering is just as fun because you get to see everyone living that experience.”

The event makes money through player fees — participants pay or raise $300 each — and donations from those who watch. Last year, audience members contributed $14,000.

As the competition got underway Friday, many past players said they’d love to be on the field again.

They might have to wait a bit for that special event, just like with the TV show.

“We don’t do returning players until Season 10,” Crowley joked.

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Want to watch?

Where: Park at 491 Auburn Pownal Road, Durham. Parking is down the street from the challenge site and shuttle service will be available all day.

Cost: Free

Schedule: Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, 7:30 a.m. to the final tribal council at 2 p.m.

What you should know:

• The first tribal council will be held Saturday.

• The road to the challenge site is very bumpy and the golf cart shuttles are unforgiving, but visitors can avoid the bumps and jolts by walking.

• There is seating in the audience area, but visitors can also bring their own chairs. There is shade. 

• There are bathrooms and a concession stand on site.

• About 20 former “Survivor” TV show contestants have come for the weekend, six as challenge contestants and the others as volunteers or audience members.

Who’s there from “Survivor”?

Playing:

Twila Tanner, Season 9

Kelly Shinn, Season 21

Nina Acosta, Season 24

Matt Bischoff, Season 26

Spencer Bledsoe, Seasons 28 and 31

Kyle “Sarge” Jason, Season 32

Watching or volunteering:

Richard Hatch, Season 1

Zoe Zanidakis, Season 4

Yau-Man Chan, Season 14

Denise Martin, Season 15

Kathy Sleckman, Season 16

Bob Crowley, Season 17

Jill Behm, Season 21

Jimmy T. Tarantino, Season 21

Michael Snow, Season 26

Trish Crowley, Season 29

Nina Poersch, Season 30

Dan Foley, Season 30


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