A Different Kind of Test

“I didn’t think I’d be smiling,” Carson Garrett, AE 2025, says as he watches Survivor host Jeff Probst snuff his torch. It’s day 25 in Fiji, and Garrett is the last contestant to be eliminated in the season 44 finale of the CBS reality show. “You should be smiling,” Probst replies. “Good job.”

One of the youngest players to compete on Survivor, the 21-year-old from Rome, Georgia, also stood out as one of the most prepared — ever, according to the show’s producers.

“My approach was, ‘This is a test. It’s a test in a different way, and I’m going to be as prepared as I would be for any exam or for any homework assignment,’” he said. “I asked myself, ‘What can I do? What can I prepare for? I want to be ready for everything that comes my way.’”

And he was. During this season’s casting process, Garrett took a 3D design class at Georgia Tech, and he began designing and printing puzzles from previous Survivor seasons — which paid off during several challenges. To prepare for weeks of meager food supplies and inevitable weight loss, he put on extra pounds and researched the best way to build muscle quickly.

He also read dozens of books about social relationships, how to be an effective listener, and how to determine if someone is lying. He wasn’t always able to successfully navigate the deceptions that are integral to the competition, but, he said, “It did give me foresight and confidence, and maybe I was better at this than I was expecting. I was this young kid who everyone might underestimate, and I wanted to be as prepared as I could be.”

Two Roads Converged

Garrett’s path to Survivor is inseparable from his Georgia Tech journey. His uncle and several friends had attended the Institute, it was close to home, and he knew it was a great school. “I was honored to get in, especially because the aerospace engineering program is No. 1 in the U.S. — that’s incredible for the undergraduate program.”

At the end of his first year at Tech, he was at home, watching Survivor at 2 a.m. In that moment, he decided to apply for the show. “I spent five minutes talking in the middle of my bedroom, whispering to the camera.” The next day, Garrett received word from NASA that he’d been accepted into their L’SPACE Program, a 12-week class in which students learn NASA mission procedures and protocols from industry professionals and complete team-based projects.

Not long after, having also been selected for Survivor, casting began, and he was soon juggling academics and reality TV. How did he make it all work? “I think that Georgia Tech is such a challenging place — in a good way,” he said. “And I think my approach was heavily influenced by the people I was surrounded by at school. We’re all such driven people, and I’m honored to represent the school in that way. I’m very happy with my college experience and how it helped me in the game.”

Garrett even brought his own data-driven analysis to the finale, having drawn up charts ahead of time, documenting how each of the three finalists voted throughout the season and how that related to their gameplay. “It’s an important piece of the puzzle,” he said. “People were talking about how this person had better stats than that person, and I said, ‘Well, let’s talk about it’” — using actual statistics.

Though he missed out on the $1 million prize, Garrett’s hard work paid off in other ways, giving him a new sense of confidence and perspective. “I was so immensely proud of myself for pushing through and being able to see that translated in my game,” he said. “There are going to be ups and downs in life, but look at it in a positive light. I did the best I could, and I’ll take that with me wherever I go.”