Although "Boston" Rob Mariano walked away from "Survivor: Redemption Island" with the $1 million prize, fellow cast mate Matt Elrod takes glory in the fact that God moved so powerfully in the television show.
Elrod, the pre-med student turned Ometepe tribe member, braved through 39 days of no modern conveniences and little food to make it to the last episode on Sunday only to lose the final Redemption Island duel. The failed challenge, balancing a clay vase on a plank with one foot, ended Elrod's chance at the cash prize.
Elrod initially looked surprised by his loss, but later said of his longevity in the game, "God was with me every step of the way ... I praise His name for just letting me be a vessel for Him. That's been my reward for all the struggle and all the strife I've been through."
Not only did Elrod survive to the end of the game, with his constant prayers and Bible reading, he also became the vessel through which many of his cast mates expressed their own Christian faith in full view of the cameras.
In the 22nd season of the reality television show "Survivor," in Nicaragua, a new twist allowed castaways eliminated during Tribal Council to find a form of redemption as exiles combating in duels on Redemption Island.
Elrod was one of the first two cast mates sent to the remote camp. He survived the first duel and endured on Redemption Island for 29 days, longer than any castaway on the show.
During that time, Elrod was shown praying for strength and wisdom in the game. His prayers and references to God got the attention of his competitors.
His faith led Zapatera castaway Krista Klumpp to share her own testimony. "My strong relationship with the Lord is a strength and guidance you can't find anywhere else," expressed the 25-year old former Miss Alabama contestant.
The two were shown praying in preparation for their duel against each other. Klumpp lost their duel, but left Elrod her Bible.
Matt used that Bible to encourage himself and the other cast mates sent to the island. Most notably, Elrod's scripture reading inspired Zapatera tribe member Julie Wolfe to rekindle her faith.
After losing her duel, Wolfe, a California firefighter, told show host Jeff Probst that she was going to find a church upon returning home.
"I came short of the money, but I'm walking away with something bigger. My life is changed," said the newly divorced mother of two to Probst. "I see Matt's story with God, and I am looking forward to going back home, finding a church and getting involved."
Mike Chiesl, the 31-year Iraq War veteran from California, said he was also inspired by Matt's story. In an email to The Christian Post, Chiesl said, "I did not grow up in a religious family, but after turning 30 knew that I needed to dive into the Bible and work on my spiritual self."
Chiesl said Redemption Island provided him and others the opportunity to mull over the Word of God.
"It was really great to have a Bible in the game," he told CP. "There can be some substantial down time and opening up some discussions on God's word is one of the best things we can do. It had a great impact on Julie – she is now with [me] at our Bible-based church in San Diego."
Chiesl said of his resulting experience, "It was a journey that I took with others and was able to learn more about myself and develop my relationship with Christ."
He said of Elrod, who generally led their prayers and readings, "Matt is just an all-around awesome guy. From his faith to his ability [to] see the bigger picture at work – Matt is a great guy to be around."
Elrod told CP that he believed that his “Survivor” experience would consist of hanging out on an island, winning food challenges.
In reality, Elrod had a hard time blending in with his tribe. Ometepe tribe leader and “Survivor” veteran Mariano ordered his alliance members to vote off Elrod after he tried to align with fellow cast member Andrea Boehlke. Mariano voted Elrod off a second time when Elrod returned from Redemption Island after the tribes merged.
Looking back on his time in Nicaragua, Elrod said, "Seeing how dependent I was on God [while] playing “Survivor” challenges me to trust Him equally as much or more in my life outside the game.”
Elrod is currently a student at Lipscomb University, a faith-based, liberal arts institution in Tennessee, and will graduate in December.