A new summer reality competition series called “Get Out Alive with Bear Grylls” provided some daunting physical and mental challenges for North Central College alumna Andrea Larson ’10 Musselman, a musical theatre major.
More comfortable as a performer on stage, Musselman found herself on camera in New Zealand with mountains as the backdrop for her latest role. She and her dad, Andrew, dubbed “Lucky,” emerged as the winners of the inaugural season of the survival reality show and received a $500,000 grand prize.
They auditioned in Chicago where she lives and in Los Angeles and won spots among 10 two-person teams on the series. “I heard about the audition through people at North Central,” Musselman said.
The fact that her dad knew how to skin animals helped push them through and the pair was off to the spectacular landscape of New Zealand in February for a month of taping. The producers heard Musselman’s dad use her nickname Louie—her middle name is Louise—and immediately branded the team “Louie and Lucky.”
The mission of the teams was to survive the wild, journey as a group, compete for treats in the “feast pit” and avoid Grylls’ elimination. Grylls, a renowned survivalist, hosted the show. Rock climbing, eating maggots and eels for protein, crossing ice-cold streams and building animal traps were among the challenges they faced.
All these were a far cry from Musselman’s experiences on stage as a student at North Central where she directed the music for “Pippin” and landed roles in “Cabaret,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “She Loves Me” and “Cats” as Grizabella.
Her sophomore year, she won the starring role of Millie in North Central’s production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” The Brian Lynch-directed show was selected as a 2008 regional finalist for participation in the nation’s prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Musselman was given a special commendation by the National Selection Committee for her performance in the starring role.
She returned to North Central with other theatre alumni to perform at the College’s Sesquicentennial Celebration on Nov. 11, 2011.
Many of her friends, classmates and professors cheered on team Louie and Lucky and showed Cardinal pride by watching the show’s Aug. 26 finale together at a gathering place in downtown Naperville. Before announcing Louie and Lucky as winners, Grylls said of the team, “Fortune favors the brave. One team has given more than anyone else (and) shown courage in adversity. The team that I would want to stand beside me—I believe we’d stand a fighting chance of getting out alive—that team earned the $500,000 the hard way. You’ve been an inspiration to many.”
The show premiered on July 8, and since it was taped in advance Musselman and her father had to be careful to not disclose the outcome until after the finale aired.
"Keeping the outcome a secret was definitely tough, but it was worth the wait to see our friends and family react to Bear's news." she said. "The money is only a bonus. The experience I got to share with my dad is the real prize. Just the appreciation for everything in life we once took for granted is huge."
The low point of the show was episode six, when the team lost out on the opportunity to Skype with Musselman’s mother, Diane. “My dad hadn’t been away from her this long in 32 years,” Musselman said.
The show proved to be life-changing in many ways, she says. “It came out in the first episode that my mom has multiple sclerosis,” she says. “No one has ever known outside our family that she has MS. We’ve always seen her as an inspiration, but she was afraid people would pity her.”
Before attending North Central, Musselman grew up on a goat dairy farm in the northwestern Illinois town of Stillman Valley, where she spent a lot of time outdoors with her father.
“Two country bumpkins decided to try out on a whim. We went from a town of 1,000 people (to winning the show). I can’t believe it’s real,” she said.