3L Hali Ford was selected to compete on CBS’ 30th season of the reality game show, Survivor: Worlds Apart.
In the show, contestants are isolated in the wilderness and compete for cash and other prizes. Contestants are progressively eliminated through voting until only one sole survivor remains and is declared the winner. Here, Ford spoke with UC Hastings about her tough choice to compete on the show and how law school in San Francisco prepared her for this challenge of a lifetime.
How did your law school training give you an edge on Survivor?
Being in law school doesn't just teach you to read and understand a case, it teaches you how to read people and read systems. Law school teaches you how to play a game that gets your clients the results that you are after. I learned a lot at UC Hastings about engaging with people and how the practice of law isn’t just about knowing your stuff but about spinning it to achieve your result. I was coming into the game with a multifaceted understanding of how to work within systems like this.
We’re all eager to see how the season turns out for you. Are you still going to pursue your legal career?
Deciding to go on Survivor was the biggest decision in my life. I had to turn down a two-year fellowship in a public defense office after graduation. I want to work in criminal defense, and have never been interested in other areas of the law. So I had my dream in my hand and I traded it to go on Survivor. It was a really hard decision, and I shed a lot of tears over it, but that is what I did. One of the consolations is that I expect Survivor would at least be as good a talking point on my resume as the fellowship. And it might put me ahead of the pack in ways that I couldn’t be otherwise.
So now you are back to life as a 3L.
I am going to graduate in August if all goes well. Of course I wasn’t able to do any school or even any studying last fall during filming, but I worked at a couple of places as I was traveling. Now I am hitting the books hard, doing 17 units this fall and 9 this summer and getting ready to take the Bar.
How did you think the other players would react when you told them you were a law student?
Going into the game, especially after I realized I was on the No Collar tribe, I knew that my background as a 3rd year law student could help me but also could hurt me. I thought players might be suspicious of me, or think that I was smart and calculating. I knew I would need to gel with these people and play a strong social game. I was with a sailing instructor, an artist, a feathers guy… and I thought that they are not going to like a law student.
Why? Did you think they would have a stereotype of lawyers in training?
In criminal defense, something you are a fool not to embrace is that stereotypes are true -- if just for the fact that perception is reality in a lot of circumstances. If you are selecting a jury and you ask prospective jurors if they have anything against people who do drugs, you know you’re not going to have an unbiased process. We order our lives with stereotypes and whether or not they are true, they are real. So I knew that the ideas about law students were real and something I had to deal with.
Why are you interested in criminal defense?
I worked at a criminal defense office in Hawaii and I saw people who didn’t have any money get turned away. I think that is one of the greatest injustices in America right now, and I gravitate to it. I am intrinsically drawn to underdogs. I like talking to outcast people -- they are more interesting to me -- and when I have an opportunity to get paid to interact with them and bring them justice, that is like my crack cocaine!
What other experiences do you think helped you on Survivor?
Coming to San Francisco from Knoxville, Tennessee and my undergrad in Alabama was the biggest culture shock I ever experienced. I was reeling from it for a year. I was baptized by fire in the rat race by coming to the big city and law school all at once. Being hardened by this experience I saw as a good thing. Oh, and Zumba class. It’s a great workout, and you gotta be fit to go on Survivor!
Join UC Hastings 3L Section 3 group for a viewing party in Clara Foltz Lounge on Wednesday, Feb. 25 from 7 - 9:30 pm.