Editor's Note: WGXA Morning Anchor Rick Devens is a contestant on Season 38 of Survivor. After making it through the first three Tribal Councils, he was voted out and spent time on the Edge of Extinction island before winning a challenge to return to the game. Rick will tell his story of being on the show firsthand throughout the season.
MACON, Ga. (WGXA) - High school was a great opportunity to try a lot of different things. I wrestled and played lacrosse. I participated in the school’s plays and competed on the speech team. Nothing has helped me more in my day-to-day life than my time participating in speech. It just so happened to come in handy on a Fijian island as well.
The speech team was known as Forensics. My great friends Jon Hopkins and Ariel Schneller convinced me to join the team late in my sophomore year after another lackluster wrestling season. I only competed in one tournament as a sophomore. Jon and I performed as a team in duo. We got second place and qualified for the state tournament. I was hooked.
You can’t talk about the Blacksburg, Virginia forensics community without talking about Karen Finch. She was my speech coach, and I imagine one of the most successful coaches in the nation. Under her leadership, Blacksburg High School won nearly 20 straight VHSL State Championships as a team along with countless other individual state and national titles.
As soon as the bell would ring to end the school day, Mrs. Finch would transition from teacher to coach. Students would sign up for times to perform their pieces in her classroom. She’d work meticulously through every bit of the performance, toning it and tailoring it. After a few hours, Coach Finch would head home for another round of individual practices, this time in her living room. Leading up to tournaments, I would sometimes be performing pieces in Mrs. Finch’s living room until 10 o'clock at night. That gives you a small taste of her dedication and her husband’s patience.
Forensics has a lot of different categories. My specialty was "humorous interpretation." To compete you choose a 10 minute script and then you act it out. You play every character, “popping” as seamlessly as possible from one to the next. I’m happy to say I found a lot of success. During my senior year I won two state titles and the mid-Atlantic region. I also went on to earn 5th place at NFL (National Forensic League) Nationals.
It’s nice to find that kind of success, but now nearly 20 years later, I realize Coach Finch set me up for much bigger success. During our late-night training, we worked on more than “character pops.” We worked on character. She taught me how to carry myself in a room full of competitors. How to look confident and not cocky. She taught me to celebrate 2nd place when I won first and celebrate first when I didn’t come out on top. Coach Finch allowed me to fail sometime and also taught me to ask myself why.
“Okay, Rick, you want to approach it this way. I don’t agree, but I support you if you can tell me why.”
Critical thinking, commitment, self-belief. These are all things I was learning in Mrs. Finch’s living room without even knowing it. My background in public speaking has helped me in my current career as a newscaster. But it’s done so much more.
It’s because of Mrs. Finch, that with my life on the line playing a game I love, I had the confidence and clear mind to convince my allies and adversaries that there was a better way. The things I learned in Mrs. Finch’s living room coming into play at one of the craziest tribal councils ever, on an island in Fiji.
Thank you, Mrs. Finch.