Survival of the Fittest

North Oaks native spends four weeks on deserted island for network reality show.
Jud Nichols, criminal defense attorney, learned some important life lessons during his four-week stint on a deserted island.

What happens when you place 14 modern men on a remote island for four weeks with nothing but some video equipment? You get NBC’s reality show, The Island, hosted by Bear Grylls, and local boy Jud Nichols was one of the contestants.

Nichols, a criminal defense attorney in Minneapolis and a North Oaks native, was writing DUI memos in his downtown office in the fall of 2014 when he saw an email under the “promotionals” section of his Gmail account. “It said, ‘Are you living an ordinary life, looking for an extraordinary adventure?’ ” he recalls. “So I replied … ‘I’ve been doing these memos all week, sitting under these fluorescent lights, looking out of my window to the parking lot. I would love a challenge in my life.’ ” He sent the email and promptly forgot about it, but got a call a week later requesting a Skype interview.

At this point, Nichols knew the concept of the show, but wasn’t entirely sure what they were looking for. “[The interviewer asked], ‘How often do you camp?’ I haven’t; ‘How good are you at fishing?’ I mean, as a kid with my dad. … Basically I gave them what I thought were the wrong answers about my experiences, which ended up being the right answers,” Nichols says. “They wanted to pluck me out of society and put me in that environment and have me adapt in the most drastic way.”

There were a few months of silence before he knew he was going, but throughout it all, his family was (mostly) on board. “It was all very exciting as a possibility, and then when it became a reality it was super-exciting; and then when it became a real reality it was like, ‘What the hell am I doing?’ ” he says. But after going back and forth, he knew he’d regret not getting on the plane.

That’s how he landed on an island with 13 strangers, on a reality show that had no winner. It was a social experiment to see if the men of today, used to the amenities of modern life, can be placed in the most primitive of settings (an uninhabited island in the Pacific) and survive. Along the way, injuries and lack of stamina sent people home, but Nichols made it to the end—although not without some close calls.

“On day 10, the thirst was so awful that I [thought] I’m not doing the hunger thing next. … I’m done.” But contestant and friend Benji Lanpher told Nichols, “I’d be super-disappointed in you [if you left].” That night they took off their microphones and went off the record, he says, and talked about the situation. “There’s so much crazy [stuff] going on in this world. This is not civil war; it’s not extreme famine. It’s bad, it hurts, but we will get through it. There is an end, and we’ll be happier for having done it,” Nichols says. It was then that, even with the thirst and hunger, Nichols started having fun. And in the last episode he conquers the experience by jumping on the back of a caiman (similar to an alligator) for the men to feast on later that night.

Today, he’s back in the modern world, running his own law firm. The takeaway? “The biggest thing I learned? I’m tougher than I think I am,” Nichols says, and that strength of character matters just as much, if not more, than the ability to build a fire. Also, his 15 minutes of fame gave him a new perspective on pop culture. A few run-ins on the street, and a few intense superfans taught him an important truth: “Who wants to be famous for the sake of it? It’s awful. If you’re going to be admired, it should be for who you are, or what you do.”

For more information about the show, including photos and videos, visit the website here.