Noelle Lambert: Chasing ‘Survivor’ Success For Disability Awareness

by Ryan Wilson

(Photo by U.S. Paralympics Track & Field)

Noelle Lambert on 'Survivor.' (Photo: Robert Voets/CBS)

It was around this time last year that Noelle Lambert was racing on the track in Tokyo during her first Paralympic Games. A casting director from CBS happened to be watching.


Lambert, then a 24-year-old from New Hampshire, raced to a sixth-place finish in her 100-meter race. The casting director envisioned her in a different type of competition: a $1 million contest in Fiji on “Survivor 43.”


So, he sent Lambert a message on Instagram.


“Originally, when I got that (message), I was thinking that it was spam,” Lambert said. “I didn’t think it was real.”


The message was indeed legitimate, and Lambert, who is now 25, will become the show’s first above-the-knee amputee when she premieres on this next season of “Survivor.” The 20-year-old series consists of 18 contestants battling it out in Fiji to become the “Sole Survivor” and earn a cash prize.


Season 43 kicks off Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, and the show’s website claims this season “introduces fresh elements to the competition that intensifies the battle and tests even the strongest super fan.”


Lambert fell in love with the show as a kid, and she would watch every episode with her mother.


She prepared for her own appearance by cutting back on how much she was eating daily. She read an article online on how a previous “Survivor” winner prepared, and their approach of eating less made sense to Lambert.


While her boyfriend cooked three meals a day, she had only one.


That did cause a little fatigue during track practices and lifting sessions, but she was concerned too much food, or extra weight, before “Survivor” would be counterproductive.


“Every time I trained in the mornings and after hard work, I could feel it (fatigue),” Lambert said. “I was just doing whatever I could to kind of prepare myself. Theres no way that you could prepare yourself for ‘Survivor.’”


Lambert said her strategy on “Survivor” is to be social, make alliances and have the right mindset. She was concerned entering the game that her prosthetic leg would be a challenge.


“When I found out that I was going to be on the show, I was scared to death,” she said. “I was excited, but the scare part was taking over. I couldn’t sleep at night, because I was worrying about the fact that I have a disability. I was worrying, ‘Can I actually do this game?’”


She said her amputation is “a lot more high-maintenance” than previous cast members with prosthetics. Unlike the previous cast members with below-the-knee amputations, Lambert needs two different prosthetics, and she wasn’t sure how the show would handle such a request.


“If I doubt myself and something happens, I think that people are going to use my prosthetic as an excuse,” she said. “I just need to go into every single challenge, be confident, and I need to create the relationships that will get me farther in this game.’”


There is a chance, with the game requiring cast members to complete rigorous obstacles, that Lambert’s prosthetic leg will fall off.


But she thinks that shouldn’t be a problem, at least when she considers what she has been through in the past.


“I’ve faced a lot more difficult triumphs in my life,” said Lambert, who lost her left leg in a moped accident in 2016.


“I hope that people watching, even people who don’t have disabilities, or who are just going through difficult times, if they see me doing challenges, if they see me starving, and doing all of these different things, that maybe the things that I’m going through are tough, but I can get through them,” she added.


If it will inspire others, she said she actually wants her leg to fall off. She wants it to serve as proof to people watching that anything is possible.


That is why Lambert is on “Survivor.” She wants to be a source of motivation for people with disabilities.


“I wanted to show other people that, if I can do this, so can they,” she said. “I’m extremely grateful that I’m able to, in a very small way, represent the disability community.”

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