Conquering stress A matter of survival
They fall off the table one by one, like billiard balls. Victims of their own success. Or of their own failures. Sixteen. Fifteen. Fourteen
Eventually one will remain. The sole survivor.
Borrowing from a popular television series, Ken Stewart referees a weekly Survivor competition that is slowly whittling down a field of 16 players. All are members of a transition team that is implementing a new financial management system at the transportation department.
At times, the work is mentally taxing. Patience and perseverance are important virtues in the year-long process. Clearly, it was too much for stress balls or inflatable punching dolls. What team members needed was an activity that would inject fun, friendly competition and physical activity to the mental process.
Thats why Stewart organized the survivor series, a four-month contest that offers physical challenges while demanding teamwork and even a little good-natured relational manipulation. On the television version, theyre called alliances.
Participants assemble every Wednesday on a lawn at ITD Headquarters for contests that involve speed, agility and cooperation. One of the noon-hour events was a balloon relay race through an obstacle course. Another required team members to fill a can with water to make a ping pong ball rise inside until it floated through a hole in the side of the can.
In another contest, all but one member of a team were blindfolded and had to follow voice instructions to reach flags planted in the grass. Their charge was to pick up a flag and take it to a specified place on the field.
The winning team each week receives immunity all of its members are protected and assured of a place in the following weeks competition. The losing team meets in tribal council on the following Tuesday and votes one member off. That gives members of the losing team a week to form alliances and lobby behind the scenes to protect themselves or target a colleague for elimination.
Sue Simmons was the first casualty, by default. She was unable to attend tribal council on Aug. 16 and was an easy choice for dismissal. Martin Chaney was discharged the following week, while Linda Salinas and Gary Genova bowed out on Aug. 31. Dana Bailey and Ruth Martin were sent packing on Sept. 7 and 14, respectively.
Through mid-September, the following remain active: Mary Mangum, Dave Tolman, Bryan Brown, Richard Cate, Sandra Healy, Karen Sparkman, Janice Biggins, Esbjorn Larson, Doug Bell and Alden Jamison.
Through the first month of competition, Tolman is the only player who has never been on a losing team, thus enjoying the security of exclusive immunity.
The original tribes of Swooshi and Awooga have been abolished and remaining players merged into a single band called Changooli. Competition soon will shift to individuals, rather than teams. No more relational alliances. It will become everybody for himself or herself. One-on-one.
The winnowing process should reach two players in early November. Stewart has yet to determine how the lone survivor will be chosen.
As executor of the process, Stewart is responsible for creating the weekly challenges. Some are inspired by players; others are loosely patterned after the television series. Many are of his own design.
When weather turns sour, competition probably will move indoors.
While supervising the competition, Stewart has been recording the trials on video tape. His intent was to edit the material and produce a final video. It didnt take him long, however, to determine that editing would be an insurmountable challenge; now raw footage is gaining favor over a finely-edited product.
Most of the people seem to be having a good time, at least those who havent been voted off, Stewart says. It was meant to be a stress-reliever activity and provide a respite from the day-to-day routine. A break from the project and the work environment.
Will there be a Survivor sequel before the financial management program is fully implemented and the transition team disbanded?
Stewart thinks not.
Although the unique weekly challenge has been fun, Stewart might look for an activity that is a little less contentious one that keeps players together and focuses on collective success rather than isolating members.
Thus far, however, the four-month challenge is achieving its purpose. For about 30 minutes each week, all attention is diverted away from the mental strain of introducing a new, comprehensive and complex financial management system.
Photos: Friendly competition such as a tennis ball toss (top) results in the dismissal of a member of the losing team. Winners (above) receive the immunity chicken from Ken Stewart, protecting their players from elimination.