How My Goddaughter, Sophie Clarke, Won 'Survivor'

Sophie Clarke, this year’s winner of 'Survivor,' started her journey to victory when she was 7. And I was there.

by Judith Coyne • Executive Editor
winner of survivor sophie clarke image
Host Jeff Probst presents Sophie Clarke, winner and sole survivor, with her $1 million dollar check during the live reunion show for Survivor: South Pacific, Sunday, Dec.18, 2011 on the CBS Television Network

As the world now knows, this year’s winner of Survivor —the newly crowned Dragonslayer—comes from the small town of Willsboro in upstate New York. What you'll only read here: how her winner's edge was honed by her dad, when she was just seven.

That summer, 15 years ago, I visited her and her family at the Clarkes' house on the shore of Lake Champlain. (By the way, Sophie's home, while full of Adirondack-style charm, is not any version of a mansion--if she is "privileged," as her competitor Ozzy claimed, it's in having two brilliant and caring parents and the kind of rural childhood in which nature's beauty is there for all, not just the rich, to enjoy).  Because I lived far away, in New York City, I rarely got to see Sophie, my first and only godchild. So to give us some time together, her father (a wonderful writer named Thurston Clarke whose books you should check out on Amazon) put us in the family’s little speedboat and putt-putted out to the middle of the lake. For a few minutes we just leaned back, contemplating the glorious sky, the ancient surrounding trees, the feeling that an army of James Fenimore Cooper characters were about to pour out of the forest onto the shore. And then Sophie’s father spoke.

Dad: Sophie, show Judy how you can dive. Dive off the boat.

Sophie: No.

Dad: Come on, Soph. Show Judy how well you dive.

Sophie: No. I don’t feel like it. [Sophie then rattles off a long list of reasons, none of which I remember, why she doesn’t feel like it.]

Dad (interrupting her spiel): Sophie, shut up and dive.

Sophie: No.

Dad: If you dive off the boat, I’ll give you a dollar.

Sophie: Pauses. Reflects on the proposed deal. And then dives. (Beautifully.)

Flash-forward 15 years: Sophie Clarke swims, jumps, runs and climbs on Survivor—and wins a million bucks. We're all so proud. I just hope she thanked her dad.

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First Published December 19, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Melissa Inman12.20.2011

how exciting for her! what an experience.

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