October 15, 2023

Before joining the cast of Survivor, Kellie became a fan of the show during Covid. At the time, she was working on the frontlines as a nurse at NYU Langone Hospital in New York City.

Kellie Nalbandian

credit: Robert Voets/CBS

When asked, just days before the premiere, to describe her Survivor experience, “intense” is the first word that quickly emerges from NYU alum and contestant Kellie Nalbandian (MEYERS ’19) [she/her]. But for anyone who’s read Kellie’s bio, intensity seems to be something she’s quite comfortable with. Before joining the cast as one of 18 contestants on the Emmy-winning series’ milestone 45th season, which premiered September 27, Kellie became a fan of the show when she binged it during Covid. At the time, she was working on the frontlines as a nurse at NYU Langone Hospital in New York City.

Kellie’s healthcare career began when she became an EMT at the age of 18. She later completed her BS in Nursing as part of NYU Meyers’ accelerated 15-month program, went on to work as an emergency room technician, and is now a critical care nurse, pursuing her masters of nursing at Yale. It’s those very experiences that prepared Kellie to take her pandemic pastime and turn it into an unforgettable experience as a castaway stranded in the islands of Fiji competing to be crowned Sole Survivor.

Read on to learn about Kellie’s journey and tune into Survivor Wednesdays at 8:00 PM ET/PT on CBS and available to stream on Paramount+ to cheer on this fellow Violet!

What motivated you to audition for and decide to compete on Survivor?

I started watching the show for the first time during the pandemic; I went through them as a kind of escape from what was going on during Covid at the time. Obviously it was a really difficult time to be a nurse in New York City. And I just became obsessed with it, and I had this little thought in the back of my mind, like ‘I feel like I could do this. This looks really fun.’

As a nurse, you don't really get to be competitive that often. I grew up playing sports. I love to play board games and video games. I'm really competitive. So this seemed like a great way to flex those competitive muscles, and I just sort of hit ‘apply.’

Especially after being a nurse during Covid, I just realized, why not go for what you want? You know? I saw a lot of scary, horrible things during that time, and it just made me realize—it sounds cheesy—but life is really short, and you should just go for it, and here I am.

What three words would you use to describe your Survivor journey so far?

Intense, exhilarating, challenging

You spent the early years of your career as a nurse on the frontlines of the Covid pandemic in New York City. What did you take away from that experience?

It just kind of threw everything for a loop! I had such a clear idea of what I wanted to do with my nursing career and something like that just turns your life completely upside down. 

I was working with a bunch of mostly new nurses on the night shift. Several of us had been there for just about a year when the pandemic started, and we all had to band together and just do it; It wasn't really an option to not show up. All of a sudden, the world's eyes were on us and we just had to go. 

And I think that really taught me a lot about real teamwork and bonding, and that feels very Survivor to me. The idea of having a tribe; random people that you may not have ever crossed paths with otherwise all just end up at the same job or on the same crazy show, and you have to come together, whether you’re best friends or not, and get the job done. It was really one of the silver linings I took away from that experience.

Kellie Nalbandian

credit: Robert Voets/CBS

It was definitely a hard way to jump into nursing but I think it gave me a good clinical basis, it showed me how to work under a ton of stress, a lot of chaos, a lot of unknowns, and it taught me what I can do in those situations to depend on myself and my coworkers.

Did you have any NYU classes or instructors who inspired or impacted you?

A lot of what I really like about Meyers is that a lot of the instructors, especially some of the small group clinical instructors, would take us to the hospital or do simulations with us. They had a lot of real world experience as nurses and it allowed me to have experiences in areas, like the ER and the ICU, that I was interested in working in. That was the most valuable thing for me. 

Do you have a favorite NYU memory that you’d like to share?

I did the accelerated nursing program at NYU. It's 15 months; It's very tight. And that was really awesome. We just jumped into it. Some of the students are regular undergraduate students, and then there's a cohort of students who are coming back to begin nursing as a second career right after their bachelor's degree. It’s a tough program; It's full speed ahead. And so some of my favorite memories are when we would have like five hard tests in one day, and then we all go out and celebrate together. I still have really good friends from that cohort and some of them are going to be in my wedding [next year]! It's friendships for a lifetime. That's a really special part of the NYU Meyers experience. 

Is there a way in which you think having competed on Survivor will make you a better nurse?

Just having the experience of applying and competing. Like working, on Survivor, the cast is so diverse; you're with people from all across the country of different backgrounds and ages. Being able to spend so much time with people who I might not have ever met. 

On day one on Survivor, I'm with this random tribe of five other people who are from all different places. That's such a cool gift that I won't always get to have in life. When I'm taking care of patients in the hospital, especially in New York City, it's a very diverse population. So I see a lot of crossover there in terms of how I'm able to use that skill to relate to different types of people in a very stressful environment. 

Kellie competing on Survivor

credit: Robert Voets/CBS