When Sabrina Thompson solved the puzzle in episode three of SURVIVOR: One World, the one that capped the Salani tribe comeback, it could have set off an avalanche. It could have been the moment the thirty-three year old television personality decided to bully the comp with her division-one athleticism. The moment she transformed into that hulkish girl with ‘tude. But it wasn’t. She played it cool. And damn near won the whole competition. “I had to downplay my big personality,” she says. “I’m naturally aggressive and I had to tone that down in order to get far in the game.”
Thompson is no stranger to adaptation. She has done it all. From division one track to major network television production to teaching high school in one of the roughest neighborhoods in the country. Picture all that along with co-founding a 40,000 plus member non-profit and helming a burgeoning multimedia company and all of a sudden lasting thirty-nine days on Survivor doesn’t seem so hard.
After all, being a survivor is about standing out.
Which Thompson has done since a young girl who outran the boys all the way to a track scholarship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she competed in the 100-meter dash. A few years later with a degree in Communications and $500, she was off to NYC to start a high-profiled internship in television production at the Ricki Lake show. From there she landed a job at Columbia TriStar, Sony Pictures, and Court TV as a booking and segment producer for series on the O.J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Kobe Bryant trials.
It’s also about being bold.
Like leaving a career in television for the humble calling of a New York City public school teacher just for the challenge, which was what Thompson did when she joined the staff of Frederick Douglass Academy VII. With creativity and a no-nonsense demeanor, she taught high schoolers in the roughest sections of Brooklyn and put her industry Rolodex to good use inviting celebrities and top executives to the classroom.
At the same time Sabrina was changing the world one student at a time, she was also co-helming WEEN (Women Empowerment in Entertainment Network) a program that educates young women how to be moguls and executives in the world of entertainment. Since its inception in 2007, the coalition has gained over 43,000 members across the country, receiving major network press from the New York Post, BET, CNN, and MSNBC. As a member of the founding board, Sabrina played a major role in creating the annual WEEN awards, which has honored Soledad O’Brien, Nia Long, Debra Lee, Estelle, among others. Thompson also was fundamental in organizing the annual WEEN Academy, a six-week course designed to educate 25 promising industry leaders in the field of business and marketing.
As if that wasn’t enough, Thompson also launched beanpYe (www.beanpye.com), a jewelry line comprised of her own handcrafted bracelets, earrings, and necklaces for authentic fashion lovers. These tropically themed pieces, inspired by art from Somoa and Fiji, graced the pages of Vibe, Black Enterprise, ESSENCE,Trace, and Complex magazines, adorning the wrists, necks, and earlobes of Alicia Keys, Keri Hilson, Nelly Furtado, Joss Stone and India.Arie.
It’s safe to say that as an entrepreneur and a young leader, Thompson seeks out challenges. But arguably her greatest challenge sought her in the form of an email from a casting producer informing her that she was being considered on Survivor’s twenty-fourth season. This was tremendous given that she hadn't even sent in an application. “One of the women they were recruiting for the show had my same exact name. They kept Googling information on her, but kept getting my picture and info instead. They simply said, ‘we like this Sabrina better” and called me.”
And like that Thompson was off to the treacherous mangroves of Upolu, Somoa for Survivor: One World. Using the skills she accrued from teaching in an inner-city schools--analyzing personalities, knowing when to be authoritative, when to play the background--she competed for thirty-nine days, lasting all the way to the final council where she finished as the runner up for the million dollar cash prize. ”I didn’t have to come out of character that much in order to get far,” Sabrina says, reflecting on her success. “I played a game that I can be proud of, my parents can be proud of, and my community can proud of.”
Now that Sabrina has proven she is a survivor, she is steadily turning into a household name. Her recently launched KUU (“prominent” in Swahili) Photography boasts a stunning online portfolio of baby and wedding pictures from clients nationwide with 50% of the printing profit going to supplies for New York City Public Schools. This summer, her work will be showcase in the Dream Big exhibit on Fifth Avenue in New York. She is also scheduled to embark on her original five-city national obstacle course tour called THE GENDER WARS (www.thegenderwars.com) to raise money for the Teen Travel Society. It promises to be a busy season for the young leader. Only now, she has permission to be herself.