Rancher Finds Her "Winner Within."

Inside Dakota Ag

Holly Hoffman left the ranch for an adventure on the TV show "Survivor." It was a lot more difficult than she expected. But life on the ranch and in small town South Dakota helped her survive and thrive.

Published on: April 9, 2013

I got fired up meeting Holly Hoffman. She ranches with her husband Charlie, near Eureka, S.D., and has become a professional inspirational and motivational speaker.

If she is ever speaking at an event near you, take the time to go to listen to her. You won’t be disappointed.

In 2010, Hoffman was looking for a new challenge when youngest of her three children entered college. The 44-year-old could have gone back to school herself, gotten a new job in town or even competed in a triathlon. She is an accomplished swimmer, runner and coach.

But Hoffman longed for a new experience, something especially challenging and different. On a whim, she applied to be on her favorite reality television show, “Survivor.” To her great surprise, she was one of the 20 picked out of the 100,000 who had applied. A year later, after some medical tests and a casting call, she found herself in the Nicaraguan jungle competing to the be the last survivor and winner of $1 million.

Holly Hoffman, pictured at the family’s ranch in north central South Dakota, was finalist on the reality TV show “Survivor” and has gone on to become a motivational and inspirational speaker.
Holly Hoffman, pictured at the family’s ranch in north central South Dakota, was finalist on the reality TV show “Survivor” and has gone on to become a motivational and inspirational speaker.

At first, the experience was worse than she had imagined. They were left on the coast with little more than the clothes they were wearing. They had a few food rations, but were supposed to find most of their own food. Her group had little more than ¼ cup of rice and some fish to eat for 22 days. It rained part of each day for the first 17 days of the competition. Their only shelter was a leaky bamboo hut they built. Between the insects and rain, they got little more than a few hours sleep each night. During the day, they had to compete with each other in Survivor games. Throughout it all, they had to deal with the other contestants, who were jockeying to keep from getting voted off the show. Hoffman, who had never quit anything she had started in her life, was ready to quit Survivor on the 5th day..

“I don’t think I can do it,” she confessed in one episode

But Hoffman regrouped. Since she couldn’t change the weather or how other team members treated her, she focused on changing her attitude. She vowed not to let down her family and friends who would see the show when it aired.

Hoffman wasn’t voted out until the 38th day of the 39-day contest. She lasted longer than any of the other women. She didn’t win $1 million, but may have won something more.

The experience changed her life she says.

Since appearing on the show, Hoffman has written a book titled “Your Winner Within” and has been speaking to groups about what she learned on Survivor about how attitude, motivation and other traits affects success. She has spoken to high school and college students, athletic teams and members of civic groups, businesses and trade organizations throughout the Midwest. Recently, she has begun making national appearances, too.

Her inspirational message is especially for fitting for farmers and ranchers this year as the prospects of another year of drought loom large.

“Don’t worry about the things you can’t control, like the weather or prices,” she says. “Do what you can to reduce your risk and then go forward with a positive attitude. Never give up. Attitude is everything. Everyone faces challenges. Your attitude shapes how you react to situations. It is your key to success. It is your key to your winner within.”

Read excerpts from Hoffman’s book, Your Winner Within, in the March 2013 issue of Dakota Farmer, page 6.