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5 Lessons I Learned Being a Contestant on HBO’s The Climb

My heart pounds as I pull just one more time against my hangboard, a piece of wood designed with finger-sized slots for warming up the hands for rock climbing. I’m desperate to grasp any bit of possible help before all the cameras point at me and I’m expected to climb a challenging ascent in front of the cameras for the HBO Max series by Jason Momoa and Chris Sharma, The Climb. I rub my fingers together, stretch my shoulders and use my Theraband just a few more times to try and activate any supportive muscles that could give me an edge.

Tiffany Soithongsuk, a competitor from the UK, finishes her attempt and in the break between the climbers a strange quiet settles over the crew. Voices are muffled, cameramen shift their positions, and the assistant director is calling my name and asking someone to shuffle me to the base of the climb faster. I’m wishing for just five more minutes to think, to plan, to warm up, but instead I dutifully respond to the call. What advantage or strategy can I bring but to simply “not blow it”?

In just a few days, my life went from a daily routine of climbing coaching calls and typing up emails to competing against nine other climbers in Spain for a chance at a $100,000 prize and a 1-year sponsorship from PrAna—the opportunity of a lifetime for someone like me. But of all the things that happened, I learned far more than I expected by being on TV. 

Image by Warner Media

Lesson #1: Competition can make you stronger or weaker.

Before The Climb, I used to approach competition negatively. I hoped for the other person to mess up, so that I could win. Accomplishment was laced in my opponent’s mistakes, rather than in my achievement. On The Climb, I realized focusing on your competitor just makes you weaker. To truly do well, you must focus on building your own power, not on others’ undoing.

Lesson #2: The biggest hurdle we all have to overcome is ourselves.

This might seem obvious, but in the context of a rock climbing TV show, it was ubiquitous. We competitors all knew the climbs were chosen at a level we were capable of, so the only question was, could we take the pressure? When you know you can do something, you realize that the only person you have to overcome is your own self-doubt. That is harder than you think: We all have an internal self-dialogue that greatly affects our performance in climbing… and in life. 

Lesson #3: You shouldn’t tie your performance to your self-worth.

Caring about your performance is not a bad thing—especially when your skills put you on an elite level. But getting overly attached to what happens, particularly if things don’t go how you planned, is what translates into self-judgment and potentially lower self-esteem. You have to learn to accept any outcome, as it is often out of your control. All you can ever do is try your absolute best. And when you’re on TV, you never know what to expect or what will happen.

Image by Warner Media

Lesson #4: If you don’t want to confront all of your flaws, don’t be on reality TV.

Reality TV is not for the faint of heart. Whether you want it or not, if you’re a contestant, every day is about filming your every move. If you can’t handle a lot of attention, it’s not for you. I expected a lot more down time than what we got, and we were rarely alone. Get ready for adult summer camp, which was admittedly fun, but also get ready to see all your quirks and qualities captured for all to see (and judge).

Lesson #5: Climbing on TV makes climbing in every other circumstance feel easy.

While the stress wasn’t exactly pleasant at the time, I can honestly say that being on The Climb made me a better climber and able to deal with stress and pressure much better. I didn’t expect to experience personal growth while scaling rock faces against nine other incredible climbers in front of a RED camera, but that turned out to be one of the  most valuable prizes of The Climb, and one that we all received.

Would I do it again? Only time will tell. 

Read More About The Climb:

Alice Hafer writes about rock climbing, psychology, and the meaning of life on her blog. She has an MA in both creative writing and screenwriting, and also climbs pretty hard, at least according to Chris Sharma.

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