Martial arts

Bi Nguyen, a true Survivor who endured years of abuse, is now an MMA and reality TV star

Emerging from an abusive relationship, Bi Nguyen is fighting to regain her identity and find stardom in mixed martial arts and on season 37 of hit TV show Survivor

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2018, 8:57pm

The reality television series Survivor gives us couch potatoes a front-row seat as fellow human beings are pushed to the outermost limits of their physical and mental endurance while sometimes being forced to face their innermost fears.

But you can forget about all that when it comes to Bi Nguyen, who on Wednesday joins the cast for the premiere of the 37th season of the series, titled “David versus Goliath”.

From political refugee to teenage runaway to the horrors of life in an abusive relationship that only ended when her former partner was locked behind bars – talk to Nguyen and you’ll walk away convinced she has already lived countless lives, even though she’s still 28 years old.

The term “survivor” only begins to tell Nguyen’s story.

“My life has thrown up enough challenges so that nothing really fazes me,” the Vietnamese-American says. “Now I just I say bring it on. I’ve always been a person who says ‘What’s the thing that scares me the most – let’s go that way’.”

It’s an attitude that led Nguyen to mixed martial arts, and to dreams of taking on Asia’s very best, including One Championship superstar Angela “Unstoppable” Lee, the Singapore-based promotion’s current world atomweight champion.

In fact the call to join the cast of Survivor came during a period where she was assessing her future in a sport she had turned to back in her darkest times, when she was just emerging from a relationship that was violent, and had robbed her of any sense of identity.

The call also came on the day Nguyen was told her dad had died after battling liver cancer.

“I got the call about my dad and then I got the call about Survivor,” Nguyen says. “It felt like I was being put on a journey. I found a lot of clarity through the show.”

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Opening credits! @officialsurvivor_cbs • • • • #survivor #survivorshow #survivor37 #realitytv #cbs

A post shared by Bi Nguyen "Killer Bee" (@killerbeemma) on Sep 25, 2018 at 1:44pm PDT

Nguyen’s father had been an officer in the South Vietnamese army during the Vietnam war and had lived in constant fear of retribution while he plotted his family’s escape from the country once the war was over.

It took 20 years from when the final shots were fired, and at eight years old Bi Nguyen found herself in Oakland, California.

Once Stateside, the young Nguyen found it tough adjusting to a new culture and to a brand new life and by the age of 15 she had left home for Houston.

“I was trying to fit in, to not disappoint my family, to be a scholar when I didn’t want to be,” Nguyen says. “Tons of things were happening around me and to me. When you go through so much adversity you don’t have time to figure things out.”

In the end, Nguyen ended up falling in love with a man who offered her an escape but soon became violent.

The relationship lasted five years and only ended when the man was sent to prison for his assaults.

“I never had the strength to get out of that relationship. He went to jail and that’s how I got out,” Nguyen says. “I don’t know where I’d be today or if I’d be alive today if that hadn’t happened.”

The MMA gym gave Nguyen somewhere to hang out at first, and then to sleep, and it gave her a sense of purpose as she adapted to the sport – quickly.

An amateur record of 5-1 led to her turning pro in 2016 and on to fights on various regional circuits in the US, where she picked up the nickname “Killer Bee” in response to the shout outs Nguyen was getting from her growing band of fans.

“I never got a chance to figure out who I was and martial arts helped me find that out. It gave me an identity,” Nguyen says. “And once you find out who you are you can do anything in life.”

Last time out, Nguyen (4-3) fell to a second-round submission (rear naked choke) to American Jayme “Atombomb” Hinshaw (4-3) for the King of the Cage atomweight title but six out of Nguyen’s seven pro bouts have gone the distance, reflecting – via that form guide and video at least – a tenacity and the love of decent stoush.

Growing interest in her rise has also helped Nguyen take on a new role in life, one to which she is as dedicated to now as she is to her daily MMA workouts.

“At the beginning of my career I was fighting for myself, I was fighting for the girl who had been hurt,” Nguyen says. “The girl who had no voice. Now my life has shifted. I want to fight to help others. I’ve realised that the little I have figure out about life can help a lot of people. Social media showed me that. I made me feel very powerful in terms of helping others. It gives you a voice.”

Nguyen’s fortunes in the new Survivor series remain a closely guarded secret – part of the sign-on deal is that contestants can’t discuss what they go through during shooting – so all that she’ll reveal that it’s “truly authentic, crazy and amazing”.

But Nguyen is crystal clear when it comes to where she sees her journey taking her next.

If that means taking on the star of the sport in Asia, so be it. The Hawaii-based Lee is unbeaten at 9-0, and will return to the cage in the city out of which she fights at the One: Heart of a Lion card in Singapore on November 9.

There the 22-year-old Lee will step up in weight to face China’s Xiong “The Panda” Jingnan (16-1) for One’s world strawweight belt.

Nguyen will be tuning in and she says she’ll be ready to answer the call from the One organisation, should it come.

“I will always shoot for the top,” Nguyen says. “I really feel the need to come back to Asia,” says Nguyen. “As Asians we’ve been so quiet for so long. Now is the time for us to make some noise.”