Sodasia "Soda" Thompson, a Long Island-raised special-education teacher, will compete...

Sodasia "Soda" Thompson, a Long Island-raised special-education teacher, will compete on season 46 of "Survivor," premiering Wednesday on CBS. Credit: CBS / Robert Voets

In a life of varied accomplishments, standing on a nighttime beach on an island in the South Pacific may have been her most life-changing, says Bay Shore-raised Sodasia “Soda” Thompson, one of the 18 castaways vying for $1 million on “Survivor” season 46, premiering Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBS.

“It felt like an out-of-body experience. It's really, truly euphoric,” recalls the 27-year-old of being on one of Fiji’s 20 Mamanuca Islands, where “Survivor” has shot since 2016. “Incredibly breathtaking. If you've ever been stargazing in a non-light-polluted area, if you've ever been camping, and you've seen the night sky, it's like that times a million. It's like you can see stardust and galaxies, with no lights around and warm ocean winds. There are no words to describe the feeling of serenity, peace and awe that you get.”

A special-education teacher now living in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, with her husband of six years, fellow teacher Danrley Silva, Thompson joins the more than dozen Long Islanders who have competed on “Survivor” since season 1 in 2000. The phone call telling her she was a contestant came, she recalls, on New Year’s Day 2023. “I got into a fetal position on the ground and started freaking out. So exciting, thrilling. I couldn't even believe it.”

Her husband, whom she calls “my biggest cheerleader,” was equally ecstatic, she says. “He was just, like, he screamed! He was just screaming! We were both just screaming and jumping up and down and hugging each other!”

Thompson’s enthusiastic outlook helped propel her from her loving yet, as she described it on air, “pretty dysfunctional family.” She was raised by her aunt, Claudia Bizzle, whom she believed was her mother. Thompson learned only later in her youth — “I was in my double digits,” is all she can recall — that Claudia’s sister Sharon Bizzle was her biological mom.

“I didn't know either of my parents that well because they struggled with addiction,” Thompson says. Her birth mother died when Thompson was in her teens, and Thompson did not find her father until “a couple of years ago. His last name is not Thompson; it's Cobbs. So I truly have no idea where my last name came from.” Her first name, she was told, came from her birth mother having “craved soda a lot when she was pregnant with me.”

Reflecting, Thompson said, “I feel like out of all of those kind of lemons, I worked hard to make lemonade. And the way I did that is just by being myself and being kind and making connections to others and finding myself through education and teachers and mentors.”

And talent: An original song by her and fellow Bay Shore High student Joe Pastore won the $5,000 grand-prize grant for their school in VH1’s “Battle of the Bands” in 2012. The following year, she lasted through two early rounds of the Long Island auditions for Fox’s singing competition “The X Factor.” She was first chair trumpet in both the wind ensemble and symphonic orchestra in high school, while enrolled in college-level International Baccalaureate courses.

Thompson attended Hofstra University in Hempstead on a full scholarship, studying vocal jazz, but later transferred to SUNY Purchase, graduating with a degree in arts management. During summers she worked with the Brooklyn-based TrailBlazers youth program.

 “That's when I really fell in love with working with kids,” she says — so much so that in 2019 she became a special-education and science theater at Voice Charter School in Queens. In 2022 she earned her master’s in childhood education, with a dual certification in special education, from the Relay Graduate School of Education, and last fall joined the Banyan School at its Fairfield, New Jersey, location.

Her Bay Shore background, she says, was a plus for “Survivor.” “It's a hamlet filled with a lot of BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and other people of color] and a lot of Caucasian people, from all different backgrounds. I think that probably gave me a leg up, since I was exposed to all types of relationships and types of cultures. But also, I'm just a people person.”

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