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Candidate Survivor 2023 Showcases Political Forum Like No Other

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Edited by Gurjot Kang

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Seattle City Council candidate for District 5, performs a ballad for the Talent Show portion of Candidate Survivor on July 11, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed)

Under the beaming lights of the Neumos stage, candidates for Seattle City Council compete to capture the attention of prospective youth voters in the most unexpected of ways. This was the strange yet thrilling setting of “Candidate Survivor 2023”—arguably the hottest public forum for political candidacy in the state, or at least in the city of Seattle.

This forum was presented by The Washington Bus, a local non-profit focused on building youth political power through civic engagement, and Seattle’s premier publication, The Stranger.

Candidate Survivor 2023 provided voters with a unique opportunity to learn more about the various candidates running for the upcoming Seattle City Council election through an informative and chaotic public forum unlike any other. With seven city council seats on the ballot this primary season, this year’s Candidate Survivor was more daring than ever. Hosted by Seattle drag icon Miss Texas 1988, the event combined fun, exciting activities with a series of compelling questions on the candidates’ policy and action plans for the city.

The event was broken into three sets: a talent show, lip-sync battle, and to end the night, a “Hot Ones” inspired panel where candidates ate spicy vegan wings and answered questions, increasing in intensity, based on spice levels ranging from mild to incredibly hot. To the audience’s surprise, many of the candidates didn’t shy away from the several challenges presented throughout the night. Each candidate added their own flair to each portion of the night and solidified Candidate Suvivior as a unique and engaging political event.

“One thing that Candidate Survivor does spectacularly is it really does not hold back on the excitement, and it also doesn’t hold back on the policy,” said Bailey Medilo, Digital and Communications Organizer at The Washington Bus. “Young people, we want to have fun, we want to be engaged, [and] we want to feel excited by the political system, but that doesn’t mean that we’re just going here to play ball.”

The Stranger’s editor, Rich Smith, had a hand in creating the questions for the incredibly spicy section of the forum modeled after the popular “Hot Ones” celebrity interview series. The questions during this section of the event addressed a variety of important topics, such as reparations for the black community in Seattle, progressive tax methods, and how best to address the issue of wealth inequality throughout the city. For Smith, Candidate Survivor provides a great opportunity to engage and interest an audience of youth voters in the political process.

“Local government touches all of our lives most directly, and so much of the campaigning and so many of the forums take place at times that young people and working people often cannot make and in places where young people and working people often don’t go. Moreover, all the other candidate forums are incredibly boring, and you really don’t get to see the candidates as human beings.” said Smith.

Statistics show that in Washington state, out of four million registered and active voters, only 8.95 percent of those voters are between the ages of 18-24. Instead, the largest percentage of voters are 65 and over. Specifically, in King County, there are over 12,000 inactive voters between the ages of 18-24. This represents a significant drop when it comes to voter turnout. Increasing voting rates in this age group for crucial local primary elections. In order to elect more officials whose values reflect and align with the lived experiences of young people from underrepresented communities, there need to be more programs, like Candidate Survivor, that listen and engage with this demographic.

Witnessing these circumstances in national and local politics can instill a lack of trust in a voting system that has been upheld by the mechanism of voter suppression, a lack of understanding and resources for potential voters who would be the most affected by the actions of council members, representatives, senators, and even presidents. According to a poll issued by US News, 42 percent of young people between the ages of 18 to 29 don’t believe their vote will make a difference.

Medilo is among the many young individuals on The Washington Bus staff who are dedicated to creating inclusive change in communities across Seattle through engaging programs like Candidate Survivor. With the primary election for Seattle City Council coming up this August 1, there are many issues up for debate, such as homelessness, public safety measures, transportation, affordable housing, etc.

As the crowd fixated on the candidates on the Neumos stage, members and volunteers from The Washington Bus walked along the rows offering folks voter registration forms. For The Washington Bus and The Stranger, this year’s Candidate Survivor was a chance to include and center the voices of young people in an already ostracizing political environment.

On stage, the city council candidates showcased their talents with either a song, dance, poem recitation, or if you’re District 1 candidate Maren Costa, the supposed talent of teleportation. It turns out Costa had a twin sister who appeared from the other side of the stage, much to the confusion of the crowd, who then put two and two together, realizing Costa’s true ‘talent’ was being a twin. Costa then came back from the other side of the stage, and the two began to play a game of “Devil Sticks.”

Some candidates showed off their skillset in memorizing which city buses take you to certain locations, like Alex Hudson, candidate for District 3, who encouraged the crowd to challenge him until someone asked which city bus would take them to a former mayor's house. Other candidates like Dan Strauss, District 6 city councilmember, running for reelection, challenged anyone from the audience to a Lutefisk eating contest. Some candidates showed off their musical prowess, like District 2 incumbent Tammy Morales who performed a special rendition of the 4 NonBlondes’ “What's Up.”

Tammy Morales, city councilmember for Seattle’s District 2, looks out into the crowd during her performance on July 11, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed)

“A lot of times at candidate forums, it’s a very different audience. It’s usually older, it’s whiter, and it’s wealthier,” said Morales. “This is really an opportunity to try to connect with young people and share with them my values, my principles, the things that are important to me to make sure that we’re advocating for progressive policies—and to make sure that folks understand how important it is to be engaged.”

Morales emphasized the kind of strength a youth majority vote would have on Seattle and the changes it would bring forth. Her policies, which affect communities and individuals from the Chinatown-International District to South Seattle, include providing affordable housing for renters, sponsorship of a bill from August 2022 providing local protections for those seeking an abortion, and maintaining programs that support Black and Brown youth, such as Rainer Beach’s “A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth.”

According to Medilo, candidates for the event were invited based on their fundraising capacity, thus allowing for a first-time runner to take their spot on stage. The fun activities continued into the night with a lip-sync battle. In this battle, Morales went head to head with another District 2 runner, Margaret Elisabeth. Both had an intense showdown as they belted out the chorus to Beyonce’s “Run The World (Girls).” However, it was District 3 candidate Andrew Ashiofu who swept the competition with his performance of “Run This Town” blasting through the speakers. To top it all of, Ashiofu was dressed in an all-black outfit featuring aviators, a shoulder harness, and a baton. District 3 candidates Joy Hollingsworth and Alex Hudson did their best to match the caliber of Ashiofu’s dynamic performance, but in the end, Ashiofu was left undefeated.

The candidate that won the lip-sync battle from each district then moved on to the final round of the evening: the “Hot Ones” inspired Q & A. On the final judges' panel were youth representing The Washington Bus and The Stranger, holding up emoji-style cards to illustrate their reactions to each of the candidate's responses to the questions. The first round of “mild” questions began by asking each candidate to share their most radical position. During this round, candidates like ObeySumner stated the city should be held accountable when promises are broken and restated their commitment to hold city council accountable towards their goal of funding and amplifying the voices of marginalized communities.

“I think we all need a break from everyday forums and campaign events. We are whole humans electing whole humans and looking for how we can connect with representatives. No one is summed up to a voter pamphlet, questionnaire, or website, but one of the best ways to connect with new voters is to really connect as people.” said Jazmine Smith, Political Manager for The Washington Bus.

Since its fruition in 2009, Candidate Survivor has gone through many formats, from a mayor/ centric vs. council-focused panel to a pre and post-primary election panel. Still, throughout all its years and many renditions, the annual event has stayed true to its mission of engaging young voters, in the political process.

Candidates ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Ron Davis, Andrew Ashiofu, Maren Costa, and Tammy Morales turn their attention to Cinthia Illan-Vazquez, Executive Director of The Washington Bus, as they pose a question for the candidates to answer on July 11, 2023. (Photo/Marian Mohamed)

During the event, candidate Ron Davis of District 4 used his speaking time to emphasize the rising rent prices in the city—reinstating that nobody should have to relinquish a majority of their income to rent. Additionally, candidate Ashiofu spoke in favor of Universal Basic Income and decriminalizing sex work. Next, candidate Costa emphasized the need for more progressive climate policies that relinquish the state’s dependence on fossil fuels. Lastly, candidate Morales used her mic time to underscore the importance of funding prevention programs that protect the most vulnerable and underserved communities in the city.

As the wings got hotter, so did the questions directed at the candidates. A wide variety of spicy questions were served up—asking candidates things like whether they would join activists in a march or protest, their views on graffiti, their opinions on the democracy voucher, and even how they’d urge Jeff Bezos to pay his fair share of taxesDavis disclosed that he was the only candidate on the panel who's published a piece explaining how progressive taxations are urgently needed to meet workers' needs.

The candidates responses to the questions showcased many of their progressive stances. For instance, when asked if Seattle owes reparations to Black civilians affected by the history of redlining in Seattle, several candidates at the table agreed that reparations were owed in the form of monetary funds or land. Candidate Morales, in particular, pointed to the amazing work of organizations like Africatown Community Land Trust in providing support to Seattle’s Black community.

Andrew Ashiofu, city council candidate for District 3, was crowned the winner of Candidate Survivor 2023 on July 11, 2023. (Photo/marian Mohamed)

Much to the approval of the judges and crowd, candidates then moved on to find out who won Candidate Survivor. To best determine the winner, Miss Texas 1988 used their technicolor fan, pointing above each contestant's head to gauge which candidate sparked the loudest reaction from the crowd. While several of this year’s contestants didn’t shy away from the tough tasks or questions, it was ultimately candidate Ashiofu of District 3 who wowed the crowd and walked away with the 2023 title and ultimate honor of winning Candidate Survivor. With the winner finally crowned, another spicy year of Candidate Survivor came to a close, with Ashiofu ending the night by ceremoniously tossing a bouquet of flowers into the audience.

If you live in King County, are eligible to vote, and would like more information on ballot locations, what measures are on your ballot, or if you'd like to register to vote visit:


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