When 28-year-old Kansas University graduate Jana Correa won Brazil’s version of the reality television show “The Apprentice,” her friend Erin Sheridan was watching a live feed of the show online from Nebraska.
Other friends were watching, too.
“We all kept saying, ‘She’s going to win. We know she’s going to win,’” Sheridan said.
Talk to those who knew Correa well when she was in Lawrence, and one word comes up again and again. In fact, Sheridan said the host of the TV show, Brazilian entrepreneur João Doria, used it, too, when announcing that Correa had won.
“The reason they chose Jana,” Sheridan said, “was because she’s a fighter.”
The native of rural Macapá, Brazil, came to KU to play volleyball, and was on the team from 2003 to 2006. Ray Bechard, KU’s volleyball coach, said the team found out about Correa through Josi Lima, another Brazilian volleyball player who had played on the team earlier.
While on the team, she had to come back from knee surgery — twice — and wound up finishing in the top 10 on the all-time career kills list.
Bechard remembered her filling out an online application for the show this summer while helping out at the KU volleyball camp. It was no surprise to Bechard that Correa won.
“She can charm you, she can be tough, she’s willing to stand up for herself and she has a lot of personal pride,” he said.
For winning the show, Correa received about $800,000 in U.S. dollars, a new car, a painting by Brazilian artist Romero Britto valued at about $50,000 in U.S. dollars and a one-year contract for a new job, Sheridan said.
The show functioned much like the American version, where contestants performed challenges and then faced a “board room” led by Doria and a few associates, Sheridan said.
Correa left KU with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and came close to finishing a master’s degree in Latin American studies.
“We’re still waiting for her to finish her last paper,” said Laura Herlihy, a lecturer in Latin American studies who noted that Correa had finished all the courses she needed for the degree. Herlihy said she taught Correa in several of those courses.
She always wanted to be in television, Herlihy said, and was a good student, and was always determined. She didn’t finish her courses as much as she conquered them, Herlihy said.
Herlihy remembered that for a time, Correa worked as a nanny for former KU basketball player Scot Pollard, and joked that she was the one who helped steer the kids away from sugary soft drinks and other similar vices.
Bechard said he was confident that Correa would use her winnings to help friends and family back home in Brazil.
“I don’t think it could have happened to a better person,” he said.