Senior writer David Hochman spent two days on ”Survivor” island — in time to see Joel get voted off by his Pagong teammates, and to see the two teams merge. This is his story.
I, too, am a Survivor.
Eighteen days into the filming of ”Survivor,” CBS and my generous editors let me traipse off to Malaysian Borneo to spend two unforgettable days on what would become the most hallowed patch of rat-infested jungle in television history. My initial impressions were hardly prosaic: After witnessing Colleen’s exotic beauty (and Erykah Badu headwraps), Rudy’s cranky charms, and immunity challenges that tapped into both Joseph Campbell and ”Battle of the Network Stars,” I thought the series would rate at least as well as CBS’s other reality show, ”Kids Say The Darnedest Things.”
Little did I know ”Survivor” would explode like the mother of all mud volcanoes — or that my own fame would soon be in the offing. Swatting sand fleas on Pulau Tiga somehow conferred upon me a certain para-celebrity status. To the outside world, I was Someone Who Was There; to my friends and family, I became a veritable 17th castaway. Every Thursday morning this summer, my officemates lined up outside my door to glean inside information on Sean’s alphabet strategy and Kelly’s body hair issues.
And it wasn’t long before the press started calling. ”Next up,” an anchorwoman said as I waited in the CNN green room, ”We’ll hear from a man who’s been to the island. This should be exciting.” I spoke to E! and to the AP and to nearly a dozen radio stations around the country. ”60 Minutes” Australia sent their version of Diane Sawyer to my Santa Monica apartment to ask ”Has reality TV gone too far?” Even Joan Rivers had questions, wanting to know, of course, ”Where do they all go to the bathroom on that crazy island?”
I happily played the part of island raconteur, always with my best Jeff Probstian delivery. If my audience needed something tangible, I’d show them my mud splattered tape recorder or my shells from Tagi beach. If they needed dirt, I’d tell them about the snake I saw slithering up to Richard (or was it the other way around?), or I’d describe the death stare I got from Gretchen (she was trying to trap a fish near Pagong beach and I was talking too much). Sometimes, I even told them about the sight of the crushed Coke can that seemed to be moving on its own during Joel’s final tribal council. (It was being pushed by a jungle rat that apparently had an endorsement deal.)
Now that the final council has spoken, I’m not sure what I’ll do. Reruns start in a couple weeks and it won’t be long before the digeridoo sounds on ”Survivor II,” which will be filmed on location in the Australian Outback. In the meantime, I, like Sean, will be clinging to my fifteen minutes. In fact, I have no choice but to answer a few more questions from EW.com.
So, what about that promise you made to CBS not to reveal what happened on the island?
My non-disclosure agreement barred me from revealing the identities of the castoff castaways before that particular episode aired. It no longer applies.
How did you prepare for the trip?
I had to get $1,000 worth of shots — tetanus, Japanese encephalitis, hepatitis A and B, malaria pills, some rabies vaccine. Lots of shots.
How did you get to the island?
It took me 21 hours. I flew from L.A. to Taipei, Taiwan, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, then took a 31-mile chartered fishing boat ride from there to Palau Tiga.
What were living conditions like?
I stayed in producer Mark Burnett’s spartan cabin in a rat and monkey infested compound with the rest of the CBS crew. The crew actually had it worse that the contestants down on the beach — they were camped in the bushes, so they had more problems with rats and snakes.
What did you eat?
Fish head curry, boiled squid, and Power Bars.
Were you allowed to wander freely around the island?
I wasn’t allowed to speak to the castaways, but I could get close and, with an escort, I could rummage through their living quarters when they weren’t there. At the tribal council, I stood just behind the confessional area trying to keep the rats at bay. I slathered myself in mud at the mud volcano. I hung out with the crew. I watched Jenna take a pee in the sand. I toured the castaway’s bathrooms and checked out Rowdy Rudy’s Diner. I hung out with Jeff Probst. I toured the inner part of the jungle with a native guide who also helped teach survival techniques to the contestants. I swam off Tagi beach. As with everyone who visited the island, I was given a complete medical examination by the island medic upon arrival.
Were there any other journalists with you?
I was there with a woman from the New York Daily News who got spooked because of the malaria and decided to leave the island early.
What was the strangest thing you saw?
During the obstacle course challenge, I saw a cameraman release a big bag of snakes — they’d rounded up a whole bunch of snakes and let them go so they could film them.
Did you leave anything behind?
I did try to leave a kind of joke gift bag for the contestants. At the tribal council site, I left them some twigs — some ”Blair Witch” type figures, and an 8”x 10” glossy of the pretty actress, Virginie Ledoyen, from the movie ”The Beach.” And some food. I thought they could use it.