EW.com asks a few burning questions about hogging the spotlight and hunting for fame
Michael Skupin, Survivor: The Australian Outback
Credit: Michael Skupin: Monty Brinton

Let’s face it: Internet project manager Jeff’s March 8 expulsion from ”Survivor” wasn’t exactly the dramatic glue you to the screen stuff of the previous episode. Not that we want to see any more tribe members take a nosedive into the fire pit (well, okay, maybe Jerri), but we thought it was a good time to check in with Michigan software publisher Mike.

How did you fall into the fire, anyway?
I was leaning over the fire to blow on it. We had three weeks of hot embers in there and the flame had gone out. The leaves and twigs started smoking, and then the wind suddenly changed directions and as I was breathing in, I inhaled a bunch of smoke. Smoke inhalation replaces oxygen and that’s why I passed out.

What was it like watching your accident on TV?
Most people who get injured never get to see themselves but I’ve seen it 20 times and it never gets easier. It just brings back the pain — the memory of the intense, incredible pain. It’s not traumatic. It’s just… whoa!

And that was burned skin sliding off your hands in the water, wasn’t it?
Yeah. The skin from both sides — the palms, fingers, back sides all peeled off and were hanging on my hands like Swamp Thing. I kept looking down at my hands. People were screaming at me to stop looking but it was like, I can’t help it!

So what happened after the medics took you away?
They took me to the largest closest city hospital which was about an hour and 15 minutes away. The doctors there took one look at my hands and said, ”Get him out of here. There’s nothing I can do.” So they hired a private airjet and airjetted me to Brisbane and I went into ICU there. I spent about 10 days there. My hands had swelled up to about three times their original size. They needed the swelling to go down before they could actually operate. And then I had to go through aggressive occupational and physical therapy. The doctors said they had never seen healing like that before. Underneath the layers of black charred skin they could see pink normal skin.

How are your hands now?
They’re a bit red. I’ve got some minor scarring which I call my Australian tattoos. But I’m back to hockey and basketball. I must have been a millimeter away from that part where you lose sensation. I just burned the very tip of my nerve endings. If I’d burned more, I would have lost some permanent sensation.

Did you feel like one of the camera operators could have — or should have — come to your aid?
There were five other tribe members, two field producers, and other people there. If it was just me and a camera guy and I was laying unconscious in a fire pit — absolutely the guy would have pulled me out. But in this case, he would have been another body. By the time everyone gathered what was happening, there was nothing anyone could do.

Did you think you could go back into the competition?
For about 48 hours, I thought I was going back. Finally I realized I couldn’t brush my teeth, wash my hair, shave. Mark Burnett kept in contact with me and said, ”We’re holding your spot.” But everyone that saw me knew — except me — that I wasn’t going back. They let me figure it out on my own.

Did the teams stay in touch with you?
I got 300 emails, flowers, books, cards, tapes. I keep in touch with the people moreso from the other tribe. I talk to Keith almost every day. I talk to Tina every other day. I had dinner with Alicia and Jeff last week.

Back to the pre- fire Mike: Let’s talk about the controversial pig slaughter. What was the biggest animal you killed before the pig?
A mule deer, which is similar to a white tail deer. It’s found in the Western part of the U.S. It’s about 250 pounds, but I killed it with a rifle.

Has PETA contacted you? No, they have not. PETA was upset at the beginning but I’ve gotten four or five hundred pieces of fan mail. And how I killed the pig is a lot more humane than the way pigs are killed in slaughterhouses.

What motivated you to smear pig blood on your face?
That’s an old hunting tradition. All the hunters of the world who saw it say it’s no big deal. People who don’t hunt were kind of shocked. As a joke, I said we should all go to the immunity challenge with pig’s blood, but I got outvoted on that one.

If the accident hadn’t happened, do you think you could have won it all?
It’s fun to speculate. I received a peace about the whole situation and never looked back. I was out there 17 days. I captured turtles and lizards and all kinds of animals you couldn’t eat because they were protected. I just wanted to prove to myself that if I was put in a situation like that I could survive. I don’t have any regrets. There’s nothing that could have happened to me that would have more dramatically affected my life. It changed me a lot as a person.

How so?
I got really spiritual. I prayed a lot for complete healing. I really learned how to pray. There were really no distractions. You’re sitting in a bed for 10 days. I really missed my family a lot. I’ll never take my wife for granted again. I’ll never bury my nose in the newspaper at the breakfast table. I don’t work as many hours now. I’ve turned down lucrative speaking engagements because I wouldn’t miss a basketball game of my son’s.

Have you been contacted for endorsement deals?
Well, we’re not allowed to get into discussions until we’re off the show. But in the last week I’ve gotten a couple of hundred phone calls — a lot of burn products, some clothing companies, some health clubs. I’m sort of wading through them right now. I’d love to give back to the community and if I was able to do a product endorsement and make a few dollars and support my church better, it would be a rewarding thing for me. I don’t want to shlep a product just to shlep it. I take this notoriety very seriously.

Would you try again on ”Survivor” 3?
I would go back in a heartbeat. I don’t know logistically how Mark would work out the issue of a guy who’s already done it before, unless he put one guy on each side. In any capacity I could be involved in the next ”Survivor,” I would do it.

Read All About ”Survivor” 2 for EW.com’s comprehensive coverage.

Survivor: The Australian Outback
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