Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Rodger Bingham reveals cast was supposed to skydive onto the show
With season 41 of Survivor delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EW is reaching back into the reality show's past. We sent a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to a batch of former players to fill out with their thoughts about their time on the show as well as updates on what they've been up to since. Each weekday, EW will post the answers from a different player.
Survivor is known for its epic opening sequences where the contestants arrive at their isolated destination in super dramatic fashion. Season 2 of the show was no exception as 16 strangers landed in the Australian Outback on a No. 38 Squadron Caribou DHC-4 military aircraft on loan from the Royal Australian Air Force. But as contestant Rodger Bingham reveals, the original plan was for that plane to never land at all.
"Originally, we were going to skydive into the Australian Outback," says Rodger. "And we were all sent to skydiving school all over the U.S. and I had no idea who the other contestants were. We were going to exit the plane at 12,500 feet and then free-fall down to 5,000 feet before opening the chute and hopefully float on down to earth."
Wait… what?!? The network was actually going to kick off the season of what was then the number one show on television by hoping that the contestants-turned-amateur skydivers did not kill themselves 30 seconds into the premiere? Notes Rodger: "CBS changed their mind about this because of insurance issues. Thank God that they changed their mind."
While viewers ended up not being treated to the sight of Maralyn "Mad Dog" Hershey airborne at 12,000 feet, Survivor: The Australian Outback remains the highest rated season in franchise history, and one reason for that was the father–daughter type friendship struck up between Rodger and Elisabeth Filarski (now Hasselbeck).
Even though Rodger was the oldest player in the cast at 53, he still managed to make it all the way to day 36 in fifth place before finally having his torch snuffed (after asking his tribemates to vote him off to save Elisabeth). Now the old school fan favorite looks back at his journey (including that time the cast was assaulted by leeches) and explains why he was afraid of snakes after playing, and how Survivor taught him to tell family members he loved them. Awwwww…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
RODGER BINGHAM: For the first one and a half years after Survivor, I was traveling all over the country doing speaking engagements and signing autographs. I was literally gone every week all over the U.S. and Canada and was being paid quite well for such events. I really enjoyed this time as I got to meet thousands of folks and got to see much of this beautiful country.
In 2004, I accepted a position with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and traveled all over the state promoting agriculture and farm safety. And I was still running my farm operation raising cattle. In 2012, I officially retired from the state job when a new administration took office.
In 2019, I decided to build a 7,200 square foot wedding venue (BinghamMeadows.com) on my 70 acre farm so I sold all of my cattle and took out most of my fencing and started construction. I drew up the blueprints for the project and then hired sub-contractors. I was at the building site every day and put in 2600 feet of water and sewer lines completely by myself. Bingham Meadows is now up and running and I have been extremely busy as I do 95 percent of the managing, bookings, yard work., etc.
I am now engaged to a lovely lady that lives in Ohio and we love being together.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
Jumping off of the 50-to-60 foot high cliff was definitely a turning point for me in the game. Not really knowing how to swim jumping off of the cliff was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. Once I jumped, I still to this day do not have any memory of falling or even hitting the water. The next thing I remembered was breaking through to the surface. No memory of falling nor being down in the water. Kind of scary when you think about that. The only advise that Jeff Probst told us was to run and jump out as far as possible because if you did not you would hit the sides while falling.
Everyone looked at me quite differently after that, and I most definitely gained everyone's respect. Before I went to Australia, I started preparing myself both physically and mentally, and both are equally important. After the show was over and we were able to talk to the camera men, they commented that even though I was the oldest contestant, that I was one of the strongest.
I could have been better with my cardio, so when the cliff jump came up, I was not looking forward the this challenge at all. However, weeks before preparing myself, I had made my mind up that I could and would do anything that any of the rest of the Survivors would do. Originally, we were going to skydive into the Australian Outback, and we were all sent to skydiving school all over the U.S. and I had no idea who the other contestants were. We were going to exit the plane at 12,500 feet and then free-fall down to 5,000 feet before opening the chute and hopefully float on down to earth. CBS changed their mind about this because of insurance issues. Thank God that they changed their mind.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
Myself and one other individual were really very qualified to survive in the Outback with our knowledge of hunting, camping, etc…. I spent all of my time providing food, fishing, and hunting and not enough time "Playing the Game." I did supply 75-80 percent of the food eaten by my tribe, so I also knew that they would not be in too big of a hurry to vote me out as long as I was putting food in their mouth. Having said that, it is a game of numbers and how people vote. I was much more in the mix than what they showed on TV as I knew each time we went to Tribal Council who was getting voted out and I was correct ever time. Even the night I was voted out, I knew that I was leaving. I worked hard to get the votes to vote someone else out, but was not successful.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
In the cliff jump episode, once we made it to shore all of us had leeches on us, and I am here to tell you those little nasty things will get in places you never dreamed about. So all of us were on shore picking off the leaches all over us in our bathing suits and other areas of great concern. We were all amazed that it never made it onto TV as they did get all of that on film. I was told that for every 44 minutes of showtime that there is actually 300 hours on average of filming. So 300 hours of filming gets cut down to 44 minutes.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
We all felt that everyone on the show was shown basically at they truly were, and we had all talked about this a couple of times when we were all together. Everyone, that is, except the one female lady from the show who was sorta shown, in her words, as a villain. Like I said, everyone else thought we were all correctly shown the way we actually were on the show.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
I most definitely did have an adjustment period after returning home. I always slept on the outside of my tribe at night and never did tell the rest of the tribe, but the reason I did this is because I worried about a poisonous snake wanting to come and curl up with you as your body heat would attract them. So every night or 36 days when we would sleep, I would lay there thinking about this and waking up usually an average of 12-15 times per night. If I would hear the leaves rustling, then I would lay there to see if that was a poisonous snake.
So I had major problems sleeping for the first six to eight weeks returning home as I was still thinking about those snakes. Australia has five of the 10 most deadly poisonous snakes in the world and they did give us training on this before we were dropped off in the Outback.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
No, I never did regret being on the show. As a younger man, and even in my adult life, I always wondered how I would do in a survival situation, so when this show came along I knew it was for me. I am still surprised that I was selected as a contestant as there were somewhere around 49,000 applicants for Survivor II. For me, it truly was the adventure of a lifetime.
My grown daughter made the statement on a TV interview that I had not always been very good at showing my emotions, and to be quite honest I was quite taken back by this. After giving this much thought, I came to the conclusion that she was correct. Now I am much better at showing my emotions and I do not miss an opportunity to tell my daughter and grandkids that I love them and am much better at giving hugs. So if nothing else came out of the show but this, then I am most thankful.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
I will text or hear from mostly Mike Skupin and Tina Wesson from time to time. Nothing on a real regular basis. Skupin mostly likely because we fished together and had formed an alliance the same day he passed out and fell into the fire. When they air lifted him out of the Outback, there went one of the people in my alliance and I knew I had problems. Tina because she is a southern girl and had the same accent as I do. I thought she was the only one that spoke normal in the Outback. Even though I did not vote for her to win in the end, she certainly is a most gracious lady, highly respected and a great Survivor winner.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I have watched every Survivor season, and to be honest there were a few seasons that I believe some folks came off of the show fatter than when they started. Go back and watch earlier Survivor seasons and then watch the present season and look at the difference in food. I lost 35 pounds in the 36 days I was on the show. Strength wise, I went from doing 50 push-ups at one time before the show, but could only do 26 at the end of the show. A favorite season for me would be Survivor III in Africa, probably because I have become close friends from some of the folks on that show.
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
I would have liked to have played with Big Tom. An old farm boy like me, someone that we have a lot in common with and someone that if he shook my hand that I knew that was as good as a written contract. We have become very good friends even though we were on different shows.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I personally liked Survivor when there was less back-stabbing and more about surviving the elements. But, in the end, the game is all about Outwit, Outplay, and Outlast.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
They have contacted me on three occasions about other seasons, and yes, I would have loved to play the game again. This time, I would play the game much harder and worry less about providing food. On the one occasion, I got a call from Lynn Spillman, who is the main casting director (she never did like me) and she said that Mark Burnett wanted myself and Skupin to be on the next Survivor show in Guatemala. So I joined the YMCA to practice swimming, and three weeks later they changed their mind and took two people who had just came off of the previous show. On another occasion they were considering myself and my daughter for a show, but, in the end, I never did get back on, sorry to say.
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