Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: How Robert DeCanio turned his show experience into a new career
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 indefinitely postponed 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.
It has been said that Survivor can be a life-changing experience, and for Robert DeCanio, that was certainly the case. Nicknamed "The General," Robert made it all the way to day 33 on Survivor: Marquesas — the last member of the onetime majority alliance that was overthrown by two minority groups who combined forces to take down the fearsome foursome of longtime Rotu members. (Thanks to the presence of "Big Rob," Rob Mariano would also take on the new moniker of "Boston Rob" to help differentiate between the two contestants. Fun fact: Without the General, there is no Boston Rob.)
Even though Robert did not receive the life-changing million-dollar check that eventually went to Vecepia Towery, his adventure in the Marquesas set him on a new path… and a new career. As Robert explains in his Quarantine Questionnaire, he followed up his TV journey with another journey across South America with two fellow old-school Survivor contestants. They were the first steps toward the limousine driver putting the brakes on that career and choosing an entirely new direction.
Read on as the General takes us all the way back to season 4 (including a Luxury Item story that never made it to the show) and updates us as to how one adventure on TV back in 2002 led to his current adventure in New York City 19 years later.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you've been up to since appearing on Survivor.
ROBERT "THE GENERAL" DECANIO: It has been a long time since being on the show, and I will try and not be too long-winded. For a couple of years, I studied adventure travel and tourism. Most of this was done with Lex from Survivor: Africa and Hunter Ellis. We spent time in 2002-2003 on trips in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador on the Inca Trail and in the Amazon jungle, having great adventures and learning all the time.
To continue on this path, I moved to Hilton Head Island, S.C., in late 2003 and studied interpretive naturalism in a top 10 ecosystem and developed many programs and guiding companies over the next decade. And in 2012 I led in the development of a zipline canopy tour and aerial adventure company, which led to great success. In 2016, I moved back to New York to help in the building, training, development, and operations of the Treetop Adventure Park in the Bronx Zoo. I presently oversee the operations, maintenance, and all other functions of this Adventure Park.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment would probably be winning the Individual Immunity. I had come in second on, like, the last three challenges and I was pretty frustrated at that point, and it was an awesome feeling of victory!
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My biggest regret is that I didn't get to meet and play the game with so many in my season. I had to wait till after the show and the reunion to actually meet a lot of the cast members from Marquesas.
What's something that will blow fans' minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
I am not sure if it will blow minds, but this didn't make it, and some producers told me after the show that they debated a lot about this. You are told to bring three things for your Luxury Item, and they will tell you which one you will bring. I was speaking with show folks while getting ready for the show, and they wanted my three items. One was a Jets football, there was a magnifying glass, and I just grabbed a New Orleans tourist voodoo doll off the bookshelf.
Anyway, my Luxury Item was picked as the voodoo doll. After about a week into the game, it disappeared. I never made a big thing about it, so they didn't follow the story line. I believe it was within the last week I was in the game it reappeared by my belongings. Neleh told me that she and the other Bible thumpers took it and hid it because it creeped them out. Wish I knew it bothered them, I would have kept an eye on it. Ha!
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
You will never hear me complain about the way I was edited. You sign a contract and make that deal, they show whatever they choose. The outcome is the outcome, how you get there and the story is owned by them. It doesn't matter if they show scenes out of context or timeline. You signed that right away. So be an adult and if you said or did it, you said and did it. Doesn't matter how they show it, be an adult and own it.
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
Big culture shock and big adjustment. We left in early November 2001 to film the show. I was in the game for 33 days and spent a total of 42 out there — most of that time only being around less than 10 people. I returned home the evening of Dec. 23. The next day, I was in my uncle Dom's basement in Canarsie, Brooklyn, surrounded by approximately 20-30 family and friends. That was the last place I wanted to be, and I couldn't wait to get out of there and call my islandmates, for they were like my security blanket. I needed to hear them to feel all right. This did take quite some time to get over.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
Lol! Can anyone honestly ever answer this question and say never? I guess Boston Rob can, ha! I think he's been doing this so long they got to get him a retirement plan. One of the things that I can honestly say is that I never regret anything that I have done in my life. That is no way to live. I have made tons of bad decisions, and good ones too. Being an adult is making the best of all the outcomes. Now, after we jumped off the ship it took us hours to paddle that square raft to our beach, and not everyone could fit in the raft. I think half were in the raft and half in the water. When we pulled ourselves and our belongings up onto the beach, I remember thinking to myself, "what the F did I get myself into?!" Ha, ha!!! But regrets, no. Maybe just letting one girl go, but that's it ;)
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
So whom do I still talk, text or email with from my show? I have to say absolutely no one. Outside of maybe some likes, loves, and laughs on Facebook, that's pretty much the gist of it. Everyone has life going on, and priorities continuously change.
Do you still watch Survivor, and, if so, what's your favorite season you were not on and why?
I watched very little Survivor before I went on the show. I watched a couple of seasons after mine, mostly because I contributed to a weekly USA Today entertainment article. I watched the first Survivor: All-Stars in 2004 due to the article and lots of friends participating. That was the last time I watched Survivor. In the present, except for the NFL, I haven't even had CBS as a channel for around six years. Lol!
Who's one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
There is only one person that I would have loved to play with and against, and that would be my Brother From Another Mother Lex!!! Lex and I have been very close ever since we met in 2002. We speak, if not weekly, more than that. We are the same age, have a lot in common, and our values are identical. He is also one of the most creative and intelligent guys I know. Love him!!!
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I guess if there was one change that I would make, it would be a return to the core and essential aspects that made this show revolutionary and groundbreaking. I understand that there is a natural evolution to everything, even a game show. You don't need to "jump the shark" all the time. So this would mean no recruiting. Go with applicants, those that are interested in the game and not airtime and drama.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
The big question. This is by far and away the most asked question to all cast members… except Boston Rob, of course. After I came back from the Marquesas, I did a lot of thinking. I never glossed over the fact that I just had a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I was lucky enough to bulls--- my way on the No. 1 show on television. I was one of just 64 people on this planet to have gone through the ultimate in outdoor adventure-seeking s---. What an amazing feeling!!! But it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. Anything else would just cheapen what I already have. Second, third time never feels like the first. I'm good.
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