SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

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.

Old school Survivor contestants had it tough and they had it rough. The challenges were often insanely physical, they were given hardly any food and water, and in general were forced much more to actually survive on their own without supplies out in the elements. Which is why many a player from those earlier seasons will note that players have it too easy these days. Count Survivor: Panama’s Bruce Kanegai among them.

“The players seem to get more items, clothes or medical attention,’ says Bruce. “That’s why there is the old school group from the first 14 seasons who suffered more in horrible places. One change that I would like would is to make it like the Old School with more physically and tiring challenges during the first three weeks with less awards. It’s called Survivor.”

Bruce certainly knows about suffering on Survivor. The then-57-yer-old was sent to Exile Island twice, including once in a massive storm. He also became the second player to ever be medically evacuated from the game, after experiencing immense intestinal pain due to not being able to go to the bathroom — ultimately ending up in seventh place in the game.

What has Bruce been up to since his appearance on season 12? What is his proudest moment and biggest regret? Bruce answers all that and more in his Quarantine Questionnaire, and also backs up Danielle DiLorenzo’s account of a kilo of cocaine washing up on shore during the game.

Credit: CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.

BRUCE KANEGAI: I have been so blessed and busy since my appearance on Survivor: Panama. I had built an online business, that I was able to retire from Simi Valley High School where I taught art. I built an online business so I did not have to teach backpacking or officer survival anymore. I have devoted my time to do charity work and made over 80 appearances across America and have raised huge amounts of money.  My shoulder was damaged, so I had a shoulder replacement where the cut off part of my humerus bone and scapula and replaced it with titanium. I was traveling to many wonderful places, running with the bulls twice in Pamplona, training, judging and sharing karate practices in Japan, Israel, and France. I’m still teaching three karate Zoom classes on Monday and Wednesday after 55 years of teaching.

What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?

One proud moment competing on Survivor was the four skull challenge and puzzle. I had just taught how to draw a portrait and the human skull to my art students. When we arrived to the challenge, I saw four different large skulls hanging in the jungle. I noticed that each skull had a different zygomatic bone (cheek bone). All we had to do was to match the zygomatic bone and have it face Jeff Probst. I said I will be the puzzle master with Cirie. Cirie was so nervous, I had to hold her hand and say a prayer. We were so far behind the other tribe, but they were having trouble positioning the skulls. When we got our four skulls, we swept the other team and won our first food reward.

What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?

I had signed all the necessary forms with my principal from Simi Valley High School to go on Survivor. He had also signed a non-disclosure form. I also found and trained a California certified classroom art instructor and trained him for two weeks in my classroom. I have been selected and awarded as the Teacher of the Year eight times by all the major art schools in America as well as the International Rotary Paul Harris Award. While I was competing on Survivor, the school district wanted to fire me, but the Board of Education voted to suspend me without pay after 34 years of dedication. Since I have a couple of other incomes, I resigned at the end of the school year. Ironically, I was invited many times to be a motivational speaker at many of the schools in our district.

What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?

Besides the kilo of cocaine floating into our camp, my experience on Exile Island twice in a row was difficult. There was no shelter, protection, or fire because the flint was broken right away from being worn out. The film crew hid during the storm one of the nights, worse than was featured on TV. I was eaten up by the mosquitos (they must like teriyaki meat) and it was a raging storm every night. I stayed up every night training karate so I did not get hypothermia. I performed hundreds of Katas (form movements) and thousands of techniques screaming into the storm.

How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?

I thought I was much stronger in the beginning, but the early exit of some of the competitors were edited first. I thought I worked much harder than shown. But, I was happy with my appearance.

What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?

When I returned, my wife and sister passed me by at the airport because I looked like a homeless person. A new mall opened in my town and everything was decorated for Christmas. It was surreal after spending 39 days with 15 other total strangers and starving. I missed my wife and two kids the most. I visited every steak restaurant and fast food diner immediately.

Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?

I cherished the experience and challenge. I taught Backpacking and Wilderness Survival along with Law-enforcement survival for California and Karate. I love adventurous and physical challenges all my life.

Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?

Bob Dawg (Bobby Mason) has become one of my best friends with huge respect, and we have many adventures, appearances, steak dinners, whiskey and training together. It is quite amazing what he has accomplished with a huge generous heart. I have gotten together with Aras, Terry, and Danielle on occasion and would like to have dinner or a reunion anytime with the entire cast.

Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?

Since Survivor: Panama — Exile Island, I have watched every season and episode. My favorite season of Survivor was Survivor: Guatemala which was the first complete season that I have watched. It was definitely old school of Survivor opening with the brutal 11-mile march through the ancient Mayan jungle. The contestants were pushed to their limits mentally and physically with that march and the challenges were more physical.

There was still a limited knowledge with new cast members, although they brought back Bobby Jon and Stephenie as repeat players. Today, I think the new players cast know too how to play the game because it has become repetitive with too many hidden immunity idols and less one-on-one physical challenges. I like the real Survivor effect in the beginning where cast members question themselves saying this is tougher that I thought.

Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?

Well, now that I know what the show is about, with strategy and alliances, there are actually quite a few male and female players that I know could create a powerful alliance with me. No one in particular at this time.

If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?

I think it has become easier to play because everyone knows to look for the hidden idol, how to set up fake alliances, and the players seem to get more items, clothes or medical attention. That’s why there is the old school group from the first 14 seasons who suffered more in horrible places. One change that I would like would is to make it like the old school with more physically and tiring challenges during the first three weeks with less awards. It’s called Survivor.

Finally, would you play again if asked?

I am turning 73 and in wonderful physical and mental shape. I would love to compete again since I was never voted off. What do the fans think?

To keep track of our daily Survivor Quarantine Questionnaires and get the latest updates, check out EW's Survivor hub, and follow Dalton on Twitter.

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SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning a million dollars, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "DIG DEEP!"

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