Interview: Rupert Boneham talks ‘Survivor: Blood vs. Water’

In the 27 season history of “Survivor,” few players have become as synonymous with the game as barrel-chested, gravel-voiced Rupert Boneham, who had the tremendous good fortune to be the perfect man-for-his-time on the pirate-themed “Pearl Islands.”
That popularity was then parlayed into appearances on “All-Stars” and “Heroes vs. Villains,” with Rupert winning a million bucks courtesy of a vote by America, but never finishing higher than fourth.
Rupert’s fourth “Survivor” appearance was his shortest yet, as he was the first player sent home on the new “Blood vs. Water,” an odd achievement given that he was never on a losing tribe, he never went to Tribal Council and he never had a vote cast against him.
Instead, Rupert voluntarily took the place of wife Laura when her tribe of newbies voted to send her to Redemption Island before the game even began. After a few days on Redemption Island, Rupert lost the first Arena duel, a task involving the balancing of 10 spools and offering no outlet for Rupert’s vaunted strength.
In the season’s first exit interview, Rupert discusses the not-so-difficult decision to put himself in danger for his wife, the Redemption Island successes we didn’t see and his desire to play for a fifth time.
Click through for the full conversation…
HitFix: Hey Rupert, how goes it?
Rupert Boneham: Good, man. As good as I can be for being the first one out of the darn game!
HitFix: Of course, I’m surprised to be chatting with you so soon. In your mind, does this even count as a fourth time playing “Survivor”?
Rupert: I want to thank you for that question because… No! Darnit! I never even got to play. I never went out on my island. I never got to be with my tribe. I never even walked in to Tribal Council. This was so different from every other time I played “Survivor,” but when you bring someone with you that is more important than the darned game, that’s what happens.
HitFix: Well how do you look at what you did for those five days? What did you do instead of playing “Survivor”?
Rupert: Well, honestly, being out on Redemption Island with Candice… Candice and I don’t have the best relationship in the world. We didn’t even really like each other in “Heroes vs. Villains.” I always said the girl should have been on the “Villains” side. But honestly? I tried to stay away from Candice as much as I could, wait for her to go to sleep and then go out and catch me a few lobsters, catch me some clams, get me some fish, cook it up real quick on the fire and get it eaten before the girl wakes up.
HitFix: So you actually had some successes out there that we didn’t get to see?
Rupert: Oh gosh yes! There were these cool little lobsters. They were small little lobsters, maybe four or five inches long, but they were everywhere. You could go out there and grab these things if you were quick. I grabbed two or three of them, put maybe an inch of water in the pan, got it boiling real quick, throw ’em in, you could cook ’em in three or four minutes and have then eaten before the girl ever knew what was going on.
HitFix: The Redemption Island Duel that you went out on certainly wasn’t the most Rupert-Friendly of challenges. What went through your mind when you saw what it was?
Rupert: I had already had it in my head that Redemption Island is probably not going to play into my strengths. It’s not going to be an endurance challenge, because they don’t want it to last for hours and hours. It’s not going to be a strength challenge, because I’m going up against girls and people that are not as strong as I am. It sure can’t be the swimming or the physical. When I saw that it was a balance and an eyesight challenge, the two things that I’m not as good at as I get older… My eyesight is a little off and my balance is a little off. In a few months I’m going to be 50 years old going up against these 20-something-year-old kids. But I have to say that if I would have just calmed myself down, I could have done better. Watching that on TV, I was so freaked out before I walked into the game. I started going through my previous times in “Survivor.” I’ve won a lot of Reward challenges, but I have never won an Individual Immunity challenge. I kept playing that out in my head. I tried to get it out, but I had myself so freaked out before I walked into Redemption Island and I couldn’t calm down.
HitFix: Going back to the aging thing, which kinda happens to all of us, how do you compare yourself now, other than the eyesight and the balance, to the Rupert who first played “Survivor”?
Rupert: You know, 10 years ago when I went out on “Pearl Islands,” the pirate adventure, I was 39 years old. I was in some great shape. I might have been 265 pounds, but I was pretty tough. Then I did “All-Stars” back-to-back. I was the first one to do back-to-back and I did even better. I made it 10 days longer in a game that was harder, with harder players. Then six years go by and I play the game again at 46 and in the first hour of the game I break three bones in my foot and I still stayed 36 days with those bones floating around and in just outrageous pain. At 49 when I went out to play? I wish I would have gotten the ability to go out on the island and actually be involved, because I am now back in a lot better shape than I was when I was 46. I’m back to where I feel like I’m 35 again instead of 49.
HitFix: Going back to the beginning of the game, why do you think that without any time to plot, Laura was the target of her tribe on that first vote?
Rupert: I’ve watched that a bunch of times. I keep rewinding that little scenario trying to see why they targeted Laura. The reasons that I can come up with: Everybody knew her name, because everyone knows Laura, all of the Survivors, we all know Laura. And it was not so much again Laura, but I think it was a strike against me.
HitFix: Have you come up with alternatives? Or is that what you’ve landed on as the answer?
Rupert: That’s kinda what I see, really, even though we didn’t know that that first person, that the people we voted out would have the chance to switch with their loved ones. I think it was the Newbie players going after one of the big Returning players.
HitFix: When you took Laura’s place out there, I wasn’t surprised. But were you surprised by how shocked Jeff Probst was?
Rupert: I was surprised by not only Jeff, but my own tribe! If you noticed, they didn’t even move out of my way. I had to push my way through my tribe with them begging me to stay, with them telling me, “No, don’t trade.” And I looked at them and said, “Are you kidding? Of course I have to trade. I’m sorry, but she’s tough, too.” Before we out on the island, Laura and I talked about how this had the potential of destroying relationships or empowering them and making them even strong. I’m glad that our relationship is even stronger. There’s no way I could do any other choice but to trade places with Laura. I don’t understand. I mean, Jeff should have known straight off the bat, I’m trading.
HitFix: One thing I was surprised by was how shocked some of you guys seemed to be that you would actually be playing against your loved ones rather than with them. How much had you considered that possibility leading up to the game?
Rupert: We talked about that a little bit. Laura and I talked about, you know, I’m sure they’re gonna get us to a point sometime in the game where we have to decide about, “Are we gonna vote out our loved ones or not?” I mean, there’s only going to be one winner and it’s probably not gonna be couples making it all the way to the end. They’re gonna separate people. But we didn’t think it would happen right off the bat. We thought we were gonna go out there and be playing together. When they dropped us off on the little deserted areas sprinkled around this island and Laura and I got to spend that first night together, I thought, “Oh my gosh! This is gonna be my favorite ‘Survivor.’ I get to go through this experience with the person  I love!” And then Jeff says, “Why are you all smiling? You guys are separating.” Ugh. That was tough.
HitFix: If you talked about the eventual possibility that only one person was gonna win, was there any circumstance under which you were prepared to write Laura’s name at any point?
Rupert: [He laughs.] I had told Laura before we ever went out, “It doesn’t matter what happens, I would never write your name down!” But I know that I am gonna be one of the targets out there. I always am! I told her, “If we’ve made it to the Merge, if we’re down and they start targeting me, it’s really OK. You stay in that alliance and you target me with them, because only one of us is going to make it to the end.” And I would never have any bad feelings about my wife writing my name down. If it made her game stronger, write my name down, even though she told me there’s no way she’d ever write my name down unless it’s for the million dollars.
HitFix: Obviously, everyone’s going to approach this issue in different ways. How do you personally approach the inevitability that at some point people are going to prioritize the million over their loved ones? It might not be everybody, but some people really are going to say that the game is what they’re out there to play and the loved ones will still be there when they get back. Do you respect that decision?
Rupert: Oh yes! You know, there are a lot of people out there that understand that it is just a game, but I tell you what… When you go out there and you play that game, when you go through such deprivation, such dehydration, malnutrition, just being beaten down, it’s amazing how the emotions start coming out. Really, it’s going to get to the point where even just seeing your loved one is going to bring… I mean, we’ve already seen it last night when the Newbies came back and all the Returning players were sitting there in Redemption Island Arena and they start crying because their loved ones are still there! The emotions in this game… I tell people all the time, sometimes you even forget about the million dollars and you just want to feel OK. The new players will be in that situations. The returning players, they know that. It’s such a mental trip to go on that I have to say that I’m sad that I didn’t get a chance to play, but I’m thrilled that my wife is still in that hunt for a million dollars. And for anybody out there that doesn’t stand up and trade and that does look at themselves as, “I’ve got a better chance, so I’m gonna take that,” hopefully it doesn’t destroy their relationship.
HitFix: As a last question: How eager had you been in the last year or two to play for this fourth time? And does the brevity of this experience impact how much you want to get back in for maybe a fifth time?
Rupert: When I left “Heroes and Villains,” I said, “I really want to play at least one more time, but let’s do it before I turn 50.” I’m getting older and the game is getting harder. Now, shoot, in January I’m gonna be 50 years old, but I’m also in better shape. I would love to go out there and play the game one more time and actually get on the tribe, get onto the island, get into the game and show that 27 years in the mental health field have not gone to waste. I’m pretty good at manipulating.