Dan Kay: “I think it’s going to help my strategy that I’m nice”

Boston lawyer Dan Kay was quiet, thoughtful, intelligent, introspective–and about to be crushed and destroyed by more ruthless competitors. And by that, I mean everyone single other person, even those like listless Matty Whitmore. At least, that’s how I was left feeling after talking to him. He’s a great person, but I wasn’t quite convinced that he was ready for Survivor.

Dan was recruited while watching the Yankees play the Red Sox in a bar in April, and said that Survivor Gabon “kind of came along at the right time. By no means was I in a position to continue the career path I had a couple of months ago.” He left his job at his firm because “it’s been a life-changing year for me. … About a year ago, I had a relationship that ended–not my choice–but it really made me reevaluate who I was as a person. And I didn’t realize how depressed I became with my profession. … And I didn’t see the full effect it had on me personally.”

Dan describes himself as “a pretty emotional person, but in a constructive way. I’ve learned over the past few years to talk through things. And I think there’s an outlet for it, which is probably the point of the show; it is the camera.” He’s also introspective. When we first started talking, he mentioned being “nervous” about his strategy, “anxious to meet everybody,” and fascinated by the “surreal” experience. “I think I look cookie-cutter,” he acknowledged, but also said that he’s “a pretty complicated person.” (Hear him discuss that below.)

He’s very cautious about the effects of his words, which one would imagine is a skill that’d work well in the game, except that he might just come across as insecure, unsure, or just weak. For example, when anticipating the physical challenges ahead of him, he said, “I imagine it to be a little bit like book camp, but I don’t want to take anything away from people who’ve been through boot camp.”

Dan’s unwillingness to be critical or hurt other people’s feelings (the polar opposite of self-described “asshole” Randy Bailey) also became clear when he talked about his family, who he’s close to. When he was growing up, his mother cared for Dan, his sister, their grandmother, and their father, who was “forced into retirement” early in his life and faced “cancer, heart disease, diabetes,” never mind a fall from a 40-foot ladder.

While Dan obviously has a lot of sympathy for his dad, he’s also aware of the impact his dad’s parenting had yet is unwilling to be critical. “And my father, who’s always pushed me to be a better student and a better person. I know it comes from a good place, but it made me a little bit neurotic, a lot self-conscious. I don’t want him to take the blame for that; I’ve had great parents, but I’ve had to overcome some mental obstacles. I’m my own worst critic, and I listen to that,” he said.

Toward the end of our conversation, I mentioned how genuine he seems and asked, “Are you too nice for this game?” He’d heard that previously, and said, “I think it’s going to help my strategy that I’m nice. But you just have to remember that it is a game, and you can’t take anything personally. They want or need the million dollars more–or just as much as I do.”

I don’t want to make too much of a conversational slip, since none of us speak flawless sentences, but it is worth noting that he defaulted to saying the other contestants want the money “more” than he does. After talking with Dan, I felt like he’s the kind of player who would sacrifice himself in the game for someone he thought was more deserving, and with the liars who tend to play this game, he could easily be swindled.

But Dan did acknowledge that his biggest challenge was “being able to trust and knowing when not to trust. That is going to mess with my mind, and that is going to be the most difficult, absolutely.” And he did have a well-developed understanding of the game. “There’s so many variables to this game that you can’t give any weight to those. The only one I can really give any weight to is keeping your emotions in check, not let everyone see any anger or frustration or dislike,” he said.

He prepared to be on the show, watching past seasons on DVD and getting ready physically. “I’ve trained my body in the past month to operate on as few calories as possible, and hopefully retain as much muscle as I can.”

When I asked about how others will perceive him, both in the game and once the show starts airing, he said, “I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I hope that the true person that I am now comes out in the media, because I like that person, and I think that person might be able to help other people. However, if it does not, I need to be able to overcome that and remain happy and healthy, and that’s really all I can control, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Hear Dan discuss his strategy, his appearance, and his preparation for the game:

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.