Rupert Boneham: “I do not want to be that guy who thinks they’re any better than anyone else”
This is the 16th in a series of interviews with Survivor Heroes vs. Villains cast members.
Rupert was impossibly nice, as you’d expect; for a long time, he was the iconic Survivor nice guy, and his charity work has helped cement that. But he is also pretty intense and odd, like when he transitioned from a baby voice to chuckling like a giant. Rupert makes continuous eye contact when he talks, and during our conversation I literally felt like I was staring into the smoke monster or something, and it started to freak me out, even though he was upbeat, excited to return to the game, and really interesting and thoughtful.
Although he reminded me a few times that he’d won America’s vote, Rupert wasn’t delusional about who he is or what he’s done in the game. “Winning and losing isn’t as important as playing with honor, playing with heart. I was no damn angel. No one can say they did everything right, they didn’t lie or cheat. It’s okay. I played with at least some honor,” he said. He wants to do the same thing this time, by playing “hard and tough, not being any angel. Of course, I’m going to tell lies; there’s not a darn person out there in this world that doesn’t tell a lie. But still playing the game with honor, playing it with respect, being able to show people that it counts. And I hope that I get to do that. My big hope, though? Jeff Probst writing another million dollar check on my back. This one, I’d love to win it myself.”
Rupert recognizes he faces a challenge with his reputation. During All-Stars, the other contestants “didn’t know me, so it was easy for me to be quiet and just be a worker. Everybody knows me out here. I can’t be the quiet one out here. I am the out, in-your-face, tough, big, hairy, scary, help-you” person. Rupert said that, at charity events, “having them see that people line up for me and don’t even recognize them, there’s some jealously there.”
To counter that, Rupert said, “I want to make sure that everybody sees that I’m taking care of you. If I can do that, I can make it through the first few votes, I’m solid.” He said he’s good at “making you feel like I care, which I do—it’s not just an act, but in the game, I care a little more about myself than normally, and I will maneuver people if it helps me get further in the game.” Rupert will also make sure he doesn’t trust people too much. “My wife let me know as I was walking out the door, “Your one weakness is that you believe people, you believe in people, you want to show the best side of people, you want to help encourage that side. So in the game, try not to trust people. … That’s where my game will differ a little, because I won’t blindly trust anyone this time. I can’t.”
Rupert said that he expects to find a balance between the way he approached the game during the two previous seasons. The Pearl Islands version is “where I get so wrapped up in the game—I love the game so much—I start calling it my game, or my island, or my adventure, or my spear. Doing that, I was a little over the top. In all-stars, I went the extreme other; nothing was mine, it was all of ours. I’ll be somewhere in the middle this time,” he said.
His strategy is to go after people who don’t seem to like him. “I will target the ones that don’t want to really show a strong alliance to me, that’s who I’m targeting. Doesn’t even matter who it is,” he said. But doesn’t have any pre-season alliances. “I put my phone away a couple weeks ago, because all these idiots are calling each other and doing all kinds of stupid stuff,” he said. “Your attitude outside the game … is a lot different than your attitude three days.” Because of the fatigue and the way the game impacts people, “everybody and everything is going to change once we’re out there,” he said, noting that during the last all-star season, “these alliances outside the game don’t even matter.”
To prepare, Rupert did research on Samoa (“we were told where we were going … looking like it’s going to be a pretty sweet place”) but didn’t do anything physical (“I’m not going to start working out like crazy and beating yourself up”). Instead, he said, “my preparation is doing the research and the mental game. … There’s very few real, true good times out there, and there’s a whole lotta hard times. That’s what I’m trying to prepare myself for, those hard times.”
We talked about his reputation and fame, and Rupert said, “When I went into Survivor, I never in a million years thought at all that I would turn into a celebrity. … It gave me the ability to go run around the world and be me. That’s my new job, I get to run around and be me.”
When I asked if that was affected by his celebrity, Rupert gave an answer that surprised and impressed me. “People have no idea who you are, just like they really have no idea who I am. And for them to run up and say they love me or hug me and kiss me and cuddle me and give me their votes—I love it, I will never be tired of people gushing love on me, but I also know that they have their own idea in their head of who I am. And it might be who I am and it might not be, but it doesn’t matter,” he said.
“When people are just constantly telling you that you’re good, I find it a lot easier just not to believe it. I’m glad you approve, but I’m just me. It would be very easy to buy into it, because for years, and they still do, tell me how great I am or how wonderful. But I do not want to be that guy who thinks they’re any better than anyone else.”
Hear Rupert talk about how and why pre-season attitudes and alliances change, and how fast he spent his money: