Mike Borassi: “I’ve got to show them I’m not the old man here”

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Mike BorassiJeff Probst has predicted that Mike Borssai won’t last long on Survivor Samoa, but even if that does turn out to be true, at least the show changed Mike’s life.

I first interviewed him last fall in Brazil, but he was removed from the game for medical reasons “at the last second,” he said he was told, “Mike, go to the medical tent.” Being removed (and replaced by Spencer) was “a shot to the gut,” Mike told me now, especially because he’d already been assigned a tribe and “I had everybody I wanted on my team.”

But it ultimately helped him. “I had no idea I had this sleep apnea,” he said. The show’s psychologist’s tent was next to his at Ponderosa, and she told him he probably had sleep apnea. When he got home, Mike “immediately started to investigate my options physically,” and learned that “my chin, when I slept, relaxed and cut off my wind pipe,” which meant he was “waking up 77 times an hour.”

Mike is 62, and thus the oldest competitor, but is now “completely cured” and “like a new guy. I lost 40 pounds. Blood pressure, cholesterol, everything’s gone 30 years younger,” he told me. “It’s amazing how this sleep apnea causes so many things.” In addition, “I’m now reacting to working out; I’m losing the weight.” He contacted the show again and when he returned for interviews, “They said, ‘Where’s your fat brother?’ I said, ‘I killed him.’”

Watching Survivor Tocantins on TV was “very surreal,” Mike said, since he “knew these people for weeks” and “had them pretty well pegged … I was pretty impressed.” The Samoa group, by comparison, is “a lot more of a physical group—they seem to be in a lot better shape than the last group,” Mike told me. “A lot of guys are measuring their dicks working out. One guy’s running all day long, another guy’s lifting the rocks. All the guys are trying to show their stuff.”

With all of that dick-measuring going on, Mike says he made a point to lift weights, because “I’ve got to show them I’m not the old man here. I didn’t want to show them too much—I want to surprise them,” but still said, “I’m hoping we get a lot of cerebral games here.” Last fall, he was worried about the physical challenges, but now, “I’m in much better shape. I know it’s not all physical. Physical is maybe 20 percent. I think the rest is mental challenges, puzzles, things like that, and I think it’s like 25 percent luck, too. I think I got a good shot, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Talking about not wanting to reveal to the others that he was an alternate in Brazil, Mike said, “They jump on anything. Any sign of weakness in any way, they pounce on. Not that this would be a sign of weakness, it would actually make them see that I’m stronger, which would come back and bite me in the ass.”

As that suggests, Mike plans to fly under the radar, and his really low-key, go-with-the-flow attitude will probably make that pretty easy. “My strategy is, once I get to talk to them and know exactly who they are, I’ll start weeding them out. I really want to be laid back. I want to let the ones who think they’re leaders, or want to be leaders, self-destruct, and kind of slip under the radar for the first few eliminations, and then kind of take it from there. Then I’ll bond with somebody.” Specifically, Mike said he wants to align with Russell Swan (“He can sit and stare at the ocean for hours: that shows me he’s got some discipline, or he’s nuts. Either way, I like that.”)

Besides working out and losing weight, Mike told me he prepared by practicing fire-building, and that plays into the role he expects to take in the tribe. “I can do the fire. I’ve practiced for months. I got flints at REI, and I was practicing, and I think I can do the fire pretty good, so I want to say, ‘Look, I’ll handle the fire, cooking, boiling the water—I want to be the provider, which I think everybody will go for, because no one really wants to do that. Let them feel like [the Gabon cast did with] the guy who won Gabon—what’s his name? Bob—no, we’ll keep Bob, he does everything,” he said.

Mike is a fan of Survivor who applied for the Brazil season. “I’ve watched the show since day one,” he said, and so he has a pretty good handle on the game, but he didn’t talk about it like other super fans have to me in the past. But his knowledge of the show does inform his perspective about the game. “There’s a formula for casting. There’s the old guy,” he said, indicating himself, and then described other types: “good looking model girls, there’s the good looking guys, there’s the blue collar worker, there’s the in-your-face black chick, there’s an Oriental, somebody’s usually gay—but that’s the game. They want the conflict. Let’s put together a group of people who don’t get along and see what happens.”

And yeah, yikes. That kind of directness in the form of cringe-worthy and offensive language may rub others the wrong way, which is somewhat ironic since Mike’s official bio says he “can’t stand bad drivers, Republicans or bigots.” He doesn’t come across as bigoted in any way, and instead has a nice-guy demeanor, but someone in his tribe may not give him the benefit of the doubt if he uses a phrase like “an Oriental.”

The social game may be his biggest obstacle, especially the perception of his age and ability. Beyond that, though, he’s not concerned about much in terms of survival. “I’m actually worried less [than in Brazil]. I love the ocean, I’ve seen the shows in areas like this,” Mike told me. “Food wise we’re blessed,” so he said that, while he knows “they always throw curves at you,” “I feel pretty good about everything.

Hear Mike talk about their food options in Samoa, and what he plans to do about the way others may perceive him:

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