By Brian M. Rafferty
Now that he has been voted off the island, College Point native Robert DeCanio has had the opportunity to publicly reflect on the triumphs, challenges and ultimate loss on “Survivor.”
“We had an incredible friendship and a genuine love for each other,” DeCanio said during a break from his busy television schedule on Monday. “The downtime that we had together was really incredible.”
DeCanio, of course, is talking about the relationships that developed over the 33 days he spent as a contestant on “Survivor,” the CBS program that pits 16 strangers against one another in a test of the human spirit, determination and, of course, survival instinct. DeCanio was voted out of the tribe last week in a 5-1 vote that seemed more of a surprise to the viewers than to DeCanio himself.
“I think it was pretty evident that I was going to be next,” he said. As the show had dwindled down from 16 survivors to six, DeCanio was the last remaining member of an alliance that suffered from a dramatic power shift a few weeks ago with John being voted off. One by one the members of the pervious power-holding alliance had been voted off, and DeCanio, who had stayed low-key and had won immunity the week before, was obviously on the chopping block.
Things looked hopeful, though, when several members of the tribe discussed voting off Neleh, whom they referred to as the most cunning of the remaining contestants. DeCanio, who was also known on the show as “The General,” had a long talk with Kathy, who now holds a powerful wildcard position within the remaining five, discussing a possible new alliance.
“I talked to Kathy, but she made a conscious decision to vote against me,” DeCanio said Monday.
But did he ever lose hope? “No. You have to go right to the end thinking you’re going to win it all, otherwise you won’t win,” he said.
From the beginning of the game, which actually filmed from mid-November to late-December last year, DeCanio, 38, seemed to be in a blessed position. His tribe, Rotu won six straight challenges, meaning that competing tribe Maraamu needed to keep voting out members.
“We didn’t have to worry about the game for two weeks,” he said. Every weekly episode covers 72 hours of time on the island. “We actually didn’t have to play. All we had to do was live in our little society we had created.”
And then, on what most Americans were celebrating as Thanksgiving Day, the “evil switch” happened. Randomly, Boston Rob, Sean and Vecepia were switched into Rotu while Kathy, Neleh and Paschal were shipped off to Maraamu.
Boston Rob had rubbed just about everybody the wrong way, and immediately started causing friction in his new camp.
“Here we were in our own little Garden of Eden, and here comes the Devil,” DeCanio joked.
Rotu tribe mate Gabriel, when confronted by Boston Rob, admitted that he was not trying to win the game anymore. After spending two weeks building an idyllic society, he wanted to see the game as an experiment—to see if people from diverse backgrounds could live together and form a loving bond in such harsh conditions.
But the difference between Gabriel and the rest of his tribe members was that he talked about it while others seemed glad just to experience. Discussing the very Garden of Eden that DeCanio mentions, caused Gabriel to get the boot off the island.
The other nine to precede DeCanio’s ouster all had their own reasons, or sometimes no reason at all, for getting voted off. And that, perhaps, is what makes the show so enthralling—its unpredictability.
“There are still lots of curveballs coming,” DeCanio said of the next two “Survivor” episodes, which include the elimination down to the final four this Thursday night and the two-hour season finale Sunday.
DeCanio should know all about those curveballs, though. Being the sixth-to-last player, he served on the jury that ultimately decided the $1 million winner. Of course that meant that instead of sleeping on hard rocks, a raft or the sand, he got to spend his last week on the islands in luxury.
“It was fantastic,” he said. “We were confined to where we were, but we were treated like rock stars. We had just come through this experience where we endured mental, physical and emotional highs and lows, and when we were done we were completely catered to.”
Some of the physical highs and lows were very obvious for DeCanio, definitely the largest-framed of all the contestants. By the third day he was feeling very run down, unable to perform even the most basic activities due to dehydration.
“But I knew that in the long haul I would be fine later on when the others would be getting weaker,” he said. In all, he lost 30 pounds in 33 days on the island, which is pretty remarkable when you add in the fact that he lost another 70 pounds prior to going to the island. “And I’ve been able to keep the size off,” he said proudly.
DeCanio is proud of many things—of the friendships he has made, of the honor he has shown and of the honesty he played with to just name a few.
Knowing very well that he was going to be voted off the island, DeCanio told the camera during on of his last scenes in the most recent episode, “I came here with four things: pride, dignity, integrity, and my backpack. My backpack is the only that is tattered.”
The final episodes of “Survivor” air Thursday and Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.