BY TAMARA HARTMAN
His machete is put away, there is no more wood to chop or shellfish to smash open and the hot beach, dirt, hunger, physical challenges and cool shoulders of the Survivor’s tribal council are far behind Queens native Robert DeCanio . . . but the New York air is driving his allergies wild.
DeCanio was one of 16 Americans left on the South Pacific island of Nuku Hiva to fend for their lives and survive challenges and the votes of their tribes in the newest installment of the reality-television series “Survivor: Marquesas.” Nicknamed “the General,” he lost his bid to be the sole survivor in the episode that aired last week, but this week DeCanio is back in New York preparing for his role in picking the series’ sole survivor – and million dollar winner – at festivities in Central Park May 19.
The Archbishop Molloy grad has made the rounds of the “Early Show”, the “Tonight Show” with David Letterman, and “The Rosie O’Donnell” show this week, but he took time out to tell the Tribune what it’s really like to survive.
Off Camera & Confidentially
DeCanio returned to life in the civilized world on Dec. 23, he explained, and has been watching the series which began airing Feb. 28 along with everybody else. “I watch it once and once only,” he told the Trib, but he admitted that his sister tapes the shows.
“It was a life-changing experience,” DeCanio said of his stint on “Survivor.”
And as for keeping the secret of what would happen next, DeCanio said it was easy. “They gave me the greatest experience of my life and all they asked in return is that I not tell anybody,” he said, and that seemed like a small price to pay.
As for the gruel and grime of life as a castaway, DeCanio spoke of the experience as a blessing rather than a curse. “It was a life changing experience,” he said, with people who he praised as friends, human beings, and “very grounded” individuals.
As for the food, it wasn’t that bad, DeCanio told the Tribune. “The worst thing about the food was the taro root and coconut everyday. Actually, the troika . . . the shellfish . . .the dark meat was very tough but the white meat tasted like lobster meat. I used to say that all I need is a little garlic and a little pasta and it would be good.”
The hardship, DeCanio admitted when pressed, is the loss of “creature comforts . . . the shower . . . . a cup of coffee . . . and turning on the faucet to get good New York City tap water . . . it’s the best, you know.”
As for the camera crews, DeCanio said they worked in groups of three and didn’t intrude into life on the island, though they filmed the Survivors “24-7.” Though the crews never talked to the survivors, DeCanio would always walk up to one particular crewman and say as he passed by “regular with sweet and low” . . . . but the coffee never arrived.
Life Before Survivor
DeCanio told the Tribune that he had watched some of the two previous “Survivor,” reality-television series, but he didn’t think of doing it until his best friend and his best friend’s wife pushed him over dinner one evening. They called it up on the internet, and the process began.
Born and raised in Flushing, DeCanio has one older brother and one older sister. He attended St. Ann’s in Flushing before going to Molloy in Jamaica and studied two semesters at St. John’s University.
He had been living in College Point, until he started the “Survivor” series, and General Fitness Center in the White Point shopping center was his home base for regular workouts. Before the series aired, he followed his interest in making a life change right across the country with a move to California. He said that “’work’ is a four letter word right now,” but he would like to find work there in “the radio field or voice overs,” he told the Tribune.
In Queens, he had worked part time as a limousine driver with 2JP’s limousines, headquartered in Middle Village, and according to CBS, “He has previously worked as a customer service manager for the United States Postal Service (18½ years) and a general contractor.”
The station’s press material added, “DeCanio enjoys mountain biking, weight lifting, jogging and anything involving the New York Rangers. Currently single . . . . His birth date is June 19.”
How It All Began
For 39 days, sixteen Americans – including the 38-year-old from Queens — were left on a remote island in the Marquesas with no food. They began life in two very different camps – one with abundance of fruit but a long trip to water and the other with plentiful water but no fruit-bearing trees – and divided into two tribes. Each tribe – the Rotu, meaning “rain,” (wearing blue buffs) and the Maraamu, meaning “wind,” (wearing yellow) – were left with a crate containing two machetes, a frying pan, two cooking pots, one filet knife, one magnifying glass, and a map to find water. Surviving was up to them.
DeCanio was part of the Rotu tribe, which had trouble making fire on Day one of their adventure, but succeeded on Day two. Finding food was also a struggle and by Day four DeCanio wasn’t feeling too well, according to his tribesmen, because of his size. “I need to sink my teeth into some kind of meat,” he told the camera, but the Rotus succeeded in capturing first a shrimp and the troika whose shell they smashed with rocks.
Though they fell behind in fire and food, they stayed ahead in immunity challenges, winning the right not to have to vote off a member of their own tribe. Meanwhile the Maraamu tribe dwindled in numbers, until the two tribes were united into one new tribe – Soliuntu – and immunity now became a privilege to be won by an individual.
And throughout the 39 days, a tribal council was held once every three days at which the members of the tribe were forced to vote against one survivor in a secret ballot. The survivor who earns the most votes was removed from the show.
His Final Words
DeCanio survived and thrived in popularity, until an early voting alliance made with a survivor who would come to inspire distrust, turned the tide of opinion against him.
On the 33rd day, the tribal council met and the voting was clear . . . DeCanio’s chance at the $1 million prize was over. As he left the council, CBS reported that his final words were, “I always say knowledge is power, and I will take this over to the jury and judge, the people who have judged me.”
With one more episode to air on Thursday, May 16 at 8 p.m., Channel 2, there will be one more tribal council and another of the only five remaining survivors will be voted out. The show will air its two-hour finale on Sunday, May 19 at 8 p.m. and reveal live . . . from Central Park . . . just who is the sole survivor.
CBS explained the process like this: “Beginning with the eighth ousted Survivor, the final Tribal Council will ultimately consist of the seven members who have previously been voted out of the tribe. It is their job to vote on the $1 million winner between the final two remaining Survivors.” DeCanio will be on the jury, and following the finale, Survivor-fan Rosie O’Donnell will host a reunion of all 16 survivors, which will include: Kathy, Gabriel, Tammy, Paschal, John, Neleh, Zoe, Robert, Gina, Sean, Sarah, Rob, Vecepia, Peter, Patricia and Hunter.
Show Them The Money
Though DeCanio declined to discuss the details of the show’s pay, the CBS “Survivors” website offered the following insight, “The prize for following all [the] rules and making it to the very end is one million dollars, but consolation cash prizes will be awarded to the other Survivors, based on their order of elimination. The consolation prizes will range from approximately $2,500 for the first person voted off the island, to approximately $100,000 for the runner-up.”
DeCanio made it to Day 33 before being voted off.
Need To Know More?
If that’s just not enough “Survivor,” CBS has gone to great lengths to make sure local viewers get their Marquesas fill. Their website, www.cbs.com/survivor not only shows clips of survivor appearances, it also sells survivor items from sandals to buffs.