Exclusive: Mark "Papa Bear" Caruso discusses 'Survivor: South Pacific'
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 10/06/2011
Mark "Papa Bear" Caruso knew he was on the chopping block without having to be told when it came time for Survivor: South Pacific's third Tribal Council because he had struggled to bond with his fellow Savaii tribemates -- who had formed a strong core alliance of five people and didn't have much in common with the 48-year-old retired New York City police detective from Forest Hills, NY.
Papa Bear attempted to gain control of his game when he strategically created a false hidden Immunity Idol in the hopes of convincing his fellow castaways to vote for John Cochran or Dawn Meehan instead, the other two outsiders or misfits in the Savaii tribe. However, his act failed to fool anyone, because he still received the majority of votes at the subsequent Tribal Council session.
Due to this season's game-changing Redemption Island twist, he still got a chance to earn the right to eventually return to the game by competing in duel challenges against other voted-off castaways. However, Papa Bear's first duel didn't go much better than his second Tribal Council visit -- resulting in his permanent ouster from the game during Wednesday night's broadcast of Survivor: South Pacific's fourth episode.
On Thursday, Papa Bear talked to Reality TV World about his Survivor: South Pacific experience -- including whether his duel against Christine Markoski was really as close as the show's editing suggested; why he and Cochran were certain either one of them would be eliminated before Dawn or any other Savaii tribe member; whether he labeled his tribe Ken and Barbie dolls because of their looks, personalities or both; whether he felt his tribe was making a mistake by not voting out returning castaway Ozzy Lusth right away; and how his Papa Bear nickname came about.
Reality TV World: Was that duel really as close as last night's episode made it look or was that just the editing? Because it initially looked like you were pretty out of it and Christine was going to roll to an easy win, but then you seemed to roar back and turn it into a nail-biter.
Mark Caruso: Let me tell you something. It was wild! It was wild, okay? It was a nail-biter. Even [Survivorhost Jeff Probst] and the other contestants watching, you can't really see what's going on up there, but they were clapping and screaming.
It was crazy! When you threw it -- when you see Christine's sandbag was literally hanging over, we actually watched that fall and I was like, "Oh God, thank you!" It was just like that. It was crazy.
Reality TV World: Last week's episode had shown John and yourself being pretty certain you two were going to be the next two folks voted out of your tribe even though Dawn was also one of your tribe's outsiders and had struggled in the game initially -- why were you guys so sure she wasn't going to be voted off before the two of you?
Mark Caruso: I had a strong, strong feeling it was going to be me then John and then Dawn. Why? Because Dawn is a very maternal type of person and lovable, and even I love her. She was a really good lady and it just tended to be that a lot of the contestants would move towards her. I'm sure she's still having issues and having problems. I'm sure she's going to have problems.
After all, it's me, him and then her -- where she would fall? I don't know. But even though they voted me off, still, she's in the bottom three. So, but I just think I was the first to go and I knew I was going. I knew it, so I said, "I have to do something." So I went running like a maniac into the woods.
Reality TV World: You were shown calling your tribe the "Ken and Barbie dolls" tribe and expressing frustration over how that was the tribe you'd gotten stuck on. Were you referring to just their looks with that comment or did you think their personalities were also kind of "plastic," and were you saying you felt things would have worked out differently if you'd ended up on the other tribe?
Mark Caruso: Yeah. The other tribe seemed like -- as I watched them, it's even more frustrating because now I'm like, "I definitely would have done better on that tribe." My tribe was more like, not all of them -- I think Dawn has substance, and I think Cochran has substance, I think [Keith Tollefson] has substance. Keith is a wonderful, wonderful person, and I think those three have real substance.
And I think with a few of the others, it's like I don't know if it's so much they're asleep or they're very focused in their own game, but I didn't connect with them -- which is very frustrating to me because I'm a social person. I have a lot of friends.
I get along with 99.9% percent of people, so to find myself not getting along with people -- not so much not getting along, but not bonding with people solely because of my age -- was really frustrating. And then I find out that some of them believed I was close to Ozzy, which I wasn't.
Reality TV World: Before you were voted off, you decided to make a fake Idol because you felt trying to convince everyone it was real would make them not vote for you and it seemed like you believed it was your only chance to keep yourself from being voted off. How confident had you been that that was going to work?
Mark Caruso: I have a little thing for you -- the clue [to the hidden Immunity Idol's location]. I found the clue and they didn't show it. I found the clue at the water fountain. So I was searching for the Idol not knowing that Ozzy apparently found it, which we find out in Episode 2. So, I thought to myself, "Oh my God, what am I going to do? I need something. I have to do something. I can't sit there and just say, 'Oh my God, I'm going down.'"
I'm a fighter. I'm a New York City police detective. I'm a registered nurse. I'm not going to sit there boo-hoo'ing. I'm going to do something. I'm going to get off my ass! So I had to think of something to do. So, I figured, this will work. It started to work and then I don't know, I guess Ozzy started getting pissed because he had it. So, it obviously didn't work.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised Ozzy managed to come into the game and not only not get voted off right away, but also end up being the leader of your tribe -- or at least that's the way it's looked so far on the show?
Mark Caruso: Well, they don't show a few things, but I told everyone that Ozzy was Ozzy the leader at my Tribal Council. And he's like, "I don't know about that." I said, "You are." And then I turned around and said, "But I think [Jim Rice] is really the leader." Then I got a big, "Oh my God, no." Everyone was denying who the leader is and blah, blah, blah blah.
So, I don't really know who actually thought they were the leader or not think they were the leader, but I think Ozzy showboats a lot. So yeah, he showboats a lot. So he'll be like, "Look at me, look at me. I caught a fish!" He does that.
Reality TV World: Look at my fish! (Laughs)
Mark Caruso: But he really is a nice guy. He's a very sharing person at least on the tribe. I don't know whether he's doing it to win the game or if he's really like that as a person. I can only judge on what he did to us or what he shows us and he's not a bad guy, but he has irritating quirks about him. Like, he's irritating sometimes when he comes off as if he knows that there is a camera around.
Reality TV World: Did you and the rest of your tribemates ever discuss voting Ozzy out of the game right away, and if so, why didn't that happen? I mean both your tribe and the other tribe seem to be repeating the same mistakes of [Rob "Boston Rob" Mariano's]tribe from last season so far.
Mark Caruso: Everybody does that. Everybody does that. See, what happened with Christine... Do you know what happened with Christine in Episode 1?
Reality TV World: It looks like you guys are repeating the exact same mistakes from Boston Rob's last season, both your tribe and the other one with [Benjamin "Coach" Wade].
Mark Caruso: Not really, no. It comes off that way, but no. These people are thinking about doing it -- Christine would verbalize it. That's the difference, is that Christine verbalized it. We internalized it. We were like, "Okay, we gotta do this eventually." And you know, you don't want to do it right away because you have to find the right opportunity to do it.
Reality TV World: Did you ever verbalize it to each other when Ozzy wasn't around?
Mark Caruso: Yeah, everybody verbalized it about each other... Jim said [Elyse Umemoto] was the next one to go, not me. So I was like, "Why would you throw Elyse under the bus?" It wasn't me throwing her under the bus, it was him throwing her under the bus. It was all crazy. It gets crazy.
Remember, there's no TV, no radio, no computer, no friends. You're hungry, you're tired and you start playing this game. (Laughs) You start throwing people under the bus. It's a cool game to play. It really is a fun game.
Reality TV World: Last night's episode showed Jim and Cochran being worried about Ozzy's tribal power and hoping to weaken him by finding a way to vote Elyse off. Did you have any idea Jim would be willing to do something like that while you were in the game and had you approached him about anything like that?
Mark Caruso: No. He played -- that's why it was a shock to me that he said that, because he comes off very flippy or whimsical. That's how he perceived himself. Obviously he's not, but he came off that way like, "Oh okay. I'm a good guy."
Nobody knew that he was a poker player. He said that he was a college professor.
Reality TV World: What are your general thoughts about Elyse?
Mark Caruso: I like Elyse to tell you the truth. I liked Elyse, I really did. I LIKED Elyse. I thought she was a pretty cool person at the time. I didn't realize she was hunting me down, chasing me down in those woods, you know what I mean? She's a different type of person than she comes off as. What would you call that? A two-faced type person?
Usually, I don't like that type of people. I'm friendly with her and I'll say hello to her and everything, but she's probably one of the least people that I'd remain in touch with. I'll be like, "Hello, goodbye." It's fine.
I didn't really connect that much with her and I thought we were going to too, believe it or not. Her and I had a lot of good talks but she goes with the flow. She goes with the wind and I don't think she's able to -- this is just my perception -- she's not strong enough to stand on her own.
Reality TV World: Before the duel started, why were you so open about telling everyone that you'd be flipping to the other tribe if you managed to get back into the game? That seemed to be something that had nothing but downside for you and would just have immediately made you a target if you got back in.
Mark Caruso: Yeah. I wanted to -- I guess at that point, I just wanted to slam Jim and John and say basically, in a nutshell, "Screw you." And deep down when I look at it, it probably wasn't the smartest thing to say. But I went in there as a warrior and I walk out as a gentleman and that's what I'm good at. I'm glad I could lift my head high and say, "I did a good job."
That's what I'm getting back from everyone. Basically a lot of people throughout the community, not only the gay community but the straight community, are contacting me saying that I'm a gentleman. And I like that. I like that a lot.
Reality TV World: Jeff called you out as "struggling to keep up" when you were turning the giant wench during the water challenge that proceeded the Tribal Council in which you were voted off. Did that frustrate you at all and do you think that played any role in the decision to vote you off?
Mark Caruso: Well, no, and I'll tell you why, because Jim said, "Let go." Because Ozzy got caught, so he goes, "Let go! Let go." And then he goes, "Get on," and I got on. So, I was following his lead because if you saw, I'm not as tall as him.
So yes, it was really funny because -- well not funny, but -- I couldn't reach up. If you saw from the episode, I was like jumping up to get on the turning thing, and it's so funny. But you know, Jeff says what he says and honestly, I couldn't hear anything Jeff was saying. I was so focused in on what I was doing.
Reality TV World: How were you cast on Survivor-- how did you end up on the show?
Mark Caruso: I actually applied to the Sears [online casting] contest and they actually saw my video and they liked it, so they called me for an interview.
Reality TV World: Why do you think Ozzy fought so hard to keep [Semhar Tadesse] before she was voted off -- do you think it was, as Jim was shown suggesting, because he had a crush on her?
Mark Caruso: I think so. I think he liked her and Semhar's a real nice person. Her poems are nice. You have to listen intensively and she's a real nice person.
Her and Jim didn't get along and it's kind of sad in a way, because she stood up to the plate on the first challenge and nobody else did because everybody else -- I mean, I wasn't a good basketball player. She stood up and we only lost by two coconuts, and he came off on her. That was pretty -- I don't think that was a good thing.
Reality TV World: Ozzy decided to tell Keith he'd found the hidden Immunity Idol and then Keith went and quickly told [Whitney Duncan] about it. What are your thoughts about that? Do you think that has the potential to come back and bite Ozzy down the road or are you feeling that Keith and Whitney weren't the type of players that...
Mark Caruso: I had numerous conversations -- all you do is talk all day. That's camp life. I told Ozzy, "For the love of Jesus, you played this game twice before. This is your third time. Stay focused." (Laughs)
And he just looked at me like, "Oh my God, did that just come out of his mouth?" And I'm like, "You lost twice and you're not focusing enough." And apparently not. Apparently not, because he's doing it again. As far as I know, what we saw him tell Keith is what he told him.
Reality TV World: Was Cochran really as paranoid and neurotic as the show's episodes have shown him? I read reports that his comments at your first Tribal Council actually went on for hours more than they showed.
Mark Caruso: Yes, he is. I don't know, God bless him. He knows how to talk, but honestly, I hope he doesn't do law or criminal law because I can imagine the judge ripping him apart -- the judge, not even the other attorney, but the judge.
"Cochran get up here! Get your stuff! Cochran get your witness!" I can imagine the whole thing. I don't think he's strong enough, but you know what? He has a good -- hey, who knows. I don't know. I don't want to judge the kid. I'll give him every opportunity like any other person out there. He might be the best lawyer going.
Reality TV World: What was the thinking behind deciding you needed a nickname -- were you jealous that Cochran had gotten Jeff to call him something different? I read that you actually told Jeff a bunch of Bear-themed nicknames at Tribal Council before you settled on Papa Bear.
Mark Caruso: You know what? It's really funny. No. I didn't even know John at that point even though I was sitting next to him. Cochran is his last name, so that's not an actual nickname. Cochran is his actual name. No, actually I didn't really know whether it was going to be Daddy Bear or Papa Bear.
Papa Bear is a lot better, you know what I mean? I went there -- the only reason I picked that name is I wanted the group to have a seed in their head that, "Let's not vote off Papa Bear" -- a paternal figure. I had to think of something that would keep me personally in the game, you know? Let's face it. I was the oldest person there and that's what I came up with.