Exclusive: Dave Cruser talks about his 'Survivor: China' journey
By Christopher Rocchio, 10/12/2007
Dave Cruser worked harder than anybody around camp but also annoyed the hell out of everyone else in his tribe.
Unable to find a delicate balance, the 37-year-old model and bartender from Simi Valley, CA became the fourth castaway eliminated from Survivor: China during last night's broadcast of the long-running CBS reality competition series.
On Friday, "Crazy Dave" talked to Reality TV World about how he almost ended up on a different not-so-successful Mark Burnett reality show; what possessed him to go naked at a challenge when he wasn't even offered peanut butter or chocolate; why he was so adamant about building his state-of-the-art fire pit; and if he thinks his elimination will come back to bite his former tribe in the butt.
Dave: How I got on Survivor was very unusual. It was very serendipitous. I was going to a modeling casting for a Wal-Mart job... [and] Wal-Mart and Survivor Entertainment Group (SEG) happened to be [casting] in the same hotel. I happened to bump into the girls from SEG instead of WalMart and it was actually for the project Pirate Master. They needed alternates, they figured the background checks were questionable for some of the guys. It was a little too late to get on [Pirate Master], thank god (laughing)... Whoops, did I say that? They just came back to me and said, "Hey, how do you feel about Survivor?" I'm like, "Name it... Let's do it!"
Reality TV World: So you had never applied to the show before?
Reality TV World: Had you watched a lot of Survivorbefore going on the show?
Dave: Intermittently. I'd catch it when I could find it, but I lived out of the country for a while. They don't get Survivor in Hamburg, or at least didn't at the time...
My biggest draw -- and what interested me most about Survivor -- is the physical and environmental challenges, not really the social stuff. So to go out there and do the challenges, or make-up a camp from scratch, that's all about me.
Reality TV World: How did you prepare yourself both physically and mentally prior to leaving for the competition?
Dave: Physically I gained some weight, so I'd have something to burn off. Then I went down to eating like one meal a day for a month. I read the "SAS Survival Guide." I got a little book on knots because I really didn't do well on knots in Boy Scouts. I figured out a few key knots, if for whatever reason I might need to use. I read part of a book called "How to Change Anybody" (laughing almost uncontrollably).
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Dave: You know, I was actually really looking forward to hanging with Ashley. I thought she could have been a really cool asset and a neat person. I actually carried one of her bags up those steps to that temple! I kept her warm at night. I spooned both [Sherea Lloyd] and Ashley when they got cold (laughing).
I don't want to butt heads with anybody. But if somebody's going to talk a lot and not have a lot of action, that's one thing that really wears me out, I don't have a lot of patients for. Attitude and awareness were a pile of things that were growing. It had nothing to do with [Ashley] being sick at all, except for the fact that maybe her being sick kind of skewed her awareness or her focus. I can totally understand that. No fault at all, she was really, really sick out there.
It just got to the point where there really wasn't a mature conduct going on and I started sinking down to other levels of communication that weren't really good. They happen against you on-camera, and that's just how it goes.
Reality TV World: Did you vote for Ashley's elimination at the first Tribal Council because she was sick or did you view her as a threat later in the competition?
Dave: I felt that she was the least productive person out of the tribe, either her or Sherea. I just wanted to try... I mean we had to go [to Tribal Council] anyway. I was trying to get the most efficient and strong tribe going, and unfortunately by default that means that somebody's got to go. It was either Ashley or Sherea and I happened to vote Ashley.
Reality TV World: During last night's Tribal Council, you described your role as Zhan Hu's leader as a "burden." If that's how you felt, why did you nominate yourself for the position during the first Tribal Council?
Dave: I was already doing it, I just didn't have a job title yet.
Reality TV World: Talk about that a little bit. Did you kind of thrust that role upon yourself? Did you feel other people were looking for you to be the leader?
Dave: Well it just wasn't being done! Whether I do anything about it except be called "leader" or actually go official... As you noticed, no one else raised their hands until I did, and then [fellow Zhan Hu member Peih-Gee Law] raised hers, kind of.
Things need to get done. I was resisting, I didn't want to be a part of it. I didn't want to be a leader -- but at the same time -- it needed to be done, and I figured I'd turn around and embrace it rather than resist it. It was a good experience.
Reality TV World: Did you find it challenging? Was it harder than you thought it was going to be?
Dave: It wasn't a challenge being leader, it was a challenge trying to get through to my tribe.
Reality TV World: Were you aware that some of the other Zhan Hu members were questioning your leadership skills?
Dave: Well you know, of course they were. But you know everybody's a critic, and until you stood-up and start doing something about it you can't just say anything. The reason why stood-up to do it is because we weren't getting anything done and there's a lot of talk and not a lot of action.
Reality TV World: When we interviewed Ashley a couple of weeks ago, she insisted that you'd already put yourself into a leadership position from the moment you guys got out there. So you would agree with that statement? Your leadership of Zhan Hu was instantaneous?
Dave: Yeah, pretty much. We got to camp and for most of the people there, they were just having a yah-hah time getting to know each other. I just saw stuff that needed to be done -- and the sooner you get your chores done -- the sooner you can relax. That was my attitude and perspective on it.
Dave: First of all to clarify things, everybody did eat before the [Reward Challenge], it just wasn't when they wanted to eat. It was about an hour-and-a-half later. Considering how much imagination, creative ideas, input, energy and all that kind of stuff that was going on, no one else was going to do it.
It was raining like you can't believe. Our camp flooded out like you cannot believe. To start a fire out somewhere, to barely get some rice cooking... Not all fire's the same. Bamboo burns hotter than dead pine. If you don't have the fire focused with some of those bricks that were sitting around, you're just going to lose your heat and it's going to take you forever to cook something. I wanted to do it once, do it right, and build a fire pit big enough so there could be food cooking on one side and water cooking on the other side. There would be no problem about that. It would twice as efficient.
Reality TV World: Where did all those bricks come from? Between the bricks and the remains of that wooden structure your tribe found when you first got there, your "remote location" came across as pretty civilized.
Dave: Both [Zhan Hu and Fei Long camps] had previous farmers or something going on there. It was literally just the flotsam and jetsam left from the previous locals that had been there [before the area was dammed and flooded to form Zhelin Lake, the man-made reservoir we were on]. Our tribe was given a lot less than Fei Long. Fei Long had a lot more resources, a lot more usable wood. All the stuff at our site was just decaying, crumbling... All those granite bricks were kind of strewn throughout the camp. All that stuff was already there.
Reality TV World: Exactly how long did it take to build that fire pit? It seemed like you were continuously working on it. Was it a finished product when you were eliminated?
Dave: It was finished when we put a fire on it. At the same time, it took two people half-a-day to move half those stones; it took me about a half-an-hour to move the rest. I just couldn't see the snail's pace and point-five gear velocity that was going on. I mean we need to have fire, so I just said, "Forget about it! Here we go! Fire's done!"
Reality TV World: Do you think you were guilty of talking down to some of your fellow Zhan Hu tribe members?
Dave: (laughing) Why would you be condescending to the people you've got to keep on your side? The downward talking, the condescension, came after exasperation in terms of, "What do we do?" for the seventh day in a row. "Well, we need water, we need wood." That's where the, "It's not rocket-science," comment piped in a bit later in the confessional.
Talking down? No, because I wouldn't want anybody talking down to me. I usually don't throw the first stone. But, you throw it at me man, like I just said, "Ash wants a fight, I'll give her a fight." Consequently she's totally cool. We're friends. It's all good. Not a problem at all with her.
Reality TV World: During the second Immunity Challenge when you seemed to be physically exhausted from all the work you were doing around camp. Do you think that hurt your performances in the challenges?
Dave: Especially that challenge yes, other challenges no. But that challenge for sure.
Reality TV World: Were you glad fellow Zhan Hu member Michael "Frosti" Zernow kind of took the reigns and helped you out.
Dave: I was thrilled... Out of everybody there, I have to say that Frosti was probably the best tribemate.
Reality TV World: Why is that?
Dave: I mean I'm twice the guy's age, and he's really mature. He's a nice, calming and governing effect in the tribe. He is strong and it did seem like he's pretty open-minded. He did put forth a fair-amount of effort also. All I had to do was ask and he'd be like, "Okay, cool." If we had a team full of Frosti's we would have kicked butt over everybody!
Reality TV World: Did you ever consider toning down your work around camp to conserve some of your energy for the challenges?
Dave: I did. Absolutely. After losing that second Immunity Challenge, realizing I just spent myself. Even the tribe said, "We'd like it if you just down-shifted a little bit." I was like, "You know what? You're absolutely right. Cool."
Reality TV World: During the second Tribal Council you told Jeff you expected more than one vote against you, however Zhan Hu unanimously voted to boot Ashley. Besides Ashley, who else did you think would vote against you?
Dave: Oh I don't know. Maybe Sherea.
Reality TV World: That leads well into my next question. Your conflict with Sherea seemed to conveniently emerge right after Ashley was voted out, ending your conflict with her. Did you actually get along with Sherea initially, or was that just the editing?
Dave: You had to go and talk to her, she wouldn't come up and talk to you. The work ethic thing, I let that slide. I have no problem with anybody, it's just that when efforts start to go awry. I had a problem with Sherea when she mixed up the moldy rice. It was like, "Just leave it. I'll sort it out." She got all up-snippety... and I just couldn't handle anymore. That was the straw that broke the camel's back. Absolutely no reason for her attitude, her tone... If it's apparent enough, I'm trying to build fire... You can only split me so many different ways before there's just nothing left to split. It fell apart.
Reality TV World: What led to your decision to go naked during the third Reward Challenge? Was it strategy and do you think it worked?
Dave: It was full-on strategy. It was only strategy. It wasn't to be a ham or to hog the spotlight or to run around naked -- even though I like to run around naked. My strategy was this: [Fei Long's] got big guys on their side, especially [James Clement]. If you had a choice of a guy charging you with cut-off jeans or a guy charging you naked, what's going to be the least desirable?
Reality TV World: Point taken. Do you think it worked?
Dave: I think it definitely worked... They were like, "Oh man! Here comes Cruser with his brookies off again!" (laughing).
Reality TV World: Fei Long seemed to think that Leslie Nease dished a lot of dirt about her tribe when your tribe kidnapped her. Having been there, do you agree with that?
Dave: Not at all. I mean [fellow Zhan Hu member Jaime Dugan] told us more when she came back as a spy than Leslie actually told us.
Reality TV World: Was there anything valuable Jaime or Leslie told you about Fei Long?
Reality TV World: Was that Jaime that told you that?
Reality TV World: What was your initial reaction when Fei Long decided to kidnap you?
Dave: I was like, "Thank God!" (laughing)
Reality TV World: Aside from being able to get away from Zhan Hu, did you see any strategy in it?
Dave: They said they wanted to see if the tribe could run without its head.
Reality TV World: Fei Long told you that?
Dave: Exactly. It was interesting to see how everything panned out.
Reality TV World: Given Leslie was voted out after she was kidnapped, were you worried your tribe might use the same logic as grounds to boot you?
Dave: More than likely. You're putting yourself in a precarious position being... previously it was Exile Island. You know, being away from your tribe is never a good thing. Because people talk, and what they don't know gets filled in with a lot of embellishments and imagination.
It was definitely something to be concerned about, but at the same time, it was personally gratifying getting kidnapped because I went to a tribe that appreciated me.
Reality TV World: When we talked to Leslie last week, she said that she and Fei Long member Todd Herzog had formed some kind of "we'll kidnap each other" agreement with Jamie and Erik Huffman. Todd apparently wasn't able to convince the rest of his tribe to kidnap Jamie or Erik, but you still ended up giving him the next clue. Was that just coincidence? Did you know about their agreement?
Dave: Total coincidence... I chose Todd because he seemed like the unconventional choice. Out of everybody there, I thought he had the best attitude. Being a serious fan like he said he is -- which he is -- how he was playing the game, I wanted to give that kid a hand-up and say, "Here dude. I like your style. Here you go."
Reality TV World: You said you felt "precarious" after losing last night's Immunity Challenge and returning to the Zhan Hu camp. Based on that "no eye contact" conversation you had with Erik and Peih-Gee, is it right to say that you definitely knew you were on the chopping block?
Dave: Holy cow did I ever! It was heir-apparent. The handwriting was on the walls if there were walls man! (laughing)
Reality TV World: During that conversation, you almost seemed to be begging folks to not vote you off. What "definite attitude adjustment" were you talking about?
Dave: I had listened to the requests and suggestions of my tribe, trying to alter not working so hard, listening to other people, even if it's a hair-brained idea. I just started saying, "Sure! Cool! Right on! Go for it!" I was constantly changing, trying to better myself, trying to bend to the desires of the rest of my tribe, versus Sherea hadn't! She started doing some stuff by default because I wasn't there and everyone else didn't want to pick-up her slack again... She didn't change nearly as much as I thought I had changed, so I thought that was the biggest thing to keep me. I'm adaptable.
Reality TV World: You still seemed pretty confrontational during that "lake water" argument you had after getting back from the Immunity Challenge. Didn't you realize that probably wasn't the best time to argue? What was your thinking? Were you just too worried about getting sick?
Dave: There was some conflicting reports if we could use the lake water or not. What was actually in the lake water or not. I just thought it was a more prudent choice to use the well water versus the lake water. Someone did get parasites while they were there. Not a fun experience. Not something I want to have happen to me. I just thought the precaution walking to the well versus walking to the lake to get lake water was prudent... was worth it.
Reality TV World: Did somebody get parasites while you were there?
Dave: It was after...
Reality TV World: Do you think Zhan Hu's decision to keep Sherea instead of you will hurt them in the long run. If so, why?
Dave: Well, I'm sure it will hurt them. That's without a doubt. It just depends how long she stays and what's their awakening going to be, their realization that, "Wow. Dave really did do a heck of a lot around camp." Not having me there, and having someone else not doing something on top of it will make it pretty prevalent to who's important and who isn't.
Reality TV World: How did it feel to have the nickname "Crazy Dave" and how do you think you got it?
Dave: I've had that nickname for a loooooooooooooooooooooong time. Way before Survivor.
Reality TV World: Were you comfortable with people you were playing a game with calling you that?
Dave: Of course! I'm crazy! I'm the first one to say it! (laughing like a crazy person, wingnut or nutter)
Reality TV World: Is there anyone you would really like to see win? Anybody you don't want to see win?
Dave: I really want to see [Fei Long member Denise Martin, a school lunch lady] win... She's a mother of three; she doesn't get out too much; she's from Massachusetts. I think her and her family could really use it. I mean, who couldn't use it?! But it would just be neat to see a mom get it, you know, have her family taken care of, be a hero to her kids. She sees her kids everyday in the lunch-line... It's just great.
Not to win? Wow. Maybe Jean-Robert because [since he's a professional poker player,] he'd blow it all gambling.
Reality TV World: What was your strategy going into the game and do you think it worked?
Dave: Half my strategy worked, and maybe even like the other half kind of worked on the other tribe. My strategy was to be invaluable at camp and to be liked by everybody. Obviously, the second one didn't work-out too well. [Fei Long] definitely liked me and had complimentary things to say about me.
Reality TV World: Do you think the tribes were divided fairly. Were you happy with the tribe you got?
Dave: (laughing) I knew it from the get go. I was like, "Oh shit! I'm on the kids tribe!" [Former fellow Zhan Hu member Steve "Chicken" Morris"] got voted out way too early, didn't get a chance to hang with him or learn anything. He played his game the way he played it and I was sorry to see him go.
Reality TV World: Did you have any sort of alliance with Chicken or anybody else there?
Dave: I didn't have an alliance with Chicken, but I was looking out for his best interests. I thought he was a worthwhile person, and I knew that the ageism and age-gap was definitely going to play a lot worse on him. So I was kind of liaising the rest of my tribe and Chicken. Obviously not that great...
Reality TV World: So what's next for Crazy Dave? What are you doing now?
Dave: I'm changing careers. I'm trying to get involved with industrial design. I'm learning computer-drafting programs and I'm getting some connections in L.A. for machining to doing furniture, to motorcycle parts, to lighting. All kinds of stuff. I was supposed to be an architect way back in the day when I was in college. I've always had the design bug in me, and I look forward to fostering those things and trying to start something new and fresh.