My Day at ‘Survivor’ School or (How Gordon Got His Groove Back)


“Survivor: Ghost Island” (XFINITY)

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WARNING: The following “Survivor” article has very little actual “Survivor” content in it.

Watch Full Episodes of “Survivor: Ghost Island”

I know what you’re thinking, “Hey Gordon, where’s that once-a-year article you write about the press immunity challenge where it looks like you’re going to lose, but somehow pull off a victory and learn a valuable lesson?”

That article is not coming.

Oh, the press immunity challenge happened, it was the one from the premiere where they had to pull the block puzzle pieces on a sled. And the lesson I learned was, “Sometimes you get your (expletive deleted) kicked.” Trust me, it does not require 2,000 words. It was so bad that newly minted press member Andrea Boehlke was desperately trying to switch teams.

So, my challenge winning streak was snapped at nine straight. And while a career record of 9 and 2 is still impressive, it certainly isn’t 10 in a row.

Ten immunity wins would have been epic. Just…the perfect round number. I had even imagined posing for a photo with a giant “10” written in the sand.

It’s kind of stupid, but I’ll admit to being down in the dumps about it.

And as bummed out as I was it wasn’t nearly as bad as the thing that had happened a few days earlier.

The pre-game interviews had taken longer than expected, so we were granted an extension. While Hollywood Reporter’s Josh Wigler and I were finishing up, EW’s Dalton Ross, ET Canada’s Erin Cebula, and CBS’s Andrea Boehlke were going to get to run through the water/basketball challenge.

I wasn’t heartbroken to miss this because swimming isn’t my strongest skill and I wanted the best opportunity to retain the winning streak that nobody cares about except for me.

Here’s where it gets bad.

We were hoping to get to the water challenge in time to watch them perform, but we were told we probably weren’t going to make it. We were told wrong. For some reason, the challenge was delayed. And when multi-time Emmy award winner and everyone’s favorite blue, button-down shirt model Jeff Probst asked me to participate I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have the proper swimming attire.

That was a lie.

I could have easily participated in the shorts I was wearing. I just didn’t want to risk my precious streak.

In hindsight that sounds really stupid. How many “Survivor” fans would kill for the opportunity I turned down?

I’ve made a career out of saying “Yes” when other people have said “Meh” and it has served me really well.

So, I sat…and I watched…and I hated myself for doing it.

Fast forward to the end of the press immunity challenge; I’m a sweaty mess, my hands are callused hunks of hamburger, and all I want is a nap.

Never one to shy away from making a bad situation worse, Probst pulled me aside to offer me a third challenge.

“You know how we’re giving them less food this season?” he asked.

“I do,” I responded.

“I want to send you out to one of the beaches with our fishing expert to show everyone how hard it is to catch a fish,” he explained.

“Oh…so go out there, catch a fish and then let everyone know how difficult it is for somebody who has little-to-no experience?”

“Oh no. I would say you’re not going to get a fish,” he assured me.


He continued, “Yeah, I asked if our fishing expert would be able to do it. And they said, no problem. Like 100%. But you, with no experience, probably like 1%.”

“Uh huh…”

He capped off his bright idea by saying, “And then he’ll show you how to start a fire and you can talk about how hard that is too.”

I shot back, “And what are the odds I’ll be able to do that?”

“Probably…maybe…who knows? Stranger things have happened.”

With that vote of confidence from a national icon bouncing around my head I had the whole evening to figure out how I wasn’t going to embarrass myself. There wasn’t much I could do to prepare for the fishing, but for years I’ve been the biggest proponent of contestants LEARNING HOW TO MAKE (EXPLETIVE DELETED) FIRE BEFORE GOING ON THE SHOW.

So, I did what any other person from my generation would do; I sat in my hotel room and watched fire-making YouTube videos.

The next thing I knew, I was on a boat with tanned, toned, Hawaiian fishing god Joaquin and his crew members as we jetted off to one of this season’s unused beaches.

When we arrived, I double-checked with Joaquin to make sure that I didn’t have to be concerned about sharks or anything. He assured me that there were occasionally sharks in the area, but we probably didn’t have to worry about anything.


FUN FACT: Joaquin and I are totally Facebook bros now. Like a week after this trip took place, he posted something about having to dive back into a boat to avoid a shark. Thanks, buddy.

First, Joaquin showed me the Hawaiian sling the contestants were using. It was old and rickety. He told me not to worry though, because he had a better one for me. I hated to do it, but I told him the story wouldn’t work if I was using better equipment than the contestants. He agreed, and went about showing me how to use it.

So basically, the Hawaiian sling is a long spear with four sharp prongs on one end and a large rubber band on the other. You take the rubber band into your hand then stretch it up the length of the pole. You point the spear at your target, then release it. The rubber band will launch the spear toward your prey, catching it easily, and turning you into your tribe’s hero.

Then, he showed me the crappy old flippers and goggles the contestants would receive, but he assured me he had better ones for me. Once again, I had to turn them down.

Equipped with the finest in 1950s fishing gear, I hit the water. And as if the moisture in the Fijian sea was too much for the ancient rubber to handle, the strap on my left flipper immediately disintegrated. I retrieved the now-useless flipper and tossed it back into the boat. I guess I’ll just swim in a circle.

Undeterred I readied my spear and set off to prove Jeff Probst wrong. Once I was underwater I was happy to discover dozens of potential entrees.

I slowly stalked my prey, aimed my weapon, and released it. And boy, if those fish didn’t have a sixth sense as to when a rubber band was about to be released. Those little suckers would immediately dart out of the way.

I’d readjust my spear, get close enough to lunch, release it, and they’d vanish. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And what was worse, sometimes I’d miss and be treated to the frustrating clang of the spear banging against the coral.




Finally, I got the drop on a good-sized specimen. I slowly approached it, released the spear, and hit him!

…And he promptly wriggled off the spikes and swam down into the reef. I hovered above the reef for a while hoping maybe he’d die from his injuries, or old age or something, and float back to the surface. But, it never happened.

Ugh…I’d never appreciated Ozzy Lusth so much in my life.

I continued for about an hour and all I had to show for it was a gash on my hand from where I had to remove a piece of coral from my prongs. It was bleeding quite a bit, but I wasn’t worried because there weren’t any sharks in the area. (Right, Joaquin?)

Finally, I spotted a school of fish that didn’t seem too alarmed that a sunburnt, bleeding journalist was milling around their area. I targeted one, released the spear, and nabbed him. I immediately pointed the spear straight up so he couldn’t get away.


In your face, Jeff Probst!

I surfaced and cheered like I had just won the World Series. Joaquin’s crew was greatly amused. I’m sure it’s the first time they’ve heard such a big fuss over such a small fish.

Joaquin heard the commotion and paddled over using flippers that were created in this century. He was clearly very proud of his pupil and told me to look under the water to see what he’d caught for lunch. I looked down and saw the biggest lobster I have ever seen attached to his belt.

Well, I’d happily share the world’s smallest fish with him if he was willing to share the world’s biggest lobster.

We hit the beach and Joaquin and I started our survival training. He showed me the proper way to open a coconut with a machete and various other techniques. But then it was time for the main event; fire making.

He retrieved a coconut shell and some kindling. From there he scraped off a small pile of magnesium and started striking the flint.




And while this probably didn’t bode well for my ability to start a fire, it was nice to see him having some trouble with it.

This went on for about twenty minutes with no success. Finally, Joaquin laughed and said, “I’m really more of a fishing guy.”

While this was going on, Joaquin’s crew had darted off in all directions. Immediately they had caught a ton more fish (and about four times the size of what I had procured). They also went into the forest and came back with other treats. They started a raging fire (using a lighter) and went about preparing a feast.

Realizing that all of this fire-attempting was going to get in the way of our lunch, Joaquin suggested I give it a go. I followed his instructions, remembered my YouTube training, and went to work.

I got my coconut shell, I got my kindling, I made a little pile of magnesium…




This went on for about fifteen minutes until…


The magnesium finally caught! I slowly blew on the ember, hoping it would catch the kindling…and it did! Actual fire!

Joaquin and I jumped up and down and hugged as if we had just won the lottery. His crew members laughed again…which…come on, guys. You had a lighter.

With my trip to “Survivor” School finally completed, it was time to eat. I was presented with the fish I had caught earlier and took a bite out of it. It tasted like victory.

I offered to share it with my new tribe, but honestly, it would have been like trying to share a Tic Tac. Fortunately, they had prepared a ton of fish, Joaquin’s giant lobster, and various other things they had found around the island. And believe me when I say, it was all delicious. If these dudes ever decide to open up a seafood restaurant in Philadelphia, I’ll be there every day.

They even made a spicy dipping sauce using sea water and spices they had located. The only thing we ate that wasn’t caught or scavenged on location was a lemon they had brought for the fish. Amazing.

In fact, we ate so much that I was too full to have dinner when we got back to base camp. Just goes to show what a motivated tribe is capable of…if they are all fishing and wilderness experts.

That night at Tribal I told Probst my tale. And every time I’d see him after that he’d exclaim, “I still can’t believe you caught a fish.”

Believe it, buddy. Jeff had given me a challenge and I’d accomplished it. Surely this must count as that tenth win I was looking for, right?


I asked Probst…he said, “No.”

Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes

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