When Survivor returns for its 25th season on Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8/7c, CBS), three familiar faces will be joining the previously announced group of 15 new castaways on the beaches of the Philippines. Michael Skupin, Jonathan Penner and Russell Swan all experienced medical evacuations in their last outings and will now attempt to complete their games without incident.
Skupin, now a 50-year-old professional speaker, author and coach from White Lake, Mich., was the show's very first medical evacuation during 2001's Australian Outback season. He received severe burns on his arms and hands after passing out into a fire due to smoke inhalation. "I think the world saw me falling in the fire as my biggest failure, but I don't see it that way," Skupin told TV Guide Magazine days before Survivor: Philippines began filming. "I'm not back because I feel like I have something to prove, I'm back because this game is impossible to replicate."
So does he plan on avoiding the fire this season? "No, actually I'll be right in it!" he said with a laugh. "I grew up hunting in the woods, we make 30 or 40 fires in our back yard every year, so fire's been one of my greatest allies my whole life. I'll be the first one out there rubbing two sticks together."
As for Penner, Survivor: Philippines marks his third attempt at the game after being evacuated during 2008's Micronesia season due to a life-threatening knee infection. "The biggest danger to me is that I have a big target on my back as a two-time returning player," the 50 year old from Los Angeles said. "But being an experienced person brings tremendous amount of ease to folks. If I make people realize that I'm not dominating the game and I have a lot to contribute, hopefully that will lead to victory so I won't get voted out."
Penner noted that his knee is feeling much better, but there's another part of his body he's particularly worried about this time around. "My ankles are not what they used to be," he laughed. "I can't pretend that I'm going to go mano-a-mano with some 25-year-old guy, it would be stupid of me to do that. Going crazy is not necessary, let's just be methodical about it. It may not be the best TV, but it's going to make me a million dollars."
While the million dollars is also on Swan's radar, his strategy to finish the game is simple. "Drink more water!" said the 45-year-old environmental attorney from Glenside, Penn. Swan was removed from 2009's Samoa season after suffering from severe dehydration and repeatedly fainting during a challenge. "What's so scary about dehydration is that by the time you've gone over the peak, you're in trouble and you don't even know it. I've heard all the time about silent killers, and dehydration is definitely one of those."
Coming into Survivor: Philippines, Swan is hoping his status as a returning player does not make him a de facto leader on his Matsing tribe. "One of the things I learned real quick is leadership kills, so I have to throw my own self under the bus and call myself the worst leader in the country," he said with a laugh. "I have experience in challenges, but leadership is out."
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