Retired rocket man Dan Barry spends his days building robots but found himself struggling to put together a much simpler puzzle on last week's Survivor: PanamaExile Island. As a result, the 52-year-old father of two found himself packing his bags after copping to his poor performance on the immunity challenge, thus diluting La Mina down to three members going into the tribal merge. TVGuide.com spoke with the space man about how his NASA excursions affected his island outlook, who he's rooting for to win Survivor and more.
TVGuide.com: How has the reaction been since your elimination aired?
It's been pretty positive. It's a disappointment to go home, but I feel like the things I did in the game were well represented. I'm pretty satisfied with the performance.
TVGuide.com: It's so nice to see someone own up to their actions and accept their fate with the vote. You should be commended for your graceful exit.
TVGuide.com: You have taken part in three NASA shuttle flights, spending a total of 734 hours in space. What, if anything, from your space travel or study prepared you for Survivor?
It isn't specific skills as much as the sense that "I can do this," that it isn't impossible. I brought to the island a spirit that isn't going to be broken, despite the challenges. That's what you get from training, and also from the life experiences of seeing people who struggle and work through it.
TVGuide.com: You really opened up to the La Mina guys when discussing your career. Were they as receptive as you had hoped?
Absolutely. I didn't want to tell people before, because I wanted them to see me as Dan not somebody with this special job or past. Once I told them what I'd done, they were really curious about it. Austin was like "I knew you did something!"
TVGuide.com: How'd you get the nickname "Dan Fuego"?
That was awesome, because I was "the fire guy." In fact, I was really hoping we'd end up at a tribal-council challenge, which is usually to build fire. I'd get right through that.
TVGuide.com: During your elimination episode, Sally said she would be surprised if "the La Mina Boys Club" stayed intact. Now that Terry's up against the younger guys without you, how do you think the tribe will fare?
I think Terry has already shown them that he's not a real reliable ally. He cut away his two best friends. He's got a long, lonely road to walk.
TVGuide.com: When Terry returned from Exile Island, did you have an inkling he had found the immunity idol? Ruth Marie told me she could tell just by the way he spoke.
When we were going to tribal council and Terry said, "Let's all bring our satchels as a symbol of unity for Ruth Marie," I was like, "Hmmm, why are we bringing our satchels? Ohhh...." We didn't come right out and ask him, and I'm realizing now that I didn't talk to Nick or Austin about it. I assumed that they knew, but it's possible they didn't. [Terry possessing the idol] was a huge issue because if he had it, Nick and Austin couldn't vote against him they'd just be voting against themselves. That left me with very few options. If I couldn't get Nick or Austin to vote against the other guy, I had to get Terry to vote against one of them, which was what I thought he'd do.
TVGuide.com: What was that immunity challenge like? Those puzzle pieces looked really heavy!
They were heavy, but looking back, it wasn't that hard of a challenge. Some days you have your act together when you do it, and some days you don't. That's life. [Laughs] If your timing was bad and the day your act wasn't together was the day someone was going home, you put yourself on the line.
TVGuide.com: Your tribe had a bit of a lead once Terry stepped in, but Casaya ended up solving the puzzle more quickly. Was your initial strategy to try to copy their puzzle?
We should have killed 'em, but we didn't. Sally was great, and she told us to put the first piece in the spot she thought was right. While it was the right spot, it wouldn't fit. We were over there working it when I turned to look at Casaya and saw they already had one piece in. I should have told one of our runners to watch Casaya. If we had seen right away when they got their first piece in, we would have been set. Maybe that strategic error was my bad.
TVGuide.com: When Sally was on Exile Island, she said she considered it a vacation from the guys. What was it like at camp while she was away?
She got immunity! I should have asked Casaya to send me [to Exile Island] they might have, if I explained how I screwed up the puzzle. They may not have thought too hard about it and sent me. Camp was lousy when she was gone because we had to decide who we were going to vote off. [Laughs] It wasn't lousy because we missed Sally so much as the fact that one of us was going home.
TVGuide.com: La Mina seemed to bond extremely well since the creation of the tribe in Episode 2. Were you happy with how the team came together?
I knew I really wanted to be in La Mina. When it came down to the end, Cirie was picking between Bruce, me or Bobby. She looked right at me and I had to make a decision about whether or not to smile, be nice and have her pick me, but be on Casaya. I just smiled, looked down and so she picked Bobby. Then I gave Ruth Marie the million-dollar smile and she picked me.
TVGuide.com: What does your family think about your time on Survivor?
They think it's a hoot and a half they love watching my silly adventures. My wife is like, "That's just my idiot husband doing his idiot things." [Laughs] But when you come home, it's time to take out the garbage, just like it always is. They were unbelievably supportive. Just think of the impact [a husband-father] going into space three times has on a family, then picture me coming home and saying I want to go on Survivor. I am so lucky to have them.
TVGuide.com: What made you try out for this latest "silly adventure"?
I was a fan of the show. Not a fanatic fan, but I thought it was an intriguing thing to do. When you fly in space, you have about 1,000 people making sure you'll be successful, and I thought it would be interesting to try a different challenge where you don't have that kind of support. Survivor was an interesting model for what we have to do in long-duration space flights, having a small group of people in a confined space under a lot of stress with continual monitoring, where everyone has to get along with each other and perform well in emergencies. There's not really another model out there that incorporates all that.
TVGuide.com: What are you up to now that you're retired from NASA?
I build robots for my company, Denbar Robotics.
TVGuide.com: Who are you rooting for to take the Survivor: Panama title?
Sally. The reason she's still there, as opposed to Misty, has nothing to do with challenges or that sort of thing. If anything, Sally should have gone for losing the spear. It's all about Sally's love for the show. Where she works, she's known as "Survivor Sal," she applied for five years before finally getting on and she knows everything about the show. I'm amazed she got Ruth Marie voted out. Go, Sally!
TVGuide.com: Lastly, what is one item future Survivors should pack in their suitcases that you wish you had brought?
What you should pack in your suitcase is the spirit of never giving up. Beyond any other resource or skill, that spirit is key to Survivor said by the guy who got voted out sixth! [Chuckles]
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