Today, we’re talking to none other than Ryan Opray, contestant from Survivor: Pearl Islands – Season 7.
Although this is a writing blog, I like to occasionally spring a surprise guest. They say that variety is the spice of life, after all.
My guest today is of particular interest to me because his season was the very first of Survivor I ever watched. I’ve since seen the seasons before 7, and many more after, but it’s the one I cut my teeth on, so to speak.
If you haven’t seen it, Survivor really started cranking up the twists in season 7. The contestants had a surprise start of getting thrown overboard with only the clothes on their backs, they had to purchase their starting bundle of goods at a local market, there were three tribes competing at one point, the first quit in Survivor history, jury members participated in an immunity challenge, and two players who were previously voted out were voted back in–all Survivor firsts.
Along with that, you had Rupert’s shoe pillaging, Jonny Fairplay’s dead grandmother lie, buried treasure, Drake’s winning streak, Rupert’s finding-the-spearhead moment, and Sandra throwing out fish–not to mention an epic strength immunity challenge. In the official issue of CBS Watch commemorating Survivor’s 15th anniversary, Pearl Islands was voted as the highest-ranking season with an entirely new cast.
I’m not sure how many of you are Survivor fans, but I certainly am. I even referenced it in one of the first posts on this blog. Being a big fan of the show, I enjoyed hearing the behind-the-scenes scoop on Ryan’s experience on Survivor. Hopefully, you all will, as well.
RL: Thank you for joining us, today. Pearl Islands is a well-liked season. I’d easily say it’s in my top three.
Ryan: Thanks, Ryan, I appreciate it! I have to say, from a fan’s perspective, watching it was a pretty exciting season.
RL: Let’s start with the audition and interview process for the show Survivor. Was Jeff Probst present for any of it?
Ryan: Back when I first applied was season 2, and we had to send in applications and VHS tapes. Technology sure has changed. I beat out I think around 100,000 people to get on Season 7, and I applied for season 2-7 and was an alternate for season 3,5,6. Jeff does some interviewing when you get to LA and has a big influence on who gets on the show.
RL: Survivor is well-known for its twists, and one big twist in season 7 was the abrupt beginning. According to the show, they told you (and the rest of the cast) that you all were heading to a photo shoot and instead announced that the game was starting right then, dumping you overboard in what you were wearing. Was it truly a surprise, or did you have a hunch? I seem to recall that you had on more appropriate clothing than some, say Andrew and Shawn, who both wore suits.
Ryan: Well, as an electrician, I didn’t wear a suit to work per se. *laughs* I did have an idea because they said, “Hey, can you change your shirt before going on deck?” I knew it was because of the Oakley logo on my shirt. Needless to say, I tried putting on my board shorts. I looked really shocked when Jeff said we were going into the game with what we had on, but I had more of an idea than anyone else.
RL: On that same boat ride traveling to the “photo shoot,” were you all told to stay separate and quiet, or did you all mingle? I believe I heard once that contestants are told to not talk on the way to tribal council, and I’ve wondered when else that sort of thing happens.
Ryan: We didn’t have too many talkers, but I did speak to Osten and Shawn pretty often, trying to get a feel for them, etc. We spoke before tribal council a bit, but not at length. You try and follow the rules as much as possible.
RL: It appeared that living at the Morgan camp was pretty rough. Not only were there crabs, rocks falling on your shelter, the tide threatening to wash away your camp, losing fishhooks, and Ostin wanting to quit, but you also had to contend with Drake’s winning streak. What was it like to go up against all that at once?
Ryan: The days spent at Morgan were pretty damn rough. I’ll be honest. We were just getting beat on consistently, but once we started winning, they threw the Outcasts at us.
RL: What sort of reactions did you get from your friends and family about you being on the show?
Ryan: My friends and family were awesome; they actually were shocked when I was getting close to the end. If it wasn’t for the stupidity of Rupert and the Outcasts, I would have done way better.
RL: What was your least favorite moment out there?
Ryan: Least favorite is dealing with the personalities on Drake. Their Island was like a resort compared to Morgan. Almost a completely different climate.
RL: Is there a behind-the-scenes moment you can think of that fans of the show would enjoy hearing?
Ryan: There was a time that Shawn and Michelle almost switched to our tribe at the second or third immunity.
RL: Ah, that’s right. I believe you’re referring to the un-aired mutiny offer, which nobody took. I suppose they didn’t show it because nothing came of it. It sure would have shaken things up if those two had crossed over. Speaking of changing allegiances, when Lillian “flipped” and helped to vote out Andrew in episode 8 (paving the way for your exit the episode after), what was your internal reaction that you perhaps couldn’t express at the time?
Ryan: Well, when we already had voted out Lill fair and square, I knew the gimmicks would end up ruining the show that I dearly loved. The dynamic changed after that.
RL: What did it feel like to have your torch snuffed out by Jeff–a distinction that less than 550 people have ever experienced?
Ryan: It was pretty surreal cause I was a total uber fan of the show! Getting your torch snuffed sucked. Jeff, me, and Andrew had more of a connection at that point in the game. I lasted 24 days, so I was happy it wasn’t 3 days.
RL: How does one reacclimate to normal life after so much of the spotlight?
Ryan: The first few days back were tough but got used to it. Not a whole lot of people recognize you cause you get seriously skinny and have a beard. I’m sure more women get noticed.
RL: For whatever reason, some people have thought that Survivor (or some aspect of it) is fabricated, somehow. What would you say to them?
Ryan: Ah, I just let people think whatever they want. People believe it’s fake–so be it! I just laugh and go on my way. It’s 100% brutal elements, but it’s a tv show; not all sound bites are used.
RL: Finally, what project are you working on these days?
Ryan: I actually auditioned for Shark Tank with my pushup bar “The Buck,” so I’m just waiting to hear back. I’m pretty far in the process. Also working on a VH1 show called Hit the Floor. Check out thebuckfitness.com and purchase the best pushup bar on the market! And look for me on Shark Tank.
RL: I’ll keep an eye out for it! I haven’t watched much of that show, yet. This might be my reason to get into it. Thanks for joining us. You played a great season. Maybe we’ll see you on a Fans vs. Favorites one day.
Ryan: Thanks for having me, Ryan!