Survivor: David vs. Goliath interview: Pat Cusack on his medical evacuation

Pat CusackIt is fair to say that Pat Cusack had a memorable run on Survivor: David vs. Goliatheven if it was a brief one — though not of his own doing.

At the end of Wednesday night’s premiere episode Pat became the first contestant to be eliminated this season. He was evacuated following the immunity challenge, seemingly after sustaining a back injury on the boat ride over. It was an unusual injury and a painful way to go; seeing him plead to stay in the game was heartbreaking after he fought so hard to get there.

In our interview below (the first of many coming to CarterMatt this season), Pat discusses recovering from the injury, what happened, and also his status on the tribe heading into it.

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CarterMatt – I’ve talked to people in your position before and often they don’t really remember what happened to them. What is your recollection of what happened?

Pat Cusack – I have zero memory from when the accident happened on the boat until I woke up on a helicopter.

Was it a weird, out-of-body experience having to watch it?

Oh, absolutely. I go from being on a boat, with the expectation of going back to camp, to all of a sudden being in a helicopter and I’m ripped out of the game. Seeing myself on the premiere, laying on the beach, convulsing and mumbling and drooling. Emotions were at a real high last night.

A lot of times when we do these interviews we like to say, ‘okay, who was the person responsible for your exit?’ — but here, was it really just the cyclone? Was that what stirred up the waves?

Yeah. There’s no blame on anybody’s part other than Mother Nature. We rode on boats many other times and never had an issue. Everyone who works for production are at the highest standard — the boat captains, the doctors, the cameramen, the sound guys. It’s nothing but high-caliber people and they know what they’re doing. It just so happened that we had to take boat rides [in the midst of terrible weather]. You can’t control what Mother Nature puts on you. We took a big wave, and I ended up going out of the game.

Was it harder leaving the game because you wanted to be out there, or because you’d already given up so much to be there in the first place?

I put myself out there for so many years, and was [finally] able to go to a casting call and get a call back, go through casting, and get an opportunity to go out and play the game. To have it stripped away like this … It’s not like I was voted out. If I was voted out, I would have been able to accept that. But, the medical team has to do what is best for me in the long-term and if I was able to convey to them that I was probably going to be okay, maybe I wouldn’t have been taken. But, the pain was intensive and I couldn’t tell them what I was feeling. They had to [assume that it was] the worst-case scenario. They didn’t know if I had a back fracture or my back broke — I didn’t have any recollection. To see that all unfold was pretty emotional.

So in the end, what exactly did happen? What did the doctors tell you after the fact?

I had a spinal compression; my spine compressed and burst one of the sacs that are in between your vertebrae. There’s nothing that they can really do for it — there’s no real surgery, so it’s just a lot of physical therapy and a lot of rehab.

So how are you really doing now? Do you still feel some pain here and there?

There’s a little bit of sensitivity. It’s not constant. If I’m over-exerting myself or on my feet for hours on end, I’ll feel a little stiffness. I’m at 100%. The doctors cleared me, so I’m just waiting for Jeff to call me and be like ‘pack your s–t.’

Did you anticipate going out there that you were going to be the guy who really took charge and tried to do almost everything with the shelter?

It’s just what I do on an everyday basis. I’m a contractor, so when it comes to building and fixing stuff, that’s just what I do. I knew that I wanted to be able to have a good shelter — that was probably the #1 thing on my list arriving to camp. I wanted to get us off the ground and out of the elements. I figured that if I could give them some comfort, to make them feel like they were at home or at least give them more of an at-home feel, it would be less likely that they would vote me out. I wanted to nurture everybody’s comfort and I thought that could keep me until the merge. Once I got to the merge, I knew that I would be physically capable of participating in challenges. With my puzzle skills, I knew that I could compete. I just needed to do enough to get me to the merge.

Were you worried about having a target on your back because you took on such a big role with the shelter? We saw some people talking about you as a target after you were telling them what to do, but then after the shelter was built — and it was a really good shelter — I wondered if they felt the same way and wondered what they were so upset about?

While we were on the island, I had no inclination that I was coming off as bossy. It wasn’t my intent, but I’m a go-getter. When I’m doing something, I want to get it done. I don’t want to be lackadaisical or go through the motions.

So, to hear some of the comments that were made, I didn’t meant to come off that way. It’s just who I am. I can’t collect the materials, cut the materials, and install the materials. Some people needed direction and were wandering around aimlessly and doing things that didn’t need to be done, like collecting firewood. Why are you collecting firewood when we don’t have flint and it’s raining out? You’re not going to start a fire with wet wood. I made that clear and it rubbed some people the wrong way. I think it may have put a target on me, but that’s just who I am.

Well, let’s just play out a hypothetical here. Do you think that you would’ve been fine if you weren’t evacuated from the game?

I didn’t think I was in any danger [while out there], but after watching it last night, I might have been in danger. I had a solid five [in myself, Davie, Carl, Lyrsa, and Jess] and we were trying to pull in two more — Gabby and Christian. We knew how true and honest everybody was being. I didn’t go into attack mode; I was pretty comfortable in the five that I had. With the two, that would’ve given us seven and Nick was going to go home.

You guys see each other pre-game and while you can’t talk to each other, I’m sure you form first impressions. Did you ever imagine these would be the people you would work with?

No. The last thing I expected was to build these relationships so early and so fast. Yet, when you are in a 15×20 shelter for four days, huddled up together, you have no choice but to talk and you get to know some intimate things about people that you wouldn’t have learned so early in the game if the weather had been different.

We saw that confession at the end of the episode from Gabby where she said that she may have misjudged you. What did you think of that watching it back?

After we all came back from filming, we’re all close. All 20 of us. But, everybody has said the same thing — ‘when I saw you at Ponderosa pre-game, we thought you were this military, strict, regimented tough guy with no social skills. You’ve got tattoos on your neck and on your knuckles.’ People tend to stereotype people who look like me. But, I’m really witty, I was out there strumming my music and playing air guitar and tapping my fingers and having a good time. People had this notion that I was going to be a rude and obnoxious guy, but when we get to the island and they start to talk to me, they realized ‘wow, you are not what we expected.’ That’s why I say don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t just read the introduction page; get a couple chapters in before you make an assessment.

Let’s say Jeff Probst calls you up tomorrow to go film Survivor 39 next year (season 38 has already filmed) — are you ready to go back?

Absolutely. There’s nothing more that I want to do than to be able to play the game and play the whole game. I’m confident in what I can do and what I’ve watched over many seasons. I know I have what it takes to make it to the end.

If he called me right now and said I needed to be in LA by four o’clock, I would find the first flight over. It was always a dream of mine to play the game; I got to play the game, but I didn’t get to play the game. It was stripped from me, and not by anything I could have controlled.

Related Take a look at what lies ahead in episode 2

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