This week, the world of Survivor has lost an icon, and all of America has lost a hero in Rudy Boesch.
It has been confirmed that Rudy, 91, has died following a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. Boesch served in the US Navy for more than four decades, including at one point being a Navy SEAL. It was his military training, demeanor, and instinct that made him a popular figure on the very first season of Survivor so many years ago. He eventually came in third place to Richard Hatch and Kelly Wiglesworth, and Hatch himself posted a tribute this morning to his late friend. The two had a fascinating relationship, one where Richard (an openly gay man) helped Ruby to get a larger viewpoint of the surrounding world.
One of the reasons why the original Survivor became such a pop culture phenomenon was because of its casting. The series featured people from all walks of life and also all personalities, whether it be a veteran like Rudy or someone like Kelly who was a fraction of his age. It was a show about survival, but also about social bonds and figuring out how to live with one another while competing. Rudy brought in an older viewership to the show, and he helped them become familiar with the rules and structure of the series.
Rudy was a pioneer. Without people like him and the other castaways from the first season, who knows if Survivor would still be on the air? Beyond that, who knows what the rest of reality television would look like? The ultimate irony here is that Rudy never struck us as someone who wanted to change history. Instead, he was just a man with a spirit for adventure after many decades serving this country. He had this adventure, both in terms of the original show, his brief time on Survivor: All-Stars, and then also all of his appearances and ventures after the fact.
Our hope is that Rudy will be honored in some way on Wednesday’s new episode of Survivor: Island of the Idols. After all, there is a connection to him on this season — while Boston Rob Mariano was never on the same tribe as him, the two were both a part of All-Stars so many years ago.
Our thoughts and condolences go out to all of Rudy’s loved ones during what has to be a difficult time.