‘Survivor: South Pacific’: interview with Mark ‘Papa Bear’ Caruso

Papa Bear was at his end.

Even though he was only on “Survivor: South Pacific” for the first four episodes, Mark “Papa Bear” Caruso certainly made a name for himself. He was among the most interesting characters featured before the show even started to air, and he had a real passion for the game while it was on. Unfortunately, he was targeted early by the Savaii tribe — and after losing to Christine in a close duel Wednesday night, he became the second person eliminated from the game.

If there is one silver living in this, it’s that we get to do our exit interview with him — though it is happening a bit earlier than we had hoped.

Carter: First of all, I’m sorry to see continue a tradition of people with maternal or paternal nicknames (see ‘Mom’ from Australia) going home early.

Papa Bear: I don’t know how I would have played it if I was on the other team. I’d still have a nickname like that because it’s cool, but you saw the team I was on. I landed on a team of Barbies and Kens … it’s a lot different on the other team where there were more older and mature people.

I knew right then and there when we were rolling in — that’s how fast I knew [I was on the wrong tribe]. You know you have that moment of clarity … I looked at that other team and I’m like ‘oh no, I’m on the wrong group.’

Did it really feel from the get-go that you, Cochran, and Dawn were really shunned from the main group?

Well, they really didn’t show a lot. We did a lot of bonding, we worked to made the shelter. Me and Jim were tight from the beginning, and me and Ozzy — they even said that they went after me because I was friends with Ozzy, which I just found out about because I didn’t really know at the beginning. I thought it was just because I’m older.

As far as I knew it was because of my age. I was the oldest person on my tribe … [but] it wasn’t supposed to be me. It was supposed to Elyse. I don’t know how she made her way into that core alliance, but then me, Dawn, and John [Cochran] because he just seemed awkward [were on the outs].

You tried to make a big ‘Survivor’ move in trying to find the hidden immunity idol. Once you found out later that Ozzy had it, what did that feel like?

What you guys didn’t know is I found the clue near the water well — they didn’t show it … the water was away from the tribe, so you had to walk to it. As soon as we won the second challenge, I walked to get water and I said ‘there’s the clue!’ I searched and I searched — you guys saw me run for it — but as you know, Ozzy already had the idol.

I’ve come to the [conclusion] that it was a game and a fun experience. He found the idol, good for him. I’m glad.

You’re joining a line here of pretty memorable characters (Billy Garcia, Betsy Bolan, Shannon Elkins) to be the second person leaving this game. Would you ever go back if you were asked?

I am truly blessed to be chosen to be on the show from Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst. I would leave tomorrow with my napsack in hand to play this game again! It’s an awesome experience. I was chosen out of thousands of people, I have respect for the game, I have respect for those men, I have respect for everyone involved.

I’ll tell you the truth, Matt — it’s a real game. It’s a real-life game of people, and what better experience to have to be in a tropical paradise after working your whole life in a box and going to work in the police department, going home, going to school, becoming a nurse, and always doing the right thing? To get out of that lifestyle and to go and compete with these young folks [was great]. I’m actually bigger and I’m stronger now [since the game] because I got my muscles back and I’ve been working out like a monster. I would go back in a heartbeat.

Are you going to miss Papa Bear on the show?

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