Evacuated Pat Cusack says <em>Survivor</em> boat accident ‘still haunts me’

Pat Cusack made Survivor history… in perhaps the worst way imaginable. Pat was the first one eliminated from Survivor: David vs. Goliath on Wednesday night’s season premiere. But he was not voted out. Nor did he quit. Nor was he injured during a challenge. Nor did he get sick back at camp. Instead, Pat suffered an off-camera injury while being transported in a boat taking his tribe back to their beach after a challenge. The seas were extra choppy due to a Fijian cyclone, and when the boat hit a wave, Pat went down, throwing his back out in the process. He was then taken out of the game on the advice of the Survivor medical team.

It’s not the way anyone would want to go out — especially not on day 3. We spoke to Pat on EW Morning Live (Entertainment Weekly Radio, SiriusXM, channel 105) to get his take on the incident, find out what happened after he was helicoptered out, and see how he is feeling now. It was one of the most raw and emotional exit interviews we have ever done.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell us what exactly happened on that boat that was taking you from the challenge back to your tribe beach?
PAT CUSACK: We finished with the challenge, and as you know we were headed to Tribal that night. Obviously, everybody’s mood was kind of shattered being the first challenge of the season and everything. And we were all emotional about that. But we got on the boat and yeah, the seas were rough being with the cyclones that were coming through and terrorizing us at camp and everything and at the challenge as you saw. Everything was going good, other than the mood that we lost the challenge and had to go to Tribal.

So we got on the boat, and the captain of the boat notified us that we were going to be in some rough seas. And rough seas they were. I still to this day don’t have much of a recollection of the whole situation other than what everybody’s seen last night. I was hoping to get some closure for that last night. Unfortunately, there weren’t cameras on the boat to see exactly what happened, but from what I was told from other castaways, we hit a big wave and we landed back in the water, and I woke up in a helicopter.

Were you knocked down and thrown in the boat? What did they tell you?
It’s a boat that has like a cuddy. You’re on the bench seats and everybody’s in the bottom of the boat and we were bouncing all over the place. And from I gather from everybody else, we went up on the wave, and came back down, and myself and Carl —  he smacked his head and I compressed my spine.

You mentioned your back, but you also said you couldn’t see and your hand was trembling. Tell us if you can, as you started to come to, what was your biggest fear as to what might have happened to you?
When I finally come to in the helicopter going to the hospital in Suva…. You know, I love the game of Survivor, and it was a dream of mine for the longest time to have the opportunity to play the game. And when I came to, I was looking up and I was like, “Where am I? Why am I not on the island with my tribe?” And Doctor Lucy, that’s when she broke the news to me that they medically evacuated me from the game. And at that time, my health and safety was the last thing on my mind.

I’ll be honest with you. I wanted to play. I would have rather been voted out than to go out that way. It sucked. It truly was probably the worst feeling in my life that I’ve ever had. I got all that way. I finally get there and to have it happen the way it did, it truly broke me down. It was tough. I didn’t want to leave, but unfortunately my long-term health and safety is number one. I have a wife and kids here at home. But knowing that I wasn’t going to be in the game anymore was just gut-wrenching.

Even when you weren’t fully conscious and were in all that excruciating pain, you were saying that you didn’t want to leave.
I fought and grinded so hard to get on the show and to finally be there and be in the moment and be at an immunity challenge, it’s a lifelong dream. And to wake up in a helicopter knowing that has been taken away from me, it truly was single handedly one of the most emotional things I’ve ever had to deal with.

There’s an emotional reckoning to be had of being voted out by your peers, but at least that provides closure and you know you lost the game. Because of your unique circumstances, have you had trouble finding your closure?
I’ve dealt with some demons with it. When I was in the hospital I was in a real dark place, on the verge of depression. Everything was stripped away from me — without anybody’s control but Mother Nature. Yeah, I’m still dealing with it, especially reliving it all last night and not having any full memory of what happened. It was a total buzzkill. But after I got a phone call from Jeff [Probst] when I was in the hospital in Suva, it kind of put some closure to it, but it still haunts me.

I wanted to play so bad. And I wanted to get to the end, win the million dollars and be the sole Survivor. And unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards for me. And I told Jeff, the motto I live by right now is that everybody has a story. Survivor is about stories and I feel hopefully I get the chance to go and play this wonderful game again. So I look at it and my motto to this day is: Season 37 is the prequel to my sequel. Hopefully they give me another chance.

Obviously a lot of emotional rehabilitation involved with this, but tell me about the physical rehabilitation with the back. How long was it before you could get up and out again?
I was in the hospital in Suva for three days. Everybody form the production side of everything was great. They were so helpful and reassuring that my health was the number one thing. I finally came to a conclusion that it was fitting to my story. I fight and I grind for everything that I have in life, and this is just a stepping stone to my story. It’s a bummer the way it happened, but it’s God’s will. And I’m truly grateful for the opportunity that I had.

What was it like deciding the circumstances for how you were going to watch the episode last night?
Speaking with Doctor Kara, who is the production psychologist, I was in contact with her. I won’t lie to you, I was scared to s— last night to see that. Because I had no recollection of the whole situation, so I was still in the dark like the rest of the world. I just made it to the point when we were watching last night at my premiere party, that I was going to be with my wife and kids, because that is ultimately my number one goal in life, is to take care of them. And last night they took care of me, because it was really nerve-wracking to watch it. I had no recollection of what happened that day on the beach, so to see it in its rawness, it was pretty emotional. And with the love of all my friends and family last night, I got through it. It was very emotional. I’m still dealing with it today. But, life goes on. And hopefully I get to play again and we can make a different outcome with everything. But last night was tough.

This is obviously beside the point, but what do you think happens at Tribal Council if this accident does not happen?
Nick was going to go home that night, but unfortunately the cards didn’t fall that way. I wasn’t going home. I was going to continue in the game. But Mother Nature’s wrath kind of robbed me of my opportunity. But I’m here. I’m healthy. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain the feelings that I’m still feeling this morning. But it was definitely a rough spot in my life. To have it all stripped away by something that was not controlled by myself or production, it’s something that happened and it never happens, who knows, I could have been standing at the end.

Also make sure to read Jeff Probst’s account of the incident and read our full Survivor recap. And for more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Jeff Probst leads adventurous in the ultimate (and original) reality series.

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