We often talk about what players must be prepared to do in order to win the million on Survivor. It’s much rarer that we consider what players did before they even reached the island. To disappear for six weeks or more means sacrifices on the parts of the players and their friends and family. In Borneo, Gervase famously missed the birth of his own child to go on what everybody thought would be a once in a lifetime experience. In All Stars, Jenna reconsidered her decision to leave her sick mother and pulled herself from the game to make the most of their last days together.
Even without those concerns, it’s a big deal not only to leave for six weeks but to be out of any contact… especially so for those with young families. Kass sent out this poignant tweet before she left for Cambodia:
My 7 YO girl just said, “When you go this time the 5th star from the moon is ours. I’ll meet you there every night.” ????????????????????
— Kass McQuillen (@KassMcQ) May 19, 2015
There are a lot of parents playing this season. Kelly Wiglesworth had to leave behind a toddler. Jeremy left not only two daughters, but also with the knowledge that Val was pregnant again.
By contrast, Terry’s must have felt like a smaller sacrifice, ten years on from his first game. His kids are all but grown up now. His youngest, Danny, had just got his driver’s license. If Trish got to come out on the family visit again, it would be much simpler to leave them.
That was the situation Terry left. As we now know from his interviews, Danny started getting sick almost immediately.
We saw in Panama that Trish is a capable woman. She would need to be able to juggle doctor appointments and prescriptions and push for more tests, knowing that Terry wasn’t going to get a say in their child’s care—quite possibly wondering what on earth she would do if he did make it to the family visit-who would go and what could they tell him?
Of course, when her persistence paid off and they found out the true gravity of the situation, Terry had to come home. When it comes to family crises, there is a fine line between sparing your partner the strain and depriving them of their right to share the load.
What it must have been like for Terry in that middle-of-the-night moment, I can’t imagine: to learn that your child is in the hospital when you are literally on the other side of the world. It was over a full day’s travel to get back to Boston, sixteen hours of which was a plane flight with no possible communication… I’ve counted down the hours on a long plane journey before. I hope to never do it while dreading the news I might get when I can turn my phone on again.
I have often given Survivor production grief for how they handle sensitive issues, so I want to give them all the credit possible for how they dealt with this. Not knowing exactly what the crisis was, just that Danny was in the hospital and Terry needed to be there ASAP, they kicked things into a smooth operation. While Jeff was getting Terry, his flight home was being booked. Jeff handed Terry a phone the moment he was on the boat leaving Ta Keo. A psychologist was with him for every step of that journey and a limousine took them from the airport to the hospital.
If we ever doubted that Survivor understood what it was asking of its players, we can rest assured that on this level, Jeff and Co. understand better than any of us.
Of course, all of that was just the start of the ordeal, culminating in September with Danny’s heart transplant. Thankfully, they should be on the other side of it now, and we can show our sympathies best by visiting and donating to the Danny Strong Fund.
Ironically, Terry’s time on Survivor was the least gruelling part of his summer, and I am thankful for his sake that his experience was a good one. He never left Ta Keo beach, but he got to be on the right side of the numbers, the wrong side of the numbers, to win over Abi-Maria (which seems to be half the aim of the game this season!) and to be on a winning tribe—in fact, his final week virtually was a restful vacation.
Most importantly, we rarely saw Terry without a smile on his face. Danny might not have wanted to cut short his father’s game, but he can rest assured that Terry made the most of the time he had to play this summer. For the Deitz family, that’s a great message to leave us with and surely one they’ll remember going forward.