CBS's Survivor franchise got a whole lot interesting the minute contestant Mark Caruso hit the South Pacific shores. A 48-year-old retired New York police officer who worked as a morgue detective for 20 years, Caruso retired with honors from the mayor and police commissioner. Now Caruso, who lives in the Forest Hills section of Queens is willingly being stripped of life's luxuries to see if he can survive with "the bare essentials." Or should we say "bear essentials"? Caruso, calls himself a daddy bear ("I'm older, wiser, and cuter. No, just kidding -- I'm not cuter," he joked). And being a hunky member of a subculture celebrating hairy, burly gay men hasn't hurt his popularity any. But will it help his tribe, Savaii, as they struggle through Survivor: South Pacific? Caruso took time to chat about Survivor before tonight's surprising episode.
The Advocate: What makes a 48-year-old gay man want to compete on Survivor? Mark Caruso: Survivor is not a game but a life experience that truly shows the human condition. It involves a group of diverse people of every walk of life, not only competing for a million dollars but also experiencing life on a whole new scale. I am truly blessed to have been selected to be part of Survivor: South Pacific. Have you watched the show previously? I have watched Survivor for many years, but it took on a whole new meaning when I watched it faithfully during our lunch hour after the 9/11 and American Flight 587 disasters, as well as during the months that followed. It truly became a helpful distraction for me and other service members who watched the show during the tough months when we were assigned to the Manhattan morgue.
Did you have any reservations about being out on the show? I was an openly gay police officer in 1985 and police detective in 1992, even when it was not accepted. So when I arrived to the island and my tribe members were talking about their families, when asked about my life, I wanted to be honest and show America that gay people are like any other people. We can be police officers, strong men, and even compete on Survivor.
You're in Samoa. If you were on any other season of Survivor, where would it have been? Survivor: Nicaragua because there were more older contestants.
We just observed the 10th anniversary of 9/11. How did that impact your life as a New Yorker? I was a New York City detective working 12-hour shifts assigned to the morgue, and although being professional, I felt scared, sad, and horrified all through that day. I still remember certain victims and families to this very day, and sometimes even certain songs or images bring me right back to that horrific day.
As you're a retired New York morgue detective, could you tell us, what was the most memorable case of your career? The
most memorable was 9/11 and American Airlines Flight 587 [which crashed in November 2001]. I was
assigned to the Manhattan morgue for approximately six months working on
the identification for the deceased victims. I took pride in performing
this duty and hopefully giving the families peace.
Do you think being in your 40s makes it easier for other competitors to underestimate you? I think in the game of Survivor any person at any age can be a target. It mostly depends on luck and the tribe you land on.
Tell me about your home life: any partner or spouse? I am dating my best friend at this time.
I love that you're open about being a bear, when much of America still doesn't understand gay bear culture. Do straight people know what you mean when you say bear? I am so proud to identify myself as being a new bear in the gay community. It seems more and more straight people are getting the concept of the bear community.
Tell me what it means to be a bear these days. I love the brotherhood concept and nonjudgmental attitudes that come with the bear community.
Are you ready to get hit on by every cub and otter out there? I think that is a great thing. [Laughs]
What attracts you to a person? Any bears with a good heart that can make me laugh can win me over.