Saturday, April 21, 2001

Rodger leaves with no regrets

Viewers grew to love Rodger

By Mike Pulfer
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If Michael Skupin hadn't stumbled into a campfire and out of the competition, Rodger Bingham might have survived more than 36 days in Survivor: The Australian Outback, television's No. 1-rated show.

        “That was a big turning point,” Mr. Bingham said Friday, the day after the series' 12th episode, in which he was eliminated from the competition for a $1 million prize.

[photo] Rodger says he was surprised and overwhelmed by audience reaction to him.
(CBS photos)
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        “Mike and myself had formed an alliance earlier that morning,” he said. “We ... thought that Elisabeth (Filarski) would probably go along with us. We thought the three of us would go all the way to the final four.”

        But only Ms. Filarski, 23, of Boston, remains. Mr. Skupin, 38, of Farmington Hills, Mich., pulled out of the contest when he fell into the fire and burned his hands in the sixth episode.

        Mr. Bingham, the 53-year-old industrial-arts teacher from Crittenden, Ky., was voted out of the outback on Thursday. He was the oldest of the 16 original contestants and, from online polls, the most popular among the nation's viewers.

        “He's such a nice man,” Jane Clayson, co-host of CBS' Early Show, said Friday. “He was my favorite from the very beginning.”

        Mr. Bingham is probably the biggest reason the show has been more popular — for 12 consecutive weeks — in the Tristate than anywhere else in the nation.
    Today: Saturday Early Show (8 a.m., Channel 12; 10 a.m. Channel 7)
    Monday: Late Show with David Letterman (11:35 p.m., Channels 12, 7)
    Tuesday: Rosie O'Donnell (3 p.m., Channel 5); Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn (12:37 a.m., Channels 12, 7)
    May 4: The Early Show (8 a.m., Channel 12, 7) with all 16 survivors.
    2 p.m. Monday at

Magnanimous move
        In what the network called a sacrificial move, Mr. Bingham encouraged other players to oust him in lieu of Ms. Filarski in Thursday's episode because he thought “Elisabeth could use the money more than me.”

        All participants in the show win money; the longer they stay, the more they win. CBS has declined to reveal the payout scale, but the network has said the runner-up wins $100,000. The ultimate survivor gets $1 million. Based on what he has learned about Survivor's first series last year, Mr. Bingham said he expects to get more than $50,000.

        Mr. Bingham said he believed he and Ms. Filarski were prime targets for elimination because they were the only two remaining members of the Kucha tribe. (When they arrived in Australia, the players were assigned to two teams — Kucha and Ogakor.)

        “I felt like it was going to be me or her,” Mr. Bingham said.

[photo] Rodger said Elisabeth reminded him of his daughter, Angela.
        “You hate to see yourself get the big X put on your name at the last ... but I'd gone about as far as I could have,” he said.

        He said the “biggest moment in my life” was when he had to jump from a 25-foot cliff into a pool of water in a race.

        A nonswimmer, he said he believes the jump “upped my status” among other players.

        “I don't think I'm ready for the Olympics yet,” he joked.

        Mr. Bingham, a farmer who teaches at Grant County High School, said he was never in it for the money, but, later, “If I didn't think I had a chance of winning, I never would have gone out there.”

Bona fide celebrity
        Since his return to Kentucky, life has not been the same.

[photo] “I probably did more praying and thinking than ... at any time in my life,”
        His new trousers came with a 36-inch waistband instead of 40. His wife, Pat, complained that he had aged.

        At Crittenden's B&E Restaurant, which has become a local Survivor Central of sorts, he has become a major draw.

        Before he left for New York on Friday for a CBS promotional tour, “He was in here for an hour and hadn't gotten a cup of coffee,” said Chris Caldwell, manager. He was too busy with fans.

        “Word had spread that he will sign T-shirts, will talk with you, will have pictures made with him,” Ms. Caldwell said.

        Still, in spite of the notoriety, he said, “When I go out to feed them cattle, they look at me the same way.”

        One of his favorite things about Survivor, Mr. Bingham said, has been the reaction he has seen since his return.

[photo] Daughter Angela says Rodger is not fond of camping.
        “It has been a bit overwhelming and very surprising,” he said. When he arrived in New York, “Some little 10- or 11-year-old girl from Colorado spotted me at the airport and came up to me for an autograph. The kids ... that, to me, is the best part of this whole thing.”

        He said he was pleased with his performance in Survivor and that he had no regrets about anything he had done in the game.

        “I never did anything I was ashamed of,” he said. “I have a clear conscience. ... I don't think I would have changed a thing.”

        After a pause, he added, “Maybe, if I could have, I would have kept Mike from falling in the fire.”

Elisabeth his favorite
        He said he told contestant Debb Eaton, 45, of Berlin, N.H., that he would not vote to oust her in the show's first episode, but that he did so anyway, fearing retribution from the rest of the original field of 16 players. Ms. Eaton was the first person to be dumped.

        Mr. Bingham said he saw no manipulation by producers. “Not one thing was ever rehearsed.

        “I was impressed my the length to which (producer) Mark Burnett goes to ensure the integrity of the show.”

        Angela Hedenberg, Mr. Bingham's daughter, said, “We were huge fans of the first Survivor” and that her father had decided to try out for the second series “for the adventure of it.”

        “He likes to do things — physical things. But he doesn't like to camp out.”

        Mr. Bingham said he saw crocodiles every day and that he was “concerned about snakes crawling in at nighttime ...”

        “While I was out there in the outback, I probably did more praying and thinking than I had done at any time in my life,” he said.

        He said Elisabeth was his favorite player.

        He dodged a question about his least favorite.

[photo] Rodger encouraged others to vote against him to save Elisabeth
        “Everybody's got good points and bad points,” he said.

        He characterized himself as probably the most skillful of the players in “building a hut and things,” but Mr. Bingham soon discovered he wasn't able to play the game as well as he had expected.

        “When I first went into it, I thought I could play the game.” But “The game involves back-stabbing and lying, forming alliances and scheming; and, after I got out there and got to know some of the people, I found out I wasn't very good at that.

        “They are all nice people,” he said. “Some of them are playing the game harder than others.”

        He said a lot of activity was edited for time. “Others were praying out there besides me,” he said. But, “I think the portrayal of just about everybody was fairly well accurate.

        “It was all very real,” he said.

        For aspiring contestants on future Survivors, he remembers the grueling rope obstacle course “that almost killed me” and a 34-hour period with no food. He suggests:

        “Be in the best shape you can be. And go with a few extra pounds.”

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