There are two ways to look at Survivor. You can see it as a strategic game that is there to be manipulated and you can see it as a TV show, there for entertainment purposes. In reality, it is a little of both. Yes, the strategy elements matter to have a good winner than the audience will like but if the contestants on a season are not good characters, the season won’t be acclaimed regardless of how good the winner is. One needs only to look at seasons like Redemption Island and One World to confirm that.
Good characters are people who realize that there is a narrative to every season and buy into it. Some of the best characters are even able to write the narrative for the producers to just go along with. Think Jonathan Penner breaking the fourth wall in Survivor: Philippines to talk to Lisa about how her story will turn out or anything Coach did on Survivor: Tocantins. Those were two players who understood that above all, they were on a television program and in order to get exposure, they had to give the producers something to work with.
Like him or hate him, very few players have ever been as good at that as Rupert Boneham. As soon as he fell into the casting process, the Survivor team must have been giddy with joy. It is very obvious from immediately seeing Rupert that no matter what, he is going to stand out of a crowd. If there has ever been an easier casting choice for a specific season, I don’t think I have come across it yet.
If Survivor: Pearl Islands was going to be the pirate themed season, Rupert was going to be their pirate. Almost immediately into the game, Rupert completely buys into the idea. He steals Morgan’s shoes to barter with at the village because hey, that’s what a pirate would do. He is loud and boisterous. He looks like Blackbeard’s more peaceful cousin. Rupert was destined to become a household name and with Pearl Islands, he did exactly that.
Throughout his original season, the audience gets to know Rupert. His thoughts on the game are very black and white. You have Rupert’s team and the other side. Anybody on the Rupert side is a good guy and the other people are the villains. Rupert is perfectly made for the tribal portion of Survivor because he is all about the “rah-rah” unity. After all, “you gotta love da Drake!” Despite looking like a tough dude, Rupert is a huge softie who takes everything very harshly. He can’t deal with having his butt made fun of by Burton. He does not like Jonny Fairplay’s jokes. The reason behind that is that Rupert was made fun of a lot as a child and harbors a lot of bad memories from that. To his tribe, he is kind of a killjoy but to the audience, he becomes a lovingly endearing man-child.
During his time on Pearl Islands, Rupert also becomes his tribe’s main provider. His personal relationship with the Hawaiian sling should almost be enough to make Laura Boneham jealous. Rupert takes his job as the provider very seriously and feels as though it gives him gravitas with his tribe. Thank goodness Rupert never had to share an island with Ozzy Lusth because Rupert might have murdered him of jealousy.
There is also the fact that Rupert is a goldmine of unintentionally hilarious quotes. Rupert has a way of speaking that doesn’t really make sense to anyone else. He also is practically screaming every line he ever utters. Here are my top five Pearl Islands Rupert-isms:
Top Five Rupert Quotes
5. Steal them FOR DA DRAKE.
4. I didn’t know they made such an animal.
3. He reminds me of my boys. Always talking about gettin’ some honey! Or smokin’ SUMTIN, drinkin’ SUMTIN.
2. WHO THE HELL VOTED FOR ME?
- IN THE OCEAN!
After having his dreams crushed by Fairplay in Pearl Islands (so much for my dreams), Rupert was already a shoe-in to come back for All-Stars which was the very next season. Like a lot of other players on All-Stars, Rupert had started to buy into his hype a little too much. While still getting a mostly positive edit, we see chinks in the Rupert persona throughout the season. Most notably when he nearly kills his entire tribe by building a shelter into the sand and creating his own personal underwater cage. The alliance made between Rupert and Rudy was like a million of fanfictions from 2004 coming through. Arguably the two most popular Survivors joining forces… for two episodes because while a Rudy and Rupert coalition may have been fun, it certainly was never going to be strategic.
For the rest of All-Stars, Rupert pretty much rode coattails to the final four. First it was with Jenna Lewis and then with Boston Rob. Rupert was happy to simply vote how he was told to and keep on surviving and providing fish for the tribe. By All-Stars, Rupert was still a fan phenomenon. So much so that he was given a million dollars through fan voting simply for wearing tie-dye, having a thick beard and yelling random things into the camera.
Fast-forward another six years to Heroes vs Villains. By this time, Rupertmania has come and gone and Rupert is not at the forefront of Survivor fandom. This is doubly true in the sense that a lot of the “casual” audience that was still watching back in All-Stars has stopped watching the show. Much of thar demographic fell into the Rupert fan demography too. When production decided to do the season, it made too much sense to cast Rupert on the “Heroes” tribe. It may have been the most self-righteous and overconfident tribe ever put together on Survivor and Rupert is a big part of that.
Almost right away, Rupert breaks a toe in the first challenge. This is something he will constantly bring up anytime he fails at doing any sort of challenge. It could be a puzzle and Rupert would still find a way to blame it on his broken toe. On Heroes vs Villains, Rupert has not changed in any way but his edit certainly has. In the past, through post-game coverage, we know that most of his former tribemates hated living with Rupert because he was loud and annoying. On Heroes vs Villains, we actually see his tribemates talk about how he is loud and annoying. By this point the Rupert veil had been pushed aside and production was letting us in on the real guy.
Because he was still a strategic non-entity, Rupert gets dragged along near the end of the game. He is the last remaining hero besides Colby Donaldson. I will give Rupert strategic credit for making possibly the best game move he will ever have on Survivor in successfully bluffing the villains’ alliance that he might have an idol. That is never something I figured Rupert could do, both morally and in theory, but he pulls it out. It’s a magnificent contrast in what Rupert is always saying, which is that he is honorable and plays the game with integrity (like a bearded Coach) and what he actually does which is attempt to lie and cheat when it benefits his game.
Rupert shows more of that by aligning with Russell Hantz on multiple occasions. Before that, Russell was enemy number one according to Rupert but when the former comes up with a plan to save the latter, suddenly Russell isn’t so bad. Rupert is so inconsistent with his morality that it truly makes one wonder if he even realises that he will flip on his beliefs on a whim. Heroes vs Villains Rupert is like the MAD comics version of Rupert Boneham. Everything he does is at his most Rupertiest (not a word but deal with it) and is done with a false sense of clout. If you ever need to understand the dichotomy between how Rupert is seen by the fans contrasted with how his tribe sees him, watch Pearl Islands and Heroes vs Villains back-to-back.
While his last appearance is by far his shortest, it is still memorable. On Blood vs Water, he switches places with his wife Laura when she is quickly targeted as the first to be sent to Redemption Island in the first minutes of the game. As the heroic, honorable character he has built himself up to be, there is no other option Rupert could have gone for. The second his wife was booted off her tribe, Rupert had to step in and take the bullet for her. Anything else would have been off-brand. “No regrets. I love Survivor, but I love my wife more”.
On Redemption Island, he has good moments of being bitter with the equally sour Candice Cody. Ultimately he loses a duel and is sent off unceremoniously, never really getting the chance to get in the game. It’s funny to compare his exit to other multiple time players who have been booted off. Ozzy got a standing ovation in South Pacific, Sandra and Cire’s boots in Game Changers were treated with respect and reverence, Rupert just leaves without much fanfare. He fizzled out much like his fame had over the course of four seasons.
Above anything, Rupert deserves credit for completely buying into his season’s themes. As I mentioned before, nobody leaned harder into the pirates motif than Rupert. In All-Stars, though it may be unintentional, Rupert buys in be being big-headed and a drama queen. Everyone on All-Stars has too large an ego and Rupert is definitely guilty of this. On Heroes vs Villains, Rupert was all about bonding together with his fellow heroes to form a super conglomerate to take down the bad guys. Rupert saw himself as the ultimate hero and it makes sense that he would butt heads the most with the ultimate villain, Russell Hantz. Then came Blood vs Water where Rupert immediately becomes the embodiment of the season’s theme by taking the fall for his wife. As we learned from multiple loved ones visits, Rupert really loves Laura and he makes it clear by switching places with her. Rupert on Blood vs Water is the antithesis to Ciera Eastin voting out her mom. It shows the evolution of the season by having him take the fall for Laura in episode one and Ciera voting out the other Laura much later on in the season. It helps illustrate how the game can change one’s feeling about certain things.
Another aspect to Rupert is that once you realize how he really is, he becomes a better character. The more you see that his tribe has never really liked him and that nobody thinks more highly of Rupert than Rupert, the funnier he becomes. Watching Pearl Islands with the knowledge that everyone is annoyed with him makes you realize how much production is able to manipulate you into liking specific people. Nobody ever received a kinder edit than early versions of Rupert.
It’s also nice to have someone who is not strategic in any sense. Rupert is always going to want to make an alliance, stick to it and win in the end by making a speech about being a nice guy. He is easy to dupe and becomes great fodder for players like Jonny Fairplay, Boston Rob and (begrudgingly) Russell Hantz. Once he is double crossed, Rupert goes into a frenzy and rages out like few people on Survivor can. It’s another great contrast to the image he presents as a nice, heroic figure and the lunatic who might possibly bash in Fairplay’s face after Fairplay has betrayed him.
If you haven’t seen it, there is a great Rupert moment in on an international version of Survivor that is pretty much the epitome of the Rupert experience. On Israeli Survivor, Rupert was brought in as a reward for the winning tribe. He got to go back with them to show them how to fish and provide for themselves. The thing is, Rupert fails to start a fire, doesn’t get them anything of sustenance and the tribe has to waste some of their food to feed him. Overhyped by the show, Rupert actually ends up becoming a nuisance to the tribe.
No matter how you feel about Rupert nowadays, it’s impossible to deny his impact on Survivor. The show had had plenty of big names throughout the first six seasons but Rupert became the first major breakout star. Rupert proved it was possible to become a household name on a show like Survivor and that you could drive a narrative if you followed the beats that production was laying down. If anything, Rupert can be considered as the prototype for Coach and all of his wannabes. In a way, Rupert is probably Beta-Coach with somehow less self-awareness… if you can imagine that. Oh and he’s a legend on Twitter too.