Kass called it “the worst thing imaginable that can happen in Survivor.” On Wednesday night’s episode of “Survivor: Cambodia,” we saw someone go home…not only like usual, at the end of the episode with Jeff Probst snuffing a torch and telling a person that “the tribe has spoken,” but this time in the opening minutes. It was a shocking reminder that these are real people out there, a sobering moment where the “Reality” outweighed the “TV.”
In case you missed it, here is the full Episode 6 Recap. And follow me on Twitter (@tomsantilli) for all of my Survivor coverage, including my exclusive exit interview each week.
Yes Terry Deitz, a Survivor “hero” by anyone’s measure, had his second-chance end all too early with a visit from Jeff Probst late into Night 13. He was informed that there was a medical emergency with his son back home, a threat so grave that both his doctor and Terry’s wife agreed that Terry needed to leave the game to get back home immediately. It’s a Survivor first, and a scenario that everyone had hoped would never happen.
Kudos to Survivor and CBS though, for ending the episode with a shot of Terry at his son’s side, safe and – by all accounts – healthy. Terry pointed out that his son was the real “second-chance survivor,” having received a heart transplant.
In the game, Terry had just recently been on top of the world, describing his beach and situation as being in “paradise.” Little did he know that he was the sixth man on a six-person alliance. Terry was still a challenge beast like he was his first time around, despite being a little more grey and grizzled. He was once again determined to play the game hard and had hoped to turn up his strategic game a few notches…he never got the chance.
I spoke to Terry today and asked him more about his experience hearing this awful news, what happened in the days after he was off the show, and how his son is doing today. Here’s the transcript of my talk with Terry Deitz:
Terry Deitz: Hey Tom, good afternoon how are you?
Tom Santilli, Survivor Examiner: I’m doing good Terry. I’ve got to say first that this is an honor to get to talk with you, I’ve been a fan since the beginning, have been covering Survivor professionally for the past 11 seasons, and you have always been a personal favorite to many Survivor fans out there. But of course, my first question for you is: Can you give me an update on your son’s condition and how is Danny doing today?
Terry: Yeah Tom, you know what, he’s doing really well. The new heart is pumping like a champ. All his numbers are good. It’s a good start to a long journey. Obviously his immune system is being squashed these first couple months, it’s crucial, and there are rejection issues and things like that, they’ve got to monitor those and stay on top of it in order to have him live a happy and full life. But I tell you what, if Danny was any more laid-back, he’d fall down. Over this entire ordeal he has never asked “why me?” He just keeps pushing through and moving on and he’s inspired us all. He’s made me a better man for sure.
Tom Santilli: Was there any inkling of a problem with his heart when you left for Survivor? And how much information were you given right away from Probst?
Terry: No inclination of a problem. It’s sort of like those athletes that you hear about with the enlarged hearts that fall down on the field and never get up. Luckily my wife got him up off of the lacrosse field. After I had left the game, everything started crashing down. His heart, his kidneys, his liver, his lungs, stomach, everything. He just started falling apart in a big way. And she basically saved his life. She got him the check-ups needed in order to get over to Boston Children’s Hospital where they basically saved his life.
Tom Santilli: Walk me through the whole ordeal on the beach. You’re in a dead-sleep and you wake up and Jeff Probst is standing over you…
Terry: Right. Being a long-time fan you know that seeing Probst at camp, that’s never good. I actually thought it might have been my mom, but when we got like 100 yards down the beach Probst was just like, it’s your son Danny. He’s in the ICU in Boston and Trish and the doctors have had a consult and you need to go home. And I was like, game over. As I’m sure you know, our families back us up 100%. They give us the mental fortitude to make this game happen. When one of those people fall ill or something happens, there’s no question, I need to go home. So I didn’t get a lot of information right away, Jeff’s not really able to give out that sort of information on TV, per the rules and all that stuff. When we got on the boat he handed me his phone and I immediately called Trish and I got more information from that. And Jeff…I can’t thank him enough. It was a boat ride, another bigger boat ride back to base camp. Get your itinerary, get cleaned up, hugs, shaking hands, some “see you next time on Survivor,” and then boom, off to the mainland, off to Hong Kong, fly to Boston. Survivor’s got a limo waiting for us on the other side to rush us to Boston Children’s. He had like forty people and his whole team, they were just amazing in getting me back. They turned it over to Boston Children’s and those people again, the miracles just kept on happening.
Tom Santilli: Just fantastic support.
Terry: Yeah, that in and of itself was just another great Survivor story.
Tom Santilli: During that time, the travel time on the boats and the plane rides, was Danny in stable condition? How critical was the situation prior to you getting back there?
Terry: I was able to talk to him a few times along the way, and then there was about 16 hours where there was nothing. Scared. Extremely scared. But thankful that at the moment we really didn’t know how sick his heart was. It wasn’t until the doctors sat us all down and said, yeah, your kid is in need of a transplant. We had doctors telling us that Danny had an injection fraction of 8…that’s the percentage of blood coming out of your heart during every pump. You and I are walking around with a 50 to 65. He was right there. And they were able to stabilize him. But even then, we were lucky to have professionals around us to bring him back. It was a very tension filled Summer, until about probably August 20. At that point things calmed down and we were settling in for the long wait for his heart. So at that point he had had two heart procedures and one open heart surgery on August 11. He had a ventricular aid device put into his heart to pump the blood throughout his system. He was home for about 10 days from that, and then we got a call for the heart. It took about two months, we were on the donor list for about two months. So right back in, he had another open heart surgery and ten days after that, he was back home. He’s doing great, and he’s actually driving again.
Tom Santilli: Just wow. And a teenager driving, that’s scary enough by itself.
Tom Santilli: Watching TV, watching Survivor, us fans don’t really get to understand the sacrifice that you contestants make to be on the show. It’s two months out of your lives, away from your jobs, your families. Talk to me about that sacrifice a bit. And also, are these conversations that you have with your wife and family prior to coming on Survivor? The idea of what is important enough to contact you while in the game and what isn’t, or coming up with some sort of crisis plan if something like this were to ever happen?
Terry: There’s things you talk about prior to leaving and they’re put in order of priority. When to call, when not to. Danny doesn’t even know how sick he is, he was like, mom, don’t call him, he’s waited so long to go on that game. We do talk about a crisis plan. But before we all leave? We’re all talking about Survivor. The whole family is talking about Survivor. We’re all in. Then you go off, and it’s like only one teammate goes off to compete. But when someone on your team back home isn’t doing well, it’s game over. It is a sacrifice, and now it’s time to go home and give my kid a second chance at life.
Tom Santilli: You said it perfectly at the end of last night’s episode, that here you are getting a second chance at Survivor, but in reality, your son fits the bill much more appropriately as as a survivor who was given a second chance.
Terry: Exactly. Jeff and everyone at CBS was just right there to help push organ donor-ship and the DannyStrong Fund. Oh, write this down: BostonChildrens.org/DannyStrong .
Tom Santilli: That’s where people can help or donate?
Terry: Yes. There’s donations, there’s a nice video there about how it all happened. It’s crazy, three days after I left they thought he had bronchitis, he was throwing up and things just weren’t going good. The pediatrician couldn’t figure it out. And during that time, my wife was just sort of shouldering the load by herself. Once I got out of that limo and got to Boston Children’s, she came running out of the lobby, I finally felt like I was home. I relieved her of the weight, the enormity of everything that was happening. We had a little cry and it was off to see Danny. Being the big athlete that he is I was like, dude, nobody loves you for Danny Football or Danny Lacrosse. We love you for Danny Deitz. I want to see you get better. I want to see you get older. I want to see you have children and have them give you the joy that you’ve given me. Now let’s kick some ass and get better. The team was back together again. The miracle workers at Boston Children’s, man, they made it happen. We’re exhaling.
Tom Santilli: With waiting so long to have a second chance to play the game, with your name always being thrown out there as a potential returnee, does this event with your son in any way change your perspective on if you would ever want to play again? Does this make you hesitate in any way to decide to leave your family again for a long length of time?
Terry: Yeah. I mean, there’s a little more weight to my decision at that point, and we’d have to see where I’m at and where Danny’s at. Where we are as a family. But I mean, yeah, I think I’d go back, if the timing was right. But I also have a job, I have to fly to Milan later tonight, you know I still fly for American Airlines. So I’d have to weigh all those factors, but if it all worked out, that would be great. I waited ten years so I could wait a little more. The game has changed a bit, so I’d be more prepared than I was this time. We’ll see how it goes.
Tom Santilli: To talk at all about the game feels very trivial, but I do have one game question for you. Right before Probst gave you the news about your son, you were loving your tribe and your camp, even calling it “paradise” at one point. You seemed on top of the world. How did it make you feel then, to watch on TV when the rest of your tribe met up to talk strategy, and they all aligned and basically said that you were the sixth person on a six-person alliance?
Terry: (Laughs) I think that happened the day before I left that night. That did surprise me. Did you notice that I had lent Keith my shorts? He had my shorts on. So when that aired I texted him and I was like, dude, I want my shorts back! (Laughs) So you know, like you said, compared to what we’ve gone through, I just don’t try to project myself into the game and ask what might have happened or what could have happened. Yeah, I probably was a little over-confident at that point. I was over-confident in thinking that we were going to win the next challenge, because I did know that I was on the bottom. We all talked about a strong six, so that was the first time I had heard about just a strong five. I had some confessionals where I talked about Kass, she is former Navy, so we had a little bond right there. I was tight with Joe I felt. But if we had kept winning, I would have made it to when they went back to two tribes, and things on Survivor can change on a dime.
Tom Santilli: Well Terry, I wish the best to you, Danny and the rest of your family, and I do hope we get to see you again.
Terry: Tom, thanks so much I do appreciate it and I do appreciate all the support.
Be sure to join me next Wednesday for another episode preview, full recap and instant analysis, and of course, the next exit interview next Thursday.
Please check out one of my favorite Survivor sites, SurvivorFever.net.