Diehard “Survivor” fans already know Austin Trupp. But for the rest of us, the 24-year-old Rockville native and “Survivor” evangelist graduated from University of Maryland at College Park two years ago and left a very specific legacy behind — “Survivor Maryland.”
Trupp ran five seasons of the show during his time at Maryland. Three are available on YouTube with the all-star season coming down the pike in, he hopes, early 2018. (Being a government analyst doesn’t leave him with much editing time.)
Trupp, WJW and a life-size cutout of Jeff Probst met up on a chilly Friday to talk about the draw of “Survivor,” convincing contestants and what “Survivor Maryland” has over “The Bachelor.”
Number one, you’re a big fan of “Survivor.”
I hadn’t actually watched the show until I was in high school. I remember I was sitting at home one day and I binged an entire season. It was like literally a life-changing moment. Like, if I had never done that I have no idea where I would be because it’s become such a big part of my life.
How did you move from diehard “Survivor” fan to making your own?
As soon as I watched it, I was like, “Oh my God, this would be so fun to play.” When I got to college I very quickly realized living in a dorm is almost like living on an island with people. I remember I started joking with my friends, “What if we played ‘Survivor?’” And I think over a six-month period it became more of a thing and I was like, “I would run this.” Finally around like April or May I put together a cast of 21 people and planned it all over that summer and we came in to the fall semester [of 2012] and I launched the first one.
I watched some of the most recent season and the participants are really into it. How did you get people to participate and really go for it?
So, here’s the thing: I’m not the first person who’s ever done a replica version of “Survivor.” A lot of people get people together and live outside [and] go for the survival element of it. And there are some of those posted to YouTube. My thing was totally different. I would say I worked really hard on convincing that first group of people. Because that was the thing for me about some of the other fan-made versions — they seemed cheesy. And to me, if people aren’t going to try, that defeats the whole purpose of it. So it was all about finding competitive people, people who were adventurous, big personalities. And then I had to really work in that first season to make it seem legit. Like I had tiki torches all around, cool challenges. I really tried to emphasize how epic this was. So, if you mix that atmosphere with people who are competitive and don’t want to lose, they’re going to put their heart into it.
And I think over time it really expanded as people became aware of it on campus. By the time it got to Guts and Glory [the fourth season], I was doing formal applications.
What do you think drew you to “Survivor?”
I always describe it as “The Hunger Games,” but without killing. It’s one of the most raw things. It’s a game that just challenges your innate survival — not even the wilderness aspect, but your ability to survive with other people. I think it’s the greatest game in the world.
Do you have a favorite story or moment?
I mean, I’ve had so many crazy things happen, like people faking relationships with people to take the target off themselves, people lying to their moms they’re so invested. I’ve had a few really cool stories of people on video being like, “I hate this person.” And then by the end of the season they are really good friends. I even have people who met on the show and have been dating for two years.
Nice! One solid relationship out of the whole thing.
Yeah, better than “The Bachelor,” right?
But I’ve also seen some relationships really fall apart. I mean, maybe it would have happened anyway. Maybe this just expedited the process. The season before the one you watched, the ending was some of the most raw, emotional turmoil. People were like commenting in tears. I thought about after that not running it anymore.
“Survivor” is kind of created to get people in touch with a very raw part of themselves. I imagine that must be hard to navigate sometimes.
It is. There’s such a dichotomy between people who are devastated by what happens and people who have such euphoria and pure joy. When a vote goes one way or the other, people are running around screaming and cheering. It’s just cool to see. You don’t have that many things that bring that level of passion out of you.
Last question: Where did you get your life-size cutout of Jeff Probst?
Oh, this is a good question actually because at the beginning of the all-star season, [the contestants] were like, “Let’s pause a moment. We got you a gift.” They got me a mug from one of the Survivor seasons and a life-size cutout of Jeff Probst. It was really cool moment. And I had no idea that was coming.
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