Skupin, now 50, famously passed out and fell into the fire in “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” severely burning his hands. We’re still queasy thinking of the skin melting off his hands as he tried to cool him in the water.
But Skupin — the first contestant ever to leave “Survivor” without being voted out — couldn’t be more thrilled to be back in the game.
“I’ve never given up hope that one day I’d be back,” told us on set in the Philippines. “It’s an amazing show, and never stops being amazing.”
Even after his horrific injuries, Skupin didn’t want to leave. “When I sat in that river to cool my hands, I said, I’ve got to figure out a way to fool these people that I’m not hurt,” he told us. “I don’t want to be taken off the show…Even at the hospital I was [basically saying], ‘Doctor, bandage me up — I’ve got a game to play!’
“It wasn’t until my hands had swelled up about three or four times their normal size,” he continued, “and they started hacking away at my hands with scalpels that I finally realized that maybe I can’t get back in the game.”
His hands eventually did heal, but it took about a year. “I still have a tiny little fire tattoos as reminders that it happened,” he said, with no regrets.
Although the game has seen a number of different twists and tactics since his second season, Skupin said, “I think Survivor at its core is still the same, [regardless of the] twists…You just have to be able to change with it. I think that’s where people run into problems — they map out a strategy that they can’t change when the game changes.”
But he does have one strategy in mind for the Hidden Immunity Idol, which didn’t exist during the season he played — alongside Elisabeth Hasselbeck, incidentally.
“I have a plan of us all searching for it together, and it’s exposed at the beginning. I’ve seen that strategy happen before I thought it took the power out of the game. If I find it, it’s getting buried somewhere. If we all find it together, hopefully as a team we can defuse some of the power of it.”
Skupin is especially looking forward to the challenges, which will be marine based after a long dry (land) spell. “I think the challenges are going to be more epic than they’ve ever been…I think the battles are going to be as big as they’ve ever been before.”
Skupin’s genuine excitement is infectious. “I’m here again, I get to play again and my goal is to make it to the end. I don’t see any middle ground. This time I see myself at the beginning and then I see myself with a big beard at the end…I’m ready for anything they bring out.”
What about the fire? “I have no fear of the fire,” he insisted. “It won’t take me out this time.”
If you’re not squeamish, you can watch the graphic aftermath of Skupin’s famous fall into the fire below.