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'Huck finn for a living'

'Survivor' contestant shares experience

'Survivor' contestant shares experience

September 27, 2005|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WAYNESBORO, PA.

erinc@herald-mail.com

He survived 38 days on an island with little food or water.

He once hung from a pole for nearly 12 hours.

And for a short time, he commuted to work by swimming.

But on Monday evening, famed "Survivor" contestant Ian Rosenberger got lost on his way to speak at Penn State Mont Alto.

Rosenberger is best known for giving up his chance at the show's $1 million prize to maintain his friendship with the two remaining castaways.

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Rosenberger said leaving the show was "absolutely worth it," and that he speaks frequently with winner Tom Weston and runner-up Katie Gallagher.

He described his experience in Palau - an island in the Pacific Ocean - as being "Huck Finn for a living" and said being a reality television star was just something he fell into.

Rosenberger, 24, of Ambridge, Pa., was approached by a CBS representative while in a bar. He said the woman asked if he had ever thought of being on television.

"I said, 'Well, not until now,'" he said. At the time he joined the cast, he was a dolphin trainer in Key Largo, Fla., and had never watched an episode of "Survivor."

"I went in there thinking I was going to be the big liar," Rosenberger said.

He caught some heat from fans and castaways, who believed Rosenberger should have chosen Gallagher as his partner for a reward trip after promising her he would do so. He instead chose Weston, setting off a string of confrontations that ended with Rosenberger leaving the show.

Before his speech Monday to students and members of the community in the Multipurpose Activities Center, Rosenberger said the show has the tendency to change the contestants.

"It's like a game of Monopoly, but the funny money is real greenbacks," he said. "The decisions you are making involve real people."

While he said he could have "gone further" if he had not quit, Rosenberger said it is possible he was just too nice. He said he learned compassion from a history of philanthropy and working with children's charities.

"Maybe I was too soft for the game," Rosenberger said.

After leaving the island and taking a 23-hour flight to Pennsylvania, he said the first thing he did was open a bag of Doritos and unwrap a few Snickers bars. Then, he slept for two days.

He said he enjoyed being on television and would like to pursue a job in entertainment. Rosenberger has had several offers for television shows, hosting, independent films and endorsements, he said. He can be heard on a morning radio show.

"My whole life has changed since the show," Rosenberger said.

He grew up on a horse farm in Ambridge. Now, he is recognized on the street and an Internet search of his name draws more than 9,000 hits.

In his daily life, through his work with charities, Rosenberger said he gets to meet "the real survivors" - children with AIDS, cancer and other diseases.

During his speech, Rosenberger called "Survivor" a "phenomenon."

Most of the nearly 50 people in the audience were fans of the show, including Candy Mowen of Greencastle, Pa., who said she has watched about six seasons of "Survivor." She was taping reruns of the show Monday evening on a cable channel, while listening to Rosenberger speak.

"I was disappointed when he left," she said. "I didn't like (Gallagher). She was a user. She used him. I think (Rosenberger) could have won the show."

Rosenberger attended Penn State University, where he majored in agricultural extension and educational leadership. He was president of the university's undergraduate student government and was homecoming king.

"The whole time you're saying, 'This is so horrible,'" Rosenberger said of his experience on the island. "There's nothing else like it, and it makes you appreciate the things you have at home."

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