Lakeland 'Survivor' gave up a semester's tuition at UF to get on the CBS show
Sent to the Brazi in October as an alternate, the 19-year-old Lakeland native made an agreement with his parents; if the unthinkable happened and he made the show, they would withdraw him from classes at the University of Florida, forfeiting his tuition for fall classes.
So when a medical condition forced one castmember to drop out, Duhm became the youngest person ever to compete on Survivor -- joining 15 other contestants in the culmination of a near-obsessive passion for the show that began when he was 11 years old.
“I was like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning . . . I basically said, ‘screw school,’ ” said Duhm, who is now back in classes in Gainesville, waiting for the show to debut at 8 p.m. Feb. 12. “It’s a mental game and a physical game, which made it one of the toughest things you could do. I really wanted to do it myself and see what I could do.”
CBS paved the way for Duhm’s success while casting Tocantins, lowering the age limit to 18 from 21. Though one producer reportedly has said the show doesn’t often cast really young people because they are not that interesting, Duhm combined an encyclopedic knowledge of the show with an admittedly limited amount of life experience.
“He’s clearly smart, engaged and knows the show in an insane way,” said Andy Dehnart, creator of the Reality Blurred Web site, who visited the Tocantins set back in October. “That encyclopedic knowledge will either help him, or destroy him.”
Duhm is also openly gay, though he admits his strategy was to avoid broadcasting that fact early on (prohibited from discussing any details of the actual game, Duhm was occasionally curbed by a CBS publicist during this interview and had to refer mostly to what happened before the cameras started rolling).
“A lot of people aren’t okay with (homosexuality) in society,” said Duhm, who was still encouraged that the show’s first winner, infamous manipulator Richard Hatch was also gay. “A lot of times, there’s not an upside to telling people you’re gay, but there’s a definite downside -- especially on a game where they can vote you out.”
Duhm particularly enjoyed being able to refute all the friends and family who told him for years that Survivor contestants probably used scripts or got access to food and toilet paper off camera (“The first thing I told my mom when I got back was that we did not get toilet paper,” he said, triumphantly). He’s worried about how his brief burst of fame will affect life at UF, where he’s studying for a career in sports journalism.
And he’s already steeling himself for the loads of fans who will make the same mistaken assumptions about him that he made about earlier Survivor contestants.
“I realized as TV viewers, you’re always in the know. You see all the different perspectives of a situation,” he said. “In the game, you don’t always know that. So I feel bad about some of the things I’ve said about other people. But not too bad.”