Daniel Strunk, Trinity ‘14, has loved the reality television show Survivor since long before his time at Duke and will finally be competing on season 42, premiering Wednesday evening.
Strunk graduated from Duke with degrees in economics and political science, received a master’s degree in politics and public policy from Trinity College Dublin and then went on to Yale Law School for his Juris Doctor. All throughout this time, he had been applying to land a spot on Survivor.
His love for Survivor originated at age seven. “I watched it when I was undergoing leukemia treatments, and it was just a great distraction during a terrible time,” Strunk said. While at Duke, Strunk was an opinion columnist for The Chronicle, and some of his pieces referenced his childhood cancer journey.
“My love for the show only grew, and I applied every year that I could from the age of 18,” Strunk said. “I first got noticed when, I think, I was 24, so it took me six times to get noticed. I got cut at the last moment for [that season], but then my foot was in the door. And if you get your foot in the door, you can keep trying to pry the door open, even if the network executives are trying to shut it! I don't think they were—I think that they were just waiting for the right time.”
When Strunk was initially noticed for season 33, he left the campaign he was working on to prepare full-time for the show. He remembers attending yoga sessions three times a day. When Strunk got the call for this season, he had one month to prepare, while simultaneously making sure his job as a law clerk would still be in place when he returned from Fiji, the season’s filming location.
“This is going to sound melodramatic, but it was an unbelievably large, significant decision to make—going to the person I was working for saying ‘Can I have seven weeks off to go to a reality television show?’ If I had 100% of a careerist mindset, and my only goal in life was to maximize all the gold stars—I think a lot of Duke students might have that mentality—I would not even walk into the room and ask for permission to do it,” Strunk said.
Strunk attributed his mentality toward life to being a cancer survivor, which showed him the importance of “experiencing the joys of many different things, whether it’s adventure or the people you’re with.”
“[Your career] cannot be the sole defining feature of how you approach life. You can't have a code of ethics or a way of approaching life that rules out lifelong dreams that you've had for decades, and that helped you get through a chemotherapy experience. If your life code rules out that sort of thing, your life code needs to be re-evaluated. And I want to credit Peter Feaver for being a wonderful mentor. To me, I think he helped craft my character,” Strunk said.
Strunk remembered taking numerous Duke classes with Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, as well as Professor of Political Science Michael Munger and Neil Siegel, David W. Ichel professor of law and professor of political science.
Once he started his month-long preparation for the show, Strunk remembers doing a lot of swimming, practicing lighting fires in his backyard and eating.
“I ate so many pints of ice cream. Have you ever just started a Ben and Jerry's pint of ice cream and thought, ‘I should just eat the whole thing,’ but then you stop yourself because you have self control? I stopped stopping myself,” Strunk said, explaining that his favorite flavor was Phish Food. “I wanted to gain weight because I had no interest in being good-looking on the show. I mean it would be nice, it's kind of like a perk, but my interest was to have those fat reserves because your body starts eating itself [throughout the show].”
In addition to putting on the pounds, Strunk’s strategy revolved around honesty.
“I was honest about being a lawyer. I was honest about where I went to law school. I was honest about being a cancer survivor. And the idea was, that gives them an answer. Why is this guy here? He's here because he's a cancer survivor. That's a sob story. That's why he's here. He's not here because he's mischievous. He's here because CBS wants to make moms cry. Right? That's why he's here. And if you give an answer to the ‘why is he here?’, it will lower your threat level. So I was very honest about everything,” Strunk said.
While on the show, Strunk made some “lifelong friends” and has “no regrets whatsoever” about the decision to leave a federal clerkship for seven weeks for the show.
“It was a lifelong dream come true,” Strunk said.
Keep an eye out for Strunk on the green Vati tribe if you tune in for the season 42 Survivor premiere Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.
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Madeleine Berger is a Trinity senior and an editor at large of The Chronicle's 119th volume.