A New Yorker inspired ‘Survivor: David vs. Goliath’

A “Survivor” fan knows there’s nothing more satisfying than watching an underdog pull through. But that’s not exactly the reasoning behind this season’s “David vs. Goliath” theme.

A New York-born competitor, a member of the David tribe, sparked the idea for the entire competition without even realizing it. In fact, it wasn’t until Pat Cusack wrapped the season that he found out he’d been the reason CBS split its castaways into “underdog” and “giant” groupings.

“It’s pretty moving. It kind of put a warm place in my heart,” Cusack, 40, says, about finding out in a Hollywood Reporter article that his story inspired the season’s theme.

Host Jeff Probst was quoted telling the publication Cusack’s dedication immediately helped him stand out in the group of 20 competitors. “Over the course of a few months, it became clear. That’s the David. That’s a David we can get behind … This is a true David. That’s why he’s on this show and this season,” Probst explained, sharing a heartwarming story meeting Cusack at the season’s casting event.

“It was just my upbringing, you know I didn’t come from money,” Cusack says, modestly, when asked why his story may have ignited a season.

At a young age, Cusack was inspired by his father who worked two jobs as a fireman and an officer at Albany County Correctional Facility to support his family in Cohoes, New York after his mother was paralyzed following an accident.

“It instilled in me to just always bust my ass off and make sure that my kids have everything they need, you know,” explains the father of three who works as an apartment maintenance manager. “I got a roof over their heads, food in their mouths and clothes in their back and it just fit with that whole, you know, David idea.”

Below, Cusack talks about his time on the show, which came to an end after an injury pulled him from the game. 

“Survivor” airs new episodes Wednesday nights at 8 p.m.

Did being the inspiration behind the season create any extra obstacles for you?

I don’t think it was known until most recently. It didn’t come to light until about two weeks ago when everything about the season started to get released, you know, with cast assessments and stuff like that. I don’t think anyone even knew this prior to going into the game. So, it wasn’t a situation that I had to defend myself against.

Coming into the series, what did you foresee being your biggest obstacle?

For me, going into the game it was being separated from my family. My whole life, I’ve never been apart from my family, as far as my wife and kids are concerned. I’ve never been away with zero contact. I knew it was going to be probably the toughest thing because I didn’t want to go in there and be a little cry ass, so to speak, and every time I thought of my family, start weeping and look like a big teddy bear. Also, the not eating aspect. The living outdoors and building your own shelter, starting your own fire and gathering your own food, those I didn’t think I’d have a problem with. The biggest thing I had to fight against was missing my family.

What did you have to do physically, and mentally, to prepare for “Survivor”?

I knew hunger was going to be a pretty big part of the game, so I did pack on some extra pounds because I did lose a lot of it. Mentally, it was just you know I’m a pretty good people person so having to discuss and conceal so much personal information with 19 other strangers, that was the biggest thing to plan. When would I release information about my life to these people? You don’t want to put that target on your back. Like oh, this guy comes from nothing. And in the end, he’s going to win because of his story. I had to prepare mentally to hold things back and let certain things go strategically throughout the game.

You said you’re a “people person.” Did you try to take on that friendly role in the show right away?

No. You really have to keep your distance and kind of try to figure people out. However, my appearance is probably 180 degrees of what I actually am. I’m a big guy, tattoos on my neck, arms, everywhere. So, everybody gives me that persona of he’s stripped. People see also with my short haircut, tattoos, that I have a military look. So they figured I was military and had my own stereotypes of me from my visual. But as we got into the game, people were like, I cannot believe that you’re like this big teddy bear.

Looking back at this experience, and the outcome, would you go back to the island all over again?

Yeah. Just this experience has been one heck of a wave that if I was a surfer, I’d want to ride this wave until it crashes and the opportunities that come along as I play this game. It’s just opened me up to so many things. Do I have any regrets? I don’t have any. You know, most people say I wouldn’t have done this or that, but not me. It was a great, great experience. I would jump on a plane tomorrow and go wherever they would send me again. This experience was absolutely phenomenal.