Watching reality shows like "Survivor," we often forget that we are watching real people. Yes, that is the premise of "reality TV," but too often our minds categorize the people we see on these types of shows as "characters." Well, B.B. Andersen was a character all right, but he was also a husband, a grandfather, a brother, a friend and a man who lived life to the fullest. At age 77, William Byron Andersen died last week following a battle with brain cancer. An original contestant on the very first season of "Survivor" back in 2000, B.B. is only the second Survivor player to have passed away, following the 2010 death of Jen Lyon (from breast cancer).
On the show, B.B. was a very memorable character despite being voted out second. He had actually asked to leave the show since the competition wasn't exactly what he had thought he'd signed up for. It was rumored that B.B. had tried to bribe a cameraman to get him a helicopter to get him off the island. As revealed by fellow Season 1 contestant, Joel Klug, B.B. actually played a large role in shaping how future contestants would be handled by Mark Burnett and CBS:
He would go up to several cameramen and say, I'll give you $50,000 to get me off of this island. I don't want anything to do with this show. I mean, he was an incredibly successful, powerful man. You weren't going to tell that guy what to do at all. By the time I had gotten voted off and we were being held back on the mainland in Malaysia, B.B. had already gone home. B.B. was just like, I'm done with this, I'm going home. He was the reason that CBS figured out that they couldn't let the contestants just go on home immediately after they were voted out. By the time I was out of the game, B.B. was already in USA Today." - Joel Klug, Season 1
Joel also had this to say about B.B.'s passing:
I was shocked. We butted heads a lot on the show, but got along well afterwards. I actually took the news a lot harder than I thought I would. I was emotional over it. For me, he was definitely a part of my life. Getting to know him after the show a little bit, he was a pretty inspirational guy who had a lot of accomplishments. We were in touch for a few years after the show. He was the man. He lived an exceptional life. I don't think I'll ever meet anybody else like him." - Joel Klug, Season 1
As news of B.B's death broke last Friday, there was an outpouring of support, remembrance and sympathy from all around the world, from fans and those in the "Survivor" community. To PEOPLE magazine, Jeff Probst gave the following statement:
B.B. was one of the original cast members who launched Survivor back in 2000. He was a powerful presence on the show and that zest for epic adventure was at the heart of everything he did. I was very saddened to hear of his passing." - Jeff Probst
Winner of Season 1, Richard Hatch gave Examiner.com this statement:
BB was a good man with whom I shared a unique and extraordinary experience. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family." - Richard Hatch, Season 1, Season 8
There just so happens to be an original Survivor player currently competing in "Survivor: Blood vs. Water." B.B.'s Season 1 tribe mate and Season 27 contestant Gervase Peterson gave me this statement:
B.B. Andersen was a great guy. During the first season he was our leader. I think we was the best shelter builder in the history of the game. He was very smart and played the game he wanted to play. He was fun and will be missed." - Gervase Peterson, Season 1, Season 27
Proving that B.B.'s tough exterior didn't define the man, Sean Keniff, another original "Survivor" contestant, had this to say about B.B.'s passing:
OMG, that is so sad. He was one of the kindest, sweetest guys you would ever want to meet. He had an infectious enthusiasm and zest for life. My heart goes out to his family. His entire Survivor family will remember his kind soul." - Sean Kenniff, Season 1
Now in its 27th season - and over 13 years since the original airing - there is a community of former "Survivor" players stretching into the hundreds. B.B. was not one of those that attended many show-related functions or chummed around with many other former players. He was a successful businessman who by all accounts was a multi-millionnaire and a major political contributor. If you are a fan of B.B. Andersen, you will want to listen to this Survivor Oz interview with B.B., held with him this past January. He candidly says about "Survivor" that, "there were many other ways to make a million dollars" than to compete on this crazy show.
His presence was not only felt by those who played with him, but it was shared throughout the "Survivor" community. Mike Skupin - who famously was medically evacuated after falling into the fire during Season 2 and then made it 39 days in his second effort during Season 25 (Philippines) - gave this statement to me over the weekend:
As an old school CBS Survivor player, I remember BB Anderson well as a type A, high energy man and arguably the game's first alpha male. It’s actually surprising that although the show has had 500 contestants and has been on television for almost 14 years, that he’s only the second cast member to pass...both to cancer. As one of the oldest players out there, he endeared many but didn’t seem to have a lot of fun and may also be remembered as the first to ask his tribe to send him home, a decision he would later regret. The Survivor cast, crew, fans and I will all mourn his passing and our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time." - Mike Skupin, Season 2, Season 25
Skupin's thoughts echo my own and many of those out there. If nothing else, let's hope B.B.'s passing gives us a brief moment of reflection, to realize that although these people sign their lives over in many ways, for our entertainment, that they are human beings from all walks of life. Too many "celebrity" deaths these days wind up just being short news flashes, never resonating for longer than a few moments until the next breaking news item flashes across the screen.
So to B.B.: We never really knew you, but we all were glad to have met you. Thanks for sharing with us and for helping to create this phenomenon known as "Survivor." Rest in peace.
B.B.'s full obituary can be found here.