Retired NYPD Detective Mark Caruso's ability to endure and survive has taken him from years on the force to being a castaway on a deserted island, where he faces not only the harsh terrane but the sometimes cruel challenges of Survivor: South Pacific. Before his flame was snuffed in the third episode, we met up with the gay bear and Savaii tribe member to discuss his inspirations and life on the force as an openly gay man.
Out: What inspired you to audition for the show?
I wanted to challenge myself on a whole new level. Being with a group of diverse people and fighting for the million-dollar prize—trust me, I got what I asked for.
Were you a fan of it before?
I loved Survivor since its beginning, but it took on a whole new meaning during the 9/11 attacks and the crash of Flight #587 in November 2001. As a NYPD morgue detective, I started to take my lunch period during the Survivor show as a distraction and started to get other workers to watch with me.
What were your first thoughts about being on the show and participating in the games?
I am so lucky and blessed to be picked. They are truly a family, here and abroad.
What traits do you think make you different from the other contestants? Why do you believe you¹ll be the final Survivor?
I am an openly gay man who is a cute bear and who believes that anyone can do anything if you’re willing to give it your all. I am relentless in my goals: becoming a police officer in 1985, and then becoming the first openly gay police officer to be assigned to the bias unit in 1990, and then detective working in the morgue identifying disasters and homicide victims.
Survivor contestants throughout the years are well known for their abilities to form strategies, build alliances -- and more infamously -- stab their allies in the back. As you were training for the show, did you develop any strategies of your own?
I worked out in the gym and also feel my personality is a very strong trait in bringing people together. I hope my tribe will see the papa bear in me and keep me around.
How did you get ready for the show?
I am a now-retired detective working as a nurse. So I was able to focus more on the gym and eating right.
How would you say your time on the NYPD prepared you for the show?
Diversity with different types of people while working with the NYPD for 20 years enabled me to deal with various people and cope with the effects of hard workdays in and day out while maintaining oneself.
What aspect of the show do you think will be the most difficult for you?
Sleeping without blankets and pillows while the temps drop throughout the night.
Can you share more about your time on the force? Do have any fond memories from over the years?
I loved the NYPD which, in my early years coming out as a gay man, being a police officer was not the easiest thing. I came out in the 80’s, when it was looked upon as a negative thing but slowly turned positive for my later years. I am proud and honored that they chose me, and hopefully helped others to come out. The possibility gave the officers a chance to follow a better path in their police career.
Were you out throughout your whole career?
I actually marched in the gay parade with the gay officers in the early 80’s, and the secret was then out. I was transferred the next day and over the course of a few months people said and did things that were anti-gay, but I stuck it out and showed them that gay men and women are like any other people doing a job they love.
Do you have any tips for the gay men and women working in the force that are either out or struggling to come out?
I say follow your heart and when the right time for you to come out happens, you’ll know it and feel right with your decision.
Is there a message you¹d like to send out to your Survivor audience?
I want to say: Papa bear (Mark Caruso) thanks you all for the support and love during my season.
Last question: What does being a “survivor” mean to you?
Survivor is not only a reality game but also a family of friends that I forever will belong to. I love the game, people, and life experience and would do it again in a heartbeat.
-- Brent Ramsey