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Survivor 42 Player Opens Up About The 'Metaphorical Death' Of Elimination And How Overcoming Cancer Played Into Their Game Approach

Daniel Strunk in Survivor 42
(Image credit: CBS)

Warning: Spoilers below for Season 42 of Survivor!

The past two tribal councils have not been easy for Daniel Strunk. First, he was thrust into a going-to-rocks debate that eventually resulted in Jenny Kim’s Survivor 42 ouster. We can haggle over whether that was sloppy gameplay on his part until the cows come home, but without question, the move continued to haunt him all the way up until he was voted out himself. Strunk has since opened up about the “metaphorical death” that is elimination, and how overcoming cancer in real life played into his overall game approach.

The now-30-year-old lawyer was keeping at least one secret going into the competition, but his former cancer diagnosis was not one of them. In fact, he was frank with his teammates from the get-go about suffering from leukemia as a child and how he eventually beat it for good at age 15. It’s an inspiring survivor story (fittingly) that unfortunately faded into the background amidst the fluctuating dynamics of the game. Nevertheless, Daniel Strunk is seeking to contextualize his previous hardship for CBS viewers who may come away from Survivor 42 generally thinking of him as a not-so-great player. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, he said:

All right, everyone's gonna die at some point. I hate to say it. I'm gonna die. You're gonna die. We're all gonna die. And in Survivor, there's the metaphorical death of getting voted out. Or you make it to the very end and you win the million and you still die because the show's over. It's just a matter of: What are you gonna do while you're there? And how do you approach life?

Daniel Strunk continued, saying that his approach to life is almost entirely predicated on having to kick cancer’s ass at a very young age. In other words, he’s not primed to  “say no to adventures” such as being part of Survivor 42 and all that it entailed. And this point is something that seems to have gotten lost in the chaos of the game, which likely skewed fans' perceptions when it comes to that one fishing scene in his final episode. 

It’s widely viewed that Strunk sunk his own ship by voluntarily going fishing despite his supposed injury, an act that suggested to the others that he'd been needlessly avoiding challenges. To be expected, it became instant ammo fodder for his fellow competitors when it came to voting time, but Strunk claims that wasn’t entirely the case, and even pointed out that he was basically just swimming instead of successfully fishing and catching anything. In his words:

Look, I was sick in a hospital bed as a kid, and I could hardly walk and I couldn't run for months, and I watched Survivor, and people were doing crazy shit on Survivor. And in that moment when I went swimming, that was important to me because I remembered when I was out there basically being sick in a hospital bed. I thought to myself, ‘Look at what you're doing now. Be really freaking proud to be alive. Just live life.’ That's kind of how I thought about it in the moment. It was strategic, but it was also a human moment for me.

The same in-the-moment kind of game approach might also be tacked onto another Survivor 42 contestant, Maryanne Oketch. She, too, has endeavored to present her most authentic self out in Fiji – even going so far as to proclaim her desire for a love match on national television. And even at the risk of players and fans not necessarily liking her for it. She’s still in the game at present, but who knows if she will last much longer than Daniel Strunk did for the trouble…

Ultimately, though, it must be said that despite not getting the title of Sole Survivor in Season 42, Daniel Strunk clearly still has a survivor’s spirit, and that can last much longer than any $1 million prize can. Plus, no taxes involved.

Stay tuned for what’s next this season, with new episodes airing on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS, and streaming the next day with for those with a Paramount+ subscription.

Freelance writer. Favs: film history, reality TV, astronomy, French fries.