At the age of 48, Anthony Mark Caruso (“Papabear” to his friends and Survivor fans) is out to prove that life just gets better.
Caruso, from Freeport, N.Y., was the third contestant voted out on “Survivor: South Pacific,” which aired last fall. In his short time on the show, he made an indelible impression with his likable personality, determination to bust through the “older-and-openly-gay-contestant” stereotype, and touching memories of 9/11, told from the perspective of a member of the NYPD who was there.
Partnered for two years with “a great man,” the retired police detective, nurse, and father of a grown daughter has embraced his “reality spotlight” and uses it as an opportunity to project something sorely lacking among most reality personalities: positivity.
Fred: What have you been up to since Survivor: South Pacific aired?
Papabear: “Since I have been back, I have been involved in various charity events, which I really enjoy. I have also focused on physical fitness. When I was on the show, I really saw myself as an older man, and I don’t feel like an old man and do not want to project that image. As a retired cop, I want my health and my body to be as good as they can be. That is one thing I really took away from my appearance on the show.”
Fred: People in the “35 and up” crowd have called you (and other past contestants) “inspiring”. Do you feel society needs to be reminded that life is not over at 40?
Papabear: “I have received a lot of compliments from older people thanking me for making a presence through the show. I really like that I was able to touch them.”
Fred: Some past players have been pretty angry and bitter about being voted out early due to the age difference, but you seemed to remain upbeat and positive about your experience. Was that a conscious decision, or does it say more about your personality?
Papabear: “I am a gentleman. My partner told me to just be myself, so that is what I did. I have raised a daughter, I come from a strong Italian family, and I have learned that big boys don’t cry. You can’t take things personally and you have to remember this is a game. I really believe that the best person wins, regardless if they may rub you the wrong way. I like Sophie, and she deserved to win. She really is a nice person.
“I try to always be a loving, fun guy. I wake up happy; that is just how I am. Disappointments come in life, and you just have to reflect on it and push through.”
Fred: You have become somewhat of an icon in the bear community for showing the world a different type of ‘gay man’ than the stereotypes many people still carry. Do you think it is important for people to see a wider?
Papabear: “I have guys see me and thank me, and I love that. A gay man can really be any type of person. You can be just a regular Joe, be into sports, whatever. I hope that is what I projected by being on the show. I am
just an everyday guy who was lucky enough to be chosen for Survivor.
“I actually get a lot of positive feedback from the heterosexual community as well about how I portrayed myself on the show.”
Fred: You sometimes get pretty emotional when you talk about your experience with the police force during 9/11. What have you carried away from that experience?
Papabear: “I was a detective, and I spent five years in the city morgue. That is where I was assigned to work during 9/11 (and the aftermath). I was involved with identifying victims and notifying families, and I did that from September until March. I was amazed by the brotherhood, including the police, the fire departments, everyone. People worked their butts off to allow families to receive closure and give their loved ones a final resting place. What I took away from that was that we are all one. We, as humans, can get through anything as long as we work as a team.”