When the rain inevitably comes on Survivor, Bhanu Gopal will dance. It's not just because the IT quality analyst always has a pep in his step, the son of a dance teacher. But he thrives to survive, stemming back from growing up on the streets of India for over 20 years. It's with that tenacity, and the words of his guru Jeff Probst, that got him through a trauma-filled childhood, a relocation to the United States, and ten shoulder dislocations. Now, the 41-year-old brings that perseverance and truthfulness to the beach, with all the good and bad that comes with it.
Read on for my interview with Bhanu, and check in with Parade.com daily for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 46 premieres on February 28 with a two-hour premiere on CBS.
Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 46
Interview with Bhanu from Survivor 46
Hello there! How are you doing right now?
I'm doing wonderful. Actually, I'm doing "BENT." Meaning: Beyond Excited, Nervous, but Thrilled.
I have never heard that before!
I just came up with it! [Laughs.]
That's a great way to start things off! So why don't you begin by giving me your name, age, and occupation?
My name is Bhanu. I'm 30 plus something. [Laughs.] I'm not disclosing my age! And I'm an IT analyst. I've been an IT analyst since 2012. I always wanted to be in human resource management because I have my postgraduate in human resource management. However, I didn't get a job in HR. So I took the IT job.
What drew you to HR originally?
I'm a very people person. I love connecting with people. I love talking to people, all of that. Anything to do with human resources, I just love it. And that's why I have my post graduation in human resource management.
Well, you're about to get into a very different form of human resource management here on Survivor! What made you decide that this would be your next big experience?
For the longest time, I was looking for a platform. Because as a queer man, a South Asian, I wanted to let folks who look like me and who came from humble beginnings like me. Because I grew up in poverty, with nothing. And, for the most part of my life, Survivor has been my life. Living under a thatched roof. When it's raining, rain used to just fall on us inside the house. So it's been like that. When I watched Survivor for the first time, I was like, "Oh, my god, that's hit me close to home." So, I instantly connected. And the first episode I saw was Survivor: Cagayan, and Spencer was my hero. He's the one. I fell in love with the show and started watching episode after episode and season after season. And here I am! Superfan of Survivor, and here talking to you.
I want to talk more about your past. You grew up in India?
Yes, I grew up in India for 30+ years. In 2013, I got a job offer in the U.S. and came here on a work permit for six years. My work permit was up to the end of 2018. But in 2017, I met my partner–now my husband. And a year later, we got married.
Wow, love comes quickly! How does he feel about you coming out to play?
Let me tell you, I have no clue about Survivor. My husband George is a superfan of Survivor, really super-superfan. He's the one who introduced me to Survivor. The first season we watched was Survivor: Cagayan. What a phenomenal season. And watching the players and everything, that's when I thought, "Oh my god, this is like what my life used to be like 20 years ago." So, my husband George introduced me to Survivor. And he's my support, my strength of pillar. Whatever you have to call him, he's all that. And with his support, with his encouragement, I've applied, and I'm here today.
Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner you identify with the most. I imagine Spencer's going to be in the conversation for the latter.
Spencer. Spencer. I identify with Spencer. Because if you watch Survivor: Cagayan, the way he was beaten to his core, but every time Spencer got up, he kept going and going and going. My heart was with him. I was crying for Spencer. And I wanted Spencer to win. So he's already a winner in my eyes. And the other person who really played a good game, in my opinion, was Winners at War Tyson. The King of Survivor. King! Tyson is the king. I look up to him. Amazing player. And I didn't like Tyson the first time he played. He played a badass game. However, he was a villain. I was like, "Oh my God, why? Why do you have to be such a villainous person in order to win?" The second time he came, he was a goofball. And he got voted out very quickly. The third time he came, the reason why I fell in love with Tyson is because he showed true emotion, the human emotions. He made people laugh; he cried. He told stories. He connected with everyone on the team. And that's why Tyson is a real winner of Winners at War.
How do you think people will perceive you in this game?
So the first thing people [do] when they look at me, they think that, "Oh my god, he's 5'11". He looks muscular." And they think that I'm a very strong guy. And maybe a lot of people would think that, "Oh, we should vote him out." So that's a perception I just want to navigate through. Because I don't know how much I should be disclosing about my medical history. I've dislocated my right shoulder ten times. And I had recently undergone shoulder surgery to be on Survivor because that's how much I love Survivor.
Just don't climb on some rocks, and I think you'll be okay. We've learned that from recent experience. What qualities are you looking for in a number one ally?
One major thing I'm eyeballing is, [if] this person is not giving me the looks and he's not saying, "Oh, we have a potential alliance," I'm also making sure that this person is not doing the same with the rest of the 18 people. And I know one person who's actually doing it, and I want him to get out.
Describe him to me.
So this person, he's got a beard, black beard. That's his main character, a big black beard. So, the first time when we were sitting, he looked at me, and he gave me that nod. And, and I was like, "Okay." I just smiled. And instantly, he was looking at another person who was giving them the eye and nod. The third person he was giving the victory symbol. The fourth person, he's just doing some kind of a gesture. I've seen him do this to all the remaining 18 players. So, clearly, I felt betrayed! I want him to be voted out as soon as possible, because he's playing with everyone. And we don't want people like that.
[Author's note: The contestant Bhanu was describing was an alternate cast member for 46 and ultimately did not make the season's final cast.]
Well, what about the opposite vibes? Are you picking up anything good from anyone here?
Not yet. Everyone seems to be pretty studious here. Everyone's into deep, deep thoughts. Particularly this group, everyone's so young. I feel like maybe high school to still in undergrad. 18 to maybe 22. And everyone's a deep thinker. This generation of kids, I'm telling you, they're super smart. They're gonna outwit, outplay, outlast.
What's one life experience you feel has prepared you most for the game?
For 18 years, I've endured a lot of physical trauma. There's a lot of trauma. Emotional, physical, I don't want to get into the other traumas. But all of that, the way I endured it, it makes me strong. Because that's my core, that's my foundation. My foundation self is solid. Because I've endured so many abuses. And also with nature. As I said, I grew up under a thatched roof. When it was raining, it poured inside the house. There is no way to hide. So it's almost Survivor-esque. So I would say all of that I had to endure all of that, the strength I gathered, the lack of food, I'm a survivor.
What would you say is your biggest superpower in your life, and how that may play into your game?
My biggest superpower is reading people. I'm very good at reading people, as long as I can get the eye contact. Once I get the eye contact, and once I start speaking to them, I can pick on subtle, subtle things. Because I connect with human emotions. I grew up on the streets. And I picked up, even as a kid, when someone's not nice to you. I can pick up on all the sneaky stuff.
What about your biggest kryptonite?
Whoa. [Laughs.] Mike, my kryptonite would be, as I said, knowing people's emotions. And knowing when to play with them.
Yeah, that has to be a tough thing to measure. Even from what I'm gleaning from talking with you, you seem like such an empath and warm soul. But we've seen time and time again how difficult it is to get to know people and then crush their dreams.
It is. It is very, very tough. And we never grew up crushing people's hearts. Because we all grew up on streets. We were always helping each other. Because if someone's not helping you, you're not helping someone else. We're all in it together. So we're helping each other, and we survived like that. So, backstabbing doesn't come naturally to me. It really hurts me. But this is a game I need to keep in mind and I have to just play.
Related: Everything to Know About Survivor 46
Let's say a boat shows up at your camp on Day 2, asking one person to go on a journey. How would you approach the situation?
Pick rocks! [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Now, are we picking rocks, or are we "picking rocks," Lauren-style?
I would say, in code, "picking rocks." I mean, I don't mind if people say, "Oh, Bhanu, you want to go?" But I don't want to be the person like, "Oh, hey guys. I want to go!" Because I'm a superfan of Survivor. Why do I want to put a target on myself? No, no, no, I'm not doing that. I'm not a fool.
Let's talk advantages in general. How hungry are you going to be to look for them, knowing they can be both a blessing and a curse?
I always say, even in my casting interviews, that Jeff Probst has been my guru. And as my guru quoted, there's only one winner. Most of us are either going home or are on the jury. I want to play the game. Whatever falls in my lap, I just want to take it, and I'm just gonna go with it. I'm gonna ride the tide. That's my strategy.
Talk to me more about Jeff being your guru. What about him made you decide that?
So, there's an analogy. In Indian literature, there is a story about a young kid who is not from a certain caste system–because India is divided into caste systems. So the teacher who actually used to teach archery did not teach him because he's not of the same caste. He was teaching to all the other kids who were from the same caste, or from the upper caste. So what this kid did, he loves his guru so much, because he's the number one guru. So what he did was, because the guru's not taking him, he used to hide in a corner, and listen and see what the guru is teaching the other disciples. And guess what this kid did? He became the number one archer just by seeing and listening and practicing what his guru said, from a distance, not being taught by the guru directly.
For me, Jeff is that guru. I never met Jeff in real life. He doesn't know me. But, watching Survivor, the way he talks to people, the way he inspires people, the way he says, "Dig deep, don't give up," all of those things. When I was going through tough times, I was watching Survivor. And when Jeff says all of this, those inspired me. When I was in my lowest lows, when I was having dislocations, I was giving up on my physical fitness and all of that. Jeff Probst. "Don't give up. Dig deep." Those are the words that inspired me. And I started working out. And here I am today in Fiji, playing Survivor.
That is incredible. I can't wait for Jeff to hear about that. I want to go to your bio, where you said you were an expressive social media presence, but an introvert at heart. Can you explain more about those two very different social sides of you?
So, I learned Indian classical dance from my mom, who is an Indian classical dance teacher. My mom is my guru, in a real sense, because she's the one who taught me how to dance. So, I learned from her. However, I'm a very shy person. I love to dance because that's in my blood. My mom said I was born the night when she was actually showing a vigorous dance movement to her students. After she finished the class, she went home, and I was born. So my mom always jokingly says, "You came dancing out of my womb," which could be true. So I love dancing. I love the moment that a song plays; my body can't stay in its place. Having said that, I just enjoy [when] it's just me. But if I have to perform, that's when my introvert kind of comes out.
Let's talk about your decision-making. When you have to make an important choice in your life, do you have a typical process you go by?
That's my problem. The problem with living on the streets is we go with our hearts. I don't think; I just say it. And that's a problem with me: I can't lie. Sometimes I just say so many things which hurt my family. And that's one thing which scares me. I don't want to hurt my mom. And I don't want to say something which would get telecast and show us in a bad light. Especially a lot of folks would be watching it. And I know truth matters, but how it will be shown also matters. So that's what I'm scared about.
What is your hottest Survivor take?
So I'm listening to "On Fire with Jeff Probst." And I just love it. I can't tell you how much I love Jeff. Jeff, if you're listening! [Laughs.] But Jeff kind of answers all the questions so well. And there's a segment in the in the show called "This is Why You Suck." And Jeff answers all of this. I had a lot of questions of why certain things are happening. But I think at this moment, I would rest my questions because Jeff answered most of them. [Laughs.]
What celebrity or fictional character would you want to come out for a Loved Ones visit?
So this is kind of a sad thing. Growing up, the one thing that gave me strength was watching my favorite actor's movies, who's no longer there. She died at the age of 52. And this woman, she acted in 300 movies! And she was the number one actress in every regional language. 300 movies! And this one, she started as a child star, then graduated into a full-grown actress. When she was a child star, maybe she was [just] acting as a granddaughter to a guy. Later, she became the hero of the same guy! [That's] how this woman is, and she inspires me. And guess what? She didn't even go to school but can speak seven languages fluently. And she's number one in Bollywood. That's my inspiration. She made me laugh, cry, dance, all of that. Her name is Sridevi. I love you, Sri. Wherever you are, may your soul rest in peace.
Next, check out our interview with Survivor 46 contestant Tim Spicer.