Bruce Perreault was living the dream. He had made it onto the cast of his favorite TV show and was standing on the sand in Fiji being welcomed by none other than Jeff Probst as a player on Survivor 44. But his dream quickly turned into a nightmare. Just minutes into the game, Bruce hit his head trying to duck under a beam in a challenge, suffering a concussion that would force him to be medically evacuated from the game.
It was a devastating development for the insurance agent from Warwick, RI, but little did he know that his Survivor journey was not over. The host first announced on his podcast that they would be bringing Bruce back. "I don't think Bruce got his fair share of Survivor," Probst said on the podcast. "So, here's the announcement. We are officially inviting Bruce to play Survivor again. First player of the new era invited back. It's kind of exiting. It just felt like the right call."
But while Probst called it a "open invitation," he did not specify when that would be, noting that, "We don't have a season yet." It turns out that season was the very next season. Bruce is back! And he is the one returning player in a cast of otherwise all newbies for Survivor 45 (premiering Sept. 27 on CBS). What is it like to be back? Did he notice the other players noticing him? And does the fact that he's the only former player help him or hurt him? We sat down with the 47-year-old just before the game began to get the full scoop on his return. (You can also watch Bruce talk about his journey in the exclusive video above.)
Robert Voets/CBS Bruce Perreault on 'Survivor 45'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What is it like being back to do this whole thing again?
BRUCE PERREAULT: The word surreal kind of makes the most sense. It is surreal being back here, walking these hallowed grounds of Survivor. Lots of déjà vu happening.
Had you already been talking to the casting department and people about coming back for season 45 before Probst officially invited you back on his podcast? Had discussions already started, or did that all happen after?
These people are so deceptive because nobody said anything to me. After all was said and done, I come to find out they were talking about it months and months ago. I did that podcast with Jeff, and I was answering the questions and stuff like that — that was done like a week and a half prior to. And I was supposed to talk to Jeff 15 minutes after the premiere of the season. And they found out I was having a gathering because I thought I was done. I thought that was it. I had a big party, a bunch of people were there. We had a great time.
But I was supposed to speak to Jeff 15 minutes afterwards. And then they found out "Bruce is having a party." So they scrapped that and they said, "No, we'll talk on Thursday after all my press." I'm like, "No, I'll do it. It's fine. Whatever Jeff wants. I'll do it." I still at that point in time had no idea. And they're like, "Nope. We'll see if he'll talk to you Thursday." And I got the news that night while lying in bed with the wife. I got the news then. Everybody else that listens to the podcast knew about it but me!
So how does it feel different being out here doing the pregame portion of the game for the second time?
We can't speak to each other. We can't talk, so now this is all nonverbal communication and it's nonverbal by me looking at someone, giving them a smile, and them giving me a smile back. Or me just looking at someone from the side of their face and just kind of seeing what they're reading and if it's going make them smile, if they're writing something down, if it makes them smile, or if someone — which I've seen — puts their head in their hands. I know that little bit of emotion that they're going through at that moment. They're probably thinking about family or something like that.
So that's really the only difference. Listen, I'm suffering just like they're suffering. I'm suffering like I did on 44, where I sleep in tent city, and the humidity that's here, and the hurry-up-and-wait mentality that we have going on right now. This is a part of the process. So the only difference would be just me looking at people and trying to learn them as I tried to learn the people in 44.
Bruce Perreault of 'Survivor 45'
What kind of looks have you been getting from the other players during pre-game? Do you feel like they're all recognizing you? Are you getting nods?
Yeah, man, they all recognize me. It started back in the hotel where we all came down. We're getting ready to leave to feed you to go to the airport and we come down in groups of four. I'm in the second group, and when you come around the corner, people are looking at you and they kind of give you that look like they have an idea of who you are.
It's kind of surreal. It's funny, because they don't know what to make of the situation. They just saw me on television literally four weeks prior to that point in time. And they heard my story and they know kind of who I am from the Survivor standpoint. And then everybody else starts coming down. The best reaction that I got was someone was walking by and then kind of sort of stepped a little bit, turned, and looked, and kind of did a little dip back like, "Oh, is that…?" So yeah, they recognized who I am pretty quick.
Do you think the fact that you've been out here and done it before helps you or hurts you?
Well, this is with no pun intended: I got to go with this thing head on. I've got to make sure that I'm having these conversations with people because they're going bring it up. Someone's going to bring it up. "Oh, Bruce, he's played the game before. It's not his time anymore. He was an idiot, he hit his head."
I'll take that. But then I'm going to just let them know: I don't have any experience. When I hit my head, I was basically mentally done. And when they took me out of the game, there was a reason why. And I was fully 110 percent on board with them. Like, potential brain bleed — time to go. I got to go get looked at. But they're going to ask the questions and they're going to want to know certain things.
And the funny thing about it is that we're going to get to the beach, we're going to have our conversation about this, we're going to go to sleep. And the moment we go to sleep, this is now a brand-new game to me because that's all that I know. I know up until that point of time where it's almost time to go to bed. That's it. So foraging for food, making sure the shelter's right, keeping the fire going — I haven't had any of those conversations yet. So I'll explain that to them. And if they want to buy in on that, then buy in on that. And if they don't, I might have to come get you.