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Doctor feeds adrenalin rush on Survivor

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People do not sign up for Survivor expecting an easy ride. Rats are often the meal of the day for contestants, who live without shelter, toothbrush or toilet paper as they vie to be the last person standing.

For the crew, however, it is a whole different ballgame.

Physician Jonathan Tagacay spent six months in the Philippines with the long-running hit television series.

Like the rest of the staff, he lived in a resort with air-conditioned rooms, plenty of food, a full bar and wi-fi.

Watching the contestants live in the rough, there was not a day he felt guilty.

“They knew what they signed up for,” said the 40-year-old, a general practitioner at Premier Health and Wellness Centre on King Street.

Originally from Manila, he heard about an opening for a doctor on the series from a friend of a friend in 2012.

An adrenalin junkie, he thought he would be a good fit, but he could not organise it around his work in the Emergency Room at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.

In 2014, after three years on the island, he left to backpack the world with a friend.

This year, he was finally ready to do the show.

“Cliff jumping, skydiving, bungee jumping ... you name it and I've jumped off it,” he said. “I had always wanted to do Survivor. This was an opportunity to see how everything goes from behind the camera.”

He worked on the Danish, Dutch, Finnish, American, Belgian and Hungarian versions of the show from February to July. Each was filmed on an unpopulated island off the Caramoan Peninsula, a 12-hour drive east of Manila.

“There are all these islands out there,” Dr Tagacay explained. “They are about 20 to 50 miles apart, so the contestants from different shows can't see each other.”

Several shows were filmed at once. Dr Tagacay worked alongside two other doctors, making sure contestants were fit to take part and treating any injuries or illnesses. “The typical problems were diarrhoea, insect bites, traumas, infections and dehydration,” he said.

Before taking part in special challenges, contestants were briefed on what and what not to do but in the heat of the moment they would sometimes forget or ignore what they had been told.

A spinal injury on the Danish show, Robinson Ekspeditionen, was the “worst thing” he had to deal with.

“They had to climb a log and stay there for as long as they could to gain immunity,” he said. “One person just fell head first. We did basic stabilisation. He was feeling tingling sensations in his lower extremities so we decided he needed to be out of the game. With those international shows, everything is provided so we could call on an emergency helicopter to fly him out.”

In 2013, Gérald Babin had a heart attack and died on the French show.

“The French doctor on the show later committed suicide because the general public blamed him,” Dr Tagacay said. “Before the contestants get into the game, we get all their medical records and make sure they are fit. When they reach the location, we see them and do medical checks.”

He was not allowed to wear sunglasses or a watch whenever he was around contestants because the show's producers didn't want them to see a reflection of themselves or know what time it was.

“Some of the contestants will push it and ask questions like ‘Who won the World Cup?' or ‘Who won Real Madrid versus Manchester [United]?'” Dr Tagacay said. “I would say, ‘I know who won, but I am not going to tell you. I don't want you to be super-happy or super-sad.' They cannot know what is going on when they are on the island.”

He enjoyed the experience — courtesy of a contestant, it allowed him to try a Survivor “delicacy”.

“After I ate it, I asked what it was,” Dr Tagacay said. “It was rat. It tasted just like meat.”

Once filming ended in July, it was time for another adventure.

“I was ready to let another doctor have a go,” he said.

It was just about that time that he received an e-mail from Stanley James, the CEO of Premier Health, offering him a job. Dr Tagacay had worked with him while a physician in ER.

In September, he returned to Bermuda.

He is enjoying his new routine even through there is not the same level of adrenalin offered by Survivor.

“I have more time to interact with my patients and explain what is going on,” he said. “In emergency medicine you do everything in a snap.”

Jonathan Tagacay with team flags on the set of A sziget, the Hungarian version of the reality show Survivor (Photograph supplied)
Television production: Jonathan Tagacay, physician at Premier Health and Wellness Centre, on the set of the television programme Survivor (Photograph supplied)
Getting involved: Jonathan Tagacay with team flags on the set of A sziget, the Hungarian version of the reality show Survivor (Photograph supplied)
Medical team: Jonathan Tagacay, right, and another medical crew member watching the filming of Survivor in the Philippines (Photograph supplied)
Jonathan Tagacay, left, and another crew member (Photograph supplied)

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Published December 12, 2018 at 8:00 am (Updated December 12, 2018 at 7:41 am)

Doctor feeds adrenalin rush on Survivor

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