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What Happened To Rupert Boneham From Survivor?

"Survivor" has survived 41 seasons worth of Tribal Councils, blindsides, and shocking twists since its premiere back in 2000. While numerous copycat reality shows came and went in unsuccessful attempts to mimic its success, "Survivor" has thrived by constantly evolving while sticking to the tried-and-true formula at its core: a group of contestants, divided into tribes, voting one of their own out of the game every episode until a jury of voted-out players must choose a winner from among the last two or three (depending on the season) remaining. 

It's a structure that has captivated fans for over two decades, thanks in no small part to the personalities of the people who play the game. The quality of each season rises or falls relative to the quality of its players, and with over 600 people already having played the game, it was inevitable that many casting choices would turn out to be duds — even celebrity athletes like Jimmy Johnson and John Rocker. But sometimes — surprisingly often, in fact — "Survivor" catches lightning in a bottle with its casting, and people who would never have been famous otherwise emerge from their daily lives to become "Survivor" superstars. Over the years, players like Boston Rob Mariano, Parvati Shallow, and Cirie Fields have become household names among "Survivor" fans.

But no one burst onto the "Survivor" scene with more fan fervor than the show's original pirate, the mighty Rupert Boneham. The troubled teens mentor first hit the beach during the show's seventh season and quickly became so popular that fans voted him his own $1 million prize even though he never won the show. But what happened to Rupert Boneham after that splashy debut 18 years ago?

Warning: Spoilers for past seasons of "Survivor" ahead!

Rupert was a complete original: a tie-dyed pirate with a heart of gold

When "Survivor: Pearl Islands" debuted in the fall of 2003, fans didn't yet know they were in for an all-time great season, but it became a classic by introducing three of the show's most memorable contestants. Sandra Diaz-Twine — who would eventually become the show's first two-time winner — and Jonny Fairplay were instantly iconic characters, but nobody stood out more than Rupert. Clad in his trademark tie-dyed t-shirt, and with a big beard that perfectly fit the season's pirate theme, Rupert looked like a hippy Hagrid, a gentle giant with a fierce team spirit and surprisingly vulnerable streak. He was unlike anyone yet seen on "Survivor," and fans made him the show's most popular character, perhaps ever. When he was voted out in eighth place, viewers were devastated.

But fans didn't have long to wait before seeing Rupert again. The very next season was "Survivor: All-Stars," the show's first group of returning players, and Rupert was quickly recruited to return to the Pearl Islands soon after getting home from his first stint. This time, fans got to see Rupert remain in the game for the entirety of the season, forming bonds with old-school "Survivor" legends like Boston Rob and the late Rudy Boesch (who passed away in 2019, per The New York Times). But Rupert was beloved for his heart and fighting spirit — not his strategic acumen — and he was voted out in fourth place. It would end up being Rupert's highest finish out of four seasons, although he did come close again on his next attempt.

Still, fans were ready to reward him anyway — and Rupert soon became the only person in "Survivor" history to be awarded $1 million without actually winning the game.

Rupert parlayed his popularity into a huge cash prize and a run at public office

One week after the "All-Stars" finale in 2004, "Survivor" convened "America's Tribal Council" (per Reality TV World), a special episode in which fans voted in categories like Best Villain, Best Fight, and Sexiest contestants. The big vote was for Favorite Contestant, which came with a one million dollar prize. Some fans complained that the special was nothing more than a popularity contest designed to reward Rupert, and whether or not they were right about that, those fans were definitely correct about one thing: Rupert won the "Favorite Contestant" vote and took home the million.

Six years later, Rupert returned to the show that made him famous, joining the Heroes tribe for Season 20, "Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains," which was recently voted the best season of all time by listeners of the popular "Rob Has a Podcast," hosted by Rupert's fellow former "Survivor" all-star Rob Cesternino. Despite being on the outside of the top alliance in the game, Rupert again lasted through the season until the finale, this time placing fifth overall, and ultimately voting for his fellow "Pearl Islands" alum, Sandra Diaz-Twine of the Villains tribe, to take home her second win.

Back in the spotlight, Rupert seized the moment and used his platform to run for Governor of his home state, Indiana, in 2011 (via The Hollywood Reporter). Ultimately, the governor's office was won by Mike Pence, the future vice president.

Rupert joined forces with his wife for two more CBS reality seasons

Rupert had one more "Survivor" run in him, but his fourth go-round — which aired a full 10 years after his first — was cut very short. For Season 27, 2013's "Survivor: Blood vs. Water," Rupert was to compete alongside his wife, Laura Boneham, in a season that paired returning players with their loved ones. But in a surprise twist, Laura was voted out of her tribe on the first day of the game — and Rupert, true to his heroic image, immediately opted to trade places with her. Laura went back into the game, and Rupert headed to the purgatory-like "Redemption Island," where he lost one last do-or-die challenge and became the first player eliminated from the game.

While that was Rupert's last appearance on "Survivor" (so far, at least), he and Laura both turned up as competitors on an all-reality star edition of "The Amazing Race" in 2019. While the couple did not last very long (they were the second team eliminated), Rupert and Laura got to experience the game together, something they were denied by the surprise twist in "Blood vs. Water," and won the hearts of fans old and new. 

The couple had a scare recently, according to Heavy, when Rupert underwent a biopsy to search for signs of cancer on his vocal cords, but thankfully on October 21, 2021, Laura posted on Facebook that no cancer was found and Rupert was back home resting.

Now, two years removed from his last CBS reality appearance, it's unclear if Rupert will be back on TV anytime soon. But even if his destiny was to never win the competitions, Rupert will always be remembered as one of the most beloved "Survivor" castaways of all time.