The first Survivor contestant to be medically evacuated from the game after inhaling smoke and falling into a fire in the Australian Outback during season 2, Mike Skupin couldn't be more excited to return to play Survivor's 25th season in the Philippines.
"Whether you're the first one off, or whether you make it to the end, you never lose the desire to get back here," says father of seven Skupin, who was aided after his shocking injury by a then-unknown Elisabeth Hasselbeck, a member of his Kucha tribe. "I never gave up hope. I know [CBS has] all the reasons for doing the shows however they do them, and for some reason, this is my time. I'm ready."
Having narrowly missed the tribes' merge during his first run on the show -- he lasted 17 days out of 39 -- Skupin isn't looking to fly under the radar this time around. In fact, he plans to do just the opposite to win the $1 million prize.
"Somebody told me if you ever get back on, play under the radar. I hate that strategy; I couldn't play it if I wanted to, and I don't even think it's a good one," Skupin told Us Weekly during a chat on location in the Philippines shortly before entering the game. "I don't think there are many winners that walk away by using that strategy. I anticipate players and challenges and twists being epic."
Though the scene in which he was medically evacuated from his tribe's beach is forever etched in the minds of many Survivor fans, Skupin insists he is fully recovered from his injuries -- and not afraid to start fire in the Philippines.
"I just have a little reminder -- two little [scars] -- that that really did happen. As many fires as I've created since then, you never, ever, forget," argues the returning player, who will compete alongside fellow medically evacuated players Russell Swan (Survivor: Samoa; evacuated due to dehydration) and Jonathan Penner (Survivor: Micronesia; evacuated due to a knee infection).
"It's just become a part of who I am. Fire took me out of the game the first time," continues the reality TV veteran. "I'll be the first one rubbing two sticks together, but it will not take me out this time."
Survivor: Philippines premieres Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. (EST) on CBS.