SHELBYVILLE, Ind. – You know the beard. You know the tie-dye. Maybe you remember his yell. But if you think you know Rupert Boneham from his appearances on reality TV, you should probably think again.
“I was a kid in a candy store. I never thought I would have so much fun on reality TV, but oh my gosh, I loved it,” said Rupert.
Rupert recently took a drive around Shelbyville, the small town where he’s building his mentoring program. He reminisced about his career on the show “Survivor.” Rupert appeared on the hit CBS show four times. He never won, but once, the fans voted to give him the $1 million grand prize.
“Millions of votes cast in 72 hours and I got 82 percent of the vote. I still don’t feel like a celebrity, it’s so funny, everyone around the world knows who I am now,” said Rupert.
Boneham used the prize money to help found Rupert’s Kids, his mentoring program for troubled young men and women. They do projects in Shelbyville, everything from renovating homes to completing landscaping jobs like the one they recently completed outside a Subway restaurant.
“Teaching how you can take care of yourself. Not how you can get help, how you are the help yourself,” said Rupert.
Shelbyville may seem like an unlikely home for Rupert’s Kids, but its founder says the community was welcoming and needs help as much as any big city.
“It might only have 20,000 people, but it’s a good cross section of America. It’s what’s going on across America. The opioid addiction, the drug addition, the alcohol addiction are running rampant in small towns,” said Boneham. “The young men and women we work with are not hardened criminals. They’re young men and women who have made bad choices just like so many of us in our world.”
Rupert also gave CBS4 a tour of what will soon become the new home base for Rupert’s Kids. It’s a donated old chemical plant that he has worked for years to turn into a 12-bed facility to house the young men in his program. He says it’s the culmination of his work.
“I’ve been trying for 25 years to create this space. I’m weeks away, months away! How does it feel? Great!” said Rupert.
Rupert’s reality TV career probably isn’t over, though he admits competing on the “Amazing Race” with his wife was more stressful than “Survivor.”
“There was not one calm time on ‘Amazing Race,’ you are panic stricken, terrified thinking you’ll be last the entire time!” said Boneham. “God awful, I would do it again in a minute, but not with my wife. I felt so bad for her!”