SHELBYVILLE, Ind. — He is arguably the most beloved contestant on Survivor. Rupert Boneham is the Hoosier who gained fame on the reality show because of that tie-dye shirt, that beard and that voice.
Always that voice.
But the roar that made Rupert famous almost fell silent when he got a diagnosis that scared even the most fearless competitor.
“For a while, I was really terrified that I wouldn’t be able to talk anymore,” said Rupert.
Rupert was diagnosed with throat cancer, more specifically, cancer on his vocal cords. He had to come to grips with the fact that he might lose his ability to even speak, much less shout.
It was a potentially devastating blow for someone renowned for toughness.
“What drove me to the doctor, my throat was getting so bad I could barely talk. I had resigned myself never to be able to roar… the guy who could talk and you know, be rough.”
Two successful surgeries later, Rupert has regained not only that roar but a new perspective on, yes, surviving.
“Made me understand how really important it has always been for me to create something that helps others,” said Rupert.
Rupert’s health crisis has re-dedicated his years of work in Shelbyville. Through his non-profit, Rupert’s Kids, he has built a residential re-entry center for non-violent offenders in the criminal justice system. It’s part of his life-long mission as a mentor to those trying to turn their lives around.
“Yeah, I really loved Survivor. I really loved being Rupert from Survivor, but I really loved being Rupert the Mentor,” said Boneham.
Rupert has plans to expand the 12 bed center for men and build a new one for women in Shelby County. He admits beating cancer gave him something no reality show ever could: the right to call himself a true survivor.
“Having my mortality shown to me, and smacked in the face with it, shows me I don’t have an unlimited amount of time. I used to believe I’m going to be here forever! I am honestly thankful that I have a voice.”
To help in Rupert’s mission of mentorship, click here to donate to Rupert’s Kids or to learn more about his non-profit.