Kathryn Jean Lopez, NR associate Editor
Editor's note: NRO first reported on Kel Gleason, an army intelligence officer and a participant on the TV show Survivor II, when we saw that he lists National Review (along with GQ) as his favorite magazine. Since CBS rules would not allow him to talk to us until he was voted off the show, NRO talked to him on Friday night, a day after his final episode aired.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: When did you start reading National Review?
Captain Kel Gleason: I've been reading National Review ever since I became an Intel officer. I have a best friend who reads The Limbaugh Letter and National Review, and he started me reading National Review and I haven't stopped reading it since. He's the reason why I am reading it. It's a very big magazine among Intel officers.
Lopez: How did a nice, conservative guy like you wind up on Survivor, with that crowd?
Gleason: [Laughter.] What got me on the show was the money. That's what drew me to the show: I wanted the money so I could pay off my student loans. It wasn't for the adventure. The army has given me quite an adventure already. That's why I am still with them. My commitment time was three years now and I am in it five years now. I still like the military. It is what I am.
Lopez: You served in Kosovo?
Gleason: Yes, I served in Kosovo from 1997 to sometime in 1998. I have no complaints about the military. If I ever leave active duty, I'll probably go in the reserves or the National Guard, because I still want to be connected with the military.
Lopez: You've mentioned that you think that your co-Survivors where threatened by the fact that you are a military man. Is that why you were voted off the show so early on?
Gleason: If you watched the first show, you saw that Gretchen was a threat. She had gone to survival school. She had been part of the service. She was a threat. She was my favorite to win. That's why she's gone.
Lopez: Isn't it a bad strategy to kick one of your strongest guys you off the team so early on?
Gleason: Not necessarily. If you think about it, we have some strong people on that team. Colby is probably just as physically strong as I am. Tina is another strong one, a triathlete. We have some physically strong people.
The game has now become extremely political. It has become so complex because everyone has different strategies going in. Whereas with the first Survivor, no one had anything to go by. People didn't have a book to read going in; they didn't have the advantage of looking back on people's past experiences. As a good Intel officer, I looked at past battles, and the past battle was the first show. I reviewed all the documentation. Mark Burnett wrote a book and told us pretty much how to go about it, day by day, and how to win the game. So, you read the book and you play the game.
Lopez: So, you wanted to pay off your student loans. Why Survivor? Obviously, everyone knew about Survivor, but how did you come to decide to try out?
Gleason: Well, my good friend Tom the one who got me to start reading National Review is an avid TV watcher. So, he told me this was a show I needed to check out. I don't really watch TV. I don't like TV. I didn't even have cable. So I went over to Tom's house and I watched it and I said, "Wow, this is really good." I hadn't really watched TV in years; I get most of my news from magazines, newspapers, and the Internet. I have now finally given in and bought cable because I am being inundated with all these TV requests. I've succumbed.
Lopez: So now that you are being inundated with TV requests, are there any aspirations to do this in real life?
Gleason: I don't know. I look at it and think, I really like being a soldier; I really do. But I also know that I have some loans that I really need to pay off. I have some serious, major student loans that have got to be paid off. And at the rate I am going, with the little we are paid in the military, it's going to take me at least 20 years to pay them off.
Lopez: This is graduate school too?
Gleason: This is graduate school, undergraduate the whole shebang. I'd be a fool to not take up some of these opportunities that are coming my way.
Lopez: Do you talk to anyone from the show?
Gleason: I talk to Marilyn twice a week. If anything good came out of this thing, I made a good friend. That may seem strange, since she betrayed me.
Lopez: Did you learn anything from this whole experience?
Gleason: I learned that like attracts like. What I mean by that is that certain people will always get along with certain other people and certain other people will not get along with other people. You hang out with people who are similar to you. You don't hang out with people who are different from you. I knew that, obviously, before Survivor, but it was very much emphasized to me when I saw the group dynamics of the game. Here I am, an army guy, mixed in with an aspiring actress; a secretary with the voice of Britney Spears she sings all the time, they don't show that, but she does ; Marilyn, an ex-cop; Keith, a chef; Mitch, a singer-songwriter a whole different crew of people from me. Some people are made to get along with each other, others are not.
I think I learned that I can persevere under great pressure. I have learned that in the army, but this was a different kind of stress. This was a stress put on me by knowing that the people around me couldn't care less about me. They would desecrate my character on national TV. They made false allegations about me, and didn't care that they didn't have any evidence. What I learned is in today's culture, you are guilty until proven innocent. I was guilty as soon as they said [that I was eating beef jerky]. I had to prove my innocence. That is always going to haunt me for the rest of my life. When people meet me, that will be one of the first things they will think of.
Lopez: Did it bother you to be the first in your group to be voted off the show?
Gleason: It didn't bother me. I knew it would happen. I knew I was toast right from the get-go, because I was a threat to these people. I knew that the first immunity challenge we lost, I was gone.
Lopez: Did you know that when you first met the group?
Gleason: Sure, I did. I made a dumb mistake. I told them that I was an army captain. Once I said that, they looked at me differently. I was a threat. The bookies in Las Vegas knew I was a threat, that's why they put their money on me to win. My group wasn't stupid, they knew it too.