The highly teased Thursday episode of Survivor: The Australian Outback hinted that one of the castaways would be seriously injured — shots of a medical chopper and alarmed faces were shown in last week's preview — but no one guessed that Kucha's leading provider, 38-year-old software publisher Michael Skupin, would be burned so badly that he'd be forced off the show.
Skupin, who appeared on CBS's The Early Show Friday, revealed that he hid the incident from his family. The gung-ho competitor from Michigan suffered serious burns when he fell into a campfire after apparently passing out from smoke inhalation.
"Nobody had any idea," Skupin told The Early Show. "They said, 'How in the world did you keep this from us?'" He said he told his family that his red skin was actually sunburn.
Footage on Thursday's broadcast showed Skupin shouting in angst as he ran for the water to cool off. Skin peeled off his badly burned hands in large clumps, as his tearful peers offered soothing words to ease his pain.
Medics on staff for the CBS reality series quickly gave the howling Skupin an inhaler and wrapped his hands in gauze. He was airlifted out of the camp by helicopter and taken to a burn unit in Brisbane, Australia. Skupin said his quick healing was "a miracle."
Other Survivor followers said the feisty competitor's accident was karmic payback for his ruthless slaughtering of a wild pig on an earlier episode, which is under investigation by Australian animal welfare officials.
Skupin didn't realize he was off the show for good until two days after the incident. "It was a mourning period," he told CBS. "I still wanted to play. I felt like I had let the tribe down."
Survivor's two tribes, Kucha and Ogakor, will now enter the tribal merger with a five members each.