Chat Transcript: 'Survivor' Therapist

What does it take to be a Survivor? Never mind the physical struggle of foraging for food, building a shelter and battling the elements what about the psychological strain?

Survivor and other reality-based shows depend on the drama that develops among participants. That tension can be extremely upsetting to some, while others rise to the occasion without breaking a sweat. What kind of emotional consequences can the constant scrutiny, forced confinement and endless manipulation have on contestants? What kind of person can withstand the pressure? And what are the lasting aftereffects?

We asked Dr. Gene Ondrusek, the consulting therapist who helped screen candidates for this summer’s castaway challenge. Ondrusek, chief psychologist for the Center of Executive Health at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, Calif., also remained on call in case emergency counseling was necessary and debriefed the show’s contestants after they left the island. He answered your questions in an online chat with

Moderator at 6:05pm ET

Dr. Gene Ondrusek joins us live from Los Angeles. Thanks for joining us!

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:05pm ET

I've been participating in chats before, but never as the guest, so this will be a first!

Moderator at 6:06pm ET

Dr. Ondrusek, what kind of person volunteers to participate in shows like Survivor?

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:07pm ET

Survivor basically sourced three domains of people. Some saw it as a physical challenge, others as an exotic psychological experiment, and others who saw it as a chance to win a million dollars. And perhaps a fourth domain, which is people who saw it as a chance to be on prime-time television.

Moderator at 6:07pm ET

Richard has been described as the manipulator. Was this what you found in his personality inventory? And was that the type of person you expected to win?

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:08pm ET

Richard was the individual who played the big game. He told me from the outset with a great deal of self-confidence that you might as well sign the check now — he was planning on winning the whole game. And what began as boastfulness turned out to be prophetic.

Moderator at 6:08pm ET

How many people who applied were screened out for having mental disorders?

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:09pm ET

Well, there were originally over 6,000 applications off the Web site who were culled down to 800 semifinalists. Of that group, casting brought 46 people to Los Angeles for final screening. And they did really a marvelous job of bringing us some fascinating people. And really only three or four we found kind of psychologically unsuitable.

Moderator at 6:09pm ET

What are some of the traits you were looking for when you were casting Survivor?

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:10pm ET

What we were looking for was really more diversity among people, really more than a signal type of individual, people whose values were different, whose style was different — people who would align as well as clash.

Moderator at 6:10pm ET

Jim in our audience writes: Do you find that the type of person who wants to be on a show like Survivor needs more attention than the average person?

Dr. Gene Ondrusek at 6:11pm ET

I think they would probably be best described as thrill-seekers, or people who seek challenge or adventure. And I believe in our culture the pursuit of celebrity has become yet another thrill to seek, much like bungee jumping and skydiving.

Elliott from at 6:11pm ET

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