It seems the celebrity population in Hoboken has been on the rise lately. Most recently, Survivor fans were elated to see a retired Hoboken fireman and current Hoboken resident as a castaway on the show’s 42nd season. Mike Turner, who served in the Hoboken Fire Department as a battalion chief, competed for the million dollar prize on the beloved reality show where contestants have to outwit, outplay, and outlast one another while living on an island. The show is known for being physically demanding, mentally complex, and utterly exhilarating to participate in. Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen the season: Mike made it all the way to the final three of the show, but he ultimately did not take home the million dollar prize. Despite that, Mike had a blast — and he sat down with The Hoboken Girl to tell us all about his experience on the show as well as what he thinks makes Hoboken such a special place to live. Read on to learn all about Hoboken’s own Mike Turner, a season 42 finalist on Survivor.
(Photo credit: Robert Voets/CBS)
Hoboken Girl: Tell us what the process was like applying to Survivor. What inspired you to be on the show + what can you tell us about the initial stages of actually applying to be on it?
Mike Turner: I’ve been a Survivor fan since day one. You hear about this show — they’re gonna give you a million dollars, they’re gonna throw castaways on an island, they’re gonna vote each other out, whoever gets voted out has to vote for a winner. It was an amazing idea, it just intrigued the crap out of me. We all watched at the firehouse. You watch it once and you’re just hooked.
I’ve always loved the show, I always wanted to be a part of it, but I was a father, and I had my career… I always had an excuse. I didn’t have time to do it. But I said if I had the time, I would show those guys how to play. I was absolutely the best player of all time from my couch. So then I retire, my kids are in college, and I’m watching the show, and Jeff [Probst] just says, “If you want to be on Survivor… ” I was sitting there with my wife, and I said, “You know what? I’ve been saying I was gonna apply to this show, I’m not gonna get it anyway. Let me just throw in an application.”
I threw the application in and then it says you need to upload a video. Oh, crap, they got me now. How do you upload a video? I couldn’t figure it out. I [accidentally uploaded] a 16 second video of me on a ladder. So I sent it out and I never thought about it again. I said, they’re getting tons of these, they’re not gonna call me. Six months later, I get an email and it says, “Are you still interested in being on survivor?” I thought it was spam. I said, well as long as I don’t open at it, it’s like I didn’t look at the lottery ticket. I still have a chance of winning. [My wife told me], “Are you crazy? Open up the damn email!” I opened up the email and it was from a casting director, so we look on the internet to make sure the casting director was real — which she was. I responded, it was outrageous. It was so crazy. And that’s it, that’s how it happened.
HG: How would you describe that moment, when you knew you were really going to be on Survivor? What did that feel like?
MT: I still was apprehensive. I responded [to the casting director] and she says, “Okay, the video… ” And she said it in a really nice way, I’m gonna say it in the way I think she meant it: “This video sucks, you need to send another video.”
I call my daughter, my wife and I get together, and we put a real video together and then sent that in. [The casting director] called me the next day and said, “We loved it, and we want you to talk to Jeff.” I said, “Jeff? Jeff Who?” Probst!
Sure enough, a few days later, I’m on the phone with Jeff Probst. I took it this way: if I didn’t make it further, I got to talk to Jeff Probst, that’s so cool. And then I went on to the next level. I took every step as an accomplishment that I could brag about, still not thinking [I would get it]. The chances of me getting on [were so low] because there were 80,000 applicants. And then the steps went on and I was like holy crap, I’m getting pretty far in the process. They’re thinking about me. I have a shot at this. That’s when I started believing it. And then the casting director calls me up and was like, “Hey, Mike. Welcome to the Survivor family.” It was a very surreal moment. I just sat down, I was like, holy crap, I’m gonna be on Survivor. Can you believe this? It’s such an epic show, not only in the world but in my life.
(Photo credit: Robert Voets/CBS)
HG: How was it different being on the show versus watching it from home?
MT: The biggest difference is the show is real. On your couch, you’re able to make mistakes, okay, I was wrong, I’m out, I go get a soda from the fridge. On the show, if you’re wrong, it literally means something to be wrong. It’s like gambling with fake money. You can gamble from your couch, but when you’re really in the game, every decision, everything you think of, everything you say, every face you make literally means something and someone is always watching you to try to figure it out. That’s the biggest difference.
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HG: What would you say was the most challenging aspect? Was it the physical part of the game, the mental part of the game, or something else?
MT: The mental [part] wasn’t that tough because, you know, my whole life, I’ve always had to be mentally tough. I don’t mean that in a bragging way, I’m just saying that’s the way I always was. I was always mentally strong. Whatever I put my mind to, I would do it no matter what. The physical [part] was a little tough because I’m older than everybody out there so my body got beat up a little sooner and I’m used to being the guy that’s like, I can do anything, but you gotta realize I have limitations in terms of my physicality compared to some of the other players, so I think the hardest thing was just leaving my family behind and going out there truly being on an island by myself even though I was out there with 17 other players, I was truly by myself in my head. That was the toughest part, I had nobody to bounce things off of that I could trust. Normally, I’d bounce things off my wife or my brother, out there I literally had to bounce it off of myself and trust my gut because you realize early on, nobody out there should be or will be as honest with you as you will be with yourself.
(Photo credit: Robert Voets/CBS)
HG: How did your life change since being on the show?
MT: Well, I got really cool really quick. I went from being Dad, this dude, to now my kids looking at me like — they love social media and social presence, and all of a sudden now I’ve got this social media presence that they’ve been dying for forever. [They’re like], what the hell, how can my late 50-year-old dad have a social presence?
Walking down the street, now people yell out, “Mike! Hoboken Mike! It’s unbelievable! You did this, you did that!” When I retired from the fire department and one of my kids graduated college, I pretty much just felt like I was on the back 9 of my life, it was the second tour of my life. All the main things you do in life, marriage, kids, career — already happened. And pretty much my resume of life was pretty good at that point. And all of a sudden, Survivor comes, and it almost gives you a second life. And that’s what happened. It gave me a second life in terms of, holy crap, I’m relevant. I like the attention, I like making people laugh, I like being the center of attention — this gave me this a hundredfold, everywhere. It was awesome. I couldn’t have asked for anything better to happen to me at this stage of my life — other than marrying my wife.
HG: Now we’d love to transition to hear a little bit more about your Hoboken life. Where in Hoboken did you grow up?
MT: I was born at 510 Marshall and grew up at 210 Harrison.
HG: Did you have any spots where you liked hanging out as a kid?
MT: Well, I held up the wall at 5th and Washington Street for a long time. It’s funny, I look around Hoboken now, kids don’t hang out on corners anymore. As a kid, you know, we didn’t have spots we went to, we just went to corners that we hung out on. 5th and Wash, we hung out on the corner of the Daily News, and we held those walls up for like 10 years. Going there, meeting there every night, hanging out and talking, doing whatever we did. From like the age of 14 to like 20.
HG: When did you know you wanted to become a fireman? Is that something you always wanted to do?
MT: I’m not gonna say I always wanted to do it. I had an older friend, but to me, he was more like a mentor — he was a fireman. When I graduated high school, I wasn’t a school guy, I wasn’t a studier, I wanted to do something that would give me a good career. He was a fireman and we talked and he showed me different ways I could apply and I applied. It made a lot of sense to me, because I was always a football player, I loved playing the game, and what better game than being a fireman? When the bell goes off, you have the ball with two minutes left, and you have to make a decision to see if you’re gonna win it or not. And that’s what I equated it to. Frankly, it was the best decision of my life. It saved my life in terms of what I became and who I am. I learned a lot about life from the people in the firehouse. The men there were veterans from the Vietnam and Korean war, I was an 18, 19-year-old kid, these people got on the job in like 1962 so they knew life and they taught me how to be a man, how to be a father, how to eat, they taught me everything. So I really learned a lot. I grew up in the firehouse, becoming the person I am through the people I met and worked with there.
(Photo credit: Robert Voets/CBS)
HG: What are you favorite Hoboken spots now?
MT: 10th and Willow: amazing burgers. Benny Tudino’s — the best slices to me in Hoboken, I love my Benny’s. When I first came off the island, I got right home, my wife was waiting at the airport with two Benny’s slices. I love going to the Black Bear for lunch. M&P’s, you can’t go wrong with their sandwiches. Vito’s has got great mozzarella, too.
HG: What makes Hoboken special? Why do you love it?
MT: Hoboken is special because no matter what the transformation, if it’s been 50 or 60 years, to its core it’s always been the same. It’s a neighborhood. It’s the only place we’ve ever been to where you truly don’t need a car to get anything or do anything. It’s a place that no matter where you go, you feel safe, people say hello to you, there’s a feeling of community. You smell the neighborhoods and you sit on your stoop and say hello to people. I don’t know another place in the world where you can get that. We are our own entity. In Hoboken, you can get whatever you want in one square mile.