“I was living this double life: law student by day and Survivor contestant by night”

Kane Fritzler, the first Survivor contestant from Saskatchewan, is feeling the pressure: two of the last three winners are Canadian
Peter Saltsman
Kane Fritzler from SURVIVOR Season 44. -- Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

When Survivor premiered in the spring of 2000, Kane Fritzler didn’t know it was about to change his life. That’s probably because he was a two-year-old in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, as yet blissfully unaware of scheming alliances, tiki torches or the age-defying magnetism of Jeff Probst. But 23 years later, Fritzler is about to embark on the desert island journey of a lifetime.

When Season 44 premieres this week, he’ll be playing to be the show’s third-ever Canadian champion, after Season 41’s Erika Casupanan and Season 42’s Maryanne Oketch. Fritzler, a recent law graduate now living in Saskatoon, recently returned from his time on the remote Fijian island and sat down with us to talk about what it was like to compete on the game show he grew up watching. 

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What’s your relationship to Survivor

Survivor was a family show for us—my grandmother would come over to watch. When I was a kid, I loved watching all the different characters and archetypes on the show. As I got older, I fell in love with the show again from a gaming and strategy perspective. That was the holy grail: to figure out how to play this thing like the perfect board game.

Tell me more about that last bit. What is unique about the gaming aspect of Survivor?

In the first season, they brought out the concept of alliances and it blew people’s minds—they thought contestants were just supposed to go with their gut and vote people out. As the seasons stacked up, a meta-narrative developed, and you saw people playing the way they watched other people play. Every once in a while, someone was able to break that. By the time Season 44 rolls around, you have all these different things going on: you have alliances, you have sub-alliances, different takes on the game. So the thing that keeps the game fresh is the people who get pumped into it. 

What made you think you’d be good at it?

I wasn’t sure I would be, but I wanted to try. I’m fresh out of law school, I love people, and I’m a problem solver. So I look at people like problem sets, and I think I’m very good at building relationships with people quickly. I’m good at identifying people’s interests and figuring out what they want and how I can adapt to make myself seem like I’m good for them—in the game! That sounds really manipulative. I don’t do that in real life. But in the game it’s about getting to know people and asking how can I use these relationships—which are genuine—to keep myself out of the boat but still playing a game where I’m doing cool stuff and having fun.

What was the application process like? You’re a guy from Saskatoon and you want to be on the show—what happens next?

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like the start of a successful story. They didn’t even know where Saskatchewan was! I was going, “No, I swear, I’m Canadian, please let me on the show!” I sent in an audition tape on their website like everyone else. I did that every single year that I could. Survivor was opened to Canadians I think three or four years ago. I’d update my tape every year. Then you just wait and hope that you get that phone call.

Tell me about the phone call.

It was a world-changer. I spent a lot of time knowing that Canadians couldn’t play. And then all of a sudden you get the phone call that you are heading to Fiji, that this is happening. All of a sudden your mindset changes. You’re actually going to the beach, you’re actually going to meet Jeff Probst. It’s a complete shift.

So you get on the plane, you land in Fiji, and there’s Jeff Probst. What was that moment like?

It was one of the most surreal moments of my life, honestly. I’ve watched the show for a long time. You know the camera shots, you know what’s going to happen. And then you’re standing there, and Jeff Probst is a real human being, and he’s giving you the spiel to kick off the show. It was surreal. I was thinking, If I shouted at him right now, he was going to answer! And I’m there beside all these other people who share this dream. It was a crazy experience. 

Is it exactly like it looks in TV?

It feels very authentic. It is 100 per cent real. When the sun sets, it’s dark in the jungle, you know? It felt exactly the way I wanted it to feel. 

And then you met all the other cast members. What was that like in those first few moments?

First impressions are huge. As soon as you’re dropped on the beach, there are 17 other people with huge grins and scary eyes looking at you, and you don’t know what’s going to happen. They might be your best friends or they might be your worst enemies, but we’re all there because we love Survivor. When I applied to this it was my dream, and now I’m sitting here with people who have the exact same thing in mind: we all want to get to the end.

Does that change the way you play the game? The fact that all the cast members are superfans?

It changed how I approached the game, for sure. In Survivor, you have to make some assumptions. Everybody knows the game. It makes it a lot faster and a lot more intense.

How did you prepare for the show?

The first thing I did was finish law school, because that was mentally taxing and something I had to do anyway. But I looked at everything I did as Survivor training. In all my negotiation classes in law school, I thought, I might use this on the island. And I did a ton of puzzles—everything I could get my hands on—and watched a ton of Survivor. I kept my regular workout routine, because I didn’t want to start trying to become a power lifter and then go and break my back—that would’ve been a huge downer—but I amped everything up to nine or 10 as the date neared.  I learned how to make fire, too. I watched a lot of YouTube. I got my flint and my fire supplies and I was making fire like crazy. I was assuming, no matter what, that I was going to have to make fire on the island, so I wanted to make sure I had it down pat.

What was the worst part of being on the island?

The one thing that everyone asks about is the survival element, because it is real and it is intense. That’s the most daunting. To show up on an island and not have any food, to be sleeping on the ground or whatever shelter you can muster. Those are hard things. But honestly, you’re just having so much fun. Nothing really shook me to my core. 

Canadians have put on a really good show these past few seasons. Are you prepared to carry that legacy?

It’s a really tough mantle to carry. When I was watching Season 41, I was like, I hope Erica wins! But also, I hope she doesn’t win, so that I can be the first Canadian to win. And then she won! And I was like, Marianne’s so awesome but I hope she doesn’t win! What’s going on here?! I think Canadians have waited so long to be on the show that when we go out there, we’re ready to perform and to play hard. I have big shoes to fill. I’m hoping I can live up to the expectation.

Were you allowed to tell anyone about Survivor?

No. For a little while I was living this double life: a law student by day and a Survivor contestant by night. And it’s weird because it’s a very important part of you that you’re getting more and more invested in and you can’t tell anyone. But I’m excited now.

What’s the response been like so far?

It was a long shot to get a person from Saskatchewan on the show. It’s weird news to deliver to people—everyone has a slightly different reaction. They either freak out or they don’t believe it, but the end response is that people are super excited. I have professors reaching out, and people from the law community. Everyone in my life has been super supportive.

What was your biggest takeaway?

When you get dropped on an island, the only things you have are the clothes on your back and who you are, your personality. That’s all you get. All I had out there was Kane Fritzler. You learn you have to rely on that. The other thing is that you meet all these different wonderful people. So it was just a good people experience.

Will you stay in touch? Any lifelong alliances?

We’ll wait and see how it plays out. I’ve got to watch the season before I reach out. But I could see it.

Are you ready for your time in the spotlight, to light up Saskatchewan?

I am so ready for it to premiere. I anticipate Saskatchewan rallying around me. I am very, very excited to kick this thing off.