Survivor: Panama – Exile Island (2006)

Survivor is a reality-television game show produced in many countries throughout the world. In the show, contestants are isolated in the wilderness and compete for cash and other prizes. Through a system of progressive elimination, contestants vote off the island other tribe members until only one contestant remains and wins the title of Sole Survivor. The show is credited for making reality television a popular TV genre.

Survivor: Panama – Exile Island was the 12th season of the U.S. show. It took place in the  Pearl Islands, off the coast of Panama. 

Editor’s note: Barry was not available for comment. The following story appeared in The Daily Princetonian Mar. 13, 2006.

Dan Barry *80 voted off Survivor

By Kate Carroll ’09

Dan Barry *80’s tribe has spoken.

Barry, a former astronaut and current robotics designer, was voted off Survivor: Panama – Exile Island on Thursday night’s episode after an unusual series of events thwarted his strategic alliance.

Though his other three male allies were responsible for his departure, they said they had grown to admire Barry and were sad to see him go.

“I never thought I’d even meet an astronaut, never mind live with one,” Nick Stanbury, member of the La Mina tribe, said during Thursday’s episode. “I mean the guy’s looked at the Earth from space, so he’s an incredible guy and I knew that from the start. To learn that and how humble he is about being an astronaut, it's pretty amazing.”

Barry had a plan from day one, which involved a very close alliance of five.

“I was looking to get an ally very quick and the kind of person I was looking for was someone who had already had long-term established relationships in their life,” Barry said over the phone on Friday morning, the first day he was allowed to speak to the press. “The idea was to find one person – that would make us two – and then each of us find one more – that would make us four – and then find a fifth.”

His original alliance included Terry Deitz, Austin Carty, and Stanbury. The obvious choice for the fifth member, Barry said, was Ruth-Marie Milliman, but the plan faltered when his tribe voted Milliman off.

“When Terry decided he didn’t want to vote for Ruth-Marie and I saw him breaking up an alliance for what I thought was very poor strategic reasoning, right then I should’ve changed the plan and moved over to Austin and Nick,” Barry said.

Two trials later, Casaya had sent Sally Schumann, the fifth member of their tribe, to Exile Island, saving her from elimination. The four-man alliance La Mina was sent to Tribal Council, a fate they had not anticipated would arrive until the final four.

Barry tried to convince Deitz and the rest of his team to vote two against two, but in the end all three members wrote Barry’s name down.

“One day you’re the hero, the next day you’re the goat,” Barry said, referring to his importance in the water-diving challenge and his failure in the skull puzzle challenge. “I don’t regret accepting responsibility for not getting that puzzle done. Part of life is accepting responsibility for when you didn’t get the job done.”

Dan of all trades

Barry has gotten the job done, however, in many professions over the course of his life: engineer, doctor, inventor, professor and astronaut.

“Now I build robots and I guess now I’m getting into acting, too,” Barry said with a chuckle. He added that he would not mind using his newly developed television skills to participate in a scientific education series.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree from Cornell, Barry joined Princeton for graduate school and wrote his thesis under the supervision of Sol Gruner, a professor of physics at Cornell University and director of Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source.

Gruner was studying photoreceptor cells in the eyes, so one of Barry’s first tasks was to collect fresh cow eyes.

“When Dan came down, he was attracted by all the high-tech equipment,” Gruner said. “The first thing I had him do was put a stocking over his head and go into the slaughterhouse ... It wasn’t quite what he imagined at first, but he did a very good job at it.”

Barry also met his wife, then a graduate student at the University, during his time here. “I would say being at Princeton was one of the best parts of my life,” he said.

After receiving an M.S.E. and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science from the University, Barry attended medical school at the University of Miami because of an interest in bioengineering and biophysics.

Barry did his residency in rehabilitation medicine at the University of Michigan, where he practiced medicine and researched the mechanics of arms and legs. He found that muscle contractions make a noise, which he used to help disabled persons learn how to use prosthetic devices.

His study of muscle mechanics also led him to invent a pair of running shoes. Though the University of Michigan holds the patent, “Dan got 25 cents from each shoe, so he got very wealthy from this,” Gruner said.

Barry achieved his real dream, though, when he was accepted to the NASA space shuttle program.

“I wanted to be an astronaut my whole life,” Barry said. “I dreamed as a kid about flying in space, as many kids do, but I never gave it up.”

He applied to the program when it first began accepting applications, but was turned down 13 times before getting in on his 14th attempt.

“I went to Princeton, so I had never gotten a thin envelope from college, but I was the king of the thin envelope from NASA,” Barry said.

Life did not cease to be eventful for Barry at NASA.

“I remember getting this clipping,” Gruner said, “and it was: ‘Astronaut Almost Runs Over Two Old Ladies,’ and it turns out this happened somewhere in Texas where Dan was training.”

“[Barry] was coming down this runway and two old ladies were driving this car and they were quite old and quite confused and some way they ended up running down this runway,” Gruner said.

Despite Barry’s efforts to stop, “he wound up hitting the vehicle. They were surprised, but no one was hurt,” Gruner added.

Currently, Barry runs Denbar Robotics. “The idea is to build robots ultimately to help people with disabilities,” Barry said. “It goes back to my role as a rehabilitation medicine physician.”

Barry’s days at Old Nassau might not be over. He visited the University last fall with his son, who is applying here for the upcoming school year.

“It is a microcosm of the world there and you have so many people to draw on,” Barry said. “What a good deal to be a freshman at Princeton right now.”

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