Entering his 14th day as a contestant on the CBS network's reality TV show, "Survivor Panama: Exile Island", retired astronaut-turned-castaway Dan Barry was feeling pretty good about his current situation.
"I am solid with five people. I know there is one person in front of me for sure if we were going to lose again," said Barry just moments before he was voted out.
"It's incredible how fast things turn," Barry continued.
The day had started out well. Sitting alone on the beach of his team's "La Mina" camp, Barry was left alone to enjoy the sunrise.
"It's beautiful out here, another beautiful day in paradise."
Turning to the camera as last night's episode began, Barry reflected, "...taking a quiet moment to enjoy it."
"I've been within 200 miles of this spot many times," said the veteran space explorer, smiling while pointing straight up, "vertical."
Barry had good reason to feel secure. Four days less than halfway through the game's 39-day isolated stay, he had survived twice being voted off at the Tribal Council and he felt a strong bond with the three remaining men on his team. If someone was going next, it would be Sally, a 27 year old social worker and the odd-gal out.
As such, Barry felt it was due time to let the others know of his pre-Survivor profession.
"Well it turns out I did a little more than just work on space shuttles," explained Barry of the "NASA engineer" cover title he had been using up to then. "Well, I had an opportunity to be aboard a few of 'em... while they were flying."
Named a NASA astronaut in 1992, Barry flew three times over his 13 years with the space agency. His first flight in 1996 was aboard Endeavour. He then flew twice again on Discovery in May 1999 and then in August 2001. His two later missions were to the International Space Station. In total, he logged over 734 hours in space with nearly 26 of them outside the spacecraft.
"I've been to orbit three times on the space shuttle, have done four spacewalks, been to the space station twice," Barry recalled to his teammates Nick and Austin. Terry, the third La Mina man and a former F-14 pilot, had been let in on Barry's secret identity when the two first met 14 days earlier.
"It wasn't like hiding anything from you," explained Barry. "It was because I didn't want to be the 'astronaut guy'. It was fun to be [just] Dan."
The news left the two younger men in awe of their new found and well-traveled friend.
"I never thought I'd even meet an astronaut, never mind live with one," confided Nick. "I mean the guy has looked at the Earth from space, so he's an incredible guy and I knew that from the start but to learn that, and how humble he is about being an astronaut is pretty amazing."
Austin, the 24 year old author, responded more colorfully.
"He actually has dined with Neil Armstrong.'Danfuego' is a stud. I told you from the get-go, he's a pimp."
Over the first five episodes, Barry was shown tackling (with his team) Reward and Immunity challenges that involved digging up wooden snakes, launching balls by slingshot and balancing buckets as part of a brigade. Barry's strength wasn't his physical force but his mental acuity.
So when the sixth episode's joint Reward and Immunity challenge relied on Dan and Sally to solve a puzzle, it played right into Barry's favor. The Panamanian barbeque and Immunity Idol was good as La Mina's. And therein lay Barry's fate.
"How can we lose a challenge with a puzzle when we have a NASA engineer on our team. I mean how do you do that?" asked Austin of Terry after their loss. Barry acknowledged his failure.
"My whole job [of being an astronaut] is about having a game plan in place and if it's not quite working out, stepping back and I didn't do that. Instead, I picked up the puzzle piece and started looking around at random," told Barry to Terry. "You know what, if I did that in space, [we would] die."
Barry would have been safe had it not been for another twist to the game. The winning team, Casaya, had the added bonus of selecting a La Mina castaway to be sent to the show's title-inspiring Exile Island. Choosing Sally, they had in effect spared her from certain elimination. Sally would be absent from that evening's Tribal Council, leaving the four men to pick amongst themselves.
Barry expected a tie vote -- the younger Austin and Nick versus Terry and himself. Austin had other plans.
"This is a young person's game right now and we can take you a lot further in this than [Barry] can," reasoned Austin to Terry. "If Sally was here, obviously we would take her [out], but physically, [Dan's] the weakest."
"I know this has to be incredibly difficult on Terry to even consider eliminating Dan. But someone has to go home and I don't want it to be me," said Austin to the camera.
Terry agreed but also respected the bond he had formed early with Barry.
"Dan and I have something even more in common than anybody else, soaring through all kinds of heights above the Earth, and having to vote him off is a highly emotional decision because he's something else. Dan has the right stuff."
At the Tribal Council, Barry's fate was clear.
"[My team was] very upfront with me to tell me that it's my turn tonight to go. And today, three performed their job and two people didn't. One of those two people is immune and the other one is sitting right here. And I am willing to take responsibility."
"If it was my choice this would go two [versus] two, and we'd have a little challenge going on. I expected to last a lot longer than this," lamented Barry.
In the end though, Barry had few regrets.
"I wish them all the best. It was a wonderful adventure. I loved every day out here. And the only thing I really have to say is thank you to my family for letting Dad go off on another crazy [adventure]."
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