Tuesday, Jan, 20, 2009 • Local challenges to be the next ‘survivor’

The possibility of knowing a contestant on a top-rated TV show is rare, but in the city of Susanville many can say they know Ben Wade, a contestant on the 18th season of t “Survivor.”

Ben Wade,maestro of the Susanville Symphony Orchestra.

Wade can well be on his way of becoming the face of Susanville — a face that is recognizable and friendly.

“This show was made for me,” said Wade. “I wanted to change the game from what it is to what the producers had in mind. Rather than a game of deceit and lies, I want the game to be about actual survival.”

“Survivor: Tocatins, the Brazilian Highlands” premieres on CBS, Thursday, Feb. 12 and Wade, known around town as Maestro or Coach, tells the world his hometown is Susanville, California and that his main job is as artistic director and conductor of the Susanville Symphony.

That’s how locals know Wade. He was also the Lassen College Women’s soccer coach for years before heading to Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri to be the head coach of its women’s soccer team.

“I should have done this years ago. One of my assistant coaches said that I should be the next bachelor and the idea (of being on a reality show) kinda clicked,” said Wade who began investigating how to apply for “Survivor.”

“I am one of a kind, and I used that in my interview video. In my three-minute tape I showed scenes from a symphony concert, video from my coaching and some of my kayaking,” Wade said.

Wade said he had a surreal confidence that he would become one of the 16 chosen to be on the 18th season of the show.

However, even though he had an inner assurance he would be cast and people who know him could see him on the show, Wade said when he got the call, he turned CBS down because filming would begin before soccer season ended.

“The (SBU) soccer team was doing really well this year, and I would have had to leave before the season was over and I was not going to that.

“I wasn’t settled with my decision so I talked to my supervisor, and he told me to pray about it so I called CBS back and said yes. They gave me a hard time, but I told them I was a man of my word. It was like a millstone taken off my neck,” Wade said.

Wade is not afraid to tell people that his confidence comes from the Lord and his Christian faith. He has said he does nothing without seeking “God’s guidance in everything” he does.

“The Bible talks about a peace that passes all understanding and that is how I felt when I boarded the plane to Brazil. God was behind my decision,” said Wade, who quickly pointed out that being on the show was not about winning, though he likes to win.

He said he went into the game with the same strategy of his American Indian ancestors. Wade’s uncle was the last Delaware Indian. He also said that he thought of the Nordic Vikings and their seven layers of heaven.

“The bottom level is for those who lived a long life, and the top level is for those who met a worthy competitor on the battlefield. I never lie; I have integrity; I am a strong Christian,” emphasized Wade.

The man TV viewers see on the show is the man they know in Susanville.

“I love Susanville. (People) know that. I am committed to the symphony for the rest of my life,” said Wade with a catch of emotion in his voice.

Wade is not allowed to talk about what happened once the plane landed in Brazil and while he was there. Brett Gold of CBS said that all participants stay on location until there is a winner. Therefore, Wade returned to the states with the rest of the cast.

Wade returned the same day as the first symphony concert of the season in its new location, the Susanville Assembly of God.

“I never saw the music. I can get super focused, and when I got to Susanville I was still focused on Brazil. It was a miracle the concert was so good considering my severely different state,” said Wade, who can’t say enough about the orchestra and its willingness to let him conduct with no previous practices.

The December Christmas concert was the talk of the town for several weeks because it was obvious to everyone that Wade went through a significant ordeal.

“One of the older ladies in the front row said, ‘That’s not Ben … Where’s Ben?’ and that explains everything said Wade, who admitted he lost 45 pounds from an already physically fit body.

Wade appeared haggard, tired and unwell. He said he has gained the weight back and is back to his old self.

Wade reiterated several times he went on the show to change it and it will be interesting to see how he did. And since he can’t say much about his time in Brazil he said he can say that his life experiences have forged his character and it will not be shaken.

Wade has a large following in Susanville and many friends who were quick to let everyone know by phone call and e-mail that someone they know would be on a popular TV show.

The newspaper received at least 100 e-mails and a dozen phone calls to let the staff know about Wade. Many wanted to know if the paper would be following Wade’s progress and said they could not wait to get the paper in the weeks to come.

The paper is planning to add a new column called Wade Watchers. It will tell how Wade did in the week’s prior episode and opinions on how he may do on Survivor.

The Susanville Symphony Society is also planning a fundraiser event for Feb. 12 to watch the first episode. Details are in the works, said several symphony members who first were only going to have a party somewhere but then decided to invite the entire city.

To see more on Wade before the show begins log onto cbs.com/primetime/survivor. There you can read Wade’s biography and watch a three-minute tape on why he is there and why he plans to win.

Other Web sites about Wade include susanvillesymphony.com and coachbenwade.com.