Meet Survivor contestant Mark ‘Tarzan’ Herlaar
THE SURVIVOR TELEVISION FRANCHISE HAS BUILT AN EMPIRE ON ITS MANTRA DICTATING CONTESTANTS MUST ‘OUTWIT, OUTPLAY AND OUTLAST’ ALL WHO DARE GET IN THEIR WAY.
The win-at-all-cost mindset has been served up constantly throughout the recently finished fourth season of Australian Survivor (filmed in Samoa) – as castaways shamelessly connived, cheated and conspired in a desperate attempt to be the last one standing. Everyone did it. Well, almost everyone. It seems 51-year-old Geham lime farmer and fan favourite Mark Herlaar didn’t get the memo.
More importantly, he probably tore up the memo, because Tarzan (as he was soon dubbed on the show) decided from the outset he was going to “play” the game the way he wanted to play it – doing the right thing by others and being true to himself.
Through monsoonal rains and cyclonic winds, he stood vigilantly by the fire to ensure it stayed alight for his tribe mates.
While others huddled freezing in their crude make-shift shelter (and despite his own hypothermia), he hunted palm fronds in the dead of night and laid them on his fellow contestants so they might beat the bitter conditions.
“Everybody talks about developing strategies and manoeuvring to get an advantage in the game,” Mark said. “I just wanted to keep people warm.”
His concern for others even saw him selflessly hand over an immunity idol to Tessa – leaving him completely vulnerable and out the door at the next tribal council.
He may have lost the chance at finals glory, but he won a legion of fans across the world for his caring attitude and philosophical approach to life.
Yet, he still copped a lambasting by internet Survivor “experts” who claimed his tactics were flawed, ill-conceived and counter-productive to winning the game. Mark takes the criticism on the chin. “They’re bloody right! I didn’t have a clue about what I should have been doing strategically. I went on this show as a journey of enlightenment and I got to experience so many amazing things as a result,” he said.
“Those 11 days will shape my future. I don’t know how – but they will.”
But what about the $500,000 first prize?
“I wouldn’t say no – especially as we’re trying to grow the lime business – but money doesn’t motivate me. There’s more to life than money.”
When you look at Mark shrug his big shoulders and wryly smile – you know he means every word.
Mark’s early departure from the show may have added weight to the long-standing adage that “good guys finish last” but he also proved why good guys get the tag in the first place.
“The marriage proposals have dropped off a bit now,” he laughs. “But, I’ve had people contact me from Ghana to Italy to the Netherlands, you name it – it’s amazing how many people want to talk to you and get your advice and opinions.
"The best advice I can give anyone is to be a salmon and swim against the current. Swimming with it is easy, but it’s nowhere near as fun."
So, how did the farmer who doesn’t like farming get into the lime industry?
“You’ll think I’m making this up, but my son brought over a few beers one afternoon and wanted me to try one with a lime in it,” he recalls. “I’m not a drinker, but he insisted and it tasted pretty good. The problem was he told me the limes were $2 each.
“So, I thought: ‘let’s put a tree in’. It didn’t die, so I thought how about we put in another 700 (just for fun) and then we put in another 3500 (just for fun) and the farm has gone from there.”
A deeply spiritual man, Mark puts a lot of stock in fate and “what will be, will be” – it gets him out of bed every morning because he knows each new day brings another adventure.
“Life’s what we make of it – never take anything for granted and enjoy every part of it because we create ourselves along the way,” he said. Just as he did on Survivor. No fire for days, no food to eat, the most basic of shelter, horrendously ill-equipped to take on the wrath of Mother Nature – sounds a nightmare.
To Mark, it was paradise: “For those 11 days, I wasn’t on a game show, I was living and I’ll carry that wonderful experience to my grave.”