Story by Clint Kelly
Photos Courtesy of CBS Worldwide Inc.
Photos Courtesy of CBS Worldwide Inc.
In many ways, Dirk Been (pronounced "bean") at 24 is a pretty average Midwestern guy. He loves fishing, dancing, blind dates and basketball. He considers himself energetic, funny and loud. A Seattle Pacific University graduate of the Class of 1998, he holds a degree in religious studies. Home base is the Been family's 600-acre dairy farm in Spring Green, Wisconsin. But last March, Been's life took a decidedly abnormal turn. Chosen one of 16 castaways to live on a remote tropical island in the South China Sea, he became part of the summer television phenomenon known as "Survivor."
A record viewing audience tuned in to the final episode of the "reality" game show to watch the sole surviving castaway pocket $1 million.
Been lasted just 15 days before being voted off the island by his peers at "Tribal Council." He had eaten rats and beetle larva, bathed in a mud volcano and felt the brunt of a play-to-win strategy that drummed him off the island in the early going. All the while, a TV production crew of 140 recorded his every move.
But the adventure had only just begun. As the summer rolled on and viewership soared, every one of the castaways became a hot commodity, on or off the island. Been estimates he has given close to 500 interviews including nationwide chats with David Letterman, Jay Leno and Bryant Gumbel, who introduced him as "the Bible-toting proud virgin." Been has also appeared in a commercial for an herbal cold remedy and posed barefoot in a red sarong for a six-page "Survivor" feature in People magazine.
"It's insane," says Been. "I did 80 interviews in one day."
His mother, Diane, screened the calls at first and says she was especially careful of the supermarket tabloids. Her son now has a publicist, a manager and two agents. In all the media fervor, Been's favorite interview question was "What Bible character would you compare yourself to?" "I chose David because he was a nobody given a position of influence," he explains. "Unworthy as he was, he loved the Lord with all his heart. The book of Hebrews tells us that God rewards those who seek after him."
It is a message Been is eager to take to young people. He has worked as a substitute teacher and with disadvantaged kids. After graduation from Seattle Pacific, he served as a youth director for Interbay Covenant Church in Seattle. Uncertain about his future career plans, he knows they will involve ministry to youth.
When Been was told he could take but one "luxury" item with him to the island, he chose to take his Bible. He was occasionally seen on camera reading and praying. While other castaways expressed irritation at such religious devotion, Been left the Bible behind at his exit and reports that a couple of the marooned have since shown a real spiritual interest.
Despite the uproar in his life, Been says he is confident God has a plan for him. He has been speaking to young people at an increasing number of churches and youth gatherings. In September, the former Falcon basketball co-captain was a guest speaker for SPU's New Student Orientation.
Falcon Coach Ken Bone says Been was the spiritual backbone of the basketball team, with a work ethic second to none. "In my time, no other walk-on has ever become a co-captain of the team," says Bone. "He provided a real stability and thrived on situations where the odds were against him."
Those qualities came in handy on Pulau Tiga Island and should prove valuable now that Been has been drafted by the Celebrity NBA. Other draftees include teen movie idol Leonardo DiCaprio.
But that's the fun part for the former resident of fifth floor Ashton Hall. Now that "the whole bakery is open to me," what concerns Been more is seeing where God wants him to go with his newfound, if fleeting, celebrity. Can faith and fame coexist? Been thinks so. "SPU taught me to choose every day to follow Christ, that it is a conscious choice. 'Survivor' has given me a platform, but I'm still in control of who I am. I'm a Christian. This is where I stand."
When the cast of "Survivor" traveled by boat to the island to begin filming, Dirk Been discovered another person with an SPU connection. Jeff Probst, the emcee of "Survivor," took classes at SPU in the 1980s. Soon to be seen in "Survivor II: The Australian Outback," Probst interrupted his education when it became clear that the entertainment business was his career choice. But his brother, Brent, graduated from SPU in 1990 and Jeff shares his sense of pride. "The most meaningful thing in my office is a copy of his diploma with a note thanking me for helping him with all those term papers," says Jeff. "So, in a way, I feel a kinship to SPU as an honorary graduate."