published: Friday, February 01, 2013
'God will get your attention'
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
Mike Skupin is a survivor -- literally.
Twelve years ago, when he first appeared as a contestant on the second season of the reality show "Survivor: The Australian Outback," he fell face first into a campfire and holds the distinction of being the first person on the show to be medically evacuated from the competition because his wounds were too severe to be treated on location.
The incident also put him closer to God, Skupin recently told members of Family Christian Center, a church in Clermont where he appeared as a guest speaker.
"So, my talk today isn't about Survivor," he told the congregation. "I mean, I had an experience, a very spiritual experience on a show called "Survivor." And it's really not about "Survivor." Professional athletes talk about their faith and it doesn't have anything to do with the sport but during their time in professional sports, God will use anything. He'll use professional sports, there's Hollywood movies now that make it mainstream that are Christian movies and he'll even use dumb reality shows to reach people for Christ."
Skupin, 50, recalled how he inhaled a big, black cloud of smoke that the wind blew in his direction, passed out and falling hands and face first into the fire, where he lay for about 15 to 20 seconds.
As he preached, Skupin showed clips of the show.
"I was winning challenges and providing for my tribe, and our team was winning and we were having to not vote people off, and it looked like my path to the end of the game was pretty well mapped out, that I could possibly have a chance at winning this game and getting that million dollar prize," Skupin said. "But instead, God got my attention 12 years ago in the Australian Outback when I fell in that fire."
Little did he know that would be the start of his journey from his home in Michigan to places all around the country to speak about his experiences on the show and about the faith he found within himself.
"I had no plan on doing that, but my phone started ringing off the hook and it kind of like got a life of its own," Skupin said.
In March of 2012, Skupin was called back to appear on the 22nd anniversary show of Survivor and he was off to the Philippines.
"This time, I was the old guy out there," he joked, adding that his second appearance on the show also became a spiritual experience.
That's because while there, he started out praying and relying on his faith to get him through.
In turn, that allowed him to bring another contestant closer to God when she was bitten by a venomous snake and nearly had to be evacuated herself. Since the start of the show, that contestant -- Denise -- berated prayer and any kind of faith in anything but her own self.
After the snake bite got the best of her, however, she finally walked over to Skupin and his alliance on the the show and asked for them to pray for her.
Less than two hours later, Denise was better.
Skupin's message since then has been that God is going to get your attention somehow, sometime.
"God is gonna get your attention. He never stops trying and thank God he never does," Skupin said. "It took a poisonous snake bite for Denise and it took me falling into the fire. What is it gonna take for God to get your attention? And when are we gonna say, 'OK?' When are we gonna say, 'We're in?'"
"You're here because God already picked you, so what are you gonna do to become part of that plan?"
After his preaching, attendees at the church had the opportunity to meet with Skupin, purchase his books, DVD messages, T-shirts and get his autograph.
Those who did, however, said they mainly wanted to meet him and thank him in person for the inspiration he brought them through his story.
"His message was the type of message that reaches out to those people who may not get it. When they see him on the show and hear it in that way, they are like 'Wow,'" said Brett Shelton, 13. "What he said really reached out to me in so many ways."
Shannon Shelton, Brett's mom, said that she used to watch Survivor and vaguely remembers the episode when Skupin fell in the fire.
"It was one of those moments you wonder about and ask, 'Did that really happen?'" she said. "But yeah, I had no idea there was so much more to it. It's very amazing and his message really hits home. It makes you think about what you always hear, that people are put in places for a reason. His (Skupin's) own experiences show you it's true."
Skupin's appearance at FCC was not his first. In fact, his landing in Clermont has a back story of its own, happening only by chance when he was trying to open a Christian based gym in his hometown years ago.
Skupin said he read about one in Clermont in a Men's Fitness magazine --formerly "The Lord's Gym" -- owned by local business owner and Chiropractor Dr. Paul Sorchy.
Skupin contacted Sorchy and flew to Clermont from Detroit, MI, to meet him and talk business.
In talking, Sorchy was intrigued by Skupin's story and therefore, contacted his friend Rick Van Wagner, the pastor at FCC, and asked him to allow Skupin to preach a sermon at the church.
Van Wagner, though reluctant, met with the pair, and the next thing you know, Skupin made his first appearance at FCC on a day that by coincidence, was decorated with palm trees, torches, tents, etc, because the church was teaching about "being a survivor."
"I walked into this whole survivor atmosphere and thought, 'Wow, how did they set this whole thing up in like four hours when they didn't even know I was going to be here?'" Skupin joked, adding that when he was told it was all by chance, he was blown away further.
And though Skupin's gym never manifested, a friendship with Sorchy and Van Wagner, along with the occasional visit to FCC was born.
"I feel like we're part of an obvious plan and God's made every little piece fit together," Sorchy said.
Skupin agrees and called the whole thing, from his first appearance on Survivor, to his latest stint at FCC, "A God thing."
"We're not reaching for it, but God's hand is so obviously in it," Skupin said.