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Survivor NZ contestant Arun Bola reveals missing his son's third birthday was his toughest challenge

Not seeing his family, including son Ekam and daughter Poppy, while he was on Survivor was the hardest part, says Arun.

By Amy Prebble

There's a lot you miss out on when you're stranded in the middle of the Thai jungle for weeks on end.

But for Survivor New Zealand contestant Arun Bola, it wasn't the lack of food or creature comforts that got to him the most – it was missing his wee son Ekam's third birthday.

"It was tough," he admits. "We're a very tight family. Being on a dairy farm, you're always coming and going around home. The kids are a huge part of your life."

Arun is a third-generation dairy farmer from the Waikato. His grandparents emigrated from Punjab in the north of India in the 1970s and worked in a dairy factory until they had put aside enough to buy the family farm.

While Arun (30) took on Survivor, his parents, Daljit and Satvir, jumped on board to keep an eye on the farm while Arun's wife Dani (29) looked after Ekam and 10-month-old Poppy.

"I've told quite a few people that I was playing Survivor out in Thailand, but my wife was the true survivor back at home," tells Arun. "I have a really supportive wife. When I was talking about applying for the show, she was like, 'Yeah, go for it!'"

Suffice to say, applying to be on a reality television show was a fair bit outside Arun's comfort zone, which is usually dairy sheds and farmland, and his family didn't know much about Survivor either. Still, the Bola clan is behind Arun, as is the large community of farmers of Indian descent in the Waikato.

As for Arun, he says he loved the first couple of American series of Survivor, then his viewing fizzled out, but he did watch a little bit of last year's Kiwi version.

To prepare for his stint on the show, Arun stepped up his gym regime and did some yoga to calm his mind, but admits to "winging it".

"Survivor's the kind of game that you can't really know what you're getting yourself into. You don't get told much about where you're going or who you're going to be up against. It's just going in with the right attitude."

Arun was disappointed when he saw the lake where they would be staying, though.

"I was actually really gutted. I was hoping for white sand and the ocean, and falling asleep every night to the sound of the waves. Instead, I got ants coming up all over me and mud everywhere. The lake is really warm, full of insects and mosquitos. It is true Survivor."

Arun says all of his fellow competitors looked pretty dangerous when he was sizing them up at the beginning of the series.

"Everyone looked really fit and ready to go."

One thing did strike him, however. "When I was scoping everyone out, the thing I thought was, 'Where are all the oldies?' Then I was like, 'Hold on, am I the oldie? What's going on here?' I was the second-oldest male. I was the only dad and also the second oldest. That was worrying."

It didn't help that his tribe, Chani, had to vote someone out in the first three tribal councils. "We were in a rut," he says.

"Just to have a positive attitude about winning the next challenge was tough. But I liked our group. We connected on different levels and I was part of that core alliance, which was perfect."

He says that as gruelling as Survivor looks on screen, the reality is worse.

"I knew I was going to be hungry and I knew there were going to be people who didn't like me – that's all part of the game. It was tough to work out who was telling fibs, who you could trust, who you wanted to align with. You had to be on your A game all the time with no food in your stomach."

He's not sure what he'll spend the $250,000 prize on if he wins.

"I did say to Dani that we could upgrade our cowshed if I win," Arun says laughing.

"She rolled her eyes and cracked up about it."

Arun reckons Survivor is the only reality series he'd be interested in appearing on, but that's not to say he won't be back on our screens.

"I did kind of joke that after Survivor, I'm going to try and get on Country Calendar," he laughs. "And when we won the fishing gear, I was going around telling everyone this is my big chance to be part of the ITM Fishing Show!"

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