Flip through the channels on any given day and you’ll see a litany of reality T.V shows. Everything from reality sport shows, to cooking, to nude dating fill the airwaves and it all seems relatively normal. However, there was a time when such reality shows were unheard of. CBS in a sense become the innovator for reality TV in America when it launched a show that would forever change the way Americans view television.
Survivor made its debut on May 31st, 2000 and went on to become the 2nd ranked most viewed show of that year with an estimated 51 million viewers watching the finale. Not only was it a game changer, it was a life changer for Philadelphia native Gervase Peterson. Although Gervase didn’t score the grand prize of $1 million dollars, he did manage to commandeer the hearts of Americans tuning in. It felt as though he won considering how he became such a household name.
So when the opportunity to meet this person who holds a piece of television history presented itself, I had to jump at the chance. Making my way over across the bridge to New Jersey, I arrived at a sleek cigar bar tucked away in Lawnside, NJ. Having leveraged his fame and earnings into tangible businesses, Gervase has been busy maintaining his brand and capitalizing on every opportunity that comes his way. After exchanging pleasantries and listening to old Hollywood stories it was time to pick the brain of a man that flipped his role as a guinea pig contestant into a showbiz pioneer.
Of course one of my first inquiries was how did this guy, born in Philly, raised in NJ end up across the world in in a remote island. “My brother heard about it. He saw it on the internet and sent me the application and was like ‘Yo this show would be perfect for you.’ I am like nah man that show is not perfect for me. At the time I was trying to be an actor, so I was studying you know doing stuff here and there but I decided to do the application anyway, sent it in. I went through the whole interview process and next thing you know I am one of the first contestants on the ground breaking show Survivor,” Gervase vividly recalls.
Although his face graced the small screen in millions of living rooms across America, Gervase found out quickly that Survivor didn’t mean smooth sailing in Hollywood. Unlike reality stars today who seem to be more popular than their counterpart TV actors, Gervase’s situation was so unique at the time that many producers and casting agencies didn’t know what to make of him. Sure he had the charisma and the wit to become a legit actor but reality personalities weren’t given nearly the chances they are given today. As Gervase explained, “You got to understand back in 2000 that was really the first big prime time reality show. I wasn’t getting a lot of love. People didn’t think I could act ‘You’re not an actor’ I am like nah, I’ve been studying for years you know. It was tough kicking those doors down and trying to show and prove what you can do out there.”
Eventually those doors did come down. After working his ass off, Gervase was able to score several roles on TV and in movies including Nash Bridges, MTV, and several independent films. “You name it I did it. I was all over the place. It was pretty cool I was doing my thing out there hustling hard.” Gervase was pretty much living his dreams and knocking down his goals one by one. However, with most things in life there are setbacks. Not long after breaking his type cast as a “reality star” and proving his worth to Hollywood, Gervase’s mom was stricken with Alzheimer’s which prompted him to put his career on pause and return back to the Philly region to lend his care for his ailing mother.
Although he was back home away from the glitz and glamor of LA, Gervase still had to keep the income flowing in. Having a hustlers mentality instilled in him, he looked to parlay his notoriety into business ventures. Pretty much everything is in Gervase’s wheelhouse. We are talking about a guy who practically ran a bodega out of his locker in high school to garner extra cash. If he could peddle candy, shoe laces, and batteries to teenagers, surely he can sell products to the masses that already endeared him. This was no longer a game show this was survival in real life.
“I always had this entrepreneurial spirit in a sense. That’s always been my focus, to make money but always wanted to entertain people too. To make people laugh and have a good time,” Gervase proudly states. It didn’t take long before he found himself in a host of business ventures. Most predominately was the venue in which we were conducting the interview at, Burnz. It made perfect sense that a man who is so sociable runs a cigar lounge. Burnz Cigar Vault & Lounge (239 N White Horse Pike, Lawnside, NJ) has quickly become a hub for cigar lovers in the South Jersey region, which helped Gervase to obtain other ventures such as his newly launched Ch@t Vodka. Recently launched in Vegas, Ch@t Vodka has already been picked up by several bars and liquor stores in the Vegas region and according to Gervase it’s poised to make a national run. When he’s not burning Cohibas or concocting Ch@t mixes, Gervase passes his time penning for JerseyMan Magazine. His Q&A column entitled “Say Gerv?” has become increasingly popular as Gervase is not timid about giving candid advice no matter how politically incorrect they can be. In a nutshell Gervase is a hustler’s hustler.
“I am always into something. I got my hands into a lot of things,” he jokingly admits. But it’s more than just having his hand in everything. It’s more of a competitive spirit and goal crushing mindset that keeps Gervase moving. He has proven that he can flourish in any atmosphere that you put him on God’s green earth. Whether it’s a remote island or a concrete jungle. “I knew what I wanted out of life and you know reaching for those goals and actually hitting them that is one of the most satisfying things you can do.”
He may have ended up back in the Philly region due to unforeseen circumstances but Gervase found it in him to whittle a success out of sparse blocks of opportunities. In a sense it has been a blessing for Gervase to come back home and be able to give back to the communities that shaped him. “I love this area. This is home for me. So I definitely wanted to do business here,” He proudly explains. Having already traveled the world and finding success in a multitude of arenas, Gervase still has goals he wants to demolish. He explains that he isn’t merely looking to survive in life, he’s looking to thrive in it. “You can say I’ve accomplished that and you can move on to the next task. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing with my life. I’ve set goals, hit them and moved on to the next thing.”
No one knows exactly what the future holds for Gervase but as he sits back in his plush black leather coach at Burnz and takes a strong pull out of his cigar, it is pretty clear his mindset has always been to smoke any obstacle that comes his way.