UPDATE: Since appearing on “Winners at War,” Ben Driebergen has been busy advocating for mental health awareness. Specifically, he took part in the documentary “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain,” which is about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). THe filmmaker writes on the website that he is “presenting the world with hope and inspiration though the medium of film … bring[ing] this important project to the world to help save lives and to open up a dialogue for many doctors about these new healing methods to help save more lives.”
Driebergen, who suffered from PTSD from blast trauma after serving overseas, is one of the main cast members of the film alongside surfer Shawn Dollar, former Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, Green Beret Andrew Marr, former Naval academy cadet Annie Kendzio Nicholson, 9/11 first responder Sebastian Raspanti, special forces engineer Kevin Flike, former NFL running back Anthony Davis, gymnast Julianna Harpine, and comedian Joe Rogan.
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Ben Driebergen is a familiar face on Survivor, returning to the game for the first time since he won Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers, which was the 35th season of the show, airing in the fall of 2017. This makes him one of the most recent winners to appear on “Winners at War.”
Here’s what you need to know about Driebergen.
1. Ben Is a Veteran Who Is Open About His PTSD Struggles
A native of Boise, Idaho, Driebergen enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school. He served in Iraq and obtained the rank of Lance Corporal. Ben’s grandfather Bill La Marr was also a Marine and when La Marr was interviewed by the Green Valley News in 2008, he shared a story about Ben’s time in Iraq.
When Driebergen was in Fallujah, his squad protected an elderly couple when they were unable to evacuate the city due to the wife’s illness. After a week, the couple was able to make it out of the city on their own volition, unharmed. But La Marr also revealed then that Driebergen struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his time overseas, something that Survivor fans witnessed during one episode when a particularly loud noise at camp shook Ben up.
“I didn’t think they were going to show that. It was an unexpected bang,” he told Shrink Tank in a post-Survivor interview. “Most combat veterans have these natural reactions … fear, panic, adrenaline rush all at one time.”
2. He Carried His Fallen Friend’s Dog Tags With Him For Years After Serving in Iraq
Driebergen also told Shrink Tank that the hardest part of being in Iraq was losing his friend and fellow soldier, Blake. He brought Blake’s identification tags (“dog tags”) me with him and carried them around for years until he was ready to give them to Blake’s family. But for years, he struggled with “social gatherings” and “even family times,” they were all hard for him. But he finally began to work through his PTSD and part of that involved giving Blake’s dog tags to his mom.
“I gave them to his mom. It was like a weight off my shoulders. It was a sense of closure,” said Driebergen, adding, “What helped the most was accepting the fact that things happened. IT’s already done. Once you accept that, you can move on. It’s part of you now, but it doesn’t have to control you.”
He also wanted other veterans struggling with PTSD to know that “it doesn’t have to end with a bullet or with an alcoholic beverage or depression or making bad choices. It can be better,” though he acknowledges that for each person, “you have to be ready [to get better].”
“I spent a lot of years trying to figure that out.”
3. Ben Is Married And Has Two Kids
One of the things that helped Driebergen pull out of his PTSD was meeting his now-wife Kelly. His grandfather said that Driebergen told him Kelly “kept him calmed down” when things would get bad. The couple got married on October 10, 2013, and went onto have two children, Wyatt, 8, and Gracie, 6.
“You have to have a sense of purpose. For me, it’s my wife and kids,” he told Shrink Tank. “To be able to provide for them, something that winning Survivor has ensured for me, that’s an amazing feeling.”
He also said the show has given him a huge platform to help people, a platform he wasn’t quite expecting when he went on the show.
“I underestimated what happens after you play it. I never thought about what happens after that — the attention, the fans, the haters. I didn’t expect it … I don’t want to be famous but I do want to help others, so if the show lets me help others, then I’m happy about that.”
4. He’s in a Survivor Fantasy Football League
Now this is a fun way for Survivor alums to stay in touch. Driebergen revealed on Twitter in August 2018 that he had joined a fantasy football league formed by Domenick Abbate called the Rotten Coconutz where he was facing off with Abbate, Chris Hammons, Kellyn Bechtold, Jeremy Collins, Bret LaBelle, Chrissy Hofbeck, Joe Mena, Rob Cesternino, Sarah Lacina, Rodney Lavoie Jr, and Entertainment Weekly Survivor reporter Dalton Ross.
He asked his Twitter followers for team name suggestions and the Top 4 made it into a Twitter poll: The ExBENdables, Church This Up, Big Ben Rothlesbergen, and THE n. The winner ended up being The ExBENdables.
Driebergen also does a lot of events with his fellow castaways through Hearts of Reality, an organization that brings reality TV stars together to raise money for Give Kids the World, a nonprofit resort in Florida that provides free vacations to children with critical illnesses and their families.
5. Ben’s Survivor Strategy Is to Lean Into His Persona
In a pre-“Winners at War” interview with Xfinity, Driebergen says he’s going to work to be the guy everybody thinks they already know.
“I think you’ve kinda got to lean into what they know. You’ve got to play that up. I think there’s a perceived image of all of us … but you also watched an edited version of how they are. You can lean into that. The game’s not going to start until we get on the island and conversations are had. As far as what my strategy will be, I’m just going to be me and do me. Hopefully, it gets me further in the game,” says Driebergen.
He adds that he’s a bit nervous to be one of the more recent winners because he hasn’t played twice (or more) as a lot of the returning castaways have.
“I think myself and the current winners are at a disadvantage. This is our second time playing. Starting from Adam on. I don’t know… Yul… maybe some old-schoolers [only played once]. But, a majority of them have played at least twice. They know the ropes. I’m going to try to absorb everything I can. I’m a scared puppy again.”
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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