As a New York City firefighter, boxer and wellness coach, Danny Massa’s skills and experiences seem suited for a show as intense as “Survivor.” A Bronx native, Massa is competing on the current season of CBS’ Emmy award-winning series, which premiered its 44th season on March 1 and airs every Wednesday at 8 p.m.
The show brings 18 strangers together on an island to compete in a series of physically and mentally demanding challenges in harsh conditions, with the goal of winning $1 million.
However, Massa’s physical and mental prowess aren’t the only qualities that make him fit to compete.
Having grown up around Pelham Bay Park, he says that his Bronx upbringing has allowed him to fully appreciate diversity, a value that he says proved useful on a show like “Survivor,” which features a diverse and inclusive cast.
“I feel like being from New York City, and the Bronx, especially, it gives me a huge advantage that I can go on the subway and see more cultures in 20 minutes than a lot of people have the opportunity to see in maybe their whole life,” Massa said.
Being able to regularly interact with people from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, he said, makes it easy for him to get along with others despite their differences.
“You put me in a room with a bunch of people who speak in three different languages, and none of them are English, I can communicate,” he said. “ I know how to — communication is so much more than language. And that is just, it’s a powerful trait. I don’t feel out of place anywhere.”
Despite his ability to connect with others, Massa recognizes that some people might misjudge him for being a New Yorker. In a show where perception and relationships are important, he hopes that being genuine and open-minded will give him an advantage.
“A lot of us Bronxites get a bad rep for being all tough or not friendly, and I think that’s just like anywhere else in the world,” he told the Bronx Times. “You come across ten nice people, if one was a jerk, you remember that person … New Yorkers are beautiful people, and kind and loving, and I hope that side of me, and that side of New York, comes across in the show.”
Being the son of a retired firefighter who was part of the recovery effort at the World Trade Center after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Massa says that a lot of people view his toughness as a quality that he inherited from his dad. However, he also credits the women in his life as his biggest influences when it comes to being brave and taking on challenges. His sister, Shannon, who has faced difficult times herself as a widow, is one of his biggest inspirations.
Before he’d ever considered competing on the show, “Survivor” was something that Massa’s sister and her late husband bonded over. After her husband passed away, Massa said that it was too painful for Shannon to watch the show, until her kids discovered it.
“We all lived in a two-family house, (my niece and nephews are) watching the show, and my niece runs up and goes, ‘Uncle, we’re watching this show, you have to be on it, you have to be on this show ‘Survivor,”” Massa said. “So I come down to watch the show with them, and then that became our tradition. Like, every, every Wednesday, we’d watch ‘Survivor’ together.”
“And my sister told me, it was kind of beautiful (that) everything came full circle,” he shared. Being able to watch the show together again as a family helped his sister mourn the loss of her husband and helped her find happiness once again.
Years later, he thanks his niece for her support in encouraging him to apply, and mentions that she even filled out his application for him.
“She filled it out for me, and (the show) called me, so without my niece and my sister, it wouldn’t have ever been possible,” Massa said.
Just like Bronxites inspire him, Massa also hopes to give back to his community. At a recent charity event at St. Barnabas Elementary School, Massa helped raise money for the school’s after-school program while encouraging New Yorkers to take time to look after themselves through wellness exercises. Knowing the stigma surrounding mental health issues, he said that the event was “super rewarding.”
“… a lot of people came up to me and reached out to me, and asked where they can find more stuff, and that they really feel amazing,” he said. “And they’re going to use what they learned to deal with their anxiety and panic attacks, so that’s cool. That really just blows my mind that I can help people with that.”
Ultimately, Massa is just happy that he was able to “put the Bronx on blast” and compete on his favorite show. While he couldn’t share any spoilers, he says that he had no plans going in and that he just did his best to be flexible, facing challenges as they came.
“You know, you don’t want to go in with any expectation of thinking, ‘This is what I’m going to do’ and then do it,” he said. “Yeah, so I maintained that going in. And then you know, you’ve got to be able to tune in and see how efficient or inefficient I was at that tactic.”
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