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first_img Kanegai is one of 16 castaways competing for a $1 million prize in the up-to-39-day contest known for its grueling physical challenges, bland and skimpy diets, and unseemly back-stabbing. Nobody knows when or if Kanegai received the fatal words from host Jeff Probst – “the tribe has spoken” – but those who know him are confident he did well. “Everybody’s reaction is, ‘Wow, that’s so Bruce,”‘ said Arleigh Kidd, who heads the California Teachers Association for the Simi Valley, Moorpark and Conejo Valley region. “He has always been a survivor, out testing his physical limits and mental limits.” On campus, Kanegai is all the rave. Linsey Mead, 18, the student body president who took karate lessons from Kanegai: “He’s, like, way intense. He’s like the Jackie Chan of Simi Valley.” SIMI VALLEY – Bruce Kanegai holds a fifth-degree black belt in karate. He sometimes jogs barefoot in the hills to keep in shape. And for more than three decades, he has braved the minefield that is a high school campus, teaching teen-agers art. But recently, the 58-year-old Simi Valley man finished what might have been his toughest endeavor – an appearance on “Survivor.” While he is contractually obligated not to speak about his performance, and nobody but a few insiders knows how he did, the town is buzzing. “Bruce is a survivor in any environment that you put him in,” said Simi Valley City Councilman Glen Becerra, who met Kanegai as a Simi Valley High School student in the early 1980s. “He can adapt in any kind of environment. … I would put him up against anybody mentally and physically.” The latest installment of the show – “Survivor: Panama – Exile Island” – is scheduled to begin airing Thursday on CBS. The winner will be revealed in the final episode in May. Most of the show was filmed in the fall. Nicole Bernabe, 16, junior class president: “He’s like a cat. He has nine lives, and when he falls, it’s on all fours.” Sophomore Meghan Allen, 16: “I think he has the best chance of anyone because he’s the toughest.” Kidd also was a student at Simi Valley High when he first met Kanegai, who has been teaching art there for 32 years and is a master of the traditional Japanese school of Shotokan karate. Because of his high ethical standards, it’s unlikely he advanced on the show by lying, cheating or breaking “Survivor’s” so-called alliances, Kidd said. “If he goes all the way, it’s not going to be because he stabbed anybody in the back, but because he is so respected, nobody wants to stab him in the back,” he said. “He’s just the kind of guy you want to have around.” Kanegai is this season’s oldest competitor. The next oldest is 52. Initially, the show will split the competitors into groups of four, with the older men competing against the older women and the younger men against the younger women. While Kanegai can’t talk about his appearance, he was quoted on CBS.com as saying he wants to be like Mr. Miyagi, the Japanese-American karate expert from “The Karate Kid” movies. He also told other teachers at Simi Valley High that his competition on “Survivor” was one of the hardest things he has ever done, and people who have seen him since the show was filmed say he appears proud of his performance. Neighbors say they have seen him regularly jogging through the streets, sometimes barefoot, and into the hills around his Simi Valley home. Kanegai is a third-generation Japanese-American who grew up in Los Angeles, where he was an Eagle Scout, according to his biography on the CBS.com “Survivor” link. The graduate of California State University, Northridge, has taught more than 10,000 students and has received Teacher of the Year awards from various organizations, according to the bio. He also has taught more than 7,000 students over about 40 years in the martial arts, has assisted in teaching police instructors arrest and control techniques and was a police survival training instructor from 1978 to 1992. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he was a backpacking instructor at Moorpark College and the Yosemite Institute, and once ran the entire 220-mile John Muir Trail from Mount Whitney to Yosemite National Park, the bio says. He lives in Simi Valley with his wife of 27 years, Nancy. They have two children, Alexander and Danielle. Tom Heyman, a fourth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate and a leader of the Santa Barbara dojo, said Kanegai is a hero to him. “Bruce is the most honest and mentally strong person I’ve ever met. If anyone can win ‘Survivor,’ I believe it’s Bruce,” Heyman said. “He still goes to special training and just blows away all the young guys.” Teachers and students recalled how Kanegai fell gravely ill three years ago when he was bitten by a large rattlesnake while golfing. “If he can survive a snake bite,” 15-year-old sophomore Lana Taylor said, “he can survive on ‘Survivor.”‘ Eric Leach, (805) 583-7602 [email protected] “SURVIVOR: PANAMA – EXILE ISLAND” The contestants on “Survivor: Panama – Exile Island” listed by name, age, hometown and profession: Dan Barry: 52, South Hadley, Mass., retired astronaut. Aras Baskauskas: 24, Santa Monica, yoga instructor. Austin Carty: 24, High Point, N.C., author. Terry Deitz: 46, Simsbury, Ct., airline pilot/retired Navy fighter pilot. Danielle DiLorenzo: 24, Pompano Beach, Fla., medical sales representative. Cirie Fields: 35, Walterboro, S.C., registered nurse. Misty Giles: 24, Dallas, Texas, engineer. Melinda Hyder: 32, Sevierville, Tenn.; singer. Bruce Kanegai: 58, Simi Valley, karate instructor/high school art teacher. Courtney Marit: 31, Los Angeles, performance artist. Bobby Mason: 32, Los Angeles, attorney. Ruth Marie Millima: 48, Greenville, S.C., director of retail leasing. Shane Powers: 35, Los Angeles, owner, entertainment marketing company. Tina Scheer: 45, Hayward, Wis., logging sports promoter/performer. Sally Schumann: 27, Chicago, Ill., social worker. Nick Stanbury: 25, Tempe, Ariz., financial sales.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more