A "survivor" in more ways than one

He's stared down lions, sidestepped poisonous snakes and scorpions, drank the blood of a cow, and even had to figure out how to turn the contents of an African pond into drinking water...

Kevin Henry, Managing Editor

He's stared down lions, sidestepped poisonous snakes and scorpions, drank the blood of a cow, and even had to figure out how to turn the contents of an African pond into drinking water, but none of that could have prepared Dr. Carl Bilancione for the arrival of the 2004 hurricane season.

With his practice and residence in suburban Orlando, Dr. Bilancione was one of millions of Floridians who saw first-hand the awesome power of nature as Category 4 Hurricane Charley tore through the Sunshine State in mid-August. It was an experience he'll never forget.

"Until 8 p.m., it was sunny. I thought everyone was just crying wolf that this hurricane was coming. But at 8:52, I was proven wrong," Dr. Bilancione recalled.

That's when the Bilancione household lost its electricity, Shortly thereafter, the house lost its two-story screen enclosure as a tornado ripped it from the side of the house and crumpled it in the backyard pool. Dr. Bilancione and his wife could only watch as their 15-foot mahogany doors cracked and the soffits were blown out.

"It was incredible to see the forces of nature take something that was bolted into concrete and just rip it out and crush it," Dr. Bilancione said of his enclosure.

While the damage at his house reached a six-figure estimate, Dr. Bilancione was thankful that no one in his family or staff was injured.

"I think it will be the first of the year before things are back to normal around here, and you have to remember that we aren't on the coast like some of the harder-hit areas," the graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson's dental program said.

While it may be 2005 before things are back to normal in Winter Park, Dr. Bilancione has become accustomed to things being a little out of the ordinary over the last three years. In 2001, he found himself as one of the 16 contestants on the CBS hit reality show, "Survivor." Dr. Bilancione entered the auditions for the show on a dare from his office manager.

"I honestly had never seen the show, but she was hooked on it," he recalled. "She described it to me and I told her I could do that. She laughed and downloaded the form for me. I didn't fill it out until the week the form was due, and we quickly put together an audition video."

And what did he do to catch the attention of the CBS producers?

"I said on the video that dentists have the highest rate of divorce and suicide of any profession. I told them I was still married and still alive, so if I could survive the two hardest things about being a dentist, I could be a 'survivor' on their show."

His video argument worked as he soon found himself in the middle of Africa with 15 other strangers competing to win $1 million. He also quickly learned that his value system was going to come under fire from the other contestants.

"I believe that the only thing that any of us really have in our lives upon which to base our decisions is integrity. When you base your decisions on integrity, you're going to make the right decisions," he explained. "Honesty and integrity have always been the cornerstones of my life and value system, but not everyone on the show felt that way. Some of them would lie or cheat to get an advantage or win. There was no way that I was going to get up in front of America and lie and cheat when I knew that I would be giving treatment plans to patients when the game was over. I didn't want people thinking, 'He lied to get what we wanted on Survivor. Can I trust him?'."

While he may have earned the trust of some of his fellow survivors, he quickly saw a split in the generation gap within his "tribe." After being immune for the first two tribal councils, he was the victim of a twice-tied vote (the first in Survivor history) and left the game after missing a tie-breaking medical question. While the exit from the show may have come earlier than he thought, he has no regrets.

"I'd do it again in a heartbeat," said Dr. Bilancione, who credits CEREC for a big part of his practice's growth since coming back from Africa. "I always appreciated my wife, family, and friends before 'Survivor,' but now I have a greater appreciation of them. Plus, I just don't get as worked up over things I can't control as I did before the show. It was definitely a life-changing experience."

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a new monthly column in Dental Economics. This column will profile dentists who have interesting stories or backgrounds. If you know of a dentist who has a good story to tell, we'd love to hear about it. Send the information to Kevin Henry, managing editor of Dental Economics, at kevinh@pennwell.com.

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