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From Massaspequa to Survivor

Charting the Rise Of Sean Kenniff

“I was just a single guy with a big mouth.”

That’s how Sean Kenniff, Massapequa native, published novelist, practicing neurologist, television journalist and radio host described his ability to land a spot on Survivor, the popular television reality series.

That big break took place 10 years ago and proved to be a springboard for a multi-faceted career that took him to not only to CBS radio, and Lifetime television, but also into the publishing world. Kenniff’s first book, Etre the Cow, a novella about the life of a French bull, was recently published by HCI Books, Deerfield Beach, FL.

A graduate of Massapequa High School and New York Medical College, Kenniff, in 1999, was a practicing neurologist in New Hyde Park. However, he had always dreamed of going into medical journalism. That would happen, but first came the big break that opened doors for Kenniff. Around that time, Kenniff was visiting a friend in Philadelphia. On the train ride back to New York, he read an advertisement in Time magazine, one calling for “ordinary Americans” to try out for the series that would become Survivor.

Well, only about 9,000 people answered the ad. How did Kenniff become one of the handful to make the cut? Looking back, Kenniff said that he simply “out-competed” the thousands also in the running. He did that by sending in a “funny video,” answering questions “tongue in cheek,” and using his advantage of being a single doctor with athletic ability. In his growing-up years, Kenniff swam for St. Rose of Lima and was on the wrestling squad at Massapequa High School.

Kenniff’s memories of Survivor are all good ones. In the 39-day competition, one that took place near the Borneo/Malaysian border, Kenniff made it to day 36 and the 12th of the 13th episodes. However, Kenniff didn’t view the competition as work at all.

“The experience was awesome,” he said. “It was the first vacation I ever took. I was either too poor or I didn’t have enough time to take a vacation. My first vacation was Survivor.”

Springboard for Success

From Survivor, it was off to Extra, a syndicated program where Kenniff worked as a health and fitness reporter. Then, in 2001, CBS called. Kenniff spent most of the decade working for CBS. His layoff during the 2008-2009 recession inspired the writing of Etre the Cow, but Kenniff still does reporting work for the media giant. On the Lifetime network, Kenniff is a health specialist for the program, “Balancing Act.”

All this ambition had its roots in Massapequa, the village that Kenniff remembers with great fondness. He credits Tom O’Neill, a “hippie-like” social studies teacher, for first instilling him with a love for books and writing. The writing of Etre The Cow was influenced by such standard authors as George Orwell, Franz Kafka, and Ray Bradbury, but also by the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, whose magical realism also had an impact on Kenniff.

So far, Kenniff is pleased with how well Etre the Cow is moving through the marketplace. He credits his publisher, HCI, for doing a good job with the book. Kenniff adds that another manuscript, described as a self-help book, will also be published by HCI.

Kenniff’s education in Massapequa went through all the usual ranks: Birch Lane Elementary, Ames Junior High School, and Massapequa High School, where he graduated in 1987.

“I had a charmed existence,” he said of his growing-up years in Massapequa. “A wonderful, idyllic childhood. The years at Massapequa High School were phenomenal. I was blessed to have grown up in such a place.”