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EXCLUSIVE: Australian Survivor star Mat Rogers talks loss and heartbreak, and why he's returning to the show

Footballer Mat Rogers has triumphed over loss and heartbreak. When he returns to TV for Australian Survivor, he'll be doing it for the most important people in his life: his family.

By Tiffany Dunk
Back in 2000, there was a favoured tradition in the Rogers family home.
Once a week, Mat would visit his parents' house in Sydney's Cronulla where his mum, Carol, would have made a roast and his rugby legend dad, Steve, was already sitting in front of the TV waiting for the latest episode of Survivor to start.
The US series had just launched, and like many families around the globe, the entire Rogers clan was avidly tuning in for the action.
"It was the original reality show that transfixed the world really, and we had Survivor night every week," Mat – who is about to hit screens for the second time in an Australian All Stars season of the program – tells The Australian Women's Weekly.
"It was a fun thing to share with Mum and Dad because they loved it. I remember being blown away by how hopeless some of the Americans were in the outdoors. I was like, 'Man, these guys are hopeless – let me at it!' And then the opportunity came around."
That first opportunity came in 2018 when Mat's agent asked if he'd be keen to take part in the Australian show's third season on Ten: Champions vs. Contenders. It was a firm yes.
Having played both rugby league and union at the highest level, Mat's athletic prowess served him well during the gruelling game. It also won him a new legion of fans too young to have watched the glorious career he'd carved out on the sporting field.
Mat has had a stellar career in both Rugby League and Rugby union, and has played across three decades. Getty Images
"I met so many kids and they were like, 'You're from Survivor," Mat, 43 chuckles. "They'd be with their dad and he'd be like, 'You know he played for Australia.' They were like, 'What? I don't care about that – he was on Survivor!'"
Once again, the TV event bonded the Rogers family. But sadly two of its most important members were missing – Carol and Steve. Back when US Survivor debuted, Carol had been battling cancer. After some time in remission, in 2001 the cancer returned with a vengeance. It was, says Mat, "like Armageddon – she never had a chance".
Her death, just weeks after that diagnosis, "was horrific. There's no other way to put it really," he recalls.
"Mum was the anchor of the ship, she held everything together and Dad went off the rails. Plus my brother (Don) and Dad had a pretty tumultuous relationship over the years."
Mat admits he didn't cope well in the aftermath of his father's passing. Photography by Will Horner. Styling by Jamela Duncan.
"Without Mum being there, a wedge was driven between the two of them and my brother lost his mind there for a while. It was pretty tough. Dad just never recovered and went into a depression and unfortunately he succumbed to that five years later, which was pretty tough to deal with."
Steve was just 51 when he died after his long mental health battle, leaving notes for his three children – Mat, Don and Melanie. Mat was the one who formally identified his father's body.
He didn't cope well in the aftermath, he has admitted.
"But I think we all learned from it, or I hope we did," he says now.
"The hardest things you go through can be the best lessons. It can make you aware or make you vulnerable."
Champion swimmer Shane Gould took out the top spot on Mat's original season of Australian Survivor. Getty Images
"I don't want to be a victim and neither does my wife. We've both been through some stuff in life where you could go, 'Woe is me'. I don't want to be a stat that people look at and go, 'that's the guy you don't want to be like'. Or, 'that's what you don't want to do'. I want to set a good example.
"One of the things I tell my kids all the time is that, if you're not prepared to hurt, you're never going to learn."
Only two of those kids – his eldest Jack, 23, and Skyla, 20, from his first marriage to Michelle Rogers – met their paternal grandparents.
WATCH BELOW: Mat Roger's shocking elimination on his first season of Australian Survivor Story continues after video.
"Jack still remembers Mum a little bit," Mat says. "They used to bake bread together – he remembers the smell of the bread and that she'd sit him on the tabletop."
Mat's marriage to Michelle broke down not long after his mother's death. But fate – and a mutual friend, actor Daniel MacPherson – led him to his current wife and the mother of his two youngest children, Chloe Maxwell, 43.
The pair had begun dating before Mat's father passed away. Chloe was by his side then and remains so now.
They had a rocky start. Mat was still processing the end of his marriage while Chloe had also recently come out of a long-term relationship. They were living in separate cities and both were driven in their careers – Mat with rugby union and former model Chloe as a TV presenter, co-hosting The X Factor on Network Ten.
Both say they had no clue who the other was the day they met, and Mat shares that Chloe stood him up on their first proposed dates. But "we had a laugh", Chloe says.
"He was funny. And then I met his kids and saw how he was with them and I fell in love with the way he was as a father – and I fell in love with his kids as well."
Chole says of their romance: "I met his kids and saw how he was with them and I fell in love with the way he was as a father." Photography by Will Horner. Styling by Jamela Duncan.
That first meeting between Chloe and her future stepchildren just three months after they began dating is one that elicits laughter in the retelling. Mat had been injured at training and urgently needed someone to mind Jack and Skyla while he went for a scan.
"Chloe watched the kids and one of them said, 'My dad must be paying you a fortune to babysit us because you're on X Factor – you're on TV!
"I went in all guns blazing and they loved me from that moment on," she smiles.
The pair would weather a short break in those early days before Chloe's mum, Di, convinced her daughter to ring Mat and invite him to her birthday party.
Mat and Chloe in 2011. Chloe has been a presence in the Australia media scene for years. Getty Images
"Mum loved him," Chloe admits. "My grandmother loved him as well. So we got back together and talked about having kids. I said that I'd always wanted to be a mum and he needed to be on board with that. My mum loved him even more when he was ready to go back and have kids again."
Within a year she was pregnant with Max, now 13. Phoenix would arrive 16 months later. But while they should have been enjoying their new family, something wasn't right.
Max wasn't hitting the same milestones as other kids his age. He wasn't talking, wasn't responding to his name, wasn't engaging with people around him.
Then, when Max was two, they spent the Christmas holidays with Chloe's dad, Mike Maxwell, who said what Mat had been thinking but was too afraid to say out loud: "I think Max is autistic."
The couple say that seeing Max improve with therapy brought them closer together as a family. Photography by Will Horner. Styling by Jamela Duncan.
"I wanted to kill him," Chloe reflects. "'There's nothing wrong with my son – how dare you!' But it started a process of investigation for me to actually realise he was, and I needed to do something about it."
The decision to take action is one that they both thank Mike for.
"You leave it too long and it's too late," says Chloe. "Between the ages of two and six is when they need early intervention so they can have some semblance of a normal life."
Today, Max is a happy, candid teenager. He's into gardening, YouTube, coding and robotics. He loves school – loves it so much he refused to take extra time off to spend more time at the beach on our shoot.
He's funny, constantly mugging for the camera and making his parents and our crew laugh. He's a dancer who'll start busting moves no matter where he is, oblivious to onlookers.
WATCH BELOW: All Black dad speak on how hard it is to be away from their kids. Article continues after video.
A master of mimicry, he's memorised the comedic lines from a plethora of movies. He's also painfully honest – Mat warns us not to take anything Max says to heart.
He's close to his sister Phoenix, 12, who is intent on becoming a Matilda one day, recently making the Gold Coast United Football Club's Women's Under 13s premier side.
"They're touring Dallas next year," boasts Mat proudly. "She's really committed, which is cool."
Max is a recently converted Survivor fan but not because his father is on the show. In fact, during Mat's season, Max became horribly upset after watching one early episode.
Chloe and Matt pictured in 2005. Getty
"I asked him what was wrong," Mat chuckles. "He said, 'You didn't get voted out and now that means we've got to watch it again next week!'"
Instead, he loved the following season, thanks to contestant Luke Toki, the fan favourite who also has a son on the autism spectrum.
"We watched every episode last series," Mat chuckles. "I actually did a fishing trip with Luke and we FaceTimed Max and he was beside himself that it was Luke he was talking to. That was really cool."
Mat and Chloe stress that Max will always need extra care, but without that early intervention they don't want to think of what could have been.
"He still can't read and write at the same level as his peers," Chloe says of what still lies ahead for Max.
"Mentally, he's still developmentally three or four years behind. He still needs help with his social skills. Speech therapy as well – he still has speech issues to be addressed. We're trying to help him get more independent as time goes on. But a lot of his early intervention made it possible for him to kick so many goals."
"The greatest lesson I look back on over my years as a parent – all 23 of them – is if things are given, not earned, the satisfaction isn't there," says Mat. Photography by Will Horner. Styling by Jamela Duncan.
"We went from having this little zombie cruising around to three months later [after starting treatment] having our son back," adds Mat.
The ease with which they managed to get Max into treatment shocked them.
"We jumped a huge queue of people waiting to get into the school he got into," says Mat bluntly.
"Not because of who we were or that Max's condition was worse than anyone else. It was for one reason: it was because we could afford it and the people before us couldn't."
It was this heartbreaking realisation that led them to start a new venture together in 2010, the charity 4 ASD Kids. Their aim is to sponsor kids affected by autism spectrum disorders and get them into programs, taking away the financial burden from parents already struggling to cope.
Parents of children with special needs have a higher rate of relationship breakdowns than those without, and the pair can understand why.
"The fact there wasn't a financial pressure that came along with that helped us," explains Mat. "Most people don't have marriage problems, they have money problems."
WATCH BELOW: The best ways to support your kids in their chosen sports. Story continues after video.
"Not having a money problem helped us focus on Max and the health problem, which was the real problem. We had money to pay for Max's therapy and once we started to see results, it made us so excited that it brought us closer together."
"It's not about curing autism," Chloe hastens to add of the charity's cause and her own personal goal.
"I don't want to 'cure' my son – there's nothing wrong with him. He needed some extra help so he can continue to be who he is, but in a world that's a little bit different to him, that's all."
The pair is clearly still in love, as much with each other as with their blissful family life, which saw them relocate to the Gold Coast early in their relationship.
"We're on the same page," Chloe sums up simply.
"Definitely with parenting, very much so, and having respect for each other. Showing the kids we have respect for each other is important."
And while money made from successful careers meant they could gain swift access to Max's therapy, their children are all being taught to work hard for what they have.
"Never deny your children the privilege of struggle," Chloe warns with a smile.
"The greatest lesson I look back on over my years as a parent – all 23 of them – is if things are given, not earned, the satisfaction isn't there," adds Mat.
As a new season of Australian Survivor goes to air, Mat is hoping he can add one more hard-earned title to his bucket list: that of winner.
It would be a fitting tribute to the parents who instilled both his ferocious work ethic and his love of the game.
They'd have hugely enjoyed watching him play his heart out on TV, he says.
"My mum was such a character. She'd be just piling crap on me for things I've done in the game," Mat laughs.
"She'd be giving me a hard time but loving it as well. My dad [who for many years was Mat's coach and boss] would be probably trying to tell me what to do and how to do it. He'd probably say exactly the right things and I'd not listen and get voted off straight away!"
Australian Survivor: All Stars premieres on February 3 on Network Ten.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline: 13 1114, or visit their website.
Read this and many more stories in the February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now.
The February issue of The Australian Women's Weekly is on sale now. AWW

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