The oldest competitor on the inaugural Survivor: Borneo at 72 years of age, Boesch finished in third place. The program was the top-rated show on American television during summer 2000, and with his gruff, cantankerous manner, and his politically incorrect "Rudyisms", he became one of the show's most popular contestants. Boesch set the age record again when he competed on Survivor: All-Stars at 75. He parlayed his fame into several other television appearances, including hosting the show Combat Missions in 2002.
Boesch was born in Rochester, New York on January 20, 1928, the son of Austrian immigrants Clara (a housewife) and August (a butcher). Boesch credited his parents' Central European upbringing for instilling him with discipline and work ethic. He attended a Catholic primary school in Rochester; he later recalled that the nuns teaching there "beat intelligence into you. We did a little bit of everything – arithmetic, geography, honesty. Those were the things we learned." Boesch's father fought for the German Army during World War I, inspiring him to seek military service as well.