- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

He was called conniving by his cast mates, described as Machiavellian by reporters and was fawned over and disparaged by viewers, but in the end it was his upfront gamesmanship that earned the title of "Survivor" for Rhode Island corporate trainer Richard Hatch.

Openly homosexual and fond of strolling the beachfront minus his swimsuit, Richard, 39, won a 4-3 vote in a dramatic Tribal Council, ending a summer television saga that drew record viewers around the world.

After a two-hour finale punctuated by superlatives and renewed sniping, Richard claimed the prize of a new Pontiac Aztec and $1 million, earning begrudging respect from the 15 other contestants on CBS' hit summer show that featured a crew of castaways living Robinson Crusoe-style on a remote island in the South China Sea.

"My approach to the game was one of strategy from the beginning," he told the group gathered in a final Tribal Council before the votes were cast. "I came to play the game."

Richard distinguished himself on the show as the flabby fish catcher, who spent his time sizing up his fellow islanders and forming the fabled "alliance," that eventually led to his victory.

"He's Darth Gaydar," neurologist Sean Keniff said in a one-hour live reunion hosted by an uncharacteristically personable Bryant Gumbel immediately after the show.

Richard, a Newport resident and the father of an adopted son, lost 34 pounds on the castaway diet of mostly rice, a few rats and some fish. Newly rich, he was modest in taking home the big money.

"I hope to remain who I am," he said, adding he hoped his windfall could be used to help family and friends, "The million dollars is an opportunity I hope I don't waste."

He beat out finalists Rudy Boesch, 72, a retired Navy SEAL from Virginia Beach; Susan Hawk, 39, a tough-talking truck driver from Wisconsin; and Kelly Wiglesworth, 23, a river raft guide from Las Vegas.

"I'm over it and life goes on," Kelly said. "It's a mean game."

Before the final meeting to decide the champion, the losers weighed in on Richard and Kelly during their 39 days on the island.

"I'm really quite impressed with how she played the game," said Gervase Peterson, the show's resident slacker, about Kelly.

On Mr. Gumbel's show, the diffident Rudy, who once labeled Richard a "queer," called his newfound buddy "a good leader," and praised his organization of the alliance.

Richard took no offense to the old-school and crusty Rudy's description.

"The man's not un-PC in his heart," Richard said.

In his deadpan style, Rudy also said that the other castaways probably would not become his friends.

As the show headed for its surprise conclusion with the ousted castmates looking on, the two finalists made their case in speeches with decidedly different spins. Kelly said she would hold no grudges and hoped those who shared the island with her would do the same.

"Hopefully," she said softly, "the better person would win."

Said Richard: "My approach to the game was one of strategy from the beginning. It got really complicated. I came to play the game. For me, it's about who played the game better and I hope you will just respect my having approached the game from that perspective from early, early on."

Both finalists were asked questions from the jury, including what they would change in how they played and what character traits they thought were essential to succeeding as a "Survivor" contestant.

"I would not change anything that I did," Richard later added.

Some used that moment to criticize the finalists' behavior, and hell hath no fury like a truck driver scorned.

In a rambling, pointed diatribe plagued by extraordinary mutilation of grammar and reckless lack of intellect, Susan called Kelly "two-faced and manipulative," and said she would let her former friend die in the desert ravaged by vultures.

But on Mr. Gumbel's "post-show" show, Kelly and Susan shook hands, saying their animosity had worn off some.

Perhaps it was the sunburn, the lack of protein, the days without cable that led to Susan's original harangue. It was a memorable moment in a night that began quickly with the first vote among the four finalists.

It drew a nail-biting tie between conniving Richard and his partner in the island's shaky alliance, blue-collar poster girl Susan.

It was broken when Kelly and Rudy tapped the duplicitous Susan, mistress of the double negative, who said in departing that a top-four finish was "good enough for me."

Down to three, the competitors covered themselves in volcanic mud war paint and walked through burning coals as a ritual prelude to the immunity challenge that would spare one a vote in the final Tribal Council.

In the last of several hokey challenges, the contestants stood on logs with their hands touching an immunity idol as the show's overdramatic and all-too-cheerful host Jeff Probst, taunted them with fresh fruit.

Suddenly, the drama shifted. In a surprise act of haughty self-confidence, Richard let go to grab the meal, saying he knew Kelly would eventually outlast him.

Then, after four hours and 11 minutes in the heat and sand, Rudy lapsed and removed his hand when he and Kelly were told to change places, effectively ending the game.

"It's all a game of odds and who knows what someone's going to actually do," Richard said, reflective and smug in a speech that would make some viewers gag at his faux sincerity.

He later said he was uncertain of his chances, just as Rudy confessed that his stupid mistake cost him the million.

At the Tribal Council, Kelly cast the shocking vote to dump Rudy.

The much ballyhooed and debated two-hour finale drew an estimated 40 million viewers, a coup for CBS, which had trailed the other major networks. It also gave summer viewers something to look forward to in a season usually punctuated by reruns.

Even with 40 million viewers, last night's "Survivor" finale would not come close to the most-watched TV events ever.

The most recent Super Bowl had a viewing audience of more than 88 million and the last episode of "Seinfeld" two years ago drew close to 76 million.

All summer, CBS beat the "Survivor" drum from morning to night, featuring the weekly castoffs on its "Early Show" and having "Late Show" host David Letterman welcome the 16 castaways to recite the Top 10 list.

Mr. Letterman had made fun of Richard as "the naked fat guy."

After delivering the No. 1 item. the camera showed Richard trim, clean-shaven and nude.

Mr. Letterman then remarked, "I think that's gonna make some people feel much better about themselves."

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