The First Survivor Winner Talks His Absence From The Current All Winner Season & SO Much More
Let’s take ourselves back to the year 2000. After surviving Y2K, America was treated to the Mac Daddy of reality television. Yes, The Real World is technically the first reality series, but Survivor is the pioneer that made the genre a primetime success and universally glorified. Originally premiering on the CBS Network in May 2000, Survivor’s first season, Borneo, saw sixteen carefully chosen contestants battle one another in a variety of social, mental, and physical challenges in anticipation of winning the final prize of one million dollars. One of those contestants, nay – castaways, Richard Hatch, an openly gay, then 38-year-old, Corporate Trainer from Rhode Island, never thought he’d be known globally and become a modern celebrity who is still a hot topic twenty years later. Hatch would win the first season and became not only the King of Survivor, but reality television at its core.
Winning wasn’t the end of Hatch’s media frenzy. With Survivor’s first (and second) season gaining mainstream attention, it made all castaways quasi celebrities, and Hatch explored this. Intellectual and forward thinking, he used his persona of the “fat naked gay guy” to his advantage. He would go on to star alongside fellow reality powerhouses and celebrities in the fourth season of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, participated in a handful of game shows, and had cameo appearances in primetime shows and a gay themed film. He’s lived a wild, public life, even serving time in prison for tax evasion.
Thus far, Hatch has been in two seasons of Survivor, the first season which he won and the first Survivor All-Star version in 2004, reuniting primetime’s biggest and best characters to play the game once again. That go around, Hatch would be “bamboozled” as he is quoted saying and eliminated earlier than anticipated. On par with any television appearance he makes, this time had some controversy, too as fellow castaway Susan Hawk would accuse him of sexual misconduct during a challenge where he was naked and there was a strange interaction.
Currently, Survivor is airing its groundbreaking fortieth season, Winners at War. Hatch, deemed the King of Survivor, had an invitation to participate and jumped on the chance. Days before filming, he was told production was on pause. It wouldn’t be until later he would find out that it’s likely he wasn’t asked back because of how that incident in All-Stars might now be perceived, which in the end saw no legal action against him. He’s been documenting his thoughts on the current season and his absence on his YouTube channel.
If you want to get to the root of a story, it’s best to go straight to the source. Hatch was kind enough to have a long, thoughtful conversation with me among quarantine and completely let loose. His words are like lightening, so quick that you might miss a beat, but he always strikes, never missing his mark. His no nonsense attitude comes equipped with a genuine interest in listening to others. It’s almost as if he makes you feel like an old girlfriend and you are both there to gossip about the people from your high school. He’s an open book, specifically stating that no question was off limits and boy, did he deliver.
Mickey Keating: Well, let’s get the elephant out of the room: How are you spending your quarantine? You’ve been in isolation before on an island. Is this something Survivor has prepared you for?
Richard Hatch: [Laughing] No, Survivor hasn’t prepared me for this! I’m kind of a hermit anyway so not much has changed for me. I was just out on a walk with my four dogs this morning. There’s a beautiful cliff walk and gorgeous beaches. I live on an island, so it’s a stunning place physically to be. I’ve always been comfortable with camping, hiking, and being on my own. I love being outdoors, it’s rejuvenating. With the quarantine people think [don’t go] outdoors. That’s not it! Just stay away from people! It doesn’t mean you can’t go outside of your house, but that’s fine because I’m out and no one is around!
MK: I’ve been following your statements and your YouTube channel, so I’m aware of your take on what happened with you not being invited to Winners at War, but can you kindly fill in those who aren’t familiar?
RH: It was a stupid decision on [Host and Executive Producer] Jeff Probst’s part. Tina Wesson (the second season’s winner) and I were- well, I don’t know about Tina. But, I was outright told – you’re in and that I was the only person who all behind the scenes agreed that I needed to be on. I withdrew from the final semester of my PhD program and two days before we were supposed to fly out, Tina and I got a call that production was paused. I think a lot of it had to deal with the season 39 debacle (the series essentially had a #MeToo story) that Probst handled so poorly. They could be scapegoating me for some reason. Probably relating to the All-Stars incident with Sue Hawk.
MK: Which you’ve also spoke about for years – and recently on your YouTube channel in full. She knew she wasn’t going to win so just wanted to get some type of prize money from CBS?
RH: [Sue] came at me and confronted me [during that challenge] as I was nude. I didn’t know what she was doing or trying to start, I threw my hands up and was like ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ The next day, as you know, she said she felt this that and the other and made that up in order to profit from it. She wanted to extort CBS. CBS knew she had issues. In [Borneo], her speech to Kelly Wiglesworth was iconic [because it was real] she was so angry thinking Kelly had betrayed her. Sue wasn’t capable of how to play well. She resented [those that did]. She knew she couldn’t win All-Stars. She told many of us ahead of time that she was going to figure out a way to get money out of CBS anyway. It’s disgusting that Probst would lie about that situation and bring it up now, sixteen years later [amid questions of why I’m not on the current cast]. He knows I did nothing to her, [so much that] it went to arbitration. We watched from all camera angles and I had nothing to do with it and never touched her. They even made that argument when they paid her – we all walked away knowing I had nothing to do with it. Now, he’s saying Survivor is a family show – fuck you [Probst]! And the nonsense that he’s coming up with. It’s a disregard for the people who were a part of Survivor. He’s a despicable human being.
MK: Do you have a relationship with series creator, Mark Burnett?
RH: Mark Burnett has issues too. He’s lied to me, ‘You’re family, blah blah blah’ and when push comes to shove, he disappears. He’s more sincere and cares more about the show than Probst. But, he has so much going on that some of his disregard for the folks who have helped him be a part of this comes from other stuff that’s going on. This is Probst’s basket – all of his eggs are in [Survivor]. The show has evolved less and less for the viewers. Once Probst became Executive Producer, things have turned for the negative. It’s all related to his ego. He thinks he understands the show better than he does because he’s the host. He doesn’t. Just like he thought his talk show was going to be good. His show was horrendous! He’s a really talented guy and there are things about his talent that not only could’ve saved his talk show, but made it a huge success. I tried to share my thoughts with him and he was kind to tell me he didn’t want any outside input. It’s the same thing that’s currently happening with Survivor, his ego is preventing him from doing a better job. Do you think I have an opinion about these things?
MK: It’s reality television. Of course, the producers are going to have heavy influence on what is shown to force a narrative. Audiences, or perhaps moreso producers and host Probst tend to color Sandra Diaz-Twine and Rob Mariano the Queen and the King of Survivor. In season thirty-nine, they literally had two statues made of them and displayed on the island. Do you believe that to be true or is that statement for predetermined storylines?
RH: The latter. Yeah, it’s just media manipulation. I love the way Sandra calls herself Queen. That’s her [personality] and she’s won twice, she’s entitled. She’s good at consistency. But when Probst usurps and gives the title of King to Rob – how many times did it take for him to win the show?
MK: I agree! When Rob won the Redemption Island season, it appeared from the very first episode it was literally created for either himself or the disgraced former fan favorite, Russell Hantz, to come out with a victory for fan service.
RH: There’s so much that [Rob’s] relationship with Probst interferes with [the show]. Even fans notice. It’s too bad. Because if the folks behind the scenes had a sense of the game and what it means to the audience, I think they’d be better at editing, casting choices, and Winners at War. It’s no secret I should’ve been on this current season. I’m not bitter, I don’t give a crap. I love the game. It’s not about me getting another chance. But what people lost and the game lost is the opportunity to see the original innovator, me, in current gameplay.
MK: See, the current gameplay is what has primarily lost me as a viewer. There’s too much going on. With seasons as the original Borneo and The Australian Outback, it was simple. But people on an island and have them vote each other out and shit will hit the fan. Now, it’s too overproduced. Suddenly all you need to do is find a piece of paper at your campsite and you make it to the final four. It seems like a lot of cheap cheats to me. Do you believe that as well?
RH: As the years have passed, people have watched the show change. All of these adaptations have been incorporated. What they’ve done is that they had no sense of what I would do in them. Fans now think I’d be out of my league as I’m too old school. I love that, because that makes my ability to play the game, which I still have incredible confidence in, even that much more exciting if they’d see me do it now. I don’t buy that a lot of viewers say the series is so different. [When the series was originally casting] People in my life said they were putting together a show just for me, it was Survivor. My academic background is in psychology and behavioral sciences, with a Master’s in Education and Counseling. I’ve always been about people watching and who we are. People knew that – and they were right. It’s why I applied to the show. I think the game is the same that I played in the original season. Now there are twists that are integrated that cause you to adapt. Adapting is what makes you successful in Survivor and I think I’d be great at that. Even the immunity idols. I think that’s so silly when someone said I haven’t played with them. I have a brain, so I’d have to look for hidden immunity idols in tree crotches. I’m good in crotches, I think I’d be great with idols!
MK: As mentioned, I’m an old school fan, but haven’t watched the series since I was a teenager. As we’re in quarantine, I’m holed up with my mother and she’s a huge fan and had it on the other week. I was rooting for old school players Sandra and Parvati Shallow from afar. I watched one episode with her and I was like, oh great I’m going to cheer on both of those women. And then they got eliminated – in the same episode!
RH: [Laughing] You ruined it! I’m a friend of Parvati’s. I went to Ethan Zohn’s wedding as he’s a close friend of mine and she was there. I love Sandra, I’ve been friends with her for years and we’ve been to many events together. I’m close with a lot of people on the show.
MK: Who are you currently rooting for this season from your couch?
RH: I don’t do that. I don’t watch the show that way. It’s a great question and a lot of people ask me, but I watch as a real intense fan of the game. I look for incredible gameplay and folk who are making, or not making moves, and thinking ahead because it’s an intelligent thing to do. I happen to know many of the people on the [current season] and I love good gameplay, but it’s very rare to see on Survivor. I don’t root against anyone either.
MK: Okay, what about your favorite past winners?
RH: I don’t have a favorite this or that, but I will point out some people who did great. Sophie Clarke, Kim Spradlin, and Denise Stapley (who eliminated Queen Sandra in a blindside). What Denise did, that kind of a move with that kind of calmness to not broadcast it ahead of time or brag afterwards – she’s playing. There are a many number of people as the years passed who I can point out as great players. But overall, there are very few good players.
MK: Your share the gay spotlight with the other gay winner, Todd Herzog. Throughout the years, his struggle with addictions have been covered in LGBTQ media and he appeared on The Dr. Phil Show to share his story. Do you have a relationship at all with Todd?
RH: I reached out to Todd when he was struggling and offered to help. (Off my beat asking Richard if he’s also struggled with addiction). No, I’ve never had an issue with alcohol or substance abuse. I think that’s a part of the problem. I think people who have addictions often think someone must’ve had that problem in order to be effective in help. That’s their [logic]. As the issues unfolded, I reached out to him and his parents. I’m still good friends with his ex-boyfriend Spencer Duhm who is just so damn attractive.
MK: Okay, time to shift this conversation to some more light-hearted topics and I honestly just want to gossip with you, because the nine-year-old gay boy in me is fan-girling. Who do you think are the hottest Survivor boys? You can’t say you don’t do this either! This is a gay magazine after all and some of us came for these answers.
RH: Well, I don’t pursue straight men. Which is odd given my commentary about Ben Driebergen. Woof! That little Marine is all man. There are so many. I don’t have an automatic Survivor brain catalog. Most of the guys are incredible. How about Aras Baskaukas – wow. He’s so good looking, he’s a yoga guy. I love good, healthy men. I just love them. I’m not attracted to my type or those who look like me. So, those who are leaner, more fit, but comfortable with themselves. That kind of thing [attracts me].
MK: Borneo had a lot of Survivor firsts. Did it perhaps also have the first reality television rigging? In the third episode, Stacey Stillman was voted off and has since claimed the show was rigged and her elimination was because of production, not the contestants. Is there any truth to that?
RH: She sued CBS, I’m certain she was paid but I’m not sure by much. She claimed that the producers had us vote her off. For me personally, she was an awful, negative, terrible person to be around. She was entitled and whiny, just horrible. From my perspective, I thought should I keep her? I had decided that no one on this planet would vote for her [to win] – but it would be horrendous to even have to deal with her for another month. I convinced [the tribe] to vote off Stacey instead of Rudy Boesch. I don’t know what happened behind the scenes – were producers agreeing with me at the point? The game isn’t only you against the participants. Even when I was selected by casting, I was interacting with them in a way to help them pick me. I was presenting myself in a way that they would want this character on television. I was cocky, they assumed I would be voted off first. They didn’t [think ahead] and see what I would do in the game.
MK: And yet another first as written by the King – an invention of alliances into reality television! You literally shaped how almost every reality show is played. Your alliance of Hawk, Wiglesworth, and Boesch helped you get to the final four and eventually win the game.
RH: Alliances were something I decided would be necessary before even starting the game. I knew we had to form an alliance. I knew I wanted Rudy a part of my alliance, which I had to convince him overtime. I was pretty much in charge of every vote off, even before we merged. It was always with my direction.
MK: Fans in the reality television community are aware Boesch passed a few months ago after losing a long battle to Alzheimer’s. Another reality first was not just your alliance with him, but your friendship. He was the blunt, military, old man who wouldn’t let anyone tell him no and you were well, the gay nudist. Yet, the both of you appeared to have a genuine respect for one another and friendship. It was the first odd couple pairing to see and took most by surprise as you were polar opposites. Can you tell me about your friendship with him? Did you attend any mourning services?
RH: I talked to his family at length at that time. They asked me to reach out to Probst and Burnett and I did. I don’t want to take away people’s enjoyment of Survivor, but this is another little piece [to hear]. When I did [reach out to them], neither returned my call, but they both understood what was happening. Probst then reached out to other contestants for the contact of Rudy’s family. They didn’t have it because they didn’t keep in touch with Rudy over the years as I did. Probst still didn’t reach out to me. It was unnecessary, Rudy thought a lot of them. Rudy’s presence and how him and I interacted had a lot to do with changing how people look at how different people can get along. It would’ve been kind and reasonable for Probst or Burnett to reach out to his family. When Rudy’s family told me he had a week left to live is when I reached out to [Probst and Burnett]. He had Alzheimer’s for a long time. I always stayed in touch with him, his wife who became friends with my mom, and his daughters. He’s a crotchety, old bastard but he’s a good guy. He was honest. [On the island] He’d say of me, ‘He’s fat, and he’s queer, but he’s smart.’ I am all of those things! So what? I don’t care if you say that, I’m not going to be angry with you. I understood his generation and his role in the Navy, I was in the Army. He didn’t offend me by calling me queer, I am queer! So many gay people are now offended [by his comments] and ask me how I could’ve tolerated that. I ask them how they could be so stupid. We worked it out no problem. It helped people understand that taking people as they are and trying to understand their perspective is healthy.
MK: Survivor was also the first to pave the way for the many stereotypes casting agents were looking for upon selection. The first to take the title of America’s Sweetheart would be Colleen Haskell, who had a short-lived career in front of the camera. Was she truly as innocent and kind as they portrayed her to be?
RH: Colleen was adorable. She had a quirky personality similar to Greg Buis – woof, now there’s another sexy [Survivor] guy! Oh, he drove production batty. Probst hated his guts – he didn’t know what to do with him. Greg and Colleen had a very playful, fun and friendly dynamic. They found comfort in one another. I don’t believe at all it was sexual, but they would come out of the woods together and pretend that they [just had sex]. They didn’t, they just had a relaxing time together to get away. She was kind of innocent, but bright, and not afraid to be confident and clear of her opinion. She went on to do that one movie [The Animal with Rob Schneider], but unfortunately she didn’t get to take an acting class before she did. I don’t think she was a fan of me, she didn’t know what to think of me naked all the time.
RH: Everyone was naked. Colleen, Greg, Gervase Peterson – everyone. I’m the only one who was showed nude because they built a story around it. They had time to organize the characters how they wanted to show us. I didn’t know that they’d edit it to show me as the only person naked. I used my nudity as strategy. All of the cameramen were straight and not one of them wanted to film my hairy ass walking around the island. I’d get naked and they’d go in the other direction. People wouldn’t know if I was nearby since I didn’t have someone following me around. I heard one of the producers later in the game saying ‘That naked guy is still here you need to get more of him on film!’
MK: We can’t ignore the other Survivor Sweetheart. Back in the day, I think I wanted to be Elisabeth Filarski AKA The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck. She was showcased to be this adorable, genuine sincere young woman who had America wrapped around her finger. It’s how she got on The View! Now, we know all about Elisabeth. I had to show a friend of mine Survivor clips of how adorable she was, he wouldn’t believe me. If we’d like to get technical, I’d place a bet that both you and her are the only two castaways to break into mainstream media. Dare I call you both the King and the Queen? What’s your take on her?
RH: Okay, here [we] go. I had a morning radio show in Boston – Boston Morning Radio Drive. I was in talks to hire her while The View scooped her out from under me. The reason is because our interaction would’ve been gold. I knew and was certain of it. Not because I think of her as bright, but because of how I would’ve interacted with her. I would’ve exposed the irrationally of how she looks at the world. She was confronted over the years with her own self-righteousness. Instead of learning, like many people who are exposed to the world and have opportunities to be educated and grow, she closed off. One of the things that is impossible to do, with respect to learning, is to take information in once you have certainty. This closes her off from learning and she’s not aware of it. I think of her as a pretty awful human being. She’s disdainful towards others, she’s dismissive to anyone or anything that doesn’t fit her narrative.
MK: In the All-Stars finale and reunion, you proclaimed you fell in love while you were on a destination vacation they sent you on after you were eliminated. What ever happened to your relationship with that guy?
RH: Wow, I think that was my former husband, Emiliano Cabral. I met him after All-Stars and married him. We couldn’t go back to the States and I said I’d go to Argentina. He was the Director of Tourism. He followed me around the entire time I was there. He didn’t know I was gay, I didn’t know he was gay. They don’t have Survivor there so no one had any idea who I was. The hotel gossip was that I was in the FBI. He asked me out two days before I left. That night I took him to dinner. On the bus ride from the hotel into the city, I already knew. I took him home with me and we got married right away. We got married in 2003. I was smitten with him. If I was talking about it at the All-Stars finale, it was absolutely him. I was married for fourteen years. I caught him cheating a couple of years ago. We were monogamous. He wanted that and I was fine with it. I would’ve described our relationship as the most wonderful I’ve ever known of. I’d never heard of Grindr or Scruff. He met another married man on Grindr and they got together. He and the man are now married.
MK: Is the King of Reality TV watching any other shows? RuPaul’s Drag Race? Big Brother? Top Chef?
RH: I watch some BRAVO shows. I must in order to respond to the whole genre and to be up to date. It’s compelling because you’re seeing people. I understand what happens behind the scenes. The people aren’t edited. There’s editing, but it’s not of who they are so I’m always fascinated by the choices people make and what they will and won’t say and when they lie and what others think of them and how they impact the people around them. Often, I’m thinking how do these people function in the real world? It’s a legitimate question. If people really did watch and understand who we are as humans, they wouldn’t be as shocked by what we do to one another. People are not rational. I like exposing that and talking about it. I know it’s not normal, but that’s why I like watching reality television.
Survivor Winners at War is currently airing on CBS every Wednesday. Hatch has been uploading weekly commentary of each episode and so much more exciting and interesting stories of his reality television experience on his YouTube channel.
Who do you think will be crowned the ultimate winner of the champions? Do you believe Hatch should’ve had a chance to compete?
This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.
Quotes have been edited for clarity