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And the sole ‘Survivor’ is ... Rich

SHARE And the sole ‘Survivor’ is ... Rich

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — He was taunted for his penchant for nudity, condemned as manipulative and even called a snake by a fellow castaway.

On Wednesday, Richard Hatch earned another label: millionaire. And he said Thursday that he has no regrets.

The 39-year-old corporate trainer took home the cash prize and a new car on the final episode of CBS' hugely popular "Survivor," confounding those certain his scheming would cost him in the end.

"I didn't think he'd win it," said Andrew Gold, co-owner of Golds Wood Fired Grill & Cafe, where Hatch ate almost daily while he trained for the show. "He wasn't worried if people liked him or didn't like him. You can hate him for that or call him arrogant. Obviously, it worked."

Outlasting Susan Hawk, Rudy Boesch and Kelly Wiglesworth, Hatch became the sole survivor from the original 16 who marooned themselves on the remote tropical island Pulau Tiga at the series' launch in May.

The final choice — between Hatch and Wiglesworth — was handed down by a jury of seven former tribe-mates. Their vote — some complete with personal vitriol — was a squeaker: 4 to 3.

"I wouldn't change anything that I did," Rich told the jury in a final statement.

Then, waiting for the ballots to be tallied, he admitted, "I can't breathe."

When "Survivor" host Jeff Probst finally called out his name, there was a sprinkling of applause from his fellow castaways. Rich looked stunned.

His sister Sue Hatch, however, leapt out of her chair at the Sportsticket bar in Middletown. "Good for him," she said. "He played the game well and he deserves it."

The scene in Kernville, Calif., was different: A chorus of boos and hisses followed news that Wiglesworth, the 23-year-old runner-up, would be taking home the second-place prize of $100,000.

"I'm so disappointed, but I'm proud of her at the same time," said Amanda Szecsei, 25, who works with Wiglesworth as a river guide for White Water Voyages.

On the CBS "The Early Show" Thursday, Hatch was asked whether it bothered him that so many people in the country thought he was manipulative.

"Not at all," he said. "Good TV. I really don't care. That's not me."

"There was so much that I couldn't control but there was much that I could, so I tried to," Hatch said.

Hatch said that he had no trouble keeping the secret of his victory from family and friends.

"It was so easy," he said. "I didn't want them to know. I had no interest in spoiling what turned out to be incredible fun for the people I know and everybody else."

But one of his sisters, Kristin Hatch, told the "Today" show that Hatch had lied to her, swearing her to secrecy and telling her he came in fourth. "He wanted to surprise me," she said.

When "Survivor" premiered three months ago, critics called it "Gilligan's Island" meets "Lord of the Flies."

But the TV show more directly comparable was "Dallas." Since that drama's "Who Shot J.R.?" stunt in 1980, nothing on television had gripped the nation in quite the same way — until "Survivor."

An audience that experts said might reach 40 million viewers awaited the final resolution. Fans threw "Survivor" parties, complete with tropical costumes and the ever-present threat of getting voted out of the bash.

At the Newport Athletic Club, where Hatch trained before going on the show and still works out, a crowd of about 40 people watching the final episode erupted in cheers.

The club was decorated with balloon parrots and mini-torches with the names of the final four contestants. The bartender snuffed out the torches one by one as the finalists were eliminated.

Like his relatives, Hatch's friends said he gave no hint he was the winner — even though it had been several months since he returned from the island. The only sign of his new wealth: major renovations on his house.

"He walked in, I saw him, and I said, 'What happened?' and he would only say 'What do you think? How do you think I did?"' said Karen Massaro, a fitness director. "Believe me, I tried to get it out of him."

Jumping on the reality-TV bandwagon, CBS launched the 13-week "Survivor" show May 31 to breathe life into a prime-time schedule largely filled with reruns. The show had been taped during 39 days last spring.

Hatch quickly became the contestant everyone loved to hate. In his professional life, he specializes in team building and conflict resolution. On the remote island off Borneo, he used lies and subversion to form an alliance that helped him win.

"That's a side of Rich I've never seen before," said Smyth. "In real life Rich is a warm, fun guy to be around. He's funny."

Said contestant Jenna Lewis on "The Early Show": "I just felt like he was playing a different game than I was. He said from the beginning, 'I had the check written out."'

The victor began reaping the spoils of fame even before Wednesday. Hatch will spend next week as the host of a morning talk show on a local radio station and he's featured with the final four in a "Got Milk?" mustache advertisement. He's been hounded by autograph seekers and, openly gay, has been inundated with marriage proposals from men and women.

But when Hatch got back home he faced an unforeseen challenge: Just days after returning from the island last April he was charged with second-degree child abuse.

His then 9-year-old son told police Hatch pulled him by the ear and wrapped his hands around his neck when the youngster grew fatigued on a run. The criminal case is pending. Hatch is suing police and state child welfare officials for false imprisonment and defamation and is seeking more than $1 million in damages.

Hatch said Thursday the charges were "all absurd." He said he and his son were out for a run and "he didn't do what he was supposed to do ... and created a stir."

On the Net: www.cbs.com; www.survivorsucks.com