SOUTH PORTLAND — The day after the City Council is expected to pass a proclamation in his honor, Robert Crowley is scheduled to give a presentation about his adventures on the CBS reality show “Survivor.”
Crowley will discuss his winning strategy and answer questions from the public at the Community Center, starting at 7 p.m., on Tuesday, Jan. 6 – Bob Crowley Day in South Portland.
Mayor Tom Blake said Tuesday’s event will be a rare opportunity for residents to hear directly from Crowley, the bow tie-wearing South Portland resident who became one of the most beloved “Survivor” contestants in the show’s 17-year history.
At 57, Crowley, who describes himself as a hybrid between Indiana Jones and Robinson Crusoe, became the oldest contestant to win the $1 million prize
by – as the show’s slogan says – outlasting, outwitting and outplaying 18
other contestants. The game is both mentally and physically challenging
because players have to win competitions and create alliances to avoid
being voted off.
In addition to winning the $1 million prize, Crowley was also named America’s Favorite Player of the Season, an additional $100,000 prize decided by fans of the show.
Crowley, who teaches physics at Gorham High School, said Tuesday morning that he plans to take his wife on the honeymoon they never had and get the fender of his pickup truck fixed.
But not before paying $105,000 in state taxes on his winnings.
“That’s more than I paid for my house,” he said.
Crowley, who studied previous seasons of “Survivor,” said he planned to fly under the radar in the early stages of this season’s show, which was filmed for more than a month last summer in the west African coastal nation of Gabon. He eventually gained national attention by creating two fake immunity idols, one of which was given to another contestant, Randy Bailey, a sarcastic wedding photographer who thought Crowley had given him a real immunity idol in exchange for a favor.
Bailey tried to use the idol during the tribal council, but was embarrassed when host Jeff Probst told him it was a fake. Although Bailey never got over being embarrassed by Cowley, he ended up voting for Crowley during the last tribal council.
Crowley said Tuesday that he will bring both fake immunity idols to the Community Center, one of which was partially destroyed. “It was a pretty good looking immunity idol before they threw it into the fire,” he said.
He also said he would likely make up his presentation at the Community Center as he goes along.
“I usually shoot from the hip,” he said. “I’ll probably bring in some trinkets from the show – the infamous red outfit, which I will not model even if I am asked. I’ll probably talk a little about the gorillas and how amazing an experience it was being 25 feet away from a 500-pound gorilla even though there was an electric fence between us.”
Crowley’s outdoor survival skills became apparent early in the show, increasing his value among his competitors. He said he tried to stay under the radar as long as possible, but that all changed when he pulled off an impressive five straight wins in the physical challenges, beating out much younger players.
The first of five victories allowed Crowley to sit on a couch, enjoy a few beers, eat some pizza and view a pre-recorded video from his wife, Peg, whom he thought was a half-a-world away in South Portland.
Crowley said he wasn’t terribly motivated to win that contest, because he knew he’d see his wife soon.
But then, his genes kicked in.
“I come from a family that has this genetic defect,” he joked. “We’re not competitive unless we think we’re losing. When the gun went off, I was out to win. I couldn’t help it.”
After winning the competition, Crowley said he tried to watch the video of his wife, but quickly grew frustrated when his wife’s message kept repeating, “I gotta show you something. I gotta show you something.”
“Then, I starting talking to the machine like I talk to myself very often: ‘Show me what?'” Crowley said.
At that point, his wife snuck up behind him and said, “I want to show this,” but Crowley said he thought the voice was coming from the phone. When she eventually moved into view, Crowley leaped to his feet, and the two embraced and laughed.
“In my mind, my wife was across the Atlantic over in the United States,” he said. “It was the first time in my life I got the realization of the way people feel when they think they’ve seen a ghost. I just kept saying to myself, ‘My god, that looks likes Peg.'”
Crowley said his wife, who is French, has a powerful sense of smell and he worried about offending her, since he hadn’t bathed in weeks. But luckily his wife likes the smell of camp fire, he said, and that’s exactly what he smelled like.
The reunion, he said, was described by one of the producers as one of the most touching in the show’s history. “We didn’t cry, we just laughed. We were like a couple of school kids,” he said.
When asked what moment was sweeter, winning the grand prize or seeing his wife in Gabon, Crowley quickly answered, “I’d say they’re both tied for first place.”
Although his life has been a whirlwind since winning the show, Crowley said he looks forward to events like the one planned Tuesday at the Community Center.
“I’m a little bit of a ham,” he said. “I like making people happy and I know a lot of people just like to come out and listen to the adventures I had and live vicariously through me.”
“Maybe it’s the school teacher in me,” he added, “but I’m not talked out yet.”
“Survivor” winner Robert Crowley’s latest, more mundane challenge: splitting firewood at his South Portland home on Tuesday to survive a Maine winter.Crowley holds the remains of the “false immunity idol” he created, which played a key role in his “Survivor” victory.“Survivor” winner Robert Crowley, left, at home in South Portland with his wife Peggy and daughter Page. On the kitchen table are souvenirs from Crowley’s experience in Gabon.