08/28/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT
For the past 12 weeks the contestants on Survivor, CBS's hit island game show, have gulped down beetle larvae, dined on roasted rat, gotten on each other's nerves and—by secretly voting off one of their own every week—mastered the fine art of backstabbing. Now comes the fun part: On Aug. 23 the final four (five as we went to press) inhabitants of Pulau Tiga will vie for the $1 million first prize, the winner to be decided by a jury of their ousted peers. Tough crowd? Maybe. But to hear their friends and families tell it on the following pages, survival on a less-than-idyllic isle was a breeze compared with the real-life dramas and traumas of these castaways.
He probably wasn't named for Richard III, Shakespeare's conniving villain, but Hatch has lustily played the role of the survivor audiences love to hate. Since the very beginning the 39-year-old corporate trainer from Newport, R.I., has talked with cold-hearted relish about his strategies to outlast his ever dwindling competitors. And he sure knows how to make an entrance. Ambling along the beach in nothing but his diving mask, Hatch unnerved the other castaways—as well as Late Night host David Letterman, who has routinely referred to him as "the fat naked guy."
With the openly gay Hatch, what you see is what you get. "He lives by his own code," says Kathleen McBride, a friend in Alexandria, Va. "He's a complex person." With a résumé to match. After finishing high school in 1979, the Middle-town, R.I., native—son of divorced parents Richard Hatch, 61, a retired lab technician, and Margaret, 59, a registered nurse—spent a year studying marine biology in Florida. He returned home in 1980 and was briefly engaged to a high school sweetheart before breaking it .off and enlisting in the Army for a five-year stint. After leaving the service, he began to live openly as a gay man. In 1985 he moved to New York City, where he chauffeured former Studio 54 owner Steve Rubell for a year before moving to Washington, D.C., where he studied management and behavioral sciences. In 1988 he set up his own consulting firm, TRi-WHALE Training, later moving it to Newport.
Last fall he heard about Survivor auditions and knew the show would be the ideal opportunity to use the spearfishing skills he'd acquired growing up by the ocean. The 6'4" Hatch had already winnowed his weight down from 340 to 280 lbs., but he stepped up his seven-day-a-week workout and lost another 30 lbs. before the show. "When he wants something," says his personal trainer Jon Smyth, "he goes after it." Even before leaving for Pulau Tiga, Smyth recalls, Hatch was speculating aloud about how he might need to form alliances on the island to ensure he would last. Hatch, says buddy Valerie Hood, "is very aware of what people around him are doing and why they're doing it—what drives their behavior."
His own behavior came under fire two days after he returned home from the island. On April 27, he says, he and adopted son Christopher—then a 9-year-old Middletown fourth grader—were exercising, when the boy bruised his forehead doing pushups. That afternoon Christopher told a school nurse Hatch had pushed his face to the ground. That same day the state's Department of Children, Youth and Families placed the boy in a shelter; Hatch was arrested on a charge of child abuse and released on his own recognizance. But on May 27 a judge ruled Christopher had exaggerated the incident and ordered him returned to his father. The charge was dropped. "Things are back to normal," says Hood's husband, Rick.
Not quite. Hatch is suing the Department of Children, Youth and Families. (The department declined to comment.) And he plans to sue Middletown. "I was arrested because a small-town, inexperienced, deer-caught-in-the-headlights [police department] acted irrationally," says Hatch. Actually, real life has so far been rougher on this survivor than his days on that rat-infested island. "Survivor was a wonderful, incredible experience," Hatch says. "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
If she ever decides to pose nude for Playboy, an offer that one of her fellow Pulau Tiga alumnae has been mulling (see sidebar, p. 100), Hawk's family would hardly be surprised. "Susie is a free spirit," says her mother, Bea. Indeed, during her initial interview for Survivor, Hawk, 39, pulled out several photos of herself topless. The shots had been taken in April 1999 when, after a long, hard day of bear hunting in Siberia, the feisty concrete-truck driver from Eagle, Wis. (pop. 1, 182), decided to bathe in an ice-cold river while her Russian guides snapped away. "She plopped the pictures down on the desk," recounts her brother Mark Schefus, 34, "and said, 'This is what I do when I go outdoors.' " Later a show psychologist asked Hawk how she would motivate someone. "She said she would give them a little pep talk," says Schefus. "If that didn't work, she'd rap them upside the head with a 2-by-4, just like a horse."
But whoa, say friends: Don't get the wrong impression. Despite the disdain she has displayed toward fellow castaways—questioning Sean's virility, Richard's veracity and Kelly's loyalty—"it's sad to see her on TV coming across as mean," says Vicki Gregware-Hess, 40, a friend since high school. "She's really a caring, loving person."
And, it seems, a born survivor. Growing up in Waukesha, Wis., the third of five children of auto-repair-shop owners Bea, 63, and Denny Schefus, 64, "Susie had to be tough, with all the kids we had," says her father. "It was either fit in or not." In her teens the tomboyish Hawk broke out of the pack as a champion equestrian in six Midwestern states, mostly aboard her favorite horse, Sunny's Bucky. "She loved competition," says Denny. "There were so many trophies, we used them as doorstops."
Along with the triumphs came tragedy. In 1980, two years after Hawk, an average student, graduated from Waukesha South High School, her close friend Ronell Laue, 19, was killed in a car crash. On the Aug. 2 Survivor, Hawk tearfully discussed how much she missed Laue. "It was real tough watching her talk about it," says Gregware-Hess, who was injured in the same crash, "because I couldn't be there to console her. We do things like that for each other."
In 1983 Susan and then-boyfriend Tim Hawk, a local postal worker, bought a hunting and fishing camp in Ontario. There, recalls Schefus, "she worked her butt off. She not only took people out hunting [for bear and moose], she also took care of 12 cabins, did all the washing and cleaning." The couple married in 1985 and eight years later moved back to Wisconsin. After spotting an ad for Survivor contestants in a magazine, Susan arrived for the final auditions in L.A., says Schefus, "wearing a buckskin jacket, bib overalls and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. That's Susie."
Lately she has been keeping a lower profile at the lakeside home she shares with Tim, 37, now a real estate agent, and their dogs Ellie and Stinky (they have no children). With friend Tom Wheeler, they watch Survivor on their wide-screen TV. "She comes in late half the time after driving the truck," says Wheeler. "She's gobbling down her supper while she watches the show." As for the outcome, "she's real tight-lipped," says Wheeler. "I have no idea how she did." But she has already made amends to Sean Kenniff, whom she once accused of lolly-gagging on the island by building a makeshift bowling alley. Recently, spotting some old bowling pins at a flea market, "Susie bought one," says her dad, "and had her face painted on it. She mailed it to Sean, and I guess he laughed so much he almost wet his pants." Guess that means they're friends now.
THE EX-NAVY SEAL
Joel Rubin, a Virginia Beach, Va., acquaintance of Boesch's, calls him "the crustiest guy you've ever seen. He's very much like he is on the show." Just how crusty? Bill Burbank, Boesch's racquetball partner and former fellow SEAL, remembers a 1963 training mission with Boesch in Corsica. While descending a mountain, Burbank, now 69, lightened his pack by discarding his C rations. Boesch, following him down the slope, retrieved the goodies. That night, waiting for a submarine to pick them up, Burbank starved while Boesch feasted. "You think Rudy would give me any of my food [back]?" Burbank says. "He kept it. He finally gave me a peanut-butter cracker."
As the castaways' resident cook on Pulau Tiga, Boesch, 72, seems a bit more generous with the portions (main course: boiled rice). But for Survivor viewers he has more than earned his friends' description of him as "Archie Bunker meets Rambo," with his piquant put-downs of unwed parent Gervase Peterson, openly gay Richard Hatch and Bible-reading Dirk Been. What his pals call their favorite Rudyism appeared on T-shirts sold in July at a Virginia Beach party thrown by ex-SEALs for Boesch and Marge, 68, his wife of 45 years. "We Love Rudy," the shirts proclaimed, "but not in a homosexual way, that's for sure"—a reference to a remark Boesch made on the show about Hatch. Days later at the SEALs' annual East Coast reunion, also in Virginia Beach, recalls Burbank, "women lifted their shirts up and had him sign their brassieres. Some bent over and had him sign their fannies."
What most of Boesch's newfound fans may not know is that he's a genuine military hero. Born in Rochester, N.Y., the younger of two sons of Austrian immigrants (August, a butcher, who died in 1956, and homemaker Clara, now 98), Boesch dropped out of high school at 16 to join the Merchant Marines in 1944, then enlisted in the Navy a year later. But the war ended before he got a chance to carry out his first assignment—training Chinese guerrillas against Japan. In 1964, as one of the SEALs' charter members, he saw action in Vietnam: ambushing Viet Cong guerrillas during 45 missions behind enemy lines. As Boesch's fellow SEAL, retired Master Chief Petty Officer Bill Bruhmuller, recalls, "Our guys would be firing from the heavens and the VC would be firing at us from the ground. On SEAL Team 2 [Boesch's outfit], 90 percent of us got wounded, but only eight were killed. Rudy didn't get wounded." For his valor, he earned two Bronze Stars.
In 1990 Boesch, then 62, retired after 45 years of sendee. But he and Marge, who have three daughters—Ellen, 43; Patricia, 41; and Barbara, 40—remain active as Red Cross volunteers, helping hurricane and flood victims. More awe-inspiring to friends and family is the sight of Boesch, "this big rugged guy," says pal Bob "Doc" Clark, "down on the floor playing with this baby, his granddaughter Kelsey." Says Kelsey's mother, Patricia: "I have never seen this sentimental and emotional side of him. [Having a granddaughter] has to-s tally changed and softened him." So go ahead and call Rudy a curmudgeon, as Bryant Gumbel recently did on The Early Show. Boesch had to ask a friend, ex-SEAL Tom Hawkins, what the word meant. Hawkins looked it up. "Killjoy," he told Boesch, who just smiled.
Kelly Wiglesworth—notable for shifting among the island alliances—has gone back to her day job: surviving. The white-water-rafting guide, 23, leads six-person crews down the lower Kern River in California's Sierra Nevada mountains. Once they recognize their guide, many of the thrill seekers seek the autograph of the Greensboro, N.C., native, daughter of James Wiglesworth, a real estate broker, and his ex-wife Susan Smart, both 51. (Her parents are divorced and have each remarried.) "Kelly has this magnetism," says her boss Bill McGinniss. He adds, "I don't think the show portrayed her as she is."
Maybe not, but there was also more to her story than the show let on. In the weeks since Survivor began airing, news reports have revealed that Wiglesworth has an outstanding 1995 arrest warrant back in Greensboro for allegedly running up $586.35 on another person's Visa card. "For five years I have been telling her to take care of the matter," says her father, who believes the incident was just a complicated misunderstanding. Two years later, in 1997, while Wiglesworth was living in Las Vegas, police were called to her apartment after she allegedly bit a man on the nose because, says the official report, "he lost the house keys." The man she allegedly scuffled with was in fact her newlywed (since-divorced) husband, Rene Esteves, says her mother. Charges were never filed after he said he was bitten by a dog.
To her mom, the wild Kelly—producers knew of the bite business, at least—now seems as far away as the island. "Kelly has matured," Susan says. "She's " taking care of herself and thinking long term."
MAN OF LETTERS
His reputation as Pulau Tiga's resident flake may be well-earned (who else would vote their fellow castaways off the island alphabetically?), and even childhood friend Stephen Nietsch admits "he's kind of a goofy guy." But when it comes to a medical crisis, Dr. Sean Kenniff is "somebody you can depend on," says Dr. Anders Cohen, a former colleague at the Long Island, N.Y., hospital where Kenniff was a neurology resident from 1996 to y99. "One night," says Cohen, "the power went off. Sean started running bags of ice up the stairs from the cafeteria to the blood bank. It was like something out of a movie."
Or maybe a Sean Kenniff novel. The doctor, 30, left his Long Island group practice last January to compete on Survivor and embark on a writing career. His agent plans to submit his first book, a psychiatric thriller, to publishers next month. Meanwhile Kenniff has already been signed for three episodes of Guiding Light—playing a doctor—and he'll appear as a guest on FOX's WebMD Television.
The second of three children of retired New York City firefighter James, 61, and his homemaker wife, Mary, 69, Kenniff was a mostly A student when he graduated from Massapequa High School in 1987. He earned an M.D. from New York Medical College eight years later.
When he applied for Survivor, "he was looking to have a good time," says Nietsch. Kenniff's biggest surprise on the show was boarding a luxury yacht anchored offshore (his reward challenge prize) and finding his dad at the helm. James, whom the producers had secretly flown in from L.A., says, "I was completely shocked. He had lost so much weight."
The elder Kenniff was a little haggard himself, having traveled some 22 hours by plane, truck and speedboat. Still, for the privilege of staying up all night schmoozing with his son, he says, "I would have gone on roller skates if I had to."
Writers: Michael A. Upton and Tom Gliatto
Reported by: Fannie Weinstein in New York City, J. Todd Foster in Virginia Beach, Irene Lacher in Kernville, Kimberley McGee in Las Vegas, John Slania in Waukesha, Edmund Newton, Elizabeth Fernandez in San Francisco, Johnny Dodd in Los Angeles and Michaele Ballard in Greensboro