After spending nearly four years in prison for tax evasion, America’s first broadcast-TV reality show star is broke and still under house arrest — but Richard Hatch remains unapologetic, insisting he was made a victim because of his open homosexuality.
At the same time, Hatch acknowledged that being in prison taught him a measure of humility.
“I’d say it reduced my arrogance,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in his first interview since being released from a federal prison to house arrest at his sister’s home.
Dressed in light blue shorts and a darker blue shirt, his hair close-cropped and gray, Hatch spent much of his time with Lauer insisting that he is innocent of the tax evasion charges that put him in behind bars.
Hatch has maintained that CBS, which produced and aired that first “Survivor” series in 2000, promised to pay the taxes on the $1 million he won on the show.
“I know without question that there are personal issues involved for the prosecutor. I don’t know why. The prosecutorial misconduct has been egregious,” Hatch said. “He told the court I didn’t pay my taxes in 2000, and he told the court I haven’t been cooperative. The IRS specifically contradicts that. I don’t have a bill for 2000. I haven’t even been assessed for 2000. And I’ve been fully cooperative.”
He insisted he will pay whatever taxes he owes when he gets a bill from the IRS.
“Whatever they assess, I’m going to pay. Whatever is owed, I will pay,” Hatch told Lauer. “I’ve to this day never had an assessment. There were other issues on those tax returns, as there would be on any American’s return, that people would question.”
How he will pay the bill is another question. After paying lawyers and being imprisoned for nearly four years and still facing years of house arrest, Hatch said, “I’m financially devastated.”
The courts have disagreed with Hatch, who has lost several appeals of his conviction but is pursuing another appeal that he hopes will prove that he was the victim of discrimination during his trial because of his sexual orientation.
On the show, Hatch was both loved and hated by viewers because of his arrogance and because he spent most of the show naked.
“I grew up as a fat, gay kid in a community that doesn’t appreciate fat, gay people. So you develop some insecurities, and you cover those insecurities sometimes I think with an overreaction,” he told Lauer in explaining why he comes off as being so arrogant.
Yet, he told Lauer, he was never targeted by other inmates during his time in a federal prison in West Virginia.
“I don’t think I can avoid the question, and I’ll look you straight in the eye when I ask it, is, you know, as the gay man who liked to get naked, how does that go over when you’re sent to a prison and you're locked up in a room with 50 guys?” Lauer asked.
“I was treated fine. I was never assaulted,” the 48-year-old Hatch replied.
Hatch kept returning to his trial and the conduct of the prosecutor. He also contends that the judge in his trial refused to allow his lawyers to question jurors about their views on homosexuals.
“My personal opinion: He discriminated against me,” Hatch said. “I do believe that. I don’t think you or anyone else could deny that we, as homosexuals, face discrimination.”
Lauer asked Hatch why people shouldn’t think that he’s still playing a game, as he did to win “Survivor.”
“I’ll let the facts speak for themselves,” Hatch said. “It’s not me playing the system. That’s what I said in the beginning, that I didn’t think of life after ‘Survivor’ as a game. I’m not out to play anything.”
Pending his latest appeal, Hatch wears an ankle bracelet and remains confined to his sister’s property. He is allowed to go jogging every day and must get permission a week in advance for any trips to town to go shopping or to the bank.
“I can’t leave the property without scheduling it,” Hatch told Lauer. “It’s still a very, very difficult thing to know how I’m innocent and I’m still under the thumb of the Bureau of Prisons for no reason.”