At 41, New York City firefighter Tom Westman scorched his competition on “Survivor: Palau” to become the oldest winner of the competitive reality show.
“I played with intensity,” the gray-haired Westman told The Associated Press in an interview following his win Sunday at the Ed Sullivan Theater. “I didn’t hold back and fly under the radar. I thought I might be able to do that, but they got the real Tom Westman out there.”
In a season of “Survivor” firsts, Westman stuck to his day-one alliance with dolphin trainer Ian Rosenberger and advertising executive Katie Gallagher and led the Koror tribe to win every immunity challenge, a feat that’s never happened in the past nine seasons of “Survivor.”
“Somebody told me recently they stopped coloring their hair after I did so well on the challenges,” Westman joked.
Westman, a father of three who lives in Sayville, N.Y., made no secret of his prowess, winning seven individual immunity challenges and staying out of hot water when it came time for players to vote each other off the island. He never received a vote against him.
“When I saw how young the cast was, I thought, ‘This is gonna be perfect,”’ Westman told the AP. “They’re not going to know I’m a physical threat until it’s too late for them. I didn’t get to play that game. I played it hard. I played it as myself. While some people think that may not be too bright strategically, it did work out for me.”
Westman is now $1 million richer and the owner of a new car. He said he plans to use the money toward college for his children and fixing up his house.
“I’m going to take care of my family,” he said. “We’ve now got that cushion that most middle-class families don’t have. Everything is going to be a little easier, a little sweeter.”
The finale wasn’t sweet for the three losers. Nanny Jenn Lyon lost during a tiebreaker challenge after Westman learned Rosenberger planned to double-cross him. Then, Rosenberger gave up during the final endurance immunity challenge, insisting Westman take Gallagher to the final two in a show of respect. During the final tribal council, runner-up Gallagher was called “mean” and “lazy.”
Following Westman’s win, host Jeff Probst announced the next location and title for the eleventh edition of the reality show: “Survivor: Guatemala — The Maya Empire.” Probst said the latest batch of survivors will live among Mayan ruins.