‘Survivor’: Unpaid Taxes on the $1 Million Prize Led One Winner to Jail

Remember the 1998 movie The Truman Show with Jim Carrey, about a man who found out his entire life was the subject of an elaborately staged reality show? At the time, the idea seemed silly and even outlandish. Instead, the film turned out to be prophetic, as reality shows started to dominate the airwaves, with viewers becoming personally invested in the outcome. 

Survivor was among the first big reality show hits. By now, it’s beyond an institution, but even in its more humble beginnings, the show was the source of controversy – such as its first winner getting in trouble with the law. 

What happened in ‘Survivor’s’ first season?

Tony Vlachos on 'survivor'
Tony Vlachos | CBS via Getty Images

By now, the phrase “voted off the island” has become part of the lexicon, but back in 2000, it was only a literal term for a new game/reality show on CBS called Survivor. It  places a group of strangers in an isolated location, where they must provide necessities for themselves. The contestants compete in challenges, with the grand prize being $1 million. It was like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in the not always great outdoors. 

The first season took place on Borneo, with the final three being Rudy Boesch, Kelly Wiglesworth and Richard Hatch. Boesch seemed like a likely winner, having been in the military, and Wiglesworth had been a whitewater rafting guide. One of Hatch’s claims to fame was that he was naked a lot. David Letterman himself dubbed him “the naked guy.” 

So millions of viewers were surprised and disappointed when Hatch ended up becoming the very first Sole Survivor after a 4-3 jury vote. What went right – or wrong, depending on your point of view? 

What happened to Richard Hatch after the show?

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Although Hatch has his slice of immortality by being the first winner of Survivor, not much went right for him after his victory. Like so many people who get rich quick, Hatch struggled to manage his money.

As Today reported back in 2006, he was found guilty of tax evasion. Hatch tried to claim that the producers were supposed to pay the taxes, but the jury didn’t buy it. He served nearly five years in prison. 

But that wasn’t the last we saw of Hatch. According to Parade, he returned to Survivor for the all-star season 8. He continued to create controversy by not appearing on the all-star season 40. He said he had been cast in the reunion show before producers pulled the plug, reportedly due to an incident involving his nudity. 

Cinemablend quoted Hatch as saying, “The hypocrisy is ridiculous, but they’re not gonna talk about that. They’re gonna just try to make you believe that they’re doing what’s in the interest of their viewers and making the show ‘family-friendly.’ That’s absurd. We had 54 million viewers in the first season’s finale. That was family television. That was appointment TV. We started it. So what he’s spewing now is baloney. Don’t buy it.”

Some people practically live on reality shows


Some reality show stars enjoy the spotlight enough that they try to stretch their 15 minutes of fame by appearing on other shows. Another Survivor contestant, Michael Jefferson, got some attention for appearing on Survivor in 2012 and following that up with an appearance on Naked and Afraid, its bawdier, more risque cousin. 

Hatch appeared in other shows, although Naked and Afraid was not one of them. The shows included The Biggest Loser, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and The Apprentice, where he was fired by none other than president-to-be Donald Trump. Parade reported Hatch was living in Rhode Island pursuing a PhD.