Outlasting a flurry after 'Survivor'

Newsday Staff Writer

May 15, 2006

For Tom Westman, it's been quite a year.

Since he was crowned the $1-million winner of "Survivor" on May 15, 2005, he's been named one of TV Guide's Sexiest Men, retired from the city fire department after 20 years, signed as model and spokesman for a clothing line and traveled with his wife to places like Las Vegas and Hawaii.

Still, he's in the same Sayville home he's lived in since 1997. His wife still works as a neonatal nurse, he still gets his kids off the bus. And the million bucks? The bulk of it is in a college fund for his three children.

"It's a little buffer for a middle-class family," Westman, 42, said of the top prize he earned besting 19 other contestants on the island of Palau last year in the CBS television series. He earned it by winning immunity after immunity challenge, pulling a footlocker across the ocean floor, gulping down partially formed duckling eggs and hanging onto a pole for half a day.

Looking back a year later, he wouldn't have changed a thing and remains friendly today with many of his fellow contestants.

"First of all it's been a great year," he said last week. "How many people get to reinvent themselves once they hit 40 and take a whole different path in life?"

That different path included retiring from the Fire Department of New York, where Westman had been a lieutenant in Brooklyn's Ladder Company 108 in Williamsburg. He signed with the Wilhelmina Models agency and was named the spokesman for Caribbean Joe, a line of casual clothing sold in department stores nationwide.

"The more I read about him and his lifestyle, his ethics in winning the show, I realized he was Joe, he lives the life that we are appealing to in our consumer base," said Trudy Larson, vice president creative director for Apparel Holdings Group, the parent company of Caribbean Joe.

On the company's Web site, Caribbean-Joe.com, Westman is seen barefoot on a beach, reclining on a bench and leaning against a convertible, all in comfortable casual wear and accompanied by a model wife and two children.

"It's kind of funny people who know me see me with a different family and a different wife," he said.

His real wife of 14 years, Bernadette, said that after the initial rush of publicity and excitement, the family is back pretty much to its regular routine. The couple has three children, Meghan, 10, Declan, 8, and Conor, 6.

"I took a couple of months off from work," said Bernadette Westman, who works at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip. "That was nice to do and relax for the summer. Other than that, I went back to work, I went back to my routine. We didn't splurge too much. We got a grill."

Westman spent a good deal of the past year traveling to promote Caribbean Joe, but also has lectured before firefighter groups and is the volunteer spokesman and advocate for the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. His daughter, Meghan, lost her hearing to meningitis at 18 months and received a cochlear implant at age 2.

He was also named the spokesman for the Cochlear Corp. in Denver, which is the U.S. headquarters for Cochlear Ltd.

"My wife and I both said when this whole circus started that when my 15 minutes of fame is over, be able to say you did some good with it," Westman said.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.