NEWPORT, R.I. — "Survivor" winner Richard Hatch schemed his way through challenges to claim $1 million on the first season of the hit CBS reality show nine years ago.
On Friday, he completed a federal sentence for evading taxes on his winnings and faced a new challenge: landing a job in a down economy and paying off what may be hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes nine years after he became one of reality TV's biggest villains.
Hatch was freed shortly before 6 a.m. Friday from Barnstable County jail in Bourne, Mass., sheriff spokesman Roy Lyons said. He was driven home by sheriff's deputies to the apartment he shares with his sister in Newport, R.I., and arrived there around 7:30 a.m., Lyons said.
Hatch's sister declined to comment Friday and instructed a reporter to leave the property.
During "Survivor's" first season in 2000, Hatch became the man viewers loved to hate by masterfully forming alliances with his teammates, then gleefully pitting his allies against each other until he became the last contestant standing. After that, he built on his celebrity to land more gigs on TV and radio. David Letterman named him the "fat naked guy" because of his penchant for nudity.
But he never paid his taxes on his winnings and failed to pay taxes on $327,000 he earned as co-host of a Boston radio show as well as $28,000 in income from rental property. He was convicted and sent to prison in 2006, and the judge tacked on extra prison time to his sentence after finding he had lied on the stand, giving him a 51-month prison term.
On Friday, after serving more than three years of that sentence, he began a 3-year term of supervised release.
Hatch doesn't have a job yet, but he will have to find one and will have to refile his 2000 and 2001 tax returns and pay all his back taxes, said Barry Weiner, chief U.S. probation officer for Rhode Island. He must also complete a mental health program.
According to court papers, Hatch is still working with the IRS to determine how much money he owes, although the judge found when he was sentenced that he owed more than $400,000 in back taxes, not including interest and penalties.
In court papers filed this month, Hatch complained of his worsening financial situation and said he has struggled to find employment. In July, he asked a court to allow him to travel to Samoa for a "Survivor" 10-year anniversary show. He said the pay he'd receive for the show would help him pay some back taxes.
"Especially in this depressed economy, finding a job can be difficult," Hatch wrote at the time. His request was denied.
Hatch, who is gay, has asked the court unsuccessfully in the past to grant him permission to live in Argentina, where his husband is from. Prosecutors objected in part because of the amount of money he owes. Weiner said those on supervised release are typically only allowed to leave the country under special circumstances, but he wouldn't speak specifically about Hatch's case.
He also won't be able to leave Rhode Island – a state with a 13 percent unemployment rate, one of the worst in the country – unless he gets special permission to do so. Weiner noted, though, that Hatch probably has a better chance of finding employment than many recently released prisoners.
Most of Hatch's time in custody was spent in a federal prison camp in West Virginia, but he was released earlier this year to a halfway house and then to home confinement at his sister's apartment. In August, he got into trouble with the Bureau of Prisons when he granted three TV interviews while on home confinement to NBC's "Today" show," local NBC affiliate WJAR-TV and the NBC-owned "Access Hollywood."
The Bureau of Prisons said he was only authorized to give the "Today" interview and ordered him taken to jail for violating the rules. Hatch's lawyer said they thought all three were allowed, and Hatch said he was being punished for comments he made during the interviews, when he criticized the judge and prosecutor in his case and said he was discriminated against because he is gay.
A federal judge last month found that Hatch broke the rules and allowed the Bureau of Prisons to add nine days to his time behind bars as punishment.