When we first revealed the cast for Survivor’s upcoming all-winners season back in May, many fans were shocked by the absence of the show’s first-ever Sole Survivor, Richard Hatch. Now some light has been shed on production’s decision not to invite back the Survivor: Borneo champion for Winners At War.
Speaking to Us Weekly while on location in Fiji, host and showrunner Jeff Probst explained that he “didn’t feel comfortable” having Hatch on the season given his controversial past.
“I don’t know if we didn’t ask him because I think we called every single winner about returning, and the fact that he was the first is a fair point,” said Probst. “But the bigger consideration was ‘Where is the show now?’ and ‘Do these 20 winners represent the show today?’ In that sense, we didn’t feel that Rich fit into the equation.”
Hatch won the groundbreaking first season of Survivor back in 2000, but his life following the show has been filled with trials and tribulations. He was charged and later convicted for tax evasion for failing to pay the taxes on his Survivor winnings, among other earnings, and served three years in federal prison from 2006 to 2009. Shortly after his release in 2009, Hatch was sent back behind bars for a further nine months for not amending his 2000/01 tax returns.
It’s perhaps a controversial incident during 2004’s Survivor: All-Stars season, however, which was more damaging to his return chances. During a pre-merge tribal Immunity Challenge, a naked Hatch rubbed up against fellow castaway Sue Hawk. While Hatch was voted out by his tribe at the next Tribal Council, the situation caused Hawk so much distress that she voluntarily quit the game the next day after unleashing an angry tirade at Probst.
“Given his history on our show, it did not seem appropriate,” Probst continued. “We were in a different time and different culture back then and we would never let him run a challenge naked now. Looking back on it, it just didn’t seem to fit. It’s not a slam against Richard Hatch. He’s just being Richard Hatch.”
Hatch’s history became even more significant following the events of the most recent season, Survivor: Island of the Idols, which saw contestant Dan Spilo removed from the game for inappropriately touching a non-contestant. This followed a warning from production earlier in the game after castaway Kellee Kim voiced her concerns about Spilo’s behavior.
Survivor, CBS, and Probst all came under fire from fans and viewers for their poor handling of the situation. Probst himself apologized to Kim at the Island of the Idols finale for the show’s inadequet reaction to the events and not acting sooner. In light of this, it makes sense why Survivor would be hesitant to invite Hatch back.
“I didn’t feel comfortable having him out on the show and representing a show that is for families,” said Probst. “It’s about inspiring kids to want to get out and make something and see what they’re capable of. This group is very inspiring. This is not a decision I have any second-guessing about.”
Survivor: Winners At War premieres on CBS at 8 pm on February 12.