February 12

Mainer shows 'Survivor' skills

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

GORHAM - Physics teachers can be as tricky and conniving as anyone.

Survivor: Gabon - Earth's Last Eden
click image to enlarge

Survivor: Gabon - Earth's Last Eden


click image to enlarge

Staff Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette: Survivor contestant Robert Crowley a physics teacher at Gorham High School speaks with Shanice Mitchell in the Schools library Friday, December 5, 2008.


That's a lesson Chelsea Clark is learning from Bob Crowley this fall. She's getting this reality check -- along with everyone else at Gorham High School -- by watching Crowley compete on the hit CBS television series ''Survivor.''

With 11 episodes already aired and only two to go, Crowley is still a contender for the $1 million grand prize on the show.

And that's at least partly because of some well-timed deception.

''Yeah, I've been a little surprised. He had told us that he can't tell a lie. But he can. A lot,'' said Clark, a senior in Crowley's honors physics class. ''I think he has the ability to win the whole thing.''

Now in its 17th edition, ''Survivor'' is a wilderness reality show that compels contestants to overcome the elements, confront physical challenges and play endless mind games to outwit opponents.

At the end of Thursday's episode, Crowley was one of only six contestants left. The competition began with 18 people and was filmed this past summer in the African nation of Gabon. At 57, Crowley is the oldest remaining contestant.

One one other Mainer, Julie Berry of Gorham, has made it further on ''Survivor.'' Berry was among the last five contestants when she was voted off in 2004, and it's worth noting that Berry had been a student of Crowley's. Two other Mainers have competed on the show.

Crowley is not allowed to talk about the show until he's either voted off or wins.

The teacher made his reputation early on by showing his skills at foraging for food and supplies, and at building shelters or whatever was needed.

Crowley has been a lobsterman, a tree pruner, a first mate on a research vessel and a wildlife handler, so his survival skills have not surprised friends, co-workers or students.

''He's the type of guy who could build a rocket ship out of junk at the local dump,'' said John Caterina, a chemistry teacher at Gorham High.

Crowley's ability to deceive, however, has surprised many. In recent episodes, Crowley has grabbed a majority of screen time by painstakingly constructing two fake ''immunity idols'' in attempts to have rival contestants voted off.

In one instance, it worked. On Thursday's episode, it did not. But Crowley won immunity on that episode by winning a ''challenge,'' a competition that involved players answering questions about Gabon and throwing heavy balls from a high spot in an attempt to land closest to a target.

The balls went up, and then they came down. It was really a simple matter of physics, Crowley's students pointed out on Friday.

''I'm not surprised at all. He's so smart, and we see that in class all the time,'' said Sara Burnheimer, another senior in Crowley's honors physics class. ''I liked the fake idol a lot. After that, he's been at the center of the show. It's so exciting to have a celebrity right here, every day.''

Crowley has no problem playing the celebrity. During lunch time on Friday, a student asked him to pose for a picture with her. He did.

Some students have asked him to autograph things -- napkins, notepads, whatever's handy. But instead, Crowley pulls snapshots of himself out of his pockets and signs those.

When he walked into the school's library on Friday, a few students began to applaud. Teachers shook his hand. After one student claimed to be his biggest fan, Crowley replied, ''Last year, I was, 'Hey, you.'''

When the show airs Thursday nights, Crowley hosts 150 or so people at a ''Survivor''-watching party in an old brick building at Portland Yacht Services, on Portland's waterfront. The owner is a friend of Crowley's and volunteered the space.

(Continued on page 2)

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