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'Survivor' Tom Gets His $1M

Tom Westman is a now millionaire.
The victor in "Survivor: Palau , a check for $1 million, on The Early Show Monday.

Co-anchor Harry Smith gave Westman the check, with his fellow anchors at his side.

Westman joked, "My wife shud be here, so I can just pass it over to her."

He added, "I'm just so happy. I mean, (this is) life changing, life-enhancing. It's just wonderful."

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Westman said he wasn't sure whether there would be any splurge purchases now, but admitted he and his wife did open champagne they found in the hotel mini-bar last night, without even thinking about it.

Westman, 41, a father of three who lives on Long Island, is a second-generation New York City fireman.


co-anchor Julie Chen his wife, Bernadette, lit a fire under him to take part in "Survivor."

"She's the one who pushed me to go," Westman says. "I thought she was trying to get rid of me for 40 days or so, but it was just so unbelievable, from getting a chance to play a game like this and then getting to win it. It's a dream. It was great."

Asked by Chen if he is "perhaps the only person to ever play this game where you were not flying under the radar and played it with integrity from beginning to end," Westman said he wasn't sure.

"I mean, other people maybe have played it that way also. I think I'm maybe the one who got the furthest. It might not have been the best strategy to walk around that many days with that big a target on you, but somehow, I was able to get through a minefield and make it to this point.

"The integrity was important. I didn't spend 40 years of my life to become a certain person, just to throw it away on a show. And when you get out there, even though you think you'll be able to do this, you do make real bonds, and you do get attracted to these people, and it is real. I didn't make deals I couldn't hold to, in spite of that. So maybe I didn't outwit anybody. I outlasted them."

Saying he's a huge "Survivor" fan, Westman is also a student of the game's winning strategies.

"Originally, (my strategy was) to try to fly below the radar. Especially when I saw the rest of the cast and saw how young everybody else was. I felt like I was the manager and working with a boy band or something, all these young, you know, handsome guys.

"I said I had my work cut out for me. And it didn't happen that way. I didn't stay too well under the radar, so you can't say that I did stay with it. But my wife and buddies just told me, 'Your strategy should be to go out there and be yourself and play hard.' I did, and it worked out for me.

Westman says Bernadette urged him to play "Survivor" for the adventure, and the potential pot of gold at the end of the game's rainbow.

"We would watch the show and I'd, say, 'I could beat that guy for that' or 'I wouldn't have fallen for that.' She said I'd be the perfect one.

"She is a self-sacrificing person who said, 'You know what? You got to do this.'

"I (was worried about) taking this kind of time off from work and what it will cost us financially to have this adventure if I didn't win. She was just like, 'You'll spend your whole life looking back if you don't do it.'"

The hardest part, Westman says, was being away from Bernadette and their kids: "Lack of food, you got used to that, but missing home got more intense. It was hard."

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