NEW YORK -It's down to the final four on CBS' "Survivor: Palau," which concludes Sunday. If you ask the long-gone castaways who now make up the show's jury, it seems muscled, gray-haired New York firefighter Tom Westman has already hosed down his competition.
"Tom is your prototype for a hero," host Jeff Probst told The Associated Press at the beginning of the season.
"He seems so sincere," said Stephenie LaGrossa upon her ousting from the game. "He seems like he's looking out for your best interest. Really, he's just playing the game awesome. He's playing everyone."
Westman, 41, a Brooklyn firefighter and father of three, lives in Sayville, N.Y. He's made no secret of his prowess, winning three out of five individual immunity challenges and leading the Koror tribe to demolish the Ulongs in every immunity challenge - a "Survivor" first. More so, Westman's strong alliances and strategic relationships have kept him from coming under fire. He hasn't received one vote against him.
"It all started back when we won the very first challenge and we were making a decision whether to go to a new island or stay with the old," said Janu Tornell, who quit the game but remains a jury member. "I remember saying, 'Let's go with the new.' But my voice wasn't heard. The voice that carried over (was Tom saying) 'We're going with the new, Jeff.'"
In a game where over-the-radar power players are usually booted way before the finale, Westman is an anomaly. Gung-ho pilot Hunter Ellis was drowned out in episode three of the "Marquesas" season. Bulky strongman Rupert Boneham was sent off the plank during episode 10 of "Pearl Islands."
"One reason I didn't target Tom is because I saw him as a buffer," said Gregg Carey, who was sent packing thanks to Westman. "I wanted to make my move at the very last moment. I knew I'd be susceptible once he was gone."
Westman and his allies Ian Rosenberger, Katie Gallagher and Groedel sent Carey home first. Most of the eliminated contestants speak sweetly of Westman, but there's at least one jury member who is not a Tom fan.
"Quite honestly, I find him bossy and dominating," said hairstylist Coby Archa, the first jury member. "Everyone followed him around like little rats and he was the big cheese. They were too weak to stick up for themselves."
Westman, Rosenberger, Gallagher and nanny Jennifer Lyon will duke it out as the final four contestants. Historically, whoever wins the last immunity challenge, typically a test of endurance, will choose the player to go up against as the seven-person jury decides who wins the $1 million prize. Viewers will have to tune in to the live finale Sunday to see if the hero really does win in the end.
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