DURHAM — Bob Crowley said with a wide grin that he’s just thrilled no one died last year.

Rail thin, dressed in head-to-toe khaki and tall rubber boots, he walked the woods here Monday where he hosted 18 people last September in an ultimate endurance contest.

The now-retired physics teacher who won “Survivor” in 2008 had sent them into the woods in near-freezing temperatures to face off against each other in challenge after challenge.

No food, no bathrooms, no eating his ducks.

And it was a huge hit.

“We were so elated last year at how nobody was killed,” Crowley, 63, said. “It went better than we could have imagined.”


All the more reason to do it again.

Thursday night kicks off the second annual Durham Warriors Survival Challenge, a “Survivor”-esque weekend of intense competition, cunning strategy and extreme camping. It’s a fundraiser for Crowley’s nonprofit Durham Warriors Project that pays for free nights of camping for military families and veterans at his business, Maine Forest Yurts.

This year it’s open to the public to watch.

Crowley and super fan/actuary/event emcee John Vataha are letting very few details slip.

Fan favorite and first “Survivor” winner Richard Hatch is coming. He’ll be clothed. Crowley said Hatch gets asked about that a fair amount.

“He will take his clothes off occasionally, but only to take a shower,” Crowley said.


There will be more than a dozen challenges (they don’t want to say exactly how many); more than a dozen contestants (again, they don’t want to say); and nine former “Survivor” TV show players who may or may not participate in events (again, don’t want to say).

They declined to confirm a story that ran in a weekly paper last week letting some of those cats out of the bag. If contestants know how many other players there are, for instance, Vataha said, they’ll start doing the math to figure out how teams might be divvied up.

“They’re going to start figuring things out — the people are that into it,” Vataha said. “We’ve billed this as the next closest thing (to appearing on ‘Survivor’) and they’re taking it seriously.”

About 50 people applied for year two of the challenge. The field of players was picked in April.

Vataha has heard frequently from soon-to-be contestants about dieting and getting in better shape. 

“One guy said his neighbor says he’s crazy because he’s out in the backyard throwing slingshots and grappling hooks,” he said.


They span in age from 20s to 60s and hail from at least 10 states. The players combined to raise more than $5,000 for the warriors project.

Crowley has hosted more than a dozen active military members and veterans and their families in the two yurts, as well as let other nonprofits use them.

“The stories are great,” he said. “One 19-year-old son surprised his mother who used to like to go camping but now she’s disabled. It’s not camping on the ground, slapping bugs — well, it is camping, you are slapping bugs.”

But being off the ground, in a clean, comfortable space made a huge difference. 

New this year is worrying about what they call “spectator logistics.” The competition will be open for the public to watch from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, when one finalist is crowned the winner.

They’ve partly cleared a hillside near Walkabout Pond, the site of most challenges, for people to sit. It’s free to watch with donations to the Durham Warriors Project welcome.


There’s an additional meet and greet planned for Friday at 5 p.m. at 491 Auburn Pownal Road, just up the road from Maine Forest Yurts, with Hatch, two-time “Survivor” winner Sandra Diaz, Mainer Michael Snow and other past players.

Vataha plans to narrate the play-by-play during the challenges. Crowley will be snuffing out torches and mingling with the crowd.

Players will be offered a tent to stay on-site as they’re voted out over the fast-paced game.

“In the spirit of ‘Survivor,’ we have a Ponderosa and we’ll encourage them to stay there, but we can’t tell them that they can’t go back to their hotel room,” said Vataha.


Go and do


The second annual Durham Warriors Survival Challenge

What: Three days of “Survivor”-style competition hosted by “Survivor” winner Bob Crowley as a fundraiser for his nonprofit.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 22 and 23, and 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24

Bonus: Meet and greet past “Survivor” players Friday, Aug. 22, at 5 p.m.

Where: Parking to watch the competition and the meet and greet is at 491 Auburn Pownal Road in Durham (just up the road from Maine Forest Yurts)

Cost: Free but donations to the Durham Warriors Project are welcome.

Bring a lawn chair or blanket and dress for a short hike into the woods.

Food and drinks will be sold on-site. The entire event is rain or shine.

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