Will Bayville’s Tommy Sheehan survive on “Survivor?” Viewers will have to wait until Sept. 25’s season opener on CBS because even Sheehan won’t say. In order to be a champion, the twenty-six-year-old will have to overcome the challenging odds presented to him in Fiji, as wll his 19 competitors.
The fourth grade Floral Park teacher said appearing on the show was something he had always wanted to do. He had watched “Survivor” since he was seven years old with his family. Bedtime was 8 p.m., but his mother Sandy said one night a week the children were permitted to stay up to watch the popular program. At its conclusion instructions on how to apply to be a contestant were included with the programming, which Sheehan said he would do someday. And true to his work he said he had tried unsuccessfully for a few years. He attributes his recent success to the required three-minute video that he made.
“I got a call within an hour after posting it,” he said. “I talked about how I’d wanted to be on the show since I was seven first, and then included myself teaching.”
Sheehan’s objective as a teacher is to engage his class, he said. He’s been known to shoot them with Silly String, do cartwheels and share a lesson by way of singing rap music. “I have a different style of teaching,” he said, laughing. “I guess they loved it.”
But Sheehan wasn’t always so gregarious. His sister Caitlin, 28, said he was a timid child, shy and small. She was taller than her brother until right before she went to college. Now Tommy is 6 feet 4 inches and weighed between 215 and 220 pounds before competing on “Survivor.”
“He has become so outgoing and goofy you just can’t help but be attracted to him,” Caitlin said. “He’s been trying to get on the show forever. To hear it actually happened, I didn’t believe it at first.”
Sheehan has always been athletic. He said he loves basketball and was on St. Gertrude’s team as a child as well as the team at Locust Valley High School. He is still proud he said, of when his team won the league championship during his senior year. He also played on his high school football team and ran track.
Sheehan, who has been a lifeguard in Bayville for the past nine years, took a break this summer because of scheduling conflicts from “Survivor.” He said he will probably return to volunteer next summer in Bayville, even though he moved to Long Beach two years ago.
Before shooting the show in March, Sheehan said he prepared himself by watching past episodes to see why someone did well or was voted off the show. “I realized that people who were physical threats were voted off,” he said. “So, I decided to lose as much muscle as I could. I ate lots of fat, including meals at McDonalds.”
When he got to the set, he said he was happy to find that he wasn’t the biggest man competing, adding that he was a little above average in height.
To prepare, Sheehan also bought flint to learn how to make a fire, which he’d be doing on “Survivor.” He said he practiced every day.
“I’ve never been camping so I had to train myself,” he said. “I learned how to cut open a coconut too.”
He attributes the values that he learned from his parents as integral for his success on the show. “They taught me to care, love and have empathy for everyone,” he said. “On “Survivor” the people are from so many walks of life. I’ve always accepted everyone for who they are and I connect with people.”
When competing there were challenges, he said. “Your mind can never take a break and you can’t trust anyone,” he explained. “And you are so exhausted and hungry all the time. At night it rained for hours and we had no protection from it. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
For Sheehan, being on “Survivor” was, he said, “living a dream.” And he actually enjoyed the challenges he experienced to survive and said he didn’t miss having a cell phone either.
His students, he said, are very excited about seeing their teacher on the show next week. The PTA is even making “Mr. Sheehan” shirts. “Hopefully the kids will be proud of me,” he said.
Tommy was Sandy’s “easy child,” she said, except when he was born at 12 pounds. She added that she isn’t surprised that he was chosen to be on “Survivor.”
“We are rule breakers, not rule followers,” said Sandy, who was a NYPD detective for 22 years and is currently the school nurse at Bayville Primary. “We are always into something. You got to keep on experiencing life. None of us sit still.”