Unless his flight from Los Angeles was delayed, "Survivor: Island of the Idols" winner Tommy Sheehan, of Long Beach, was expected to be back at work Friday, teaching fourth-grade math and science at Floral Park-Bellerose Union Free School in Floral Park.
"I FaceTimed with my class today," the Bayville born-and-raised Sheehan, 27, told Newsday by phone Thursday, referring to the videophone app. "I couldn't even get a word out because they were just screaming the entire time" with excitement, the million-dollar prize winner added. "I'm super-excited to get back to teaching. And y'know, people are asking me, 'Are you still gonna teach?' Absolutely! That's my dream come true, teaching. So I got to live out my 'Survivor' journey, but now it's back to real life and what I really enjoy, teaching the kids."
Sheehan, who spent some 39 days in Fiji for the show, beginning in March, had announced via Instagram on May 1 that he had become engaged to girlfriend Nicole Badillo, a pharmacist who has lived in East Northport and Long Beach. That proposal came, he reveals, "The day I got back. The day I landed. I proposed the day I got back to Nicole … And now I get to afford her dream wedding. So whatever she wants, she's going to get."
Keeping his fate a secret from his family and the schoolkids was double-edged, he says. He enjoyed having a secret, but "I lied to my parents that I got voted out at [No.] 4, that I lost at the fire-making," a standard finale-episode test. How did they take it when he could finally tell them he'd won the $1 million prize? "They just ran right up and hugged me — and then the next day they yelled at me for lying to them!" he says, chuckling.
His relationship with Janet Carbin — a 59-year-old, Palm Bay, Florida, chief lifeguard who became his surrogate mom on the show, but whose alliance he betrayed in the finale for the sake of gameplay — is fine, he assures. "I'm actually sitting with Janet's husband right now and our families ended up spending Thanksgiving together," says Sheehan, the son of Thomas and Sandy Sheehan of Bayville. "Our families are super-close and she's awesome," he says of Carbin. "So I've got two moms now, and her family and my family are the best of friends. I'm lucky to have her in my life."
He notes that, "What's so tough about the game is that you're stripped of everything on the islands, so you only have the other people. So you build such raw, real relationships with them. But then the game is about voting them off, so it's really, really hard where you have to check your emotions and understand it's a game. But y'know," he says, "I'm walking away with some of my best friends that I'll have for the rest of my life."
On Wednesday's finale of "Survivor" season 39, Sheehan bested runner-up Dean Kowalski, a 28-year-old New York City technology salesman, and third-, fourth- and fifth-pace finishers Noura Salman, Lauren Beck and Carbin.