Eight years ago, high school teacher Bob Crowley was sleeping on the jungle floor.
These days, he charges others to do (more or less) the same.
Crowley, the winner of the 17th season of “Survivor” and the oldest person to take home the prize, used part of his $1 million award to build a campground outside Portland, Maine. His retreat offers peace and quiet in the great outdoors — though not without creature comforts.
“I would say we lean towards ‘glamping,'” Crowley, 65, tells Business Insider.
Guests shouldn’t expect to rough it at Maine Forest Yurts quite as much as Crowley did on the show.
Crowley spent his summer break from teaching physics in Maine stranded in the rainforest of the central African nation of Gabon. A self-described hybrid of Indiana Jones and Robinson Crusoe, the natural outdoorsman set out to prove nice guys can win on “Survivor”.
He played fairly. He formed alliances and kept them. And he won three consecutive immunity challenges, helping him “outwit, outplay, and outlast” his competition. Crowley returned to his native Maine with $1 million.
After paying off bills and setting aside funds for taxes, Crowley and his wife, Peggy, looked to the hospitality industry to start the next chapter of their lives.
During their 30-plus years living in South Portland, the couple came to acquire some 100 acres of remote Maine woods. The thickly forested land surrounds a pond, and in winter, you can’t make out a single house through the trees. The family would visit and cook hot dogs and beans over open fires. Otters, beavers, kingfishers, and a couple of eagles also call it home.
In the winter of 2013, the family constructed their first yurt — a circular, portable tent used by the nomadic people in Central Asia for thousands of years (and now favoured by glamping resorts and hippies alike). Crowley’s three yurts feature hardwood flooring, a stove for warmth, and furniture Crowley built using wood found on the property. Natural light radiates out from the center.
Guests pay $125 a night to rent a yurt. The company sells out through summer.
“Glamping,” or glamorous camping, has caught on in recent years. People who want to enjoy nature without buying camping equipment or getting dirty enjoy the luxury accommodations that glamping provides.
At Maine Forest Yurts, accessibility trumps luxury on the list of priorities.
The resort welcomes school groups, active military and veterans, and non-profit groups, like the Special Olympics, to stay in yurt sfor free. It manages to do so through an annual fundraising event called the Durham Warriors Project, where applicants from across the country (including some former “Survivor” contestants) compete in challenges inspired by the show. Their donations fund over 100 guests’ stays annually.
Crowley loves entertaining guests with stories of his adventures in Gabon as he tours them around the property. But “Survivor” fans make up only about 10% of the guests, he says.
Life in rural Maine suits Crowley. But he wouldn’t say no if CBS asked him to return to “Survivor” for a later reunion season.
“I would have up this phone and run right out the door,” Crowley says.