Down East 2013 ©
Winning the battles of muscle, mental prowess and manipulation required of contestants on the TV show “Survivor” is probably the single greatest accomplishment a human being can achieve.
Well, except for winning “American Idol.”
But triumphing on “Survivor” while wearing a bow tie – that’s something extra special. Like accepting the Nobel Peace Prize dressed in your boxer shorts with little hearts on them.
Seriously, everyone in Maine is very proud of bow-tie wearing Bob Crowley – a 57-year-old Gorham High School physics teacher, lobsterman, tree pruner and ocean research vessel crewman from South Portland – who was declared the victor on the Dec. 14 season-ending episode of the hit show. 
To earn the million-dollar prize, Crowley had to endure a week in a York County emergency shelter, sleeping on uncomfortable mats, surrounded by squawking kids and forced to eat meals prepared by volunteers with minimal culinary talents.
Oh, wait. That wasn’t some reality show. That was reality.
While video of Crowley dealing with muddy rivers and intestinal parasites in Gabon was showing on the tube, lots of ordinary Mainers were dealing with a Dec. 12 ice storm that left 220,000 homes and businesses without electricity. 
York County was the hardest hit, with more than 70 percent of the population in the dark. Three days after the ice storm of ‘08, as Crowley was in Los Angeles clinching his prize, 45,000 folks were still trying to keep the pipes from freezing. 
Bet most of them would have jumped at the chance for an immunity challenge.
Still, as weeks go, this one wasn’t as grim as it could have been. Outages were far fewer than in the disastrous ice storm of 1998. The juice came back on in most areas within a few hours. And the Patriots won.
In other positive developments, the Harold Alfond Scholarship Foundation announced it will give every baby born in Maine in 2009 and thereafter a $500 college savings account. 
That’s approximately 14,000 kids each year who, with interest, will have about $2,000 in the bank by the time they’re ready for higher education. That ought to buy the books for one course. Well, most of them, anyway.
The magnet school was rated number 35 on the same list last year, but having a “Survivor” winner in the state undoubtedly gave it a boost.
Maine’s quarter did even better. According to a poll on the WalletPop Web site, the coin featuring the Pemaquid Point Light and a three-masted schooner on the flip side is the second most popular design among all state quarters. 
Maine finished just behind Alaska’s quarter, which features a picture of Sarah Palin gearing up for 2012.
The nearly $400,000 in extra dough comes from higher registration fees imposed last year by the state and an increase in the number of registered snow machines.
Maine is competing for cash prizes the federal government is expected to hand out next year when Barack Obama becomes president. The state has 45 highway and bridge projects set to go and awaiting funding under Obama’s proposed new public-works plan. 
If they all get selected by the feds, it will bring in $221 million and create 7,000 jobs. For those kind of stakes, it might be worthwhile to require all state transportation officials to wear bow ties.
Speaking of getting duded up, it you had your black tie and tux all ready for Obama’s inauguration, but didn’t get an invitation, don’t sweat it. The Farmington Inaugural Committee is holding its own event – black tie optional, no invitation required – on Jan. 24 at the University of Maine at Farmington. 
“Some are already hitting the thrift shops for formal wear,” one of the organizers told the Lewiston Sun Journal.
The University of Maine Press has just published the most comprehensive dictionary of the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet tongue, a 1,200-page tome with more than 39,000 entries that’s been in the works for decades.
Words were also in the news at Gorham High School (say, isn’t that where that “Survivor” guy teaches?), where some citizens are trying to figure out how the Pledge of Allegiance got voted off the island. 
Apparently, the pledge hasn’t been recited at the school for more than 30 years. Now, some locals are demanding it be a part of the morning routine. School officials are responding by doing what they do best, which is researching the issue. 
Another kind of non-response is greeting those who telephone the Maine Department of Labor with questions about unemployment claims. During November, more than 130,000 calls went unanswered because the agency doesn’t have enough staff to deal with the sharp increase in joblessness.
In spite of a state hiring freeze, the department is planning to add 10 workers (that’s one way to reduce unemployment) to help with the phones. No truth to the rumor that the new jobs will be filled by those who best demonstrate their abilities to cross alligator-infested swamps.
Board members decided on Dec. 10 to delay deliberations to give opponents of the expanded hours, mostly church groups, more time to file written comments. Meanwhile, net revenue at the state’s only slots facility has declined from nearly $6.3 million in July to less than $4.3 million in November, apparently because everyone was staying home watching “Survivor.”
In spite of Maine’s weak economy and the likely resurgence of the bow tie as a local symbol of manly fashion awareness, this state is still attractive to some people. Officials with Catholic Charities of Maine are predicting that as many as 200 Iraqi refuges will be moving here in the near future. 
Most of them are already in the United States, but aren’t happy because they’ve been placed in communities with no “Survivor” winner. And after slogging through the desert, I suppose ice storms don’t sound all that awful.