Survivor: Ethan Zohn on

Ethan Zohn is really the ultimate survivor. He not only won the third season of the CBS hit series, but also the Survivor: Africa champion, who was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called CD20-positive Hodgkin lymphoma in 2009. After intensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, the cancer went into remission, but returned in 2011. Ethan fought cancer for the second time and won thanks to another stem cell transplant and an experimental drug.

Now Ethan is ready to kick cancer and kick ass on the island as he returns to Survivor’s epic season 40 Battle Royale, Winners at War. The fact that Ethan is even able to show up and play is a win for the man and the entire survivor community, who have watched him raise millions of dollars for charities like Grassroot Soccer and Stand Up to Cancer , but Ethan is far from satisfied by just showing up. He wants to win again.


EW sat down and spoke to Ethan a day before Survivor: Winners at War (premiered on February 12 on CBS) in Fiji to talk about his emotional return to the island as he prepared himself for his greatest advantage as a beginner the game and hoping that others would not “use my cancer with weapons and against me”.

WEEKLY ENTERTAINMENT: Okay, Ethan. It’s been a long time since we saw you on Survivor. Survivor: All-Stars, season 8, was the last time you were there, 16 years ago. Just give everyone an update on what you’ve done so far as it is obviously some of the latest great news in your life.
ETHAN ZOHN: The best news on the planet is that I’m just married. I found the love of my life and married the wonderful Lisa Haywood, an interior designer. We met in New York City and recently packed it up and moved into the New Hampshire woods.

That is amazing. It was so long ago that you played and you were a completely different person at the time. And you’ve been through so much. We know all the medical problems you have been through. You just talked about being married and a little gray in the hair. How did you change as a person and how does who you are in the game change?
Well, it’s funny because I wanted to go back and look at me again. So I went back and saw Survivor: Africa. I was 27 years old. I hadn’t seen the show since it aired on TV and there were always people around so I didn’t focus on it. So I went back and almost didn’t recognize this child. I said, “You have no idea what’s going to happen in your life.” And I was so shy, reserved, innocent and polite. And I thought I was so far from it and I was a completely different person, but I am not. At its core, I still feel like a nice guy, I’m compassionate, I’m loyal, I’m empathetic, and I was happy to see that I didn’t change that much. Apparently things have changed around me and I’ve had some health problems as you said, but part of the reason I’m here is that I would like to tap into this 27 year old boy who just said yes to this crazy adventure and just destroy that experience out here.

It is epic. There was a time when I didn’t feel like I was alive long enough to be able to play Survivor again. Of course, I knew that there could be a season with all the winners at some point. So I have Heroes vs. Villains in my hospital room watched my second stem cell transplant being prayed for. I dreamed that I would stay alive or that I was healthy enough to be able to play again and I am here.

It is wonderful. As someone who visited you in the hospital when you were there and knows the goodwill for you in the Survivor community because you are a great guy and everything you’ve been through, I wonder: does that? Did you hurt in the game? Do you think there could be an element of “Whoa, I can’t end up sitting next to Ethan”? Does all this help you or does it hurt you?
Well, I like to think that it helps me, but I understand where you’re going with it. In my eyes, Survivor is a relationship game, and if you can get in touch with people and feel comfortable around them, think that they just want to hang out with you, they want to be near you. One of my advantages here is that I don’t think anyone thought I would be here. They probably thought I was dead. It was like walking around the corner and they said, “Holy crap, Ethan is alive?”

So I don’t think anyone thought I was here, they probably didn’t research me and they don’t know how to play. I was playing at a time when there were no hidden immunities, no clues, no ways to get back into the game, no blindsides. Right?

How will this kid play? And when you know how I’m going to play, you will think, “Ah, he’s likeable, he’s a nice guy, he’s loyal, he’s trusted,” but I’m not.

Well, is there a learning curve for you then? Because you just said you saw Africa again. It’s like a glacier pace compared to today, you know what I mean?
It’s slow TV. People say, “It will be like a bike.” And I think it’s probably not going to be like riding a bike to a Harley Davidson that’s filled with rocket fuel. Probst gave everyone a little announcement. He says, “This game is different from all of your old school people.” I think it’s an advantage that people won’t know how I play. And the people who say I have a good story like, “Come on, dude. Are you going to use my cancer against me? I would like to exchange my good story for one of your good stories. I would give you $ 1 million to trade with you so you can have my good story. So f – your good stories and let’s play. I’m here, we’re all winners, I’m 45 years old, I’m ready, I’m unstoppable, let’s go! Stop living in the past, right? “So I don’t think it’s fair to treat my cancer with weapons and use it against me.

I know how much you love this game and how important it is to you. How important is it for you to use this as a platform – as you have done so successfully since your appearance? Because you really are the first person people think of when it comes to using the Survivor experience forever, and because you have done everything you can to give something back with Grassroot Soccer. How important is that to you and how does it help you get here in season 40?
It definitely depends. Survivor: When we had the idea of ​​grassroots football, Africa was football as a teaching tool for children’s lives. Survivor: All-Stars had a thousand children in the program. In 2020, 2.2 million children attended grassroots football. So you’re talking about how Survivor changed life. Not only has it changed my life in a crazy way, it has changed so many children around the world, we are now in 50 countries.

So I definitely think about it. I will of course wear a Grassroot Soccer Jersey again. And then, because you asked me about the whole cancer thing, the whole reason Survivors Stand Up To Cancer exists is because of me and, unfortunately, Jenn Lyon, who passed away, and Jeff. CBS was kind enough to say, “All right, let’s auction all the props and donate that to Stand Up To Cancer.” So I think about it, but it’s not my first priority to be here. I am here to play. This will be an incredible epic experience.

But there is a way that you can be a winner in this experience without being a winner. I know you want to win, but only because you are here with everything that you have personally gone through and what you are – the good you do for other people goes beyond that experience.
Certainly. Yes, you packed it pretty well. It’s an absolute miracle for me to sit here before the game. I shouldn’t be alive now. So everything that happens after that moment or after day 1 … I’m sorry, you’re pretty awesome, but I would like to make it to day 1. I don’t want to die today before the game starts tomorrow.

But yes, it’s pretty awesome. It’s like something is icing on the cake. It’s a perfect bookend for this crazy Survivor life I’ve lived, and in season 40 there’s nothing like it. I’m happy, I’m a little bit spiritual right now. Of course I want to win and I have prepared for it. Dalton, I prepared myself like a beginner because I watch all these shows and I don’t know what’s going on. I am the oldest man here, 45 years old, and I am the oldest male player here. That says something when I played Africa, I was 27.

So my wife and I moved to a warmer climate. I went barefoot to get calluses on my feet. She hid idols in the forest. I swam, I balanced, I meditated, I puzzled, I ran, lifted weights, I undid and tied knots. I take free diving courses so I can hold my breath. All I could do to be here and that was in the last 90 days of my life.

So I prepared myself and tried to control everything I believe to control. On the other hand, I have no idea how to play an idol. I don’t know what the blind side is. I’ve never participated in these fast paced games so I think part of my strategy is to find someone in my new school days who can help guide me a little. But I’m an old guy. I have a feeling that an old school player will win this thing. I believe that the old values ​​of trust and loyalty can be carried over to this new era. That could be the old man in me hoping for the best because this is just my game, but I really think there is a place for it.

It’s interesting because there were a lot of old players in Game Changers, and that became an issue early on. There was a rift: there was the old school group and the new school, and it is interesting to hear how you say you think these old values ​​can win the day, and at the same time say that you are someone from the new school need to look to help each other sort and marry these concepts.
Yes, I see how Adam played. He played an old school game. He had a loyal relationship. Parvati, she played with one person all the time. She was loyal to Russell for the second time, opposite Amanda. So these are old values ​​in the new school game. You must have a ride or two or die. So that’s my Lex and Tom.

You mentioned Adam. Is Adam the guy you want to work with, or is there someone else?
I thought about it and he was probably 10 years old when I was up. You can imagine: “Oh, there is still a Jew in the series with whom I can identify.” He lost his mother to cancer, he’s a compassionate guy he plays with his heart. I can identify with this person. Does it have any value when you have the Robs and the Tysons and the Wendells out there? I dont know.

How much do you know these people because you and Rob obviously played together, but in relation to all these new players, have you ever met these people through anything?
I was off the radar in a good way. I don’t attend any of the events, maybe I haven’t met a new winner in the past 10 years. I watch them on social media, I watch all the shows, but yes, I know Rob.

You have no connections to the others.
No connections. I hope that some old schoolgirls will show up – maybe Tina is here or Parvati or Sandra. I met her. Maybe you can make this connection quickly, but I don’t know.

And that could always lead to you helping or getting hurt. How do you think others see you? Not how do you see yourself, but when you make your impressions of them, how do you think their impression of Ethan is?
I hope no one really says when I showed up, “Oh my god, Ethan is a big threat we have to get rid of this guy.” That is what I hope for. If you see some of the other faces walking around where they pose major threats and my value is that I don’t think anyone knows how I’m going to play. Everyone else has played recently and their strategy has been worked out. If you are manipulative, or if you are not trustworthy, or if you have big blindsides, if you find tons of idols, people know that.

People don’t know how I played and they don’t know how I play with this new era of the game. I think that will be an asset, and if you know something about me like I said, it’s like, “He’s a nice guy.” And they can probably find a way to work with me, probably just because of the philanthropy that you’re talking about and my public image of everything they know about me is like, I’m a nice, trusting, compassionate guy, and maybe do you want to be with this type of person (Pauses) You mean, “Yes, right.”

Well, it’s just a question of whether you think “This is a guy I can trust and work with” or “This is a guy I can take advantage of”.
I am happy with it. Let them take advantage of me.

Or make them think they’re taking advantage of you.
Yes, make them think they’re taking advantage of me. I agree with that. You know me well enough. I’m not a type A personality, the type who stands up and barks orders. I’m the guy behind the guy, that’s my role. I feel comfortable and safe here. I help in the camp, I win challenges, I support everyone, I help with decisions, but I am not the face. I don’t need a resume. I don’t need blindsides, I don’t need to embarrass people, that’s not my style. I am good if I only sit in the back.

Is it still true that you chose Survivor: All-Stars? Basically no chance, because everyone wanted to get the winners out immediately. Is that still in your crush?
Little bit. I think it was too early for all-stars and as you said we were a goal from day one. At that time, the strategy for everyone was that you couldn’t let a winner win again. So it was a tough fight. I could never really get things going. I never really had a chance to develop a strategy because nobody wanted to work with me, because they just knew I would be voted out. So it was a little mad at the stuff, but it’s what it is. I have lasted the longest of all winners.

It’s always fun to be back with the old school players and get that nostalgic rush of reconnection, but I have to say, Ethan, just sit out here again in this environment with everything you’ve been through and everything the discussions you and I have had over the years – to do this with you … I’m not getting emotional, am I? But I’m actually getting a little emotional.
Okay, just a little bit.

It’s a big deal for me. It’s very cool to see you out here. I can’t wait to see you in the game again and I’m really looking forward to you.
Thanks man. I am happy to be here and it is an honor to be here.

Don’t break it.

For more Survivor articles, visit Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss. You can find exclusive photos and videos of the 40th season at Dalton on Instagram @thedaltonross.

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