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Monday, December 18, 2006

The Slug Talks to Yul Kwon

121806robe (AP Photo/HO/CBS)

The Slug just got off the phone with "Survivor: Cook Islands" winner Yul Kwon. He is more modest, intelligent and endearing than he comes off on TV, if you can believe that. We asked him all about crafting his undulating strategy, taming Jonathan Penner, teaming with Becky Lee and what he's looking for in a mate. Grannies will want to hear this.

LISTEN: Yul Kwon on his newfound sex symbol status and being single.


The Slug: Congratulations, Yul. How are you feeling?

Yul Kwon: A mixture of elation and sleep deprivation. I think I only slept for an hour because we had to get up early for an "Early Show" interview. Since we're matched to the East Coast, we got up at 3:30 a.m.

The Slug: Did you get to enjoy the after-party at all?

Yul Kwon: I did. It was wonderful having my family there. I think a lot of people were out partying. I didn't want to sound too stupid in my interviews so I thought I should probably take it easy.

The Slug: Doubt that'll happen. Walk us through your strategy. How did you go from Day One to Day 39?

Yul Kwon:
I think my strategy changed a number of times over the course of the season. I think the thing that helps you the most in this game — besides sheer luck — is the ability to adapt to different situations. I came in with the strategy or trying to play a clean game. I realized early on that is completely naive. Unless you're incredibly lucky, you can't be successful at "Survivor" without manipulating or deceiving to some extent. I wasn't comfortable with that role, but it's something I had to get used to.

The Slug: At what point did you think you could really win?

Yul Kwon:
Up until the mutiny, I was pretty comfortable in my position. I felt I'd done a good job deflecting attention away from me. In a strategic sense, I was able to play up Jonathan being the major strategic threat that everyone distrusted. Ozzy was the main threat in terms of challenges and physicality. When the mutiny happened, I thought we would be wiped out. I didn't think there was a possibility we would make it all the way through until the end. At that point, I pretty much gave up my individual game. I just wanted any of us from the Aitu four to make it through to the end. I realized that we might get to the end, and I might get to the end once we started winning the first couple of immunity challenges. I realized even though we were down in numbers, we worked much better as a team.

The Slug: Obviously, you were going to take Becky to the final two. Had there been a final two instead of final three, what did you think would've happened? Did you think in the back of your mind you could win against her?

Yul Kwon: Honestly, my goal was to get to the final two with Becky and leave it up to the jury to decide who was the more deserving winner. Really. That was my goal. If she had won against me in the final two, I would've been happy with that. I was really worried at the end. We bonded so tightly as the Aitu four. We represented such a multicultural collation of people. I was very afraid that the people who made it to the end would be all from one ethnicity. And even though I don't believe anyone on the show is racist, I think there's a lot of people in this country that would have seen that with regrettable implications or lessons.

The Slug: What were you thinking with offering Becky the Hidden Immunity Idol at the last moment?

Yul Kwon: They didn't show all of this. I offered Becky the idol a number of times. After the mutiny, I thought it was over. I thought we'd lose a challenge, and we'll lose Ozzy or Sundra. Then we'll lose again. What I saw was me and Becky having to compete against each other at Tribal Council. If that happened, I'd play the Idol. She'd get booted out. And we'd merge, and I'd be by myself. At that point, I told her she could have the idol, and I would forfeit the game so at least she could maneuver herself into another alliance or turn the game around. True to her friendship to me, she said no. I told her, "You know, Becky, if you ever need the idol, I will give it to you." So when they played up in the final episode this whole drama about whether I give her the idol or not, that was a given all along. They didn't show that we discussed it and decided it wasn't the right way to end this game.

The Slug: What was your relationship with Becky like now?

Yul Kwon: I think it's so rare to find a person you can trust so completely. I consider her to be one of the most valuable things I'm coming away from "Survivor" with right up there with $1 million. It's rare to have the opportunity to really test someone's friendship. Having gone through this together, I have no doubt in my mind that we'll be friends for life.

The Slug: What about more than that!?

Yul Kwon: Nah. I don't think either of us really thought about that or saw that. I think in a relationship, I think we probably just make really good friends. I think to try to change that into something else might not result in as much of a natural bond.

The Slug: Tell me what you thought about Jonathan. You and he had such an interesting dynamic throughout the game — from the first day with the chicken on the boat up until you plotted his demise.

Yul Kwon: Jonathan is such an interesting guy. I have so much respect for him. He has a fascinating, fascinating personality. I considered him to be a good ally and friend up until the end. I couldn't understand why no one would trust him. To me, he was very transparent with his thoughts. He kind of reminds me a little bit of a figure from Greek mythology, Cassandra, who had the ability to foretell the future, but her curse was that no one would ever believe her. Jonathan was almost always telling the truth. He was very upfront with his thoughts, but his curse was that nobody would ever believe him. So for whatever reason, he got placed in the category of manipulator. The funny thing is that really came back to bite him in the butt.

The Slug: We know he voted for you to win. Did you know who else voted for you?

Yul Kwon: I'm not positive. I talked it over with Ozzy. I think on my side, I had Jonathan, Sundra, Candice, Brad and Adam. I think the people for Ozzy were probably Parvati, Nate, Rebecca and Jenny.

The Slug: How did you get on the show?

Yul Kwon: I was recruited. I had seen the show, the first or second season. I thought it was really fascinating. I've always been interested in human dynamics and how people perceive themselves versus how other people perceive them. I got really busy in my career and didn't have time to watch the show. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It had gone all the way up to final interviews, and they still hadn't found the right mix of people. So one of the recruiters had contacted one of my friends randomly, and she recommended me. I was coming off a project at work and was planning on taking a vacation. For me, once I found out I would be on the show, I really started studying the game, getting past seasons on DVD and determining what I could do to leverage my experiences and assets into good gameplay.

The Slug: Wow. Is there somebody you were modeling yourself after from previous season?

Yul Kwon: I was probably modeling myself after Ethan (Zahn from "Survivor: Africa") because he played a clean game and with integrity. I was also more enamored with people who were strong strategizers like Richard Hatch or Brian Heidik. I think one person who did embody both but wasn't ultimately successful on the show was ... oh, what's his name? The lawyer. Uh ... I just got his e-mail. Oh. Andrew Savage.

The Slug: Oh. Right. From "Pearl Islands."

Yul Kwon: Right. I think he was too strong a leader and ultimately got his head chopped. I like the way he played. I like him as a person. But I learned from him you can't make yourself too big of a threat.

The Slug: He sent you an e-mail?

Yul Kwon: Yeah. I met him after the show. Just tonight in fact. He was congratulating me and saying he appreciated my gameplay.

The Slug: So now that you're a sex symbol, what are you looking for?

Yul Kwon: (Laughs.) I'm looking for someone who has a lot of the same ideals and values as I do, someone who is committed to family. As I've gotten older, I've become increasingly more cynical. I think at heart, I'm still an idealist and a romantic, but I think that's been kicked over in the mud. I think somebody who helps me look at the world with fresh eyes again and shows me that the world isn't so gray, that there's still things out there to really care about.

The Slug: How did you stay so cool headed throughout the game and not get annoyed by Adam and Candice making out or Cao Boi telling inappropriate jokes?

Yul Kwon: I got plenty annoyed. If you're not getting sleep because somebody is talking 24 hours a day, you can't help but get irritated. But I think the thing that helped me honestly is that I don't think I have a big ego. For me, I'm very willing to let other people take credit. My nature is such that I want to work collaboratively with people.

The Slug: Who were you happiest to see go?

Yul Kwon: I wanted to get rid of people who weren't really rational players. There were a lot of people out there who didn't study the show. They were just there for the experience or to get camera time. Those people aren't as fun to play with as an intellectual player. And they're really hard to play with too because you don't know how they're going to vote — with the phases of the moon or the temperature or the water type. It's such a crapshoot. I wanted to get rid of them more than anybody.

The Slug: Who typified that most?

Yul Kwon: Eh ... I don't want to talk schmack. I just want to state for the record that outside of the game, these are all good people.

The Slug: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Who was trying to get more camera time?

Yul Kwon: I think I'm getting cut off. Any final questions?

The Slug: No. We covered it. Enjoy your sex symbol status.

Yul Kwon: Thank you. If you know any hot grandmas you can set me up with, send them my way.

The Slug: I'll e-mail you the list, Yul.


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