On Sunday, Yul Kwon LAW ’00 won the controversial “Survivor: Cook Islands” competition, which featured a twist on the series in which contestants were divided along racial lines.
With a cool head and focus on strategy, Kwon beat out 20 other contestants — including the runner-up Oscar “Ozzy” Lusth, who bested Kwon in physical challenges — to win. As the first Asian winner in the 13 seasons of “Survivor,” Kwon will take home a $1 million prize.
During the show, Kwon said that victory would not come as a result of simply outsmarting his opponents.
“The key to winning the game is maximizing the good luck and minimizing the bad luck,” he said.
Survivor host Jeff Probst said he was torn by the close vote of 5-4 in favor of Kwon.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever felt bad that somebody didn’t win,” he said. “It was so evenly matched.”
This season’s Survivor caused controversy because for the first weeks of the show, the contestants were split into four tribes along racial lines — white, Hispanic, Asian and black. Ratings released Tuesday indicated that while the Survivor finale was the most watched show on television Sunday night, it was less popular than the finales of previous seasons.
Before the finale, when the contestants were whittled down to two Asians, one Hispanic, and one black, Kwon said on the show that he was glad the winner of Survivor would be a minority.
“It think it speaks volumes, that oftentimes the strongest teams are the ones that have a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds,” he said.
Kwon was the only contestant to raise concerns about the racial segregation of the tribes, Probst said in a conference call with the media earlier this year. He called Kwon one of the “most interesting” and “definitely one of the smartest guys” he knows.
In an interview with the News this fall, one of Kwon’s close friends, Nisha Chhabra LAW ’00, said Kwon went on the show in order to break stereotypes about Asians.
“He’s very concerned with racial groups being expected to behave and perform according to stereotype or being treated in a discriminatory manner,” she said. “One of the reasons he tried out was because it really was important to him that there be a greater presence of Asian members on TV.”
Kwon, who is 31 years old, lives in San Mateo, California and has worked at McKinsey and Google. While working for Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67, Kwon drafted parts of the Homeland Security Bill. He went through officer training for the U.S. Marine Corps while studying at Stanford.
The next season is currently being taped on the Fiji island Vanua Levu, where a military coup recently took place.