Yul Kwon’s Survivor Strategy

San Mateo’s Yul Kwon is, without a doubt, the ultimate “Survivor” strategist.

Yul Kwon

And he has a great sense of humor. When talking to him this morning, the day after he beat out surfer Ozzy, AKA Monkey boy, for the million, he talked about his parents’ reaction to him going on the show.

His parents, who immigrated to the United States from South Korea, were unclear on the “Survivor” premise.

“My father thought that they put 20 people on a deserted island and the one left alive got the million,” Kwon says. “My parents were actually hoping I’d go on `The Bachelor.’ But at this point, they would like me to show up on the doorstep with a wife and baby.”

So just how did he manipulate himself into winning the million bucks? We’ll let Yul speak for himself.

Yul Kwon

Kwon says he watched the first season of “Survivor” and then rarely watched after that. When he was recruited by the producers to go on the show – they knew about him from his work on Steve Westly’s California campaign – he said he quickly crammed by renting out several seasons of “Survivor.”

Even though he had a plan, and a knack for calculating statistically feasible outcomes, he just hoped that he wouldn’t be the first one ejected from the game.

His first break came when he found the hidden immunity idol on Exile Island.

Yul stripped

“The immunity idol is a gun with one bullet. If I used it that way, it wasn’t really useful. The power is in the potential to use it,” Yul says. “When I found the idol, I wanted to save it to change the flow of the game.”

And so he did. Two other dramatic events could have taken Yul out of the game.

The first event was when team members Candice and Jonathan decided to switch to the other team _ which left their tribe at a disadvantage with only four members in the tribe. It could have meant that they could have been quickly picked off during a tribe merge. They only way they could stay alive in the short term was to win challenges.

Yul embraced Ozzy as the Challenge Master.

Yul and Ozzy

“Ozzy was the best hedge to deflect attention away from me. I had been targeted to get out, but he was my insurance,” Yul says.

Yul says the four bonded into a group and that he worked to keep them together by making them all feel as if they were part of the decision making process.

“We never felt threatened by each other, we trusted each other that we would all get to the final four together,” Yul says.

After the merge, they needed to flip someone in the dominant Raro tribe. Which brought up the one time when Yul believed there might be a tear in the bond of the four.

Jonathan was rational enough to understand that it was in his own self-interest to flip, so he was the obvious choice,” Yul says. “But Ozzy wanted to turn Nate, and I didn’t understand why Nate, who had a strong alliance, would want to go to our side. His already secure for a No. 5 spot in his own tribe. Why flip for the same position in our tribe?

“So I asked Ozzy how he could convince Nate, and he started talking about how he would appeal to him as being an outsider in the (predominately white) tribe, just like Ozzy felt like an outsider in our tribe. As soon as he said it, it was like a bird flew in his mouth and he just trailed off. I realized that he was going to screw us and try for an alliance with Nate against us.”

So Yul went to convince Jonathan that it was in his best interest to flip and at least be guaranteed a No. 5 position. He told Jonathan that he had the immunity idol and if it came down to a vote, Jonathan would be voted out because Yul would use the idol to save himself.

Yul then convinced Jonathan that the reason why Jonathan hadn’t been voted out yet was because his tribe members thought Jonathan had the immunity idol. And if Jonathan told them that Yul had the idol, then they would vote Jonathan out.

“As long as he believed the story about his tribe only keeping him in because they thought he had the idol, I knew we could flip him,” Yul says. “But in addition to the rational arguments, there was an emotional reason for Jonathan to flip.”

Yul had been present at a discussion about body hair between members of the Raro tribe. The discussion turned mean-spirited against Jonathan’s wife.

“I was chopping coconuts and thought `You guys are being really rude and you’re digging your own grave.’ Jonathan was furious with them and didn’t want any of them making it to the final four,” Yul says. “So I told Ozzy that the only way Jonathan would flip would be if we voted Nate out, because he had made fun of Jonathan’s wife.”

In fact, Jonathan didn’t care which one was voted out. Yul just wanted to take away Ozzy’s alternative to sticking with the four.

The other threat to the four was when Becky wanted to vote Ozzy out because she saw him as a threat. Yul says he listened to her and Sundra, but would never let that happen.

“Once you voted out one of the four, the trust was gone,” Yul says.

Becky and Yul became close friends during their time on the island, but it was only a friendship. Yul says that when the Candice/Jonathan mutiny happened, he offered the immunity idol to Becky if she ever needed it.

“It was silly for me to use it for myself and go into the merge alone just to get eliminated. She could have used it and flown under the radar for a while,” Yul says. “When we got to the end, it was a brief conversation about the idol and Becky decided that wasn’t the way she wanted to play the game.”

Instead, under the new rules, Yul caught another break. Three would go before the tribal council instead of two. So Yul, with the immunity idol, was safe and so was Ozzy after winning the challenge. The decision was made to let Sundra and Becky battle it out in a tie-breaker after Ozzy voted Becky out and Yul voted Sundra out.

And then there was that awful fire-building challenge.

Yul says to be fair, it was terribly windy and that probably hurt the two when trying to start fires. But he also says that when Sundra ran out of wood, Becky offered some of her wood to Sundra. When Sundra ran out of matches, she cheered Becky on.

Jeff couldn’t believe it,” Yul says.

In the end, Yul believed it would come down to him and Ozzy.

“I thought about, if I was close, that I would throw the immunity challenge, that way I wouldn’t have to choose between Ozzy and either Becky or Sundra because no matter who I chose, the other would feel burned,” Yul says. “I thought Ozzy would probably chose me because he has a real sense of fairness and I told him that if he went against Becky or Sundra, then the jury would see them all as being the same kind of players. More people on the jury hated me and since he had decimated them on the challenges, they could hold him accountable for them not making it to the finals and vote for Becky or Sundra.

“I didn’t think I would win in a landslide against Ozzy, but I thought I had a good shot.”

The closing arguments before the jury played into Yul’s strength as a trial attorney. But even he didn’t see it coming when Ozzy claimed that he wanted the money to go to college.

Turns out that Ozzy had told everyone he would use his winnings to build a sort of surfer commune for his pals where they could live free.

“I went to the confessional booth after that and said he would win a million dollars over my dead body. What a phenomenal waste.”

Yul won by just one vote, a vote that he had guaranteed when he engineered Jonathan’s ejection.

Adam told me that he would promise to vote for me in the final if Jonathan went before he did,” Yul says. “I knew Adam would keep his word.”

Yul, Becky and Ozzy

So, boys and girls, that’s how you win a million bucks on “Survivor.”


  1. Jeremy Chartrand said,

    December 19, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    How to win a million bucks on “Survivor”:

    Have two people on the jury who never were on a tribe with your main competition, thus guaranteeing you two free jury votes. Brad and Jenny were voted out pre-merge and had only been on a tribe with Yul. Rebecca was also voted out pre-merge, but had been on a tribe with neither Yul nor Ozzy. All three were in the jury. Thanks to Survivor allowing three people voted out pre-merge to be on the jury, Yul had a two-vote head start and Ozzy never had a chance.

    Yul obviously was very deserving (and Ozzy would have been also), but Ozzy clearly deserved a fair chance at winning.

  2. Sekou said,

    December 19, 2006 at 6:32 pm

    Just so you don’t mislead others Jenny voted for Ozzy and Rebecca voted for Ozzy so what you stated is not fact. Ozzy pretty much got votes from people that spent the less amounts of time with him. Those who knew Ozzy longest voted for Yul instead.

  3. Latoya said,

    December 19, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    Actually Jeremy, if I understand correctly, Rebecca and Jenny both ended up voting for
    Ozzy even though Jenny was on a team with Yul. There was not love lost there. So of
    the two pre-merge Jury members, 2 voted for Ozzy.

  4. Latoya said,

    December 19, 2006 at 7:25 pm

    correction to the above. Of the THREE pre-jury members, TWO ended up voting for Ozzy.

  5. Bunny J. said,

    December 20, 2006 at 9:44 am

    So, now that he’s won $1 million, living in San Mateo, he MIGHT be able to buy a modest condo! Yay, Yul!

    (Reality-show winner should always be from Podunk, AR, thus guaranteeing that the money will really change their lives. Or, those of us in the Bay Area should get a cost-of-living prize-money increase.)

  6. Lemur Lad said,

    December 20, 2006 at 11:01 am

    In addition to the clarifications above, I’ll say that at the cbs website the footage of what the jury members said as they voted is now available. Adam makes it abundantly clear he felt Ozzy deserved his vote, but he was keeping the promise he made to Yul in game.

    Yul is a young successful man with a great career and education, and probably doesn’t need the money per se. However everything he’s said he plans to do with it sounds admirable and has remained consistent (unlike Ozzy’s changing stories). Yul will do good things with his winnings.

  7. erika rocena said,

    December 20, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    congatulations to yul… he’s really a great icon to show what we asians have in terms of skills and abilities… he’s simply outstanding… i hope he and becky will end up being together…hahaha!!! =D oh well, again, i congratulate yul kwon in behalf of the filipinos who support him… =D

  8. Slick said,

    December 20, 2006 at 2:14 pm

    “The immunity idol is a gun with one bullet. If I used it that way, it wasn’t really useful. The power is in the potential to use it,’’ Yul says.

    This is the single most powerful lesson about politics and management that can learned from Yul. Fear of getting killed is much more powerful than the act of killing. It is a effective method commonly used by mafias and dictatorships in general. If George W. Bush understood this, we wouldn’t be dealing with this big mess in Iraq. Didn’t Bush and Yul both went to Yale? One must be falling asleep during class. Then again, our president glorifies how you can get C’s in college and still become president.

  9. Ella Bennigan said,

    December 20, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    What a treasure trove of information about the delectable Yul Kwon! Thanks, Sue. And now I know how to win a million dollars on “Survivor.” Still and all, I’d rather win Yul. He gives new meaning to Yul-tide cheer!
    Happy holidays and thanks for the great blog.

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