Survivor Birthday: Yul Kwon (Survivor Cook Islands) Turns 42


While everyone else on Survivor Cook Islands was playing Checkers, Yul Kwon was playing Chess. We celebrate his 42nd birthday today.

Player: Yul Kwon
Occupation: Management Consultant
Hometown: San Mateo, California 
Seasons: Survivor Cook Islands
Tribes: Puka Puka (Green Buff), Aitutaki (Red Buff), Aitutonga (Black Buff)
Finished: Sole Survivor

Survivor Cook Islands was controversial for a number of reasons. Colloquially known as Survivor Race Wars, this season had 20 players initially split into four different tribes dictated by ethnic background. In an era where CBS engaged in a “social experiment” meant more than a mere excuse for YouTubers being cruel pranksters, Yul Kwon emerged a player who made the best out of an odd situation.

The second controversy of the season focused more on gameplay reasons. Hidden at Exile Island was an immunity idol that could be played after the votes were cast. While normally anybody who finds such an idol would find it useful, Yul’s keen mind allowed him to dictate a post-merge strategy that brought him from a minority-in-numbers crew to a Final Tribal Council three.

Many malign the game of Yul Kwon because of just how overpowered his hidden immunity idol was. However, that does a disservice to his social strategy, as he knew who to target in a majority alliance in order to get the flip he so desperately needed.

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That player happened to be Jonathan Penner, someone who managed to return to the game of Survivor multiple times. Knowing that each were equal in terms of intellect and thinking several moves about the game, Yul convinced him that flipping to an alliance that can use the super idol to even the numbers will let him last longer in a game where everyone was gunning for him.

The ploy worked, Penner flipped, and the Yul Kwon core of players continued on right to the end without a moment of desperation (outside of Ozzy Lusth winning the final immunity challenge). Yul Kwon was the Puppetmaster, and for the second half of his season, he supremely controlled the game.

Since leaving Survivor Cook Islands, Yul Kwon has followed perhaps one of the most influential paths of any winner. Just like he did during his time on the show, he explored issues surrounding Asian-Americans on television with a mini-series called, “Uncovering America.” It helped him parlay work with the FBI, operating as a lecturer.

In addition to working for the FCC and hosting his own PBS show, Yul Kwon eventually took a job with Facebook, where he currently serves as Director of Product Management.

Next: Survivor: Russell Hantz Believes He Could Win the Presidency, Sort Of

For totally dominating all other challenges on Survivor Cook Islands while helping a larger group of people understand the struggles of the Asian-American community on and off the show, we wish Yul Kwon a very happy 42nd birthday!