The Ultimate Survivor

A cameraman films the Intercontinental Hotel from the entrance to the West Bank town of Jericho, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on Aug. 6, 2007. Olmert became the first Israeli prime minister to visit a Palestinian city since the outbreak of fighting seven years ago. AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

A clean-shaven Ethan Zohn, appearing on the "The Early Show with anchor Bryant Gumbel Friday, talked about his time in Africa, his strategy for the game and plans for the future. He also picked up a check for $1 million dollars.

Gumbel started the interview by first commenting on Zohn's newly shaven face. Zohn replied that he had hated having a beard - it drove him crazy. Gumbel then wanted to know about Zohn's reaction to winning "Survivor."

BRYANT: Has it sunk in yet?

ETHAN: Not really. I'm waiting for it to sink in. I can't wait. Right now, I'm in a blur. It's just a big - it's so exciting.

BRYANT: You're in kind of a whirlwind now. When do you figure you'll be able to stop and give some thought about how to proceed, and how to make this work for you?

ETHAN: You know, maybe when all the media stuff's over I'll sit down, relax, and you know, see what is in the future.

BRYANT: Yeah? Kim said she thought she would have lost either way to you or to Lex.

ETHAN: Yeah, I think I agree. I do. Lex was a very strong competitor. Kim was a strong competitor. I just think if Kim had to go against Lex, I think Lex would have come out on top.

BRYANT: So Leo Durocher was wrong, nice guys don't finish last?

ETHAN: I guess not.

BRYANT: And you went through this whole thing without one vote against us.

ETHAN: Yeah, that's true. Not one vote.

BRYANT: Ethan, you know, you've been home for what, three months? Knowing that you were down to the final two. How hard has that been?

ETHAN: It's pretty -- you know, it's been pretty tough. I don't mind not telling my friends and family, you know, I kind of like lying, having an excuse to lie to their face. But knowing you're in the final two and just wanting to get to that day and just waiting for that day to come was pretty tough. I just couldn't wait for that day to come.

Gumbel wanted to know if Zohn had kept in touch with Kim Johnson during the wait.

ETHAN: Oh, yeah we talked all the time. Yeah. We're close. Maybe once a week, twice a week.

BRYANT: What were the conversations like?

ETHAN: Just normal conversations outside the game. We didn't talk about the game at all. How's your family? How's your friends? What have you been doing? Things like that. And we became really close. We had a strong bond together.

BRYANT: You know, we were thinking back when Richard won. And when Tina won. They both sat there in their places, almost like they were overwhelmed by it happening. You jumped up.

ETHAN: I jumped up. I was excited. I couldn't believe it. I saw my name on that piece of paper. I couldn't believe it. I was ecstatic.

BRYANT: Had you given any thought to how you'd respond if it was you? Or how you'd respond if it was Kim?

ETHAN: Not really. You know, I was just hoping to see my name I thought it could have gone either way. And I had no idea who was going to win. I really didn't. And when I saw my name up there, just exploded like we won a soccer game. All my adrenaline, all my emotions, just up and through me.

Gumbel noted that Zohn was America's new sex symbol. Zohn demurred.

ETHAN: I don't know about that.

BRYANT: You don't know, but there are a lot of women who obviously are taken with your looks. And you've been referred to as the cute one, the hunky one, the good-looking one, the sexy one. How does that sit with you?

ETHAN: It's a little strange. It's definitely a little bit strange. You know, I don't mind it. It's nice to hear good things about yourself. But I'm not used to that. And I'm a little bit modest, and you know, I get a little embarrassed when people say good things. I don't know.

BRYANT: How much have you replayed the last few months? Things that you wish you had done differently? Things that you'd like a second chance to do. Regrets? Are there any?

ETHAN: Well in terms of playing the game, I really don't have any regrets. I played the game the way I wanted to play.

BRYANT: Even physical regrets? The last challenge when you were holding on the post there?

ETHAN: In the last challenge if I could go back to one thing I would have loved to win that challenge. And to have it all come down to that and one silly mistake. A lack of concentration. I just slipped off that post.

BRYANT: Where do you want this to take you, Ethan? Okay you're a "Survivor" champion. What happens?

ETHAN: You know, I'm pretty happy with being "Survivor" champion. I didn't come here -- you know, I didn't apply to win the money or go to Hollywood or anything. I came to -- I really wanted to win this game. That was the most important thing to me.

Later, former Survivor winners Richard Hatch and Tina Wesson joined Gumbel and Zohn and talked game strategy.

RICHARD: I talked about how I thought Ethan played intentionally. How I thought he was very calmly always retaining 'I'm in a game.' Always observing, always aware, always calm, retaining that idea I'm in a game. And most of the contestants did not do that.

BRYANT: Ethan, were you ever conscious of it?

ETHAN: Oh, all the time. You're always conscious.

BRYANT: I mean were you always thinking I'm in a game. Let me stop, take a breath, I'm in a game?

ETHAN: A lot of the time. Sometimes you might want to say something but then you hold back a little because you know it's probably going to affect you in a negative way. And I definitely -- I'm definitely not the person to stand up and bark orders. I kind of sat back and I observed everything. And then made my decisions.

BRYANT: Could you see certain people self-destructing?

ETHAN: A little bit. A little bit.

BRYANT: Listen to that lagh, will you? Go ahead, Tina.

TINA: I think he played like me. You know, because he didn't ruffle any feathers -- which is so important. He built relationships while he was out there. And I think most of the people out there are aware that they're in a game.

BRYANT: Was it harder to hold the alliance together after the switch? I mean, you had an alliance with two guys who basically took a walk to the other side. And you really didn't have any idea of what was going on over at Samburu.

ETHAN: You know what? I took a big gamble, you know, believing that the alliance was going to stay true once, and if we got back together. You know, I was banking on it that if we got back together, if we did merge, that they'd stay true to their word from the beginning. And I got a little bit lucky there. But it could have easily gone the other way. That's the scary thing about it. But I wanted to be champion of, you know, "Survivor: Africa." That was the biggest, the most important thing to me. That's what I was playing for. That title was more important to me than the money. Hands down.

GUMBEL: Do you want to go back to being the soccer coach or do you see yourself being, you know, the hunk on screen or commercials or something else?

ETHAN: I don't know. I don't see myself being the hunk. I don't -- I don't know if I'm into the whole Hollywood thing.

Tina brought up the guilt factor.

TINA: You won because Kim brought you with her partly. Do you feel any guilt? Because that was my biggest thing. I did not win that last challenge and Colby brought me with him. and then I beat him in the end. And it was a bittersweet victory for me. Do you feel any of that?

ETHAN: I don't feel any guilt, no guilt whatsoever. But, you know, it's a little bit you know, a feel a little bit indebted to her. She didn't have to pick me. But, you know, we got along great. And I think it made her feel good that she picked me. And I think she feels happy with her decision. And I can live with that, obviously.



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  • Steve Pearson

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