Ethan Zohn is one of the 20 returning contestants to the Survivor game for season 40 of the series and this is his third time on the show. He previously won Survivor: Africa, which was season three, making him the second-earliest returnee for “Winners at War” behind only Amber Brkich Mariano, who appeared on season two. But he is the earliest winner to return because Amber didn’t win until season eight.
Zohn also played on Amber’s winning season, “All Stars,” where he was the sixth person voted out.
Here’s what you need to know about the Survivor champ.
1. Ethan Played Professional Soccer
Zohn was born and raised in Lexington, Massachusetts, the youngest of three boys (his older brothers are Lenard and Lee, according to the Grassroots Soccer website. Zohn played soccer — he’s a goalkeeper — for Lexington High School and Vassar College, where he majored in biology and marine biology, before going on to play professionally for the Hawaii Tsunami and Cape Cod Crusaders in the U.S. and for the Highlanders FC in Zimbabwe. On the Zimbabwe team, one of Zohn’s teammates died of AIDS.
In 2008, Zohn used some of his Survivor winnings to found Grassroots Soccer, an organization that aims to educate and prevent HIV and AIDS. Grassroots Soccer sends professional African soccer players into classrooms to teach middle-schoolers about HIV, using a curriculum that combines soccer and academics.
“We are really trying to create this generation of HIV-negative kids,” said Zohn in a 2008 interview, adding, “In Africa, soccer players are heroes. They are like role models, the gods of the community. We train local professional soccer players about HIV and AIDS, and they go into the schools and teach the youths about AIDS prevention.”
The program has since expanded to the Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
2. He’s a Cancer Survivor
In 2009, Zohn was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called CD20-positive Hodgkin’s lymphoma and shortly thereafter he underwent chemotherapy and stem-cell transplants to fight the disease. He went into remission in April 2010, but the cancer returned in September 2011.
That time around, he had to remain in his New York City apartment at all times when he wasn’t going to the doctor and eventually received two rounds of stem-cell transplants from his brother, which were finally successful in early 2013.
“I am in remission. Today is a special day,” Zohn told CBS News on March 1, 2013. “One year ago today I received my brother’s stem cells … they wiped out my body and infused my brother’s stem cells into my body. So if you take my DNA sample, it’s like my brother.”
He added that it had been so hard to be so isolated from everyone.
“I have been spending a lot of time with my family, which is very exciting,” he said. “I’ve been in isolation for seven months. I couldn’t really leave my apartment unless I was going to the doctor. I just got clearance, so I’ve been traveling a little bit, visiting friends and family. I got to hug my nieces and nephews for the first time in a year.”
3. He Dated Fellow Survivor Winner Jenna Morasca For 10 Years
Jenna Morasca won the sixth season of Survivor and it was afterward that she met Zohn. The two began dating in 2003 and were together for a decade. In the time they were together, they appeared on both Survivor: All-Stars and The Amazing Race.
On “All-Stars,” Morasca famously left the game after nine days because her mother’s cancer diagnosis had taken a turn for the worse right before the show began filming. Her mother died a week after she returned home.
After her departure from that season, Morasca told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “[Ethan’s] a great guy, and he’s really been there for me. You can’t know him and not love him.”
In 2011, the two of them appeared in a 20-minute horror short called “The Watcher” as part of an anthology called Drive-In Horrorshow, which you can watch on YouTube. Then in early 2013, they decided to call it quits.
“It is with much consideration and a heavy heart that we are announcing that after 10 years of a loving relationship, the decision was made to move on without each other,” the couple said in a joint statement at the time of their breakup. “We will carry with us the memories of a relationship grounded in love, laughter, support and friendship. We have experienced some of life’s greatest joys and toughest challenges together, and our decision to be apart can never diminish that. We want to thank everyone for their support and we ask that our privacy be respected as we move forward.”
4. Ethan Married Lisa Heywood Four Years Ago
A few years after ending things with Morasca, Zohn began dating New York City interior designer Lisa Heywood. He told People at the time, “This is the reason I survived cancer twice … to meet Lisa and start a beautiful and healthy new life together.”
The two met in 2013 at a Clinton Global Initiative charity event and then two years later, Zohn asked her to marry him on the dock of their New Hampshire lake house, using the ring his late father had given his mother. The two got married in July 2016 in Vermont.
Before the ceremony, they told People that they looked forward to “standing together and taking a quiet moment to look at all our family and friends that have supported us along the way.” They also said they’re looking forward to “getting chubby and growing old together, and the potential we have to make the world a better place by the virtue of being together as one.”
Zohn then predicted that “all the happy and sad tears in my life will disappear in her presence.”
5. Ethan Realizes The Game Is Very Different Now
In a pre-“Winners at War” interview with ET Canada, Zohn says he was intimidated to come back after so many years.
“To put this in perspective, the last time I played the game was 16 years ago, that was Survivor: All-Stars and the season I won was Survivor: Africa, which was in 2001! … This is before hidden immunity idols, clues, ways to get back in the game … I’ve never done any of that stuff, so as you can imagine, I was a little intimidated and nervous when I got the call to come back for season 40,” says Zohn, though he adds that he feels “ready to be here” because he “put in the training and the effort and [he feels] prepared for what’s to come.”
Zohn also says that “just getting here” is an absolute miracle because of what he overcame when he was so sick with cancer.
“I remember I was locked in my hospital room, getting my second stem-cell transplant, watching Heroes vs Villains, praying to myself that I’d be alive long enough that I’d be able to play again … I just wanted to get healthy enough so I could come back and play Survivor. I knew there had to be an all-winners season coming at some point and I wanted to be part of that.”
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
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