Kwon is returning to the game for the first time since he won Survivor: Cook Islands, which is the 13th season of the show and aired in the fall of 2006. Here’s what you need to know about this contestant on and off the show.
1. Yul Has an Impressive Academic Resume
Survivor is known for attracting some brainy contestants and Kwon has to be right up there with the brainiest of the brainy. He was valedictorian of Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, California, a suburb of San Francisco. He then graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University in 1997 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Symbolic Systems.
He went on to attend Yale Law School, where he was a Yale Law Journal editor and earned his Juris Doctorate in 2000. In an interview after he won Survivor, Yul told the Yale Daily News that he almost quit the show when he found out that his season would be dividing the teams by race.
“I thought I made a horrible mistake,” he said. “I could not understand how a major TV network would do something so socially irresponsible.”
But he decided to stay in order to put a positive representation of an Asian-American man on TV. “I wanted to change stereotypes,” he said.
2. He is A Bone Marrow Donation Advocate
During his sophomore year of college, Kwon’s childhood friend and college roommate Evan Chen was diagnosed with leukemia and needed a bone marrow transplant. Kwon organized a nationwide campaign to try to find his friend a match; it was ultimately successful, but the transplant did not save Chen’s life and he passed away two years later.
But Kwon continued his work in this field, donating $50,000 of his Survivor winnings to the Asian American Donor Program, for which he also serves as a national spokesperson. Oftentimes, finding a bone marrow match is hard enough but for a person with a bi-racial background, it can be even harder. The AADP is an organization that aids in that process.
“Finding a match is like trying to find your unrelated identical twin in a pool of just 6 million registered donors,” AADP executive director Carol Gillespie told the East Bay Times when Yul made his donation. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for people of any ethnicity, but particularly ethnic minorities, to join the registry with the hope of saving someone’s life.”
“What my friend went through opened my eyes to this incredible need, and I want to encourage more and more people to sign up to be on the blood stem cell registry,” he said when he presented the AADP with his donation. Kwon now sits on the board of AADP.
3. Yul Has Worked for President Obama, Facebook and Now Google
After graduating from law school, Kwon’s jobs have run the gamut. He worked for two different law firms, Venture Law Group and Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis; he clerked for Judge Barrington D. Parker on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals; he worked in the office of Senator Joseph Lieberman in Washington D.C.; he worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign; he worked as a consultant with McKinsey & Company and the Trium Group; he taught a course on counterintelligence at the FBI Academy; and he acted as a TV host for CNN and PBS on shows about Asian-American issues and American infrastructure.
It was during the PBS show America Revealed that Kwon became interested in working at Facebook, where he was first hired as the Deputy Chief Privacy Officer and later became Director of Product Management.
“Government work was like rolling a big boulder up a large hill. In this political environment it’s very difficult to make meaningful legislation,” Kwon told Splinter News in 2015. “What other organization exists besides Facebook that has a global footprint, affects millions or billions of lives, and moves this quickly?”
His stint at Facebook ended in June 2018, when he left and went to work for Google as its senior director of product management.
4. He is Married and Has Two Children
Shortly after his Survivor win, Kwon was set up with his future wife, Sophie Tan, by his tribemate Brad Virata, who was the first jury member during Kwon’s season. Kwon and Tan became engaged in 2008; she was a product manager at a bank at the time.
Kwon proposed on stage at a concert in Palo Alto and later joked with People, ““It seems my strategy of proposing in a public forum, maximizing social pressure, and shocking her into silence … seems to have worked. Now I just need to plan the wedding before she comes to her senses.”
He also revealed that he knew it was true love when he gave her one of his prized Survivor souvenirs and she didn’t laugh at him about it.
“I gave her the hidden immunity idol as a token of my love and I knew she loved me back when she didn’t laugh in my face.”
The two welcomed their first child, a daughter named Genevie, in October 2010, and their second child, a daughter named Kaylin, in February 2013.
5. Yul Has Been Studying How the Game Has Changed Since He Won
In a pre-“Winners at War” interview, Kwon tells Xfinity that he has been hard at work familiarizing himself with how Survivor is played now because it is vastly different from when he was first on it.
“I’ve been cramming my butt off trying to understand what’s happened over the last thirteen years. It’ll be interesting, I think the number of idols adds a layer of randomness, and also opportunities. They’re hard to take into consideration because you never know who has them,” says Kwon.
But he also says this is the one Survivor season he always knew he would come back for if he was asked.
“I’m excited to be back. The idea of having an all winners season was something I always told myself that I’d love to play,” says Kwon, adding that he thinks he can go far in the game if he gets past the first few Tribal Councils.
“Everyone on the male side, we haven’t seen the female side, are all people who’ve played multiple times. Or, if they’re a one-time winner like me, they’ve played much more recently. So, I feel like I’m coming in at a sufficient disadvantage. I haven’t played recently, I haven’t played the modern version of Survivor. And, the people who have played multiple times, they all know each other. So, you figure they have pre-existing relationships outside of the game, or they could easily reignite once they’re in the game itself. For someone like me, I think there’s a significant risk because I come in without these connections. I could be the first person booted off. That said, I think if I make it past that initial high-risk phase, I think I’ll have a chance to go pretty far. I come in as an unattached free agent.”
Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.
READ NEXT: Meet the ‘Survivor: Winners at War’ Cast