Three weeks before CBS officially announced its Survivor: Africa contestants, I visited one of those Survivor-spoiling websites and saw a picture of the Sideshow Bob-maned soccer player/Boran tribesman Ethan Zohn, who just happens to be the younger brother of Lee Zohn, one of my closest high school friends from Lexington, Mass. As a writer for an entertainment magazine who’s obsessed with Survivor, this news was equivalent to, say, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward discovering they had gone to summer camp with Deep Throat. Lee was my ticket to a journalistic coup the size of a pre-lipo Richard Hatch.
Or so I thought. My plan fell apart as soon as I called Lee, now a chiropractor in Winchester, Mass. ”So what’s this about Ethan being on Survivor?” I asked. Dead silence. ”I can neither confirm nor deny that,” Lee finally said. ”I saw the website, you can tell me,” I nudged. ”I can neither confirm nor deny that,” repeated Lee.
It turns out all immediate family members sign a confidentiality agreement as big as a Pontiac Aztek, and whoever breaks it has to pay a sum roughly equivalent to buying a week’s lunch for Africa. The only scoop I ever got from Lee came on my voice-mail the day CBS made its official cast announcement. ”Just thought you’d like to know that Ethan’s gonna be on Survivor!” the tardy bastard informed me. He also told me Ethan learned he was cast the day before I saw him at Lee’s wedding last June.
I had one more option for insider information. I called Rochelle Zohn, Lee and Ethan’s mother, who still lives in Lexington, and tried to sweet-talk her into a dishy interview. ”Well, you can ask…I don’t know…well, you know Ethan,” she stammered, scoop-free. She finally told me that Ethan hadn’t even told her how the game turns out.
I finally saw Ethan again at the Survivor: Africa premiere party he organized in Manhattan Oct. 11, and decided to make one last push at the source. ”Just promise me that if you ever have an exposé, you’ll call me first,” I said. ”Okay,” he said. ”But only if you promise me that you’ll write only good things about me.”
Fat chance. But in conclusion, I’d just like to say that Ethan Zohn is the bestest Survivor ever. I’ll be by my telephone.