Ethan Zohn reacts to his brutal Survivor blindside
He is arguably the most popular and revered Survivor player of all-time. Not only did Ethan Zohn win season 3 of the franchise (Survivor: Africa), but he then used his million-dollar winnings to found an organization (Grassroot Soccer) dedicated to fighting HIV on the continent. As if all that was not inspirational enough, Ethan twice went against a rare form of cancer and won — enduring experimental drugs, extended hospital stays, and stem cell transplants along the way.
Everyone loves Ethan, which is what made his ouster last week on Survivor: Winners at War so difficult to watch. Wanting to weaken Boston Rob — but seemingly also wanting to keep him in the game as a shield — the majority alliance of Sele took out Ethan instead, sending him to the Edge of Extinction. We spoke to Ethan about being booted by the tribe, thinking Boston Rob had flipped on him, and what we didn’t see on TV.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you went to that fateful Tribal Council, did you have any clue whatsoever that it might be you?
ETHAN ZOHN: I had no clue whatsoever. That was the definition of blindside, and I was definitely the recipient of it. I had no idea. Maybe the last 10 minutes of Tribal Council, people were saying a few things that were like, "Hmm… they shouldn't be saying that." And then you try to read into it, then you get paranoid and then you're like, "Oh no, it's not me," but then it was. So yeah, that happened.
You looked shell-shocked, as Jeff was snuffing the torch. Tell me what's going through your head at that point.
To be honest, this is what happened: I, for some reason, did not calculate the votes correctly in my mind. I only saw two votes for Adam in my head because I must have looked down. I was so blindsided. I put down my hat, I took off my buff — they didn't show any of that stuff. I was just fumbling around like, "Ah," like when someone punches you in the stomach. And so I only saw two votes.
Honestly, my gut instinct was: F---ing Boston Rob flipped on me and went with those two to throw me off. That was my initial instinct, and you saw when I got to the Edge of Extinction, I was like, "Looks like my alliance with Rob and Parvati didn't work out that well." Meanwhile, what I really wanted to say was like, "Amber, your fricking husband just voted me off!" I'm glad I didn’t because it wasn't the case. So that's what was going through my mind.
And even when I went to go drop the Fire Token in there, I literally walked the wrong way! I took a left instead of a right. I didn't know where to go to get on the boat to get to Edge. I was so discombobulated.
Talk about giving the Fire Token to Parvati. Why Parvati?
Well, Parvati, for me, was my number one. Rob and Adam, at that time, were my second number one. I could go either way if I had to. And, as you saw, I sided with Rob and Parvati and then went after Adam at that moment, but I was totally open to potentially working with Adam. You saw in the episode, he's like, "We might have to take out someone big," and I was trying to play it cool, saying, "Oh yeah? What about Parvati?" He's like, "Yeah, I think we've got it."
But inside I'm like, "Ah." And then I turned around and went right to Parvati and told her that, "Listen, Adam's trying to vote you off," and then he told the same to Rob and Rob told Parvati as well, and that's what caused that chain of miscalculations, all starting from Adam and him wanting to vote off a big player. These millennials are not patient. They can't wait. I'm like, "Adam, wait to vote, wait another vote. We can get through this vote." He's like, "No. We've got to do it now," and yeah. Didn't work out well.
Tell me how you ended up aligning with Rob because I would not have thought he would be the first person that you would necessarily want to align with.
Yeah, to be honest, he wasn't really. Initially, I would have never thought about aligning with Boston Rob. Our history wasn't necessarily… we weren't enemies. We played against each other and we just didn't really stay in touch after the show. So I didn't have hatred for him. He didn't have [hatred] for me. I'm just not friends with him outside of the game. But I feel my role on Survivor is that I'm okay being the guy behind the guy. And so I had two great options there with Parvati and Rob being not the center of attention.
I did something similar with Lex and Tom [in Survivor: Africa]. I feel good in that place. And from what I gather from watching the show, I think I was in the way of both Michele and Jeremy. I think Jeremy wanted to work with Rob as a big shield like I was. I think Michele was inkling towards having Parv as an outlet as well. So I was just in the middle. It was a perfect opportunity to take me out, weaken those two, get them closer to them too, and then isolate Adam a little bit more because he had just totally went behind their backs and told them the whole plan.
The edit of the episode was kind of funky because they kept talking about being worried about Rob running the tribe, but then instead of taking a shot at him, they took you out instead.
Yeah, it was an easy shot to take down Rob I thought. I thought I had a buffer there, but I think there's probably some stuff going on that I don't know of that I still don't know of because of the editing. So my gut was telling me that Jeremy and Michele wanted to just weaken those two and get closer to them at the same time.
I remember asking you out there before the game started if you were worried that people were going to be like, "No way am I sitting next to Ethan at the final three. I just can't let that happen." I thought that might be a problem for you, but I didn't think it'd be a problem this early. Do you think that had anything to do with it?
I don't think so. I don't think they were factoring in my Tribal Council story at that moment. I feel that they probably saw I was friendly with everyone there. I was trying to keep a lighthearted attitude on the surface. Meanwhile, total nuts on the inside. But I was trying to be friendly with everyone. I thought I was paying the same amount of attention to everyone and just being that happy-go-lucky guy. So maybe they were a little bit concerned about my social game, but I wasn't dominant in the challenges. I wasn't overtly aligning with people like Rob and Parvati in my opinion, but I could be reading that the wrong way.
There's so much we don't see on the show because they can only fit so much in. So what's something that didn't make it to air that you wish we would have been able to see from your first nine days on the Sele tribe?
After we voted off Danni and before I got jacked, people were trying to do a lot of different stuff to throw people off. We voted off Natalie who was strong, and Natalie was associated with Jeremy and I think Jeremy was feeling like he was in the hot seat after Natalie went off. Some people throw things out there to see if people catch on, and Jeremy was telling people someone went through his bag, and so that was a little bit of drama that was going on in the tribe and they didn't mention that, but maybe it had a factor in the vote. I don't know. But there's definitely stuff you don't see.
But Jeremy was smart. I bet he thought he was next and that our old schoolers of me, Parv, and Rob and Danni at the time could go after him next because he's so big and strong. So I think he was just throwing some red herrings out there like everyone was doing.
For more Survivor scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.