We all know Survivor castmate and Korean American, Yul Kwon, is a hottie who not only won the competition but also the hearts of women everywhere. Just check out his body in the last picture! We all know Survivor castmate and Korean American, Yul Kwon, is a hottie who not only won the competition but also won the hearts of women everywhere. Just check out his body in the last picture! Sorry ladies, he’s taken!
On a serious note, Yul spends much of his time and celebrity status dedicated to Asian American issues. He’s hoping to make a difference sooner rather than later….Well he certainly has our attention!
I caught up with Yul at the Asia Society in New York City where he was a panel member discussing American society’s perception of Asian American men and what he thinks needs to be done about it.
ASIANCE: What, in your opinion is so different (better or worse) about being a reality TV star versus an actor? Is it rewarding to show your real self on screen?
Yul: I think the main difference is that viewers feel like they have a personal connection to someone who’s been on a reality show. There’s a sense of familiarity and intimacy that isn’t assumed for actors, who are understood to be playing roles rather than acting true to themselves. Fans (or critics) feel like they actually know you. When they approach me, they’ll usually say something like, “Hey, aren’t you that guy from Survivor?” But sometimes, they just shout, “Yul!” which always freaks me out since I’ll think that I must have met them before but just can’t remember. I’m constantly afraid of embarrassing myself.
It seemed to me that the other Asian American men might also have been cast to fit into stereotypes. Another Asian American male contestant was openly gay, which made me wonder if he was being patterned after another stereotypical character, Lloyd, from Entourage.
ASIANCE: I saw you at a panel recently and you mentioned during casting you realized they wanted a certain “Asian guy” for the role. In what way? Did stereotypes ever play a role during the show?
Yul: To some extent, I think I was being cast as the stereotypical overachieving Asian nerd. During the interview process, I was told to wear clothes (like a business suit) that would convey a certain image. It seemed to me that the other Asian American men might also have been cast to fit into stereotypes. Another Asian American contestant, Cao Boi (pronounced “Cowboy”) looked like he came out of some mashup between the Karate Kid (Mr. Miyagi) and a Fu Man Chu movie. Another Asian American male contestant was openly gay, which made me wonder if he was being patterned after another
stereotypical character, Lloyd, from Entourage. One of the great things about a reality show, however, is that it’s unscripted. Even though you might be cast in a certain way, you don’t have to act that way. In this case, I think all three of us were able to get demonstrate on the show that we weren’t defined by stereotypes and that we each had individual personalities.
You can see the entire interview with Yul and “The Daily Show’s” Aasif Mandvi
ASIANCE: You also said that now that you are a celebrity you would like to help with activism or use your celeb status to do good things. What do you foresee?
Yul: I feel very fortunate to be in the position that I’m in today. I went on Survivor so that I could have a platform for raising awareness for issues I care about, to be a positive role model for people in my community, and to change stereotypes about Asian Americans. I didn’t actually think I’d do very well in the game, but now that I’ve won, I’m in position to have an impact on all three areas. For example, I’ve been very active in working with nonprofits and charitable organizations to increase the number of Asian American bone marrow donors, get youth involved in community service, galvanize Asian Americans politically, set up leadership and mentorship programs for youth, and serve as a voice for the community in national media. I think it’s really unfortunate that so many Survivor winners have squandered the opportunity to be good role models. The first guy who won is serving time in prison for tax evasion (he didn’t pay taxes on his winnings despite the fact that something like 30 million people watched him win).
Another guy did soft porn and was charged with spousal abuse. For my part, I’m going to try to break the chain. As long as I stay out of jail, don’t do porn, or beat up my girlfriend, I figure I’m way ahead of the game.
ASIANCE: Are there any secrets you (that you can divulge) that led you to win?
Yul: I don’t think I had too many secrets. My basic strategy was to build as tight of a team as possible by being transparent with everyone in my tribe, soliciting their input, and making sure that everyone felt they have a say in the decision-making process. Ok, I did have one secret. Early in the game, I found something called the Hidden Immunity Idol. I had a heck of a time figuring out where to hide it so that it would be readily accessible but secret from everyone else. I eventually thought of a hiding location, but I don’t think I was technically supposed to keep it there. Anyway, it worked beautifully. I still don’t think I can reveal where I kept it, but let’s just say I’m glad there weren’t any proctologists in the game. Uh, that was supposed to be a joke.
ASIANCE: What made you leave your previous profession and degree to be on reality television? Was it rewarding to make that sacrifice? Did you have any feeling that you would win?
Yul: I’ve always felt that there was an underrepresentation of Asian Americans in mainstream media. Growing up, I didn’t see many people in television or film that looked like me, and if I did, they were always portrayed as stereotypes or caricatures.
Asian men were shown as kung fu masters, nerdy geeks, emasculated wimps, or gangsters. I’ve always wanted to get away from these stereotypes and show that we’re not limited to these negative representations.
Usually, Asian men were shown as kung fu masters, nerdy geeks, emasculated wimps, or gangsters. I’ve always wanted to get away from these stereotypes and show that we’re not limited to these negative representations. So when the chance to be on a major reality show landed in my lap (I got recruited for the show, as did most of the minorities), I figured that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change perceptions about Asian Americans to a mainstream audience. But being on the show was a really terrifying prospect for me. My family thought it was a terrible idea. They couldn’t understand why I’d be willing to sacrifice my career and reputation to be on a stupid reality show. And I knew that if I represented badly, or was edited in a negative way, I’d be spending the rest of my life trying to disprove people’s assumptions about me. I also didn’t think I’d do very well in the game. Since I wanted to represent our community in a positive light, I knew that I wouldn’t do anything too underhanded or dirty to win the game. And because Survivor is a dirty game, I thought that I’d have to forego playing the game at some point in order to maintain my integrity. But fortunately, some of my tribemates decided in the middle of the game to screw me over and stab me in the back.
At the time, I thought it cost me any shot of winning, but it turned out to be the best thing since it allowed me to screw them over without feeling guilty about it.
ASIANCE: On the island what were the main mentalities that others used to try to survive but it did not work, and why?
Yul: Strategies that typically fail include trying to be an overt leader as well as flying too far below the radar. People who position themselves as being too clearly in control sometimes get cut because they’re seen as being too much of a threat. More often, they’re voted off just because they become annoying. It’s hard to live with really loud personalities when you’re stuck on a small island and living them 24 hours a day. At the other extreme, people who stay too far in the background may avoid getting targeted for elimination for the length of the game, but they’ll often be perceived as not having played hard enough to deserve the win. A third mentality that doesn’t get you very far is the idea that you’re just here to make friends and have a fun experience. Those people tend to get booted pretty quickly.
ASIANCE: How does it feel to be an Asian American representative on Survivor?
Yul: It’s gratifying that I was able to achieve some of my goals in terms of representing Asian Americans in a different light. I’ve been getting support and encouragement not only from other Asian Americans, but from people of all different ethnicities. This is especially gratifying to me since it means that people are looking beyond skin color or race to find positive role models.
ASIANCE: During your experience what parts of a more “civilized” lifestyle did you miss?
Yul: You mean other than having toilet paper, brushing teeth, or taking showers? I guess it would have to be all the artificial and processed foods. Boy, did I miss MSG.
ASIANCE: You have a girlfriend. Describe your perfect woman.
Yul: Yes, I have a girlfriend. The perfect woman would be intelligent, kind, sociable yet introspective. And have a French name. Did I mention that my girlfriend’s name is Sophie?
ASIANCE: Who was your favorite previous “Survivor”? Were you a fan before?
Yul: I had two favorite Survivors. One was Tom Westman, who played the game with integrity and won. The other was Ethan Zohn, because he used his fame and celebrity as a winner to do a lot of charitable work on behalf of kids. I wasn’t actually a fan of the show before I got selected. I had only seen one complete season, and then I got busy with my career and didn’t have time to watch. But when I found out I was going to be on the show, I thought I should figure out what the heck I was doing, so I went crazy on Netflix and rented as many seasons as I could.
You can see more relevant Asian American videos at youtube.com/asiasociety