Congratulations go out to the three finalists, Yul Kwon, Becky Lee, and Ozzy Lusth, for surviving thirty-nine days on Cook Islands in the thirteenth installment of Survivor! Prior to this season, I had only watched one episode of Survivor. This year was different, since I knew Yul from Stanford. He and I were both Symbolic Systems students in the Class of 1997 — our ten-year reunion is coming up in 2007!
My strongest memory of Yul from school was when he organized bone marrow drives across the Bay Area to find a suitable donor for his high-school friend, Evan Chen. Evan had been diagnosed with leukemia in the early part of 1995. I remember Yul dropping most of his classes that quarter to be with Evan and to coordinate the drive. Evan’s illness and eventual death a year later struck a chord in me. When you’re twenty years old, you don’t think of death as being something in the near future — it’s always beyond the horizon.
After college, I lost track of Yul, but frequently heard about his exploits from common friends. When I heard that he was going to be on Survivor, I knew that he stood an excellent chance of winning. I was a little scared watching the votes being read off from Probst during the live finale reunion, thinking that the nine-member jury would surely vote a majority towards Ozzy. Ozzy was a beast in all of the immunity and rewards challenges; it was remarkable to see someone so in tune with nature and himself while swimming, fishing, standing on a postcard sized platform, etc.! It was a big surprise when he showed Yul’s name on the final vote. Ozzy and Yul were the strongest players in Survivor this year, and I would have been happy for both of them to win. That said, I think that Yul will ultimately make the best use of the money in the long-term (just pay your taxes, Yul, unlike Richard Hatch!).