Fast Talk: Ethan Zohn
Published: May 2009
Lately, Ethan Zohn has barely had a minute to rest. After winning "Survivor: Africa" last year, the former professional soccer player and college coach has been seen hobnobbing with A-list movie stars, running off to Puerto Rico to be a judge at the Miss Universe Pageant, and, most recently, tagging along with the U.S. National Team to Korea and Japan to give Americans a behind-the-scenes look at soccer's World Cup. We caught up with Zohn right before he jumped on the plane to Korea, to ask him about the Cup, his charity work in Africa, and what he would love to do when he finally gets a well-deserved break from his hectic travel schedule.
1. Where are you now?Why are you there?Any place else you would rather be?
I'm in New York City, the Big Apple. I'm here because my bed is here, but I'd rather be on another island: the type with sand, palm trees, and mangos.
2. How often do you travel?Where are you off to next?
I think I was a nomad in a past life; I love to travel. Before "Survivor" I would travel all the time, and now I travel even more. I'm on my way to Korea in less than 24 hours.
3. You've played professional-level soccer in the United States and Zimbabwe. What are some of the differences between playing here and playing in Africa and the rest of the world?
The biggest difference is the passion for the game. In Zimbabwe, players and fans are crazy for the sport. In Zim, for example, if my teammates didn't play, they didn't get paid and couldn't eat or feed their families. So their drive, motivation, and desire were stronger than anything I've witnessed in the U.S. The level of soccer I played at home (A-league and D3), it was more like an extracurricular activity. Usually players have second jobs to make ends meet, so they're not 100 percent focused on training and games. Also, the fan support in the U.S. is a bit weak. In Zim, we would get 30,000 fans a game. If that doesn't motivate you, I don't know what will.
4. How did living and working in Zimbabwe prepare you for your stint on "Survivor Africa?" Did you feel like you had an advantage going into the whole thing because you had experienced the climate before?
I thought I had an advantage, but, man, was I wrong. Nothing can really prepare you for "Survivor." It's a game of relationships. Anyone can miss a meal and not drink water, but it's how you interact with people that determines how far you will go in the game.
5. How has your life changed since you won?Any changes to your travel routine?
A lot more people recognize me on the street now, and it has opened doors for me that I would never have imagined. But I liked my life before the show, so I'm not really going to let this change me too much.
6. You're doing behind-the-scenes television commentary with the U.S. National Team at the World Cup this year in Korea and Japan. How did you get the job?Is there anything you are looking forward to?Anything you are dreading?
The opening doors thing. Exactly what I was talking about. Philips Electronics is hooking me up big-time. They're sending me to the World Cup in Korea and Japan as the inside reporter for the U.S. Men's National Team. Talk about a dream come true. I think I got the job because we are a perfect mix: Philips is a huge supporter of the national team and soccer worldwide, and they wanted to get American fans excited about the World Cup. Right now, 27 million viewers a week know me as Ethan "the Soccer Guy That Won 'Survivor'." Plus, I'm just a normal guy that loves the game and can give a unique behind-the-scenes perspective to fans back home. I'm psyched.
7. Tell us a little about your involvement in the charities America Scores and Grassroot Soccer. What do they do, and what do they mean to you?
After I won "Survivor," I pledged to help children by using soccer as a tool. Soccer has helped me so much and given me so much joy throughout my life that I wanted others to give something back. Grassroot Soccer (www.grassrootsoccer.org) is a nonprofit organization that I started after I won "Survivor." Because I lived and played in Zimbabwe and was in Kenya for the show, I have strong ties to Africa.
Grassroot Soccer travels to Zim and educates professional soccer players about HIV/AIDS, and in turn the players educate Zimbabwean youth about prevention. Our theory is, rather than have outsiders deliver this message, why not have the local heroes, in this case the soccer players, deliver it. Hopefully, it will make a dent in the problem. Once this takes off, we can use this model anywhere.
America Scores (www.americascores.org) is a soccer program for inner-city youth that combines creative writing and the game. I am the spokesperson. Our theory is that the skills kids use on the soccer field—teamwork, comradeship, and leadership—can be brought back to the classroom and used toward creative writing and poetry.
8. Where would you love to go that you have never been?
Thailand. I have heard so many great things about it. I read the book The Beach by Alex Garland, so I may just have to stop by after Korea for a little World Cup detox.
9. What has been the biggest obstacle you've faced in your travels?
I think obstacles are what makes traveling so much fun for me. I look forward to obstacles. Go where the wind takes you.
10. What's usually in your suitcase?Is there anything you cannot travel without?
I have this gray Wildcats T-shirt that has been with me since high school. It's see-through now, it's so worn-out I can't wear it, but it goes with me wherever I go. It's a good luck thing, I guess.
Interviewed by Robert Maniaci