LOS ANGELES — Ethan Zohn survived 39 days in Africa and more than four months waiting in suspense afterward to win a million dollars on Thursday night — and then things really got tough.
He not only had to face a horde of TV critics, but the flashbulbs along the red carpet and the crush of the post-"Survivor: Africa" party here at CBS Television City studios.
It may have been that outwitting, outplaying and outlasting Big Tom, Lex and Kim on the two-hour finale was easier than navigating a room filled with members of all three "Survivor" casts, a slew of CBS stars, producers and executives and dozens of members of the press. But Ethan wasn't complaining — he was as low-key as he always appeared on the program, and he may have been a little stunned.
Asked if he thought he was a shoo-in when it came down to just him and Kim, Ethan said, "No way. You go over it in your head pretty much every 10 minutes" since August, when filming ended, but without knowing how it would end.
Still, he seems like a nice young man, nice enough that several critics (including yours truly) were pointing out to a popular (and single) CBS publicist, "He's a nice Jewish boy with a million dollars."
Unfortunately, he's also got a girlfriend. The setting was somewhat surreal, which fit the theme of the night. The producers re-created their African village on a CBS soundstage, fooling audiences into believing the revelation of the winner was actually taking place on that continent — until the cameras pulled back in the final moments. The "Survivor" motif included a grotesque-looking stuffed boar's head, complete with an arrow sticking out of its ear — hanging over the desert table. Which seemed to somewhat bother the caterer working the table.
"Yes, especially being a vegetarian," she said.
It seems that "Survivor" can do strange things to vegetarians — even Ethan, who said, "I'm a vegetarian, but the whole time I was out there I craved buffalo wings." They were the second thing he ate when he returned home — he first scarfed down "Rice Krispies treats until I almost passed out."
Security was extraordinarily tight. All guests had to wear two badges, go through metal detectors and submit to searches. Bomb-sniffing dogs roamed the party.
On the other hand, uniformed security guards and off-duty police officers spent time trying to make time with various actresses.
The "villain" of "Survivor 2," actress Jeri Manthey, was holding court surrounded by critics — every single one of them male. And she insisted that she'd known from the start that Zohn would end up the winner on Thursday night.
"I've been predicting Ethan to win forever, but it was more because I thought he was really cute," Jeri said.
Meanwhile, flamboyantly gay "Survivor 3" cast member Brandon Quinton was deep in congenial conversation with aggressively curmudgeonly ex-Navy SEAL Rudy Boesch from "Survivor 1." (And Quinton was surrounded by his own group of admirers.)
It will be interesting to see in which of his predecessors' footsteps Ethan follows. The "Survivor 1" winner was in attendance at the press party "with the son he made get up and run at 5 o'clock in the morning," meowed one critic.
But, every time he was approached by a reporter, Richard Hatch said, "I'm not taking questions." When asked why he came to a press function if he didn't plan to answer questions, Hatch hesitated, looked peeved and cleverly replied, "I'm not taking questions." (Gee, didn't his 15 minutes of fame expire quite some time ago?)
On the other hand, "Survivor: Australia" winner Tina Wesson was all smiles and Southern charm, saying that answering questions "doesn't bother me at all." Told of Hatch's odd behavior, she said. "I would never do that."
Hopefully, Zohn won't, either.