‘Survivor 40’: Why Ethan Zohn Doesn’t Think it Was a Smart Idea to Return for ‘Winners at War’

Who doesn’t love a good redemption story? Survivor: Winners at War was designed to bring former Survivor winners together and give them another chance at glory, but there is one winner in particular who this season is especially sweet for. Ethan Zohn won the competition in 2001 and then competed on the All-Stars season in 2004. Now, he’s back for Winners at War after a 15-year hiatus. During that break from tv, Zohn’s real life became a game of Survivor, so he originally didn’t think that returning to the actual show was the greatest idea.

Ethan Zohn
Ethan Zohn | Joe Corrigan/Getty Images for Stand Up To Cancer

What happened during Ethan Zohn’s time off from the show?

In 2009, Zohn was diagnosed with CD20-positive Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After a year of treatment, he went into remission. But his battle wasn’t over. Over a year and a half later, the cancer came back in his chest. In 2013, he beat the cancer again and went into remission.

After getting healthy, he was invited to come back to Survivor in 2016 but turned it down.

Why did Ethan Zohn come back for this season of ‘Survivor.’

After beating cancer twice, Zohn felt it was time to come back and play the game again.

“The fact that I was part of this show way back in the day and had the opportunity to play again, for me, it was a huge gift,” he told Entertainment Tonight. “I’ve been through some health challenges and I remember sitting in the hospital room watching Heroes vs. Villains, getting my second stem cell transplant and dreaming to myself that someday I’d be healthy enough mentally, physically, spiritually to be able to go play Survivor again. When they called for season 40, I instantly said yes because it was just getting to this point in my life, to be able to go play Survivor for me was, like, that’s winning for me. “

But going into the game this time was different than Zohn’s previous two stints on the show as his mindset had changed.

“Having gone through such a major health challenge and recovering from that [was hard],” he said. “Going through cancer is difficult but for me, personally, it was the after-effects that was the most difficult. I’m a giant ball of anxiety. I live in fear that my cancer is going to come back for a third time, and it just does something to you.”

Zohn was able to use the fact that people underestimated him to his advantage. No one knew that much about him as he hadn’t played the game in over a decade. He was, however, voted out in the third episode.

We won’t be seeing Zohn again

Despite enjoying playing in Winners at War, Zohn doesn’t think he’ll compete again.

“I don’t think… I don’t know!” he said when asked if he would do Survivor again. “It’s so… I just want to put into perspective where, and I’m not trying to be the ‘poor me, crying B,’ but building yourself back up after cancer is a difficult process. And Survivor, the game itself, there are moments… like I said, I was afraid to go out there without my toolkit that I had and I just didn’t know what it would do to me but it screws you up mentally and physically and spiritually and socially. It messes you up.”

“I just don’t know at this age, and what I’ve been through health-wise, that I could ever really… I don’t think it would be a smart decision to go,” he continued. “I don’t think it was a smart decision to play this time, but I think it would be an even worse decision to go next time, health-wise.”