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Color Outside the Lines with Yul Kwon

The first things that impress many people about Yul Kwon are his articulacy and ability to think quickly on his feet.  Well, maybe those are the second things…after his six-pack abs and devastating dimples.  It was likely a combination of all these qualities that led the American TV reality show Survivor to recruit Kwon as a contestant in their 2006 Cook Islands season, which he went on to win.  The show consists of a series of physical, environmental and social challenges which require a combination of strength, cunning, and persuasiveness.  When Yul Kwon became the first Asian to win Survivor, he was heralded in both mainstream and minority media as an outstanding example of Asian American male potential.  He took the prevailing stereotypes of the nerdy Asian bookworm or martial arts villain and smashed them to bits in front of millions of mainstream television viewers around the world.  Then he followed up with numerous interviews that further demonstrated his intelligence and appeal in front of the camera.  Kwon’s shrewd use of mass media to show that Asian men can be charming, well-spoken, sexy and strong has earned him a position among 8 Red Gates’ “Leaders”.

So what has Yul Kwon been up to since Survivor?  Plenty; he recently completed an appointment serving in the Federal Communications Commission, as Deputy Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.  This move into government service has led some to speculate that Kwon may have his sights set on holding a future political office.  He was very active in the Asian/Pacific American community during President Obama’s campaign, urging Asians to get involved and help elect a president of color.  In this capacity he attended and spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.  Many say that Yul has the charisma, mass appeal, and communications ability that could propel him into elected office.  Kwon has also served as an adjunct instructor at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s training academy.  There he lectured about human behavior, building communications rapport, and group dynamics, all subjects in which he demonstrated great skill on Survivor.  Kwon’s first foray into government service was working as a legislative aide for Senator Joseph Lieberman. Having lately gained more experience in Washington D.C., it’s not unlikely that we may see him running for office someday, which would contribute to a much-needed increase in Asian representation in American government.

In June 2011, Kwon returned to television to host Link TV network's LinkAsia program, which puts a fresh spin on news from Asia by including trends and commentary from local correspondents, blogs and social networking sites in that part of the world.  He will also host an upcoming four-part PBS documentary series called America Revealed, which incorporates aerial and satellite imagery to show a new perspective on the many methods for getting work done and resources distributed across the U.S.  This show is currently scheduled to premiere in the winter of 2012. Kwon has done additional television stints as a host with CNN and the Discovery Channel, further increasing exposure and awareness of Asians in the media.  Aside from television and public service, he has also been successful as an entrepreneur, opening a California franchise of the South Korea-based frozen yogurt company Red Mango.  Working philanthropically, he used some of his Survivor winnings and celebrity status to promote several charitable causes such as Becky’s Fund for victims of domestic violence, and the Asian American Donor Program, among others.  Success has also come to Yul in the form of love, when he married Sophie Tan in April 2008.  The couple recently added a daughter to their family this fall.

Born in New York and raised in Northern California as the son of South Korean immigrant parents, Kwon’s education and first profession was as a lawyer.  Signs of excellence were evident early on, as Yul was named valedictorian of his high school graduating class and went on to earn degrees from Stanford University and Yale University Law School.  But Kwon is a man of many interests and talents; after practicing law for a few years, he branched out into management consulting and even worked as part of Google’s business strategy group.  His varied career shows that with the right motivation and attitude, Asians can succeed in virtually any area of western society that they choose. 

In interviews, Kwon has stated that he went on Survivor with the specific aim of demonstrating that Asians do not have to conform to the boundaries that have been drawn for them by mainstream society, their parents, or even their historical culture.  With all of his activities since Survivor and possibly with a future in politics, Yul Kwon certainly proves that persons of color in America can range far outside the lines of race and cultural conditioning to transcend even their own grandest dreams.

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