Utah native Tyson Apostol is returning to “Survivor” for the fourth time — in part so his young daughters will understand why he gets to spend so much time with them.
In December 2013, at the end of his third season of “Survivor,” Apostol outwitted, outlasted and outplayed 19 other contestants to bring home $1 million. And all that happened before he and his wife, Rachel Foulger, became the parents of two girls, who are now 4½ and 2½.
“They are going to grow up assuming that dads stay home with their daughters all the time. And I wanted to show them why we are lucky enough to have that luxury in our lives,” Apostol said.
Of course, being a dad made it harder for him to leave them behind and head off to Fiji for a month and a half.
“I love playing the game,” Apostol said. “And I would go back as many times as they ask, other than the fact that I have two small children at home.
“Even though I only work two months every three to five years,” he said with a laugh, “it still isn’t easy to leave them.”
But “Survivor” has been “a big part of my life,” he said. “I mean, it’s been my livelihood for over a decade now.”
Born in Lindon and a longtime resident of Heber, Apostol now makes his home in Mesa, Ariz. He first competed in Season 18, “Survivor: Tocantins,” which filmed in 2008 and aired in 2009, finishing eighth. He returned for Season 20, “Heroes vs. Villains,” which filmed in 2009 and aired in 2010, finishing 15th after making a tactical blunder that made him “the victim of my own stupidity.”
But he came back strong in “Blood vs. Water,” which filmed in early 2013 and aired later that year, winning the game and the $1 million that goes with it.
Well, don’t tell him he “won” anything. “I don’t think I won a million dollars on TV. I earned a million dollars,” Apostol said. “I mean, I think all these people that have won the game earned a million dollars. They didn’t win the lottery.”
He’s joining 19 other past winners in the 40th season of “Survivor” — subtitled “Winners at War” — which premieres Wednesday at 7 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2. And Apostol said he never considered turning down the invitation. “They’re doing something special and I’m invited. Think of all the former cast members who aren’t getting invited that are going to be super jealous of what I’m doing,” he joked.
It certainly didn’t hurt that CBS doubled the prize to $2 million. Or that it gave all of the returning winners generous appearance fees. (It’s not releasing how much.)
“This is going to be a monumental season for ‘Survivor.’ And to be a part of it is an honor and exciting,” Apostol said. “And only 20 out of, what, 600 contestants or so were invited. It’s definitely something that it’s hard to say no to.”
(There have been 590 contestants to date, and 38 winners in the previous 39 seasons. Sandra Diaz-Twine won twice — and she’s also back for Season 40.)
For years, an all-winners season is something that producers have been kicking around and fans have been clamoring to see. And it couldn’t come at a better time for the franchise, which was rocked by a sexual harassment scandal and the producers’ flawed efforts to deal with it in the season that aired this past fall.
(Season 40 filmed in May-June 2019, months before Season 39 aired, and Apostol and the other “Winners at War” contestants knew nothing about it. “I wasn’t there. I don’t know exactly everything that happened,” he said. “I’m watching it just the same as you are.”)
Apostol was 29 the first time he competed on “Survivor.” He turned 34 during filming of the season he won. He turned 40 during the filming of “Winners at War.” But he says he didn’t feel any different.
“I’m still the same person, but I’m not as active physically as I have been in the past,” said the former professional racing cyclist, “because I am more interested with spending time with my children than I am with going out for a three-hour bike ride.”
He said he’s “always been physically dominant” on the show, and he thinks he’s “still got 10 years of dominance physically, where I will be in the top 5% of any ‘Survivor’ season. I don’t think that will change until I’m 50 or even a longer.” (Yes, Apostol is confident to the point of arrogance. But he’s genuine, and it’s part of his charm.)
But while it “wasn’t more taxing physically, it was more taxing socially. Because the older I get, the less I really care about what people think. ... The more difficult part was spending time with people I didn’t care to waste time on.”
And to win, you have to form alliances with other contestants to vote rivals out, and then get those former rivals to vote you the money in the finale.
“It’s tricky, because you have to be yourself. It’s too hard to pretend like you’re somebody else,” Apostol said. “I don’t think that works out very well. And it’s a hard job to continue that for 39 days.”
In past seasons, former winners have been instant targets for elimination. For that matter, past contestants have been targets. So having 20 past winners is probably the most fair way to bring them back.
But it also makes for a tough game. And Apostol admits he did a few thing differently.
“On ‘Blood vs. Water,’ I was sneaking a lot of food. I was eating food behind my tribe’s back,” he said. “I’ve got to make sure that I definitely do not get caught hoarding food or eating more food than other people. That’s something that people will probably be hyper sensitive to.”
Yes, it’s a TV show. But the producers aren’t secretly feeding the contestants or putting them up in luxury hotels. Contestants really suffer. It’s not as easy as it might seem, either during filming of the show or after.
“You come back. You have to reacclimate to everything. You’ve taken time off of other things that you have to catch up on,” Apostol said. “And then by the time you’ve finally reached normal, the show airs and you have to relive it all again. And deal with the press, deal with the public, deal with whatever social media stuff is coming your way.
“I think it’s a lot more work than most people realize.”
He’s not complaining. “It’s always worth it,” Apostol said. “You know going into it that there’s a 19 out of 20 chance that you’re not going to win. But for me, so many good things have come from being on the show. And every time I go out back, other good things happen.
“I think that’s not the case for everybody. You have to be a strong personality that’s able to deal with the criticisms that are going to definitely come. You have to let that stuff roll off your back and take the good and leave the bad.”
RETURNING WINNERS ON SEASON 4O OF “SURVIVOR”
Ethan Zohn • Season 3, “Africa”
Sandra Diaz-Twine • Season 7, “Pearl Islands”; Season 20, “Heroes vs. Villains”
Amber Brkich Mariano • Season 8, “All-Stars”
Danni Boatwright • Season 11, “Guatamala”
Yul Kwon • Season 13 “Cook Islands”
Parvati Shallow • Season 16, “Micronesia”
Rob Mariano • Season 22, “Redemption Island”
Sophie Georgina Clarke • Season 23, “South Pacific”
Kim Spradlin-Wolfe • Season 24, “One World”
Denise Stapley • Season 25, “Philippines”
Tyson Apostol • Season 27, “Blood vs. Water”
Tony Vlachos • Season 28, “Cagayan”
Natalie Anderson • Season 29, “San Juan del Sur”
Jeremy Collins • Season 31, “Cambodia”
Michele Fitzgerald • Season 32, Kaôh Rōng”
Adam Klein • Season 33, “Millennials vs. Gen X”
Sarah Lacina • Season 34, “Game Changers”
Ben Driebergen • Season 35, “Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers”
Wendell Holland • Season 36, “Ghost Island”
Nick Wilson • Season 37, “David vs. Goliath”