Utah native Tyson Apostol, who won a million dollars on “Survivor,” didn’t immediately jump at the chance to compete on CBS’ “The Challenge: USA.” When he eventually said yes, it was, at least in part, out of spite.
“The people who don’t get invited are, like, half of it,” he said with a smile. “The people that were on ‘Survivor’ that didn’t get invited are going to be so mad that I’m here right now.”
Apostol was kidding, sort of, about sticking it to all the other “Survivor” contestants (there have been more than 600) who didn’t get invited. It’s his sense of humor. And anyone who has followed him on TV knows there’s no actual malice behind it.
It’s one of the reasons CBS keeps inviting him back. It’s one of the reasons he keeps accepting the network’s invitations. It’s one of the reasons that, in the opening moments of “The Challenge,” we hear Tyson say, “You know what’d make this game better? Me.”
He finished eighth on “Survivor” in 2009; 15th in 2010; won the million dollars in 2013; and finished 11th in 2019. He also appeared on “Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars” with his then-girlfriend/now-wife Rachel, and on “Poker Night Live.”
“I’ve never felt closer to God than getting handed a million-dollar check from a large corporation for lying and cheating on national television,” Apostol says with a straight face on “The Challenge.”
He’s kidding! Really.
And it’s really true that he very nearly said no to “The Challenge.”
“I kept waffling back and forth because I have a really good thing going with Spotify and The Ringer. That’s growing and getting better and bigger,” said Apostol. (He co-hosts three podcasts — “The Pod Has Spoken,” “PicklePod” and the “News AF” segment on “Rob Has a Podcast.”) “I kind of really like that space for me. I’m pretty good at talking, and staying at home to do it is really optimal. I get to be around the girls all the time and don’t have to travel. Don’t have to disappear for months on end.”
He almost turned down the fourth invitation to “Survivor” three years ago because he’s a stay-at-home dad who spends a great deal of time with his daughters: Bergen, who just turned 7, and Marlowe, who’s about to turn 4.
Even after The Ringer said it would support him if he competed on “The Challenge,” Apostol was “was this close to saying no, and I had come to terms with that. And Rachel was, like, ‘If this is something awesome, you’ll regret saying ‘no.’ If it’s a pile of garbage and you go, then at least you’ve learned your lesson and you still have a story to tell. … The worst-case scenario is just a little bit of a headache for a little while. And best-case scenario — you’re the O.G. of this new spinoff show from MTV to CBS.”
And he’ll be able to combine “The Challenge” with his podcasting career. CBS is allowing him to podcast about the show each week while it’s airing — the first time they’ve ever allowed a contestant to do that. That’s a lot of trust to put in Apostol, and highly unusual for the network. Clearly the people at the show and at CBS trust him. He jokes a lot, but the Provo native, former Latter-day Saint missionary and professional bicycle racer and bike-shop manager is a smart guy and he knows how this works.
“Even while we were filming the show, a lot of times the producers were, like, ‘You should be a producer. You’re kind of doing the job for us here, corralling the other contestants and knowing what is and what isn’t acceptable and what’s entertaining.’ So I’ve come a long way.”
MTV to CBS
“The Challenge: USA” is a permutation of the long-running MTV series, which has itself gone through numerous changes. In the new CBS version, 28 people who have appeared on “Survivor,” “Amazing Race,” “Big Brother” and “Love Island” will face off in a series of challenges against randomly chosen opponents, “making alliances and strategies more difficult than ever,” according to CBS. “Players must adapt to survive the game,” competing “in a constant state of paranoia, unable to trust anyone but themselves.”
“I know that there’s going to be a bunch of B.S.,” Apostol said. “I’m going to have to deal with it. You’ve got B.S from the production side. You’ve got B.S. from the contestants you don’t want to be surrounded with. But that’s just part of signing up for these things.”
The winner will take home $500,000. The 90-minute premiere airs Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/Ch. 2; hourlong episodes will follow on Wednesdays at 8 p.m.; and all episodes will stream on Paramount+.
Unlike “Survivor,” in which he and other contestants subsisted on very little food for 39 days, “The Challenge” contestants are, at least, fed.
“Yeah, but I got news for you. The food was not great,” he said. “And if the food is not great, I may as well just have everybody starving, because I’m one of the best at starving.”
In other words, he’s one of the best at surviving and competing on very little food.
“If we’re going to have a contest of who can starve the best, it’s probably still going to be me,” said Apostol.
He wants to prove himself against the competition, but that he doesn’t know what to make of the “Love Island” contestants. “They’re all young and they’re all pretty. And being pretty and smart is, like, a needle in a haystack,” he said. “I was once one of those. And now I’m probably leaning more toward the intelligent than the pretty. You know, it happens to the best of us.”
It’s just a job
Thirteen years ago, Apostol was excited the first time he was cast on “Survivor.” It was an adventure. A chance to be on TV. A chance to have fun. It’s not that way for him anymore.
“Oh, no, it’s work, dude. It’s work with the hope that it will be fun,” Apostol said. “I was not looking forward to it, really. It’s different now, and every time I go [on a show], it’s more pay versus pleasure.”
He also thinks that, at 43, he’s getting a bit old to continue for shows like “Survivor” and “The Challenge.”
“At some point, there’s going to come a time when I’m going to look pathetic compared to what I used to be,” Apostol said. “And I don’t want that moment to be on national television.”
But even though it’s “mostly professional,” there are still parts of the show that he greatly enjoys.
“And one of them is: I know that on these shows, people are going to break,” he said. “And I love having a front row seat watching the build up to them breaking. And even sometimes having, like, a small something to do with them breaking.”
He’s kidding … sort of. There’s a big grin on his face. But he clearly relishes the opportunity to be “like, ‘Oh, I just broke that dude’s brain. He doesn’t even know which way is up right now, and he’s spiraling out of control.’ Or she. It can be a he or a she.”
And he “loves” that shows like “Survivor” and “The Challenge” both “purposely make things a little bit difficult and trying so that they can rip the mask off of people and you get to see who they really are at their core when you push them hard enough. I think that’s the draw of these shows in general.”
Other people, that is. Not Tyson.
“Fortunately for me, I’m very self-aware and pretty chill all the time, so I don’t have much to worry about,” he said. “But there’s some people that I’m just like, ‘You’ve got to stop going on these shows.”
He’s kidding. Mostly. Partly. And he’s not altogether the same person he was the first time he was on “Survivor,” when he was maybe more brash and obnoxious. Maybe he’s mellowed a bit. Maybe fatherhood has changed him.
Maybe he’s just so experienced in the ways of reality TV that he knows that “things are going to go wrong and things are going to be hard and there’s going to be tension” — the sorts of things “that in my regular life, I avoid at all costs. If there’s something tense that happens, I’m just out of there, lickety-split.”
Maybe he’s changed
He said that when he was younger, he was “in the mix more” in his regular life — calling out people trying to cut in line, for example, and rallying support to send those folks to the end of the line. “And now it’s, like, with kids, I don’t even go out that much anymore just because I don’t want to even have those interactions.”
He’s not criticizing the shows. He says he’s still entertained by them, even while he’s appearing in them.
“I still will sit there and just giggle to myself about things in my head. I’m one of the funniest people I know,” he said with a laugh. “I guess from that standpoint, I feel like I’m the same. Obviously with age and with living life, with having kids and stuff, I think I’ve grown in ways — maybe emotionally and in self-awareness. And awareness of other people’s perspectives.”
And awareness of the world that surrounds his family at their home in Mesa, Arizona. Apostol said his daughters don’t know much about his TV career, and he and his wife work to keep it that way.
“We try to keep that a little bit separate,” he said. “I mean, we’ll go eat somewhere and the restaurant manager will come out and be like, ‘This one’s on us. We love you!’ And my daughters — my oldest one especially — pick up on all that stuff now. And she’s like, ‘Do you know that guy?’
He’ll tell her the restaurant manager is a friend. “We kind of minimize that impact as we move through the public a little bit. Everybody’s always quite respectful when I have my kids with me and we go places.”
He’s not just lucky
Apostol acknowledged that he was fortunate when he was cast on “Survivor” the first time, but he was also quick to point out that he’s made the best of his opportunities.
“A lot of people look at what I’ve done and are, like, ‘Oh, that guy’s lucky and fortunate that he’s been on the show so many times. But to be honest, I’ve put in a lot of work,” he said. “It’s not like I’ve just been handed these opportunities. I’ve done some things with the past opportunities to increase my chances of being invited back.”
He’s been professional with the production company and the network, he’s been reliable, he’s been “vulnerable and real” on TV without “acting like a diva to production staff and crew.”
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes into it,” Apostol said. “And then even when you’re not on TV, you still have a brand and you are still associated with the show. And so you have to live your life accordingly. It’s not like I’m just winning the lottery over and over and over again.”
But he doesn’t expect to keep going on CBS forever.
“At some point, I’m going to feel like I’ve done enough work where I don’t need to be roommates with a bunch of doofuses that I despise,” he said, chuckling a bit. “And I think that’s going to be the determining factor moving forward.”
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