Management consultant Yul Kwon used his lawyer skills to win Survivor: Cook Islands in 2006. Now, he’s entered another place known for outwitting, outplaying and outlasting – the Beltway.
Kwon, 34, works as the deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. It’s his job to help foster an alliance between the public and the government to solve thorny issues related to tech access, tech safety and the use of public airwaves.
“It’s such a contrast,” Kwon tells PEOPLE. “Being in an environment where you have no communications and no technology to being in an area where you are in the center of all that stuff, it’s kind of an adjustment. When I came off Survivor, I had two goals. One was to never wear a suit again. The other was to never make a PowerPoint slide, and I have failed miserably at both.”
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Kwon and his wife Sophie have moved from California to D.C., and joined the ranks of other TV stars in the Obama administration, including Harold & Kumar‘s Kal Penn, who works in the White House as associate director in the Office of Public Liaison.
“You know, the last time I saw Kal Penn was when we were both campaigning for Obama,” Kwon says. “We’ve run into lots of people who know each other but I haven’t actually met him yet while I am here in D.C. But I think it’s something that’s going to happen because we are both passionate about engaging more young people into the political process and serving of the community of color that we both come from.”
Having worked on Capitol Hill as a young attorney once, Kwon is glad to come back with private sector experience. “If you want to make good public policy, especially in technology, you should go outside and work for some of these tech companies,” he says. “You shouldn’t be a bureaucrat your entire career.”
And unlike the secret negotiations that were a part of his life on Survivor, Kwon hopes his experiences and perspectives will help make the FCC a more open organization. “A lot of people don’t know what the FCC does and don’t know to contact the FCC,” he says. “When they think of it at all, they think it’s a morality cop that imposes fines for partial nudity on shows, probably like Survivor! But there is so much more that it does.”
Such as? “Making sure every citizen has access to broadband,” Kwon says, “That’s absolutely critical. And the issue that I’m working on right now is the distracted driving crisis, where people are starting to realize it’s great to have all these devices and tools for communication but they can also be dangerous if you are not using them responsibly.”