January 28, 2002 12:00 PM

When word got out last fall that the cute, curly-haired guy from Survivor: Africa was on the sidelines at Fairleigh Dickinson University soccer, female attendance at games went up—and became decidedly more vocal. On the Teaneck, N.J., campus, where he’s an assistant coach for the men’s and women’s teams, Ethan Zohn would hear his name screamed from the stands. “It’s nice but a little strange,” says Zohn, 27. “Women going gaga and saying, ‘You’re so hot.’ It’s embarrassing. I’m not used to all that attention.”

Get used to it. On the third Survivor’s Jan. 10 finale some 27 million viewers saw Zohn, who’s also a professional soccer goalie, score a major gooooooal by taking home the grand prize of $1 million. One of 16 contestants who arrived in Kenya last summer for 39 days of sweating and scheming, “I wanted to play hard, play fair,” says Zohn, “and prove you don’t have to be an evil back-stabbing villain to do well in this game.”

By all accounts, he succeeded. “Ethan’s a hard competitor, but he’s a good guy,” says third-place finisher Lex van den Berghe, 38, a marketing manager from Santa Cruz, Calif. “He didn’t ruffle any feathers. He chose to be an under-the-radar type of player.”

No more. Since his win, Zohn has turned up on The Early Show, Live with Regis and Kelly, Hollywood Squares and the Late Show with David Letterman. He insists, however, that his brush with fame is leaving no marks. “I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to get all fancy and go Hollywood,” vows the Lexington, Mass., native. Nor is he about to go chasing after the girls who have been ogling him: Though he shares a Manhattan bachelor pad with two pals, he has a steady girlfriend, Diana Richards, 26, a New York City interior designer. “I was with her before the show,” he says. “I’m with her now. I’m not about to propose, but we’re having a great time doing the whole celebrity thing.”

Soccer, however, remains “my passion,” says Zohn. “I get on the field and I forget about everything else. For two hours, it’s pure joy.” He started at age 6, following in the cleats of older brothers Lenard, now 34 and a printing company executive, and Lee, 32, a chiropractor. (Their mother, Rochelle, 61, works in a knitting store; father Aaron, a business owner, died in 1988.) “I’m the baby of the family,” says Zohn, “so I’ve had to compete my whole life.”

At Lexington High School he also took up track and lacrosse before enrolling at Vassar College, where he earned a B.A. in biology in 1996. After graduation, he decided to stick with soccer, taking the field for professional teams, including the Cape Cod Crusaders of the United Soccer Leagues. “He’s not a nine-to-five person,” says his mother.

But the lure of Survivor’s loot was hard to resist. In Kenya he lost 26 of his 160 pounds subsisting on fare such as fried gruel and, in the show’s most notorious contest, guzzling a glass of cow’s blood mixed with milk. “It wasn’t too horrible,” he says. The toughest challenge, though, was “dealing with all the plotting,” he says. “Your head is just clicking 24 hours a day. You never have a moment where you can just relax.”

Recently he found time to unwind at Survivor ally Tom Buchanan’s Virginia goat farm. (He also remains close with van den Berghe and runner-up Kim Johnson, 57, a retired schoolteacher from Oyster Bay, N.Y.) He’s still mulling what to do with the bulk of his Survivor windfall; he plans to throw a party and buy presents for his family and might fund a soccer league for underprivileged kids. “I’d love to give back a little bit,” he says. Otherwise, “I like my life as it is. I don’t think I’m going to try to change it that much.”

Fairleigh Dickinson women’s soccer coach Peter Gaglioti, for one, fervently hopes Zohn sticks around for at least another season. “His new fame is going to help us recruit,” he says. “A lot of girls just want to come see him.”

Samantha Miller

Fannie Weinstein in New York City, Carolyn Eggert in Lexington and Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles

You May Like