'Survivor' winner Mike Gabler reveals why he felt "ashamed" before his Final Tribal Council win
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 12/15/2022
Survivor 43 winner Mike "Gabler" Gabler has revealed why he felt "ashamed" before his nearly-unanimous jury vote win at the Final Tribal Council session.
Gabler, a 52-year-old heart-valve specialist from Houston, TX, who currently resides in Meridian, ID, won Survivor's 43rd season in a 7-1 jury vote against the season's runner-up, Cassidy Clark, during Wednesday night's finale on CBS, and it seems every Survivorfan out there was shocked by the outcome.
Gabler revealed after his victory was announced bySurvivor host Jeff Probst that he plans to donate his $1 million prize, in its entirety, to a charity supporting military veterans.
Gabler chose not to mention his plan to donate the money to the Veterans in Need Foundation during the final jury questioning -- which may have ultimately worked to his benefit, considering some jury members may not have wanted to vote for the season's winner out of guilt or sympathy -- but he apparently considered bringing it up at one point.
"I did think about [telling the jury my decision for the money], and as soon as I did, I felt ashamed of myself for even thinking about it," Gabler admitted toEntertainment Weekly.
"Because for me to use them to get to my end would've been hollow. I needed to win on my own merit. And to win on my own merit allowed me to give this donation to veterans' charities and people in need freely and honorably."
Gabler therefore said he was determined to make his donation plan his "secret to the end."
"And I'm glad I kept it, because honestly, it wouldn't have been the same, right?" Gabler noted.
"If I would've been like, 'Wait, I'm not as good as [Owen Knight]. I'm not as good as Cassidy, but I'm gonna do this' -- that's not a real win. I had to win on my own merit and then make the public announcement afterwards to let everybody know what was running my nuclear reactor inside me all those days and nights."
Gabler said he had made the decision to give his $1 million away to veterans in need even "before the game" started filming.
"I was talking with a buddy of mine who's a veteran and my wife. And we were talking about, 'What if you win this thing?' You know, I've worked really hard my life. I've built a good financial set up around myself. I've got to work another eight years before I can retire," Gabler explained.
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Gabler pointed out how he'll soon have two kids in college as well as a house mortgage and so the prize money would've helped him out for sure.
"But my father's a veteran. My uncles are veterans. A lot of guys I went to high school and college with are veterans. And they need some help," Gabler shared.
"And to do something bigger than yourself gives you power in life. Even the grip challenge where I was struggling, the first five minutes of the grip challenge were the most painful. The other 38 minutes or whatever was left were not, because every time I channeled a hero, I got an endorphin explosion."
Gabler said every time he was able to think about something bigger than himself, he would "persevere."
"And on those days when we were really hungry -- about 12 days was the longest I went without a meal, and I mean a mouth full of coconut, maybe a hermit crab and a worm or two, whatever -- you're getting desperate," he continued.
"And what keeps you going? It's not necessarily Gabler, because Gabler could tap out. But if I'm thinking about people who are dependent on me, like veterans in need with a traumatic brain injury or PTSD, that lights a fire in you. And that drove me."
Gabler said this country's "heroes" drove him through the whole game, through the elements and starvation.
"I never had the honor of serving. I had the opportunity, but not the honor to serve, and the fact that I have the honor to serve those who served just fills my heart," Gabler gushed.
Gabler went to the Final 3 with Cassidy and Owen after defeating the season's apparent strongest threat to win, Jesse Lopez, in an epic fire-starting challenge.
In fact, Gabler set a new Survivor record of having burned through his rope at the final fire competition in only four minutes and nine seconds.
At the Final Tribal Council, Gabler -- who told EW that he allowed the other castaways to think he was clueless or powerless at times to avoid becoming a target -- explained to the jury how a vote had never been cast against him.
Gabler took credit for the big move of taking Elisabeth "Elie" Scott out of the game, and he also boasted about his strong relationships and bonds in the game. Gabler insisted that he played a game of honor and integrity and had wanted to be a castaway whom his allies could trust and depend on.
"I'm a better orator than I think I got credit for," Gabler said.
"So a lot of the game, I believe people underestimated me. There's one quote I have somewhere in there that was like, 'I can play the hillbilly, I can play whatever they want.' I mean, I'm a reasonably intelligent individual and my oratory skills and all that stuff are more potent than I think folks gave me credit for. And that was their mistake, not mine."
Gabler also claimed he had even led his tribemates to believe early in the game that he couldn't make fire very well.
"I hunt and camp and do all kinds of stuff, but it's not my advantage to show people that I can make fire very well early... Let somebody else do it. I'll gather wood, I'll do whatever you need me to do. But I hid that card up my sleeve until the final four and I blazed into final three," Gabler bragged.
Had jury member James Jones voted for Gabler to win, he would've wonSurvivor in a unanimous vote. Not only that, he would've played a perfect game given his name had never been written down at Tribal Council throughout the season.
"I mean, to play the game of Survivoris a lifelong dream of mine. They've done such a great job evolving this show and keeping it relevant over 43 seasons, 20 plus years. And to be a part of that history, it's humbling. I don't know what to say. It's amazing."