'Survivor' Winner Is New FCC Deputy Chief
JACKI LYDEN, host:
Yul Kwon is one of Washington, D.C.s newest faces. To most hes known for winning the 2006 season of the CBS TV show Survivor: Cooks Island. And that landed him on the cover of People magazine as the sexiest man alive. But what many dont know is that reality TV stardom came after he graduated from Stanford, earned a law degree from Yale and worked as an aide to Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. Add to that resume, his new position with the Federal Communications Commission.
Yul Kwon has just been named the FCCs deputy chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. His position is the commissions public face and its responsible for responding to inquiries and complaints about what thing you heard on the airwaves. Yul Kwon, thanks for joining us here in the studio.
Mr. YUL KWON (Deputy Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau): Thank you for having me here.
LYDEN: Does it help that youve been in front of the camera? Is that going to help when it comes to complaints?
Mr. KWON: I think so, because I think one of the things that the chairman and the commission want to do is really engage a much broader universal stakeholders than had been a part of the process in the past. A lot of consumers dont know what the FCC does. I mean, a lot of people watch reality shows and all they know is that the FCC will impose fines for wardrobe malfunctions, you know, but thats only a very, very small part of what the commission does. The commission right now is engaged in a very, very critical effort to expand broadband access to every single American in the country. Thats going to be absolutely critical for ensuring our economic growth in the future.
LYDEN: I just wanted to ask you, is it at all hard, given your glamorous history
(Soundbite of laughter)
LYDEN: to be taken seriously? It is a glamorous history.
Mr. KWON: Well, guess it depends on how you look at it. You know, I know I come from a reality show and reality shows are not the most substantive kind of background. But, you know, I had a long career before I went on the reality show. And the reason I went on Survivor was because Ive recognized the power of media to really focus and raise awareness of issues that are important.
LYDEN: How will you use those skills that you were known for and youve taught, I believe, for the FBI about bringing people together, about focusing?
Mr. KWON: Right, right. Well, what Ive always been interested in is trying to get organizations to work more effectively. And Im currently an adjunct instructor with the FBI and this kind of happened, sort of, in a funny way. After Survivor ended, I got a call from the FBI and it totally freaked me out.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KWON: I dont know if you know this, but the first person who won Survivor spent four years in a federal penitentiary for tax evasion.
LYDEN: Richard Hatch.
Mr. KWON: And when I got the call from the FBI, it totally flipped me out because I was thinking, you know, I swear to God, I paid my taxes. But as it turned out, they were interested in trying to find nonconventional methods of teaching their agents how to build rapport and earn trust and interact with people. Most of the bureau agents had been trained in ways of interrogation. So, basically using leverage and intimidation to get information from somebody that you think is hiding information. But as were finding out in the post 9/11 world, that doesnt always work.
And interestingly enough, they were using Survivor as a case study. And once I won, they were interested in how I was able to build rapport, build these teams and in particular convince someone from an opposing tribe to flip over to my tribe.
LYDEN: Im speaking with Yul Kwon, the new deputy chief of consumer and governmental affairs at the FCC. Let's talk about what you are going to be handling. It's just come up in the Friday issue of The Washington Post again. And this is something that has plagued TV for a long time, and thats the issue of product placement - plugs for products on TV. Some of which have become so systematic it's practiced the whole show - Simon Cowell drinking from a Coca-Cola cup on American Idol.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KWON: You mean he doesnt love Coke?
LYDEN: Well, but this has been going on. The Writers Guild of America has brought it to Congress's attention. Do you think the FCC should issue disclosure regulations to make these kinds of embedded advertisements more transparent?
Mr. KWON: I think in general it is in the consumer interest to make sure that there is transparency and there isnt any kind of misleading advertising. Now, with respect to this specific issue, I think whats going to be required is a broader effort to solicit input from a universe of stakeholders to really understand whats going on. I think this is something that the commission would obviously have an interest in if it's being done in a way thats misleading to consumers.
But in general, I mean, thats part of the reason I came to the commission, because we wanted to look at whats out there. Are consumers, whether it's through TV or other media, like on the Internet, getting the types of accurate information that they need to make smart choices?
LYDEN: Another issue thats getting a lot of attention, of course, is this of net neutrality. Now, not everyone may know what that is. But since you spent time working at Google youve had a lot of jobs can you explain this for us in layman's terms?
Mr. KWON: Basically, net neutrality is the idea that the Internet should be free. That it's sort of like the Internet should be Switzerland, right? It doesnt take sides and it doesnt discriminate against people, or particular uses or applications. The idea that every bit of information is equally valid as any other bit of information.
So the FCC, under Chairman Genachowski, has opened this proceeding to really see if net neutrality is something thats going to furthering the interest of this country. And right now we're going through a process of soliciting very broad input from lots of different people to figure out if this is something thats good.
LYDEN: How long does your term go? Do you know?
Mr. KWON: I think I will probably serve as long as I feel like Im making an impact and having a difference. So, we'll see. I mean, it's an adjustment, I got to tell you, wearing a suit again and coming into an office. But, you know, they made me an offer I couldnt refuse. They offered me access to bathrooms and cooked food, so, couldnt turn it down.
LYDEN: "Survivor" winner Yul Kwon is the new deputy chief of the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. We really thank you for coming in. Welcome to the island.
Mr. KWON: Thank you so much.
LYDEN: You must have to put up with that a lot.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. KWON: Hopefully I won't get voted off anytime soon.
LYDEN: It's been a pleasure.
Mr. KWON: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.