Todd Herzog (left) spent 39 days in China on the CBS reality show “Survivor.” He lost 27 pounds because most days he lived on limes. Full meals were reserved for winners of challenges, shown above. Todd spent one night on the Great Wall of China. “I’ll never forget watching the sunrise,” he says.



Pleasant Grove’s Todd Herzog survived 39 days in China while 15 million viewers watched him lose weight, manipulate and ultimately sway the jury of his peers to win $1 million and the 15th installment of “Survivor.”

Q&A with Jeanette W. Bennett, Photography by Kenneth Linge


Todd Herzog may be the richest person to attend his five-year reunion at Pleasant Grove High School this summer.

With $1,000,000 in his back jeans pocket (minus the taxes), Todd still hangs out with many of his same friends from high school who voted him “Most Likely to Appear on Reality TV” in their 2003 graduating class.

Todd’s border-line obsession with “Survivor” began when he was 15, and his Thursday nights have been routine ever since: invite friends over to watch every move of survivors trying to outwit, outplay and outlast their teammates.

In summer 2007, Todd was ecstatic to be cast in his favorite TV show, and he left for China to play the televised game. At CBS’ request, only a handful of people knew where he was — everyone else thought he was doing an internship at Disneyland Hong Kong.

Turns out he was earning $25,000 per day for the month-plus he survived on the show. And now his 39 days of fame are adding up to a whole lot more.

He has hosted shows for “TV Guide,” and he had several engagements during the Sundance Film Festival. Now he’s in “talks” with Los Angeles producers for new opportunities, but he can’t talk to us about it yet.

As the youngest male winner in Survivor history, Todd carries a lot of weight on his skinny shoulders … including fans’ expectations.

“I get asked to take pictures with a lot of fans,” Todd says. “And I always end up flashing the same smile. I call it the ‘Lawn Gnome’ because I think I look stiff and cheesy.”

His popularity surged as he’s been described by many (including “Survivor” host Jeff Probst) as “the best to ever play the game.”

He says his strategy was simple: have a strategy.

“They told us to bring a press outfit that was a little bit dressy,” Todd says. “I chose a vest as part of my outfit because I knew they were going to make us play the game in our press outfits. And I thought, ‘Some of the girls will dress lightly and will want a vest to cover up.’ I was right. Courtney was wearing a tube top, and I formed friendships by sharing my stuff.”

A 27-pound lighter Todd got back from his role in “Survivor” in August 2007 before the first episode aired. When he left China behind, he knew he was one of three finalists. But he didn’t find out he won the big prize until the live finale on Dec. 16, 2007.

Even with his million-dollar paycheck, Todd lives with his parents and four younger siblings in Pleasant Grove while he plans his life strategy: L.A.? Finish his degree at UVU? Another season of “Survivor”?

Parasites or no parasites, Todd isn’t ready to put “Survivor” behind him. In fact, he recently bought his tribe’s official bamboo mat off eBay for $300.

Now he’s down to $999,700.

Todd tidbit

Todd’s first big splurge was a black Mazda RX8 to replace his white 2003 Hyundai Accent. The car salesman recognized him. “I think all the car dealerships in Utah knew there was some kid with a million dollars out there searching for a car.” Pictures of Todd in his new wheels appeared in the Daily Herald. Ironically, Todd showed up to the  Utah Valley Magazine photo shoot in the Hyundai. “It handles better in snow,” he says.

UV: How has your life changed since winning?

Todd: At first I did all sorts of interviews in New York and L.A. Then it was Christmas and New Year’s. Then I did more interviews and went on a vacation to Florida. Now I’m busy with the Sundance Film Festival — I haven’t stopped. I can’t believe it’s already been a month!


UV: What was your first big splurge?

Todd: Just bought myself a car today — a Mazda RX8 — brand new 2008. I also bought a couple of DVDs, a new coat and some new jeans. Then I was like, “Stop spending the money!” I am going to book a Mediterranean cruise in May. The rest of the money is in a money market investment.


UV: Have you had investment advisers coming out of the woodwork to help you with your money?

Todd: Everybody and their dog wants to tell me what to do with that money! I’ve gotten letters and e-mails. I’m tempted to just take my 5 percent interest and be happy. I could live on that for awhile! It’s not fun to have people jumping down your throat.


UV: Your “Survivor” episodes didn’t air until you were back home. What was it like to watch yourself on TV?

Todd: It was surreal. It’s been my favorite show since I was 15, so I can’t believe I was cast in a leading role on my favorite TV show! It was weird to see myself shrinking on the show and growing a beard.


UV: Obviously what we saw on TV was only a portion of what happened. What did you think of the editing?

Todd: They included a lot of things I didn’t see or hear when I was there. Sometimes I was like, “I can’t believe she said that!”

UV: What was your “Survivor” watching ritual on Thursdays? Did you watch at home? With friends?

Todd: We watched one of the shows at the Wiseguys Comedy Club. We did one show at Winger’s. But other than that we watched it at the house. The last episode a couple hundred people watched at the Vibe in Lindon.


UV: You’ve had “Survivor” parties for years, right?

Todd: I started having a good 40 people here every Thursday night when I was in high school. By season six, we each picked a person we thought could go far. We put in a dollar per week for our person. Then whoever ended up winning got the money. I also started a “Survivor” club at Pleasant Grove High School.


UV: What did you learn about the game of “Survivor” by watching it so faithfully?

Todd: I saw that the people who go the furthest are strategic — they know how to talk their way to one person or another. You’ve got to go in with a gameplan. And you’ve got to keep your friends close.


UV: Was the show what you imagined it to be?

Todd: It was so much harder than I imagined! I didn’t know how many bugs there would be. And I didn’t know how bored I would be. So bored. Just think if you were to go up into the mountains in the clothes you are wearing right now and sit there for 39 days. And every other day you would do a crazy challenge with no energy, and there would be a downpour of rain and it would be 118 degrees. You’re super paranoid because you don’t know what people are saying. And there are people who want you gone. It makes you a little crazy. There were a few times when I thought, “I’m done. I want to go home.” And at those times, I’d tell myself to focus, focus, focus.

UV: How do you pack for something like “Survivor”?

Todd: They sent me a list of all the things I had to bring. Raingear. Swimming suits. Tennis shoes. It took two big suitcases. What we wore on the show were our press outfits. The way we started the show was that they told us at 2 a.m. that we were all going to a photo shoot, but really it was the start of the game.


UV: Do you think the location of your season played a role in your ability to win?

Todd: I’m so happy I went to China. I’m not a strong swimmer, and most of the “Survivor” seasons are on tropical islands and the challenges involve a lot of swimming. If I were out there, I would have been a straggler and they would have voted me off.


UV: Had you ever been to China before?

Todd: Nope. I had never been to China and never planned to visit China. The fact that I got to see this place is amazing. I spent the night on the Great Wall of China. It was me and two other survivors. That’s it. No tourists. Just us. I’ll never forget watching the sunrise.


UV: I understand you almost made it to Survivor Fiji, a previous season of the show.

Todd: They said they cut me because I looked too much like Brad, a survivor from the Cook Islands. He’s Asian! After being cut, I didn’t think anything would happen. But four months later, they put me in the top 45 immediately and I flew out to L.A. and did tons of interviews. For weeks and weeks I did interviews and phone calls.


UV: Were you able to keep your job as a flight attendant during the interview process?

Todd: I didn’t quit until eight days before we left for China because that’s when I found out I’d been picked. I couldn’t tell the airline the real reason I had to leave. I told them I was interning at Disneyland Hong Kong.


UV: Is your real personality portrayed on the show?

Todd: On the show I’m seen as the one who is always thinking — the schemer, the manipulator. In real life, people describe me as outgoing, laughable, easy to get along with.


UV: What did your castmates think about Utah?

Todd: They’d say, “How many moms do you have? What do you DO in Utah?” Some people think of fields when they think of Utah. And I’m like, “It’s mountains, not fields. And there’s lots to do there.” Courtney (the survivor who came in second) calls us the Brady Bunch because we have five kids in our family.


UV: What are your favorite Utah Valley hangouts?

Todd: The Starbucks by University Mall. I could hang out there for hours. I like to go to f.y.e. and buy used DVDs — and yes, I still buy used DVDs. I like to drive to Sundance and buy suckers.

UV: Do you ski while you’re up there?

Todd: Nope, I’ve only skied once in my life. I just drive up there, buy a sucker and come back down.


UV: What did you miss most while you were away?

Todd: I missed the comforts of home and having someone to laugh with. I craved ice cream and chocolate and cookies. Sugar. I wanted it so bad. We would talk about Cold Stone creations for hours. We called it Fantasy Food Camp.


UV: Speaking of food, how did you survive out there?

Todd: I lived off limes. I would fill my hat every four hours with mini limes and eat them like oranges. The acid hurt my teeth after awhile.


UV: Was it hard to get used to cameras in your face?

Todd: After three days it was as if they weren’t there. You know how when someone points a home video camera in your face you do that fake smile and laugh? But in “Survivor,” you get used to it and you don’t care anymore.


UV: What is it like to have people talking about you on blogs and in the media?

Todd: I knew I would get negative press and positive press. A couple weeks into the show, there were some diehard Survivor fans bashing me. And I’m like, “Wait a minute! I’m the diehard fan representing you as a diehard fan! You should be happy!”

UV: Do you feel a sense of urgency — like you need to capitalize on this fame now or it might be gone?

Todd: It is the weirdest feeling. I’m the most excited boy ever, but at the same time, I almost feel lost about what to do next. People keep calling and e-mailing me about opportunities. The world is at my fingertips.


UV: What’s the craziest question you’ve been asked?

Todd: I got asked to sing a Christmas carol. I got asked what color my favorite underwear is. Some people asked if I was against fat people because on one episode we got cheeseburgers and french fries and I said, “The fat kid in me came out.” I was chubby growing up! That’s what I was talking about!


UV: What question are you tired of being asked?

Todd: How much weight I lost — the answer is 27 pounds. I weighed 122 pounds when I got back. I’m also completely tired of being asked if cameramen fed us. They didn’t eat in front of us. We called them “bushes.”


UV: What advice did your family give before you left?

Todd: Everybody kept telling me that even if I didn’t go very far, I should still enjoy it. I think that was everybody’s way — including myself — of being prepared to be the fifth one voted off.


UV: Do people recognize you wherever you go?

Todd: Yes, and people want to take pictures or have me sign an autograph. I understand being into reality TV stars, so I know what it feels like for them. I did get a random phone call at Christmas from someone with an 11-year-old daughter who has a brain tumor. She asked me to surprise her daughter and call on Christmas. So I did. If I can help a little girl to be strong, that’s great. She’s 11 and has survived cancer. That’s a true survivor.


UV: Do you have other obsessions besides “Survivor”?

Todd: I own every Disney DVD — my favorites are “Lion King” and “Rescuers Down Under.” After working as a ride operator for Disney, I became a Disney geek. Gotta pin to trade? (laughs)


UV: What other jobs have you had?

Todd: I’ve had 15 jobs and I’m only 23. Good job, Todd! My first job was at CleanFlicks. I was a manager at the Wynnsong. I loved that job. I’ve worked at Target and Media Play. American Express. Blockbuster. Hollister. The rec center. Man, I’ve had a lot of jobs!


UV: Do you get lots of random calls from people like me wanting some of your time?

Todd: Yes! UVSC called today. Rosie O’Donnell asked me to come on her cruise and speak one night.


UV: Thanks for talking with me today.

Todd: No problem. Now I’m gonna pick up my brother and sister at Pleasant Grove Junior High in my new car!  UV


Proud Momma

Shirley Herzog-Keller watched her son shrink from afar

UV: What’s it like to have Todd win “Survivor”? 

Shirley: The money is great, but to have him win the game is the most exciting thing. He simply submitted a video and everything worked out from there!


UV: Has Todd shared his winnings?

Shirley: He bought us big screen TVs for Christmas, and he gave gift certificates  — we love shopping!


UV: What did your friends think?

Shirley: For the finale, my Bunco girls were in charge of a party at the Vibe in Lindon where a couple hundred people showed up to watch with us. When he was gone doing the show, it was hard not to tell my friends where he was. I couldn’t say anything until the TV Guide came out with his photo. Then I couldn’t wait to share it with everyone!


UV: For a time, both Todd and your daughter were in China.

Shirley: Yes, Brandy went to China to participate on one of the shows. When she came home, she said, “Mom, it makes me love him even more. I went to hug him and nearly knocked him over. He’s so skinny.”


UV: What has been the reaction from the community?

Shirley: The people who know Todd are so proud of him. The people in our ward have been great. I feel like this validated what a great person Todd is!

Utah’s Reality

TV Stars

Todd Herzog isn’t alone in representing our state on the small screen


Neleh dennis Nielsen


Survivor Marquesas in 2002

Neleh was runner-up in the 2002 season. She is married, lives in Oregon, takes care of her 2-year-old and cuts hair out of her home.


Carmen Rasmusen Herbert Bountiful

American Idol 2003

Carmen ranked sixth. She has since released a full album “Nothin Like the Summer” in 2007 and has written a book titled “Staying in Tune.”


Ashly Delgrosso Costa


Dancing with the Stars

Ashly starred on the show for its first three seasons. She now teaches dance classes across the country and travels with her husband and 6-month-old son.


Ken Jennings

BYU Grad


Ken holds the record for the longest streak, winning 74 games and earning more than $3 million. He is now a freelance writer and book author.


Heather Hansen

West Bountiful

The Biggest Loser

Heather started the show at 223 pounds and came home at 168.


Desiree Valentin

Salt Lake City

The Bachelor Rome, 2006

Desiree hoped to fall in love with the Italian prince and made it to the final five. She is dating an Italian cowboy and going to school to become a paralegal.


David Archuleta


Current American Idol Season 7

As of Feb. 15, David was in the running to become the next American Idol. The 16-year-old is one of 24 semi-finalists.


Julie Stoffer

Former BYU Student

The Real World, 2000

Julie is most known for the controversy her appearance caused with her student status and the BYU Honor Code.



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