On Dec. 14, the 43rd season of “Survivor” ended with heart valve specialist Mike Gabler declared the “sole survivor.”
At 52, he is the second-oldest contestant to win the show. And while he didn’t serve in the U.S. military, he decided to donate the entirety of his $1 million winnings to veterans charities in honor of his father, Robert Gabler, a former Green Beret.
“While I’ve never been in the service myself, to have the honor to serve them is pretty profound to me,” Gabler told host Jeff Probst during the after show. “We’re gonna save lives, we’re gonna do something good. ... Million dollars is going to them. We made history guys.”
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gabler said he made the decision before his stint on the show even began.
“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?’” he noted. “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.”
Despite needing to put two kids through college, Gabler made the decision not to keep the winnings.
“You know, I’ve worked really hard (all) my life,” he told EW. “I’ve built a good financial setup around myself. I’ve got to work another eight years before I can retire. I’ve still got a kid in college, one more to go. I’ve still got a house payment, all that stuff the money would have helped, sure.”
However, the thought of contributing to something more than his own stability and happiness is what kept Gabler going during the harshest parts of the contest, he said.
“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,” he said.
This is reportedly the first time a “Survivor” winner has said they intend to donate the entire cash prize to charity, KHOU noted.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.