Survivor winner Yul Kwon busts more stereotypes about Asian men hosting PBS' America Revealed
He's achieved a lot in media, from becoming the first Asian American winner of CBS' reality TV hit Survivor to working with the Federal Communications Commission.
But Yul Kwon's biggest challenge yet may be his current job, showing viewers new ways of looking at their own country as host of the new PBS series America Revealed.
It's not the sexiest topic: A four-part miniseries looking at the state of American manufacturing, at a time when our biggest exports seem to be reality TV shows and viral videos.
Still, just by the nature of who he is, Kwon is breaking barriers again, showing TV audiences that someone who looks like him can be an engaging host of a show which has little to do with Asian culture or history.
"We still have the foreigner stereotypes," said Kwon, a native of New York born to South Korean immigrant parents, who recalled learning English by watching PBS shows such as Sesame Street and 321 Contact as a child. "Even though I was born here, some people still think I'm a foreigner. There's this whole notion that if you look like I do, you can only do certain things (on TV). I want to challenge that."
So Kwon, who has a law degree from Yale University, tackled hosting America Revealed, a show which attempts to surprise the audience with tales of how this country still has lots of manufacturing going on within its borders, though it occurs in ways we don't expect.
Gone are the days when certain kids of manufacturing are located in certain cities. Gary, Ind., where I grew up, may not be the hub of steelmaking it once was, but Kwon can show off a company in North Carolina turning a profit with new ways of making steel.
To give viewers a new way of thinking about how we make food, he jumped from an airplane above a 4,000-acre farming operation in Kansas, highlighting the new ways longtime farmers are creating the food we all consume and expert to the world.
Ask and he can reel off the figures, as he did in this piece for the Huffington Post, noting that the U.S. is still the world's top manufacturer (our biggest export by volume: paper) directly employing over 11 million people, generating 12 percent of the country's economy and making more than $1.7 trillion in goods annually.
"It takes the things you think would be dry facts and presents them in a new way," Kwon said of the series, which tackles the idea economy and an innovative robotics company in tonight's episode, the last of the series. The show is based on a BBC series, Britain From Above, turning its spotlight to highlight the hidden systems which make America work.
And along the way, Kwon hopes to bust a few stereotypes, just as he did on Survivor.
"(Survivor) was a platform to help my community and change the views of Asian Americans," he said. "But I felt a tremendous amount of pressure not to give them any fodder...because I felt I had to be boring and politically correct, I wasn't being myself. Here, I get to be myself."
America Revealed's last episode airs at 10 tonight on WEDU-Ch. 3 and PBS stations nationwide.