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‘Survivor’ winner pledges $1 million prize to veterans in father’s honor

Service members raise a flag at the main camp during Fleet Combat Camera Pacific's Winter Quick Shot 2013 field training exercise at Burro Canyon Shooting Park. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan David Chandler/Released)
January 04, 2023

After winning Season 43 of the CBS show “Survivor,” Mike Gabler vowed to donate his entire $1 million jackpot to groups battling veterans’ mental health problems.

Although the heart valve specialist did not serve in the armed forces, Gabler declared that his decision to donate his entire cash prize to “veterans in need” is intended to pay tribute to his father’s military service. His father, Robert Gabler, was a Green Beret.

Following the season finale on December 14, Gabler, the second-oldest contestant to win at 52, told host Jeff Probst, “There are people who need that money more, and I’m going to donate the entire prize — the entire million-dollar prize, in my father’s name, Robert Gabler, who was a Green Beret — to veterans in need who are recovering from psychiatric problems, PTSD and curb the suicide epidemic.”

“While I’ve never been in the service myself, to have the honor to serve them is pretty profound to me,” the winner known as the “Sole Survivor” further said to CBS BayArea.

In an interview with KHOU, Gabler described the ability to donate his winnings as a “blessing.”

Celebrated by his family and fellow castmates, Gabler’s move marked the first time a “Survivor” winner pledged to donate the entirety of the prize to a cause, KHOU noted.

“We’re gonna save lives, we’re gonna do something good… Million dollars is going to them. We made history guys,” he said, echoing a December 15 tweet from the CBS show.

Gabler acknowledged the military service of some of his forbearers as he told Entertainment Weekly (EW) that he made up his mind about giving the money away before the contest 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?’ My father’s a veteran. My uncles are veterans.  A lot of guys I went to high school and college with are veterans,” he said. “And they need some help.”

According to the “Sole Survivor,” his father is in poor health.

He told KHOU, however, that watching the season finale together was a “special” and “powerful” moment, particularly when he made the donation announcement “honoring” his father.

Gabler noted he is not rich but has worked very hard. He put investing in the mental health of veterans above his own financial needs. 

He did not keep the money despite having to pay tuition for two kids, telling EW, “You know, I’ve worked really hard [all] my life. I’ve built a good financial setup around myself. I’ve got to work another eight years before I can retire. I still got a kid in college, one more to go. I still got a house payment, all that stuff the money would have helped, sure.”

The thought of helping veterans recover from emotional and physical trauma drove Gabler to push through the difficult portions of the popular reality TV show.

“If I’m thinking about people who are dependent on me, like veterans in need with a traumatic brain injury or PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,] that lights a fire in you,” Gabler asserted.

“When you’re doing something for something bigger than yourself you can find ways to go deeper than you ever thought possible. If I was just out there for Gabler … maybe I wouldn’t have tried as hard,” he explained to KHOU.

Winning for veterans is “just a blessing come true,” Gabler added.