Mike Gabler, the winner of Survivor 43, announced during the season’s aftershow Wednesday night that he will donate his $1 million prize to veterans in need.
When Gabler, 53, a heart valve specialist from Kingswood, Texas, was asked by host Jeff Probst what it felt like to win the million-dollar prize, he remarked that he made history by being the second player over the age of 50 to win the CBS reality television series. But Gabler switched gears, stating he would make history in another way.
“There are people that need that money more,” he told Probst. “I am going to donate the entire prize, the entire million dollars, in my father’s name, Robert Gabler, who was a Green Beret, [and] to veterans in need, who are struggling from psychiatric problems, PTSD, and curb the suicide epidemic,” Gabler said:
Gabler added that it was his hope the donation would “save lives,” as several veterans struggle with adjusting to life back home after serving in combat overseas.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that about 11 to 20 out of every 100 veterans who served in Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) or Iraqi Freedom suffer from PTSD in a given year. Furthermore, more than 6,000 veterans committedsuicide per year from 2008 to 2017, according to the VA.
As fellow contestants commended Gabler for his commitment, the 53-year-old explained that his donation is not only in honor of his father, who served in the military, but also to his many family and friends who have served.
“I have been fortunate enough to come from a military family,” said the sole survivor. “My father and his brothers were in the military. My mother had several brothers in the military. One of my uncles was a CV in Vietnam. I have friends from high school in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Although he has never served in the military himself, Gabler told CBS Bay Area that after having “fun” and winning the show, he wanted to come back home and do “something good with the money.”
When Probst asked Gabler about his financial situation, considering the amount of money he is giving away, the Texas native responded that he did not come from a wealthy background.
“No, I’ve worked very hard. I’ve been fortunate,” Gabler said. “But you know, I realized being through this experience, I am rich at home. I have an amazing life at home. I have an amazing family. I have amazing friends. I need to be a better husband. I need to be a better father. I need to be a better brother. I need to be a better son. I’m going to do all those things, just like all of us are going to do that when we go home.”
Gabler won season 43, which was filmed in Fiji, after making it to the final three and winning with a 7-1-0 vote from jurors.
He told CBS Bay Area that winning the competition after having been a fan of the show for many years was “mind-blowing” and that the entire experience was “surreal” and “awesome”:
This is truly a heartwarming, wonderful story. We need a story like this right about now!