Former Marine Ben Driebergen was named the champion of the 35th season of “Survivor,” CBS’s long-running reality TV show, in a emotional live episode Wednesday.
The show brought out three of Driebergen’s fellow veterans from the Marines to celebrate in an emotional moment after Driebergen beat the other contestants on the show — part of which involved a last-minute fire-building competition.
Show host Jeff Probst said the producers tracked down the Marines to see what impact Driebergen’s appearance on the show was having, and they all wanted to be present in case he won.
“It’s not just for us that watch, we watch him and we see where we can go. But if he pulls one vet out of the gutter by his story, that’s huge,” one of Driebergen’s friends told Probst.
WATCH: Driebergen Is Reunited With Marine Buddies During ‘Survivor’ Finale
Throughout the season, Driebergen opened up about his struggle as a veteran with PTSD, but never failed to work hard despite his challenges.
“I was not put here. I got myself here,” Driebergen said before the jury began voting to select the final winner of the contest. “And I told everyone I was out here for my family, and I am out here for my family, and I talked about stuff that happened in the military.”
“I came back with PTSD as a lot of combat vets do, and me being out here now is a message to all those men and women who are struggling that you don’t have to feel alone. You don’t have to feel that nobody understands. It’s powerful. So if I can be labeled a hero for showing all those vets that it can be done and there is happiness — you’re going to have to work hard for it, but it can be done,” Driebergen said.
WATCH: Marine Veteran And Reality TV Star Explains How He Made It Through ‘Survivor’
While Driebergen’s family and buddies from the Marines celebrated with him after he beat the final contestants in the show, what Dribergen plans to do with his $1 million prize is also inspiring.
“I’m going to save it,” Driebergen told Entertainment Tonight. “I’m going to figure out how to save it and make it work for us, my kids’ college. Education is a big thing. I didn’t get to go to college, so if we can better our lives and my children’s life, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Driebergen said he’d been thinking about how to spend the money “since I got cast, really,” and doesn’t plan to stop working and sit on his winnings.
“A million dollars goes quick these days, and I’m still working at a grocery warehouse and still stacking groceries, so I’m going to do that for a while and figure out what we’re going to do with our lives,” he said.
The Marine’s win didn’t please some fans of the show, who voiced their dissent about the last-minute twist that allowed Driebergen to compete for a third seat in the final vote, which is usually a choice between two finalists.
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