Jeff Probst remembers 'Survivor: Palau' contestant Jennifer Lyon

As Survivor‘s 20th season approaches, one of the series’ stars, Jennifer Lyon, who placed fourth in the Palau season, lost her battle with stage-three breast cancer Tuesday at age 37. Survivor host Jeff Probst developed an instantaneous connection with Lyon, and with contributions from Lyon’s family, he shared this story about their friendship:

“Jenn and I got reconnected a couple of years ago and became very close, very fast. She shared with me the highs and the lows and the constant choices she and her family faced regarding her treatment.

“When you cut through the social barriers that so often hamper us, it’s amazing how quickly you can become close with someone. Jenn made it very easy. She didn’t have any interest in wasting time.

“Because the previous Christmas had been so rough, this year she decided to open a Christmas tree lot so she could extend the holidays for as long as possible. Then in typical Jenn fashion she made the decision to donate profits to the Susan Love Cancer Research Foundation. The tree lot was a major undertaking yet there she was every day doing her part to try to raise money to make sure nobody else had to ever endure the same struggle.”

Kim Lyon: ‘Jenn worked so hard on the lot and they were kind of bummed they didn’t make much money off of it so if anyone wants to honor Jenn they can make a donation to the foundation. She would be touched.’

Probst: “Over the past several weeks we had some beautiful talks about life and death. Jenn was so willing to share what she was feeling, including the very real and very scary parts of dealing with terminal cancer.

“Jenn was blessed with a fantastic family. Her sister, her brother and her parents were loving, positive and incredibly supportive of her needs. Her family provided a safe place where she could simply be a daughter or a sister and not have to worry about the expectations of others. It was funny to witness her switch from being a spiritual mentor to playing the role of a daughter where she felt safe enough to simply say ‘no’ to her mom’s suggestion of a hot cup of soup. There really is no substitute for a loving family. Nothing else can compare.

“Texting back and forth became a great way for Jenn to stay in touch with all of her friends. No matter where she was or how she was feeling she could reach out and stay connected via technology. Her phone was constantly beeping with new messages including many from Ethan Zohn.

“I think Ethan and Jenn became strong allies for each other as they both battled their cancer. Ethan was there for Jenn at times when she really needed to talk to someone who could understand the struggle on a level the rest of us just couldn’t. Ethan is such a strong willed and inspiring person, their friendship offered a lot of comfort to Jenn.

“Her wisdom about how to live a life with quality seemed to grow with each passing day. I am so grateful she chose to share so much with me. I used to kid Jenn, asking her ‘where was all of this insight when you were on Survivor!’

“The Survivor reunion party offered Jenn a great chance to reconnect with so many people from the Survivor family. It was a great night and even though the party was crazy, we arranged a back room, away from the madness, where Jenn could hang out and talk with friends. She looked absolutely stunning that night. Certainly a lot of that is because Jenn was always a beautiful woman, but there was a spirit inside her that night that was palpable.  It was clear to me that she knew this was a goodbye.”

Kim Lyon: ‘Jenn would rather go to a Survivor party than anything else. No matter how bad she was feeling. She could always rally for that kind of a celebration.’

Probst: “Jenn’s family arranged a beautiful spot on the Hood River in Oregon where Jenn could enjoy some peace in a lovely surrounding. She relocated there last week. There’s a great photo of Jenn walking near the water and she looks so relaxed and at peace. It was definitely the right call.

“The night she finally passed, I had the most amazing connection with Jenn. I was in my home in Los Angeles listening to a CD of music I had given Jenn. I texted her sister Kim and asked her to play the music for Jenn. As I sat there on my couch thousands of miles away, I could feel Jenn holding my hand.  Even thinking of it now brings it right back. A few minutes later Kim texted back saying, ‘We’ve already been playing it, but Jenn has stopped responding to us.’ I wrote back, ‘But she hears it. I’ve been holding her hand all night.’

“As the night continued Kim was kind enough to send me updates. It was this amazing fusion of spirit and technology. The power of human energy was connecting me to Jenn on a spiritual level and the power of technology was keeping me updated on her journey. If we could find a way to harness this for greater good we could change the entire world.

“The last text came at 11:10 pm when Kim wrote simply, ‘Jenn died.’

“Jenn did such a good job of showing me how to love someone who is dying that it is surprisingly easy to talk about her passing. I feel there is great knowledge she wanted to share with others about how to deal with someone who is dying.

“Throughout her battle with cancer, friends would often encourage her to ‘Fight harder.  Stay positive.’ It’s a well-intentioned gesture but as I learned through Jenn, it’s not always the right one. Near the end, Jenn worried that some people may think she gave up and didn’t fight hard enough. We talked a lot about the idea that death is such a hard subject and so many of us simply don’t know what is appropriate to say so we end up saying the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

“If I learned anything from Jenn it is this: Don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are truly feeling about dying. Don’t shy away from the scary parts of death. They need someone to talk to about what is going on inside their head.  Most importantly, encourage them to let go of the expectations of others and give them permission to do what is right for them, even if it means letting go.”

Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS/Landov

Comments (181 total) Add your comment
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  • Josh Spaulding

    well said Jeff…

    • darclyte

      Very moving article.
      Heartbreaking and tragic story.
      My heart goes out to her family, as it has gone out to those suffering in Haiti.
      Tragedy knows no limit.
      But neither does love.
      RIP sweet lady.

    • Tom R.

      I watched the Survivor series that Jen was on more than once. She seemed to be a wonderful young lady–very, very special. Heaven is lucky to have her.

    • justin

      i am so sad
      so sad that she died i even had to cry

  • freckles

    omg jeff…tears right now. heartbreaking.

    • Snsetblaze

      I seldom tear up for anything but I am bawling now.

    • Maserda

      Same here. I couldn’t read the entire article because my eyes are filled up with tears.

    • Tamara

      Me too. I’m not a Survivor watcher, but I sensed this was something worth reading, and it was even moreso than I expected.

      Thank you so much, Jeff, for sharing this with us. It is a gift.

      • amj

        I agree, haven’t seen Survivor since Season One but this made me cry like a baby. So beautiful, really touched me. Good to be reminded from time to time of the great thing that life is and how to try to understand those who are dying. Jeff thanks for sharing! God Bless Jenn!

  • tennisfan

    Thank you so much, Jeff, for sharing this very personal friendship and moment with us. I admit I struggle with words surrounding death and I appreciate your sharing with us your and Jenn’s insight. Peace be with you and Jenn’s other friends and family.

  • Spike Lee

    This is not the 20th anniversary!!! It’s the 20th season. Not the same thing as anniversary. Who hires these writers????

    • Minutiae

      THAT is what you choose to nitpick about THIS article? I swear, some people…

      • spike’s right

        seriously, what a huge blunder. basic fact checking, anyone?

    • christine

      that bothered me too

      • Deb

        If the fact that they said it was the 20th anniversary rather than 20th season bothers you, YOU NEED A LIFE.

    • K

      Jeez…I guess some people were born without a heart.

    • What the ***?

      I read and reread the article, and unless the chemo I am on for the treatment of breast cancer is causing cognitive side effects, I do NOT see the word “anniversary” in the article. Season, yes. Anniversary, no. I am guessing Spike and his/her supporters haven’t had to deal with a potentially lethal health issue or they would have learned to take more away from a story as heartbreaking as Jenn’s and those who love her than some petty issue with editing.

      • Angie

        AMEN, Very well said…

      • amj

        Agree. It says Survivor Reunion party. And 20th season in two very different sentences.

    • sara

      Wow. what is wrong with you exactly? If that is the only thing you take away from this then you have some serious problems.

    • Bonita Leah Almond

      You have GOT TO BE KIDDING ME – How can you take such a terrible loss so lightly (more concerned with whether or not it’s an anniversary or a season)?


      You are such a BASTARD!!!

      • AtlantaJeff

        Lets not allow the loss of one so beautiful to make us angry. We all must accept this loss – although it is the last thing we do in life – it is a pert of that life!! I learned this when my mother died the same way – about 5 years ago – with a cancer that went from lung to thyroid to stomach.
        Take from her what you will – I’m sure that Jenn would have wanted that.

        And always remember: To live in the hearts of those you have left behind – is to never die!! Godspeed Jenn Lyon – and welcome home!!

    • Zawmer

      Hey, I’m a bit of a language snob myself, but the incorrect usage of “anniversary” on here (which they’ve fixed) is nowhere near as obnoxious as your boorish chiding in relation to this fantastic article. You are being a killjoy.

    • LiLa

      The article referred to the 20th season, which this coming season will be. Go back and read it again.

      Thanks, Jeff, for a beautiful story.

    • wayne

      spike, now would be a good time to grow up!

    • Renoalaska

      Obviously you are an under 25 who has never lost anyone to this wicked disease. Just wait until you lose a friend, mother, father….etc. & you won’t be so smug & rude. I would like to hear your comment in 40 years. It is very sad when parents outlive their children.

  • Blue

    Rest in peace Jenn. So sad.

  • Peg

    Wow – this is really beautiful Jeff. I am happy for both of you that you had each other during this rough time.

  • Lee

    20th anniversary? I think you mean 10th.

  • Sallyanne

    Kind words. Amazing woman. Very sad loss.

    But the writer of the story needs to know that it is not Survivor’s 20th anniversary. 20th something else, perhaps. Or maybe 10th anniversary. But not 20th anniversary.

  • RJ

    Written with Class

  • Whitney

    brought tears to my eyes; this is beautiful!

  • Wino

    Very well put Jeff. Very touching. If it is not too private, would love to know what the music was.

  • bexter

    It’s the hardest thing to let go of someone you love, in my case it was my sister. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family & friends.

  • Fatima

    Thank you for that, Jeff.

  • Laurie Cicotello

    Ok, no freaking way Survivor is 20 years old. I remember watching the first season in 1999/2000 when I was in grad school.

    • Anne

      I can’t believe you absolute JERKS who are choosing to focus on such nit picking, small “errors” when reading an article like this. Clearly, you are so crass and spiritually un-enlightened that it is impossible for you to comprehend what this article was written about. A young woman died of cancer and you are worried about the correct anniversary number. I pity you.

      • K

        Well said Anne

      • sara

        Thank you Anne. I cannot believe some people.

    • K

      I believe there have been 20 shows, not years, as sometimes there is more than one show in a year. Jeff, that was beautiful. Coby Archa is a good friend of mine, and I met Jen through Coby. She was a lovely, lovely, sweetheart of a person and I know she will be sorely missed forever.

  • wabisabi

    A lovely tribute to an apparently lovely person. And, yes, absolutely avoid that whole “fighting the disease” ideation. We do what we can but we all die someday. It is better, to my mind, to accept with some grace our impending deaths than to kick and scream and beg the whole way. Jenn and her family set a really good example of living, living, living up till that final gentle goodbye.

    • SabineTawni


      Well said! You are a very wise person, and your words are pleasure to read.

    • darclyte

      There’s something wrong with going out screaming and kicking? Maybe not begging, but screaming and kicking is perfectly acceptable.

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