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Lehi sushi chef Jonas Otsuji a contestant on newest 'Survivor'

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 4:19 p.m. MST

Jonas Otsuji, second from right, is from Lehi, Utah, and competes on "Survivor: One World," which airs Wednesday at 7 p.m. The teams are divided by gender but both teams share the same beach. Other team members are, from left, Michael Jefferson, Colton Cumbie, Matt Quinlan, Bill Posley, Jay Byars, Leif Manson (front), Troy Robertson, Otsuji and Greg Smith, shown here during the Immunity Challenge, "Free Fallin'" during the first episode of "Survivor: One World."

Monty Brinton, CBS

Looking out the window this time of year at Utah's brown-gray landscape could inspire feelings of gloom, particularly for someone who's recently been in, say, Samoa.

It did for Jonas Otsuji, who recently finished participating as a contestant on CBS's "Survivor: One World," and said returning home was "a little depressing" at first.

"It was honestly great to see my family, but I went to the Lehi library like a couple days after and I was sitting in there and I was just like… 'What am I doing? I'm sitting in the Lehi library. What's the purpose of my life?'" he said with a laugh.

It's not that Otsuji has never made the tropical-island-to-Utah leap before. The 37 year old was born and raised in Hawaii and came to Utah for the first time to study photography at Brigham Young University.

Today he lives in Lehi with his wife and three kids and works as a sushi chef, catering and teaching cooking classes at area universities and kitchen stores.

Otsuji has been a "Survivor" fan from the very beginning. "Since Season 1, I've watched every single episode, some of them twice," he said.

"Every season when we'd watch it, my wife would always say 'Man, you'd be so good on that show,' and I was always like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.'"

Otsuji decided to apply to be on "Survivor" when two contestants, Purple Kelly and NaOnka, quit during "Survivor: Nicaragua" during Season 21.

"I was just so worked up. I thought, 'Man, it is just so disrespectful that they would quit,'" Otsuji explained. "(Then) I thought, 'I really have no place to judge these people because I haven't applied, so they're one ahead of me.' That motivated me to make my tape and the rest is history."

His acceptance to be on the show, he said, was surprising in some ways but not in others.

"They've never had a sushi chef on the show before, and you know, I just thought, from a producer's perspective, you know, it'd be interesting. Everybody's interested in sushi chefs for some reason; they're sort of mysterious. … People would be like, 'What? A sushi chef?'"

From his years of watching the show, Otsuji strategized his physical preparation: a lot of running and no weight training.

"I purposely didn't want to bulk up or get too muscular or ripped. I wanted to be in shape, but I didn't want to look in shape," he said. "I ate more food than I normally would so I'd have a little bit of a belly, so they'd be like, 'Oh, just a fat sushi chef, no big deal.'"

He also had his mental strategy figured out, and shares it in his introduction video, "Meet Jonas", on CBS.com:

"As far as lying and manipulating and backstabbing, I have no problem doing that. I feel like if you're playing the game, you've had, what, 23 seasons to figure out what people do. If you're not aware that people backstab and lie and all that, then that's your problem."

Otsuji said it's confusing to him when people ask him how he, as a Mormon, is willing to lie and manipulate on the show.

"Yeah, that's part of the game," he said. "It doesn't mean it's how I am on a day-to-day basis. BYU players don't tackle people on the street; they only do it when they're in the game."

He is one of several members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have competed on "Survivor." Past LDS players have been Ashlee Ashby, Tyson Apostal, Neleh Dennis and last season's Dawn Meehan and Rick Nelson.

Otsuji served a mission for the LDS Church in the Japan Tokyo North Mission, which he said gave him, a fourth-generation Japanese American, the opportunity to get in touch with his roots and to learn to speak Japanese.

"It was really cool to learn my history, you know, the culture. Because you know I grew up American, so I always wondered what it would have been like to grow up Japanese," he said. "So yeah, it was a little weird, because I felt kind of Japanese, but at the same time I realized I totally wasn't Japanese when I got there."

After returning from filming "Survivor: One World," Otsuji worked on his latest project, Chef War, a cooking competition between two local professional chefs. "It's basically like a live Iron Chef competition, but the audience eats the food and the audience votes for who they think should win," he said.

So far, Otsuji hasn't been recognized in public yet, but that is likely to change when the show begins airing on Wednesday.

This season begins with 18 castaways divided into two tribes of nine: the male Manono Tribe and the female Salani Tribe. They were named after islands in Samoa, where this season was filmed.

The participants on "Survivor: One World," hosted by Jeff Probst, will try their best to "outwit, outplay and outlast" one another through a series of challenges and voting rounds, all while living on the same beach, to be crowned "sole survivor" and win $1 million.

How well Otsuji fared will eventually be revealed after the 24th season of the Emmy-Award winning series kicks off Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. on CBS Television Network.

For more information about "Survivor: One World," visit www.cbs.com/shows/survivor.

Email: rbrutsch@desnews.com

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