The newly crowned winner tells EW she has 'conflicted' feelings about her edit.
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Erika Casupanan may have disguised herself as a lamb when she entered Survivor, but by the time final Tribal Council rolled around, she was in full lion mode. Erika became the first woman to win Survivor in seven seasons when she was crowned the champion of Survivor 41 in a blowout 7-1-0 vote over Deshawn Radden and Xander Hastings. Erika also became the first Canadian to ever win the game after our neighbors up north were first allowed to play starting in season 39.

It was a triumphant turn for a player whose own tribe attempted to throw challenges to get her out before the merge, and then seemed doomed to be voted out off on day 14 before a controversial hourglass twist was introduced that appeared to save her from a likely pre-jury fate. But Erika kept fighting, creating an alliance of underdogs to take over the tribe and then using a social game that relied on limiting her closeness with certain players so they would not be angry at her later for voting them out.

That strategy paid off with an almost unanimous vote and the million-dollar prize that came with it. We spoke with Erika just moments after her televised victory to discuss her surprising march to dominance and she expressed ebullience with her win and "complicated" feelings about her edit, while also revealing a "huge breakdown" before the final Tribal Council that never made it to air.

Erika Casupanan on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let's get to the most important question first: Just how tipsy were you at that one Tribal Council?

ERIKA CASUPANAN: Oh my goodness. You know what? At the actual Tribal Council I was okay, but I think that people don't realize how much you get thrown off your game being put on this new island, because when Heather and I drank that wine, and then we had to go back to camp, we actually had no idea where we were going! So there was a while when Heather and I were actually lost in the middle of the jungle in Fiji and had no idea how to get back to our tribe.

That is my favorite thing ever and it would be even better if you were still out there trying to find your way back. Okay, so how confident were you feeling heading into that final Tribal?

So here's the thing. I go back and forth between being super confident, but also being someone who suffered from imposter syndrome. So I knew that I had what it took to really be able to make my case in front of everybody. I've been a communications manager for almost 10 years, and that involves really trying to make things sound good, but also being okay when bad things get thrown at you.

But what the audience didn't see is before that Tribal Council, I actually had this huge breakdown by myself in the woods because the two guys felt so confident and I'm thinking: "How do you not have any doubt? How are you not afraid of anything?" And really the weight of being a woman who was going to go into Tribal Council against two men was really weighing on me. I think that when Heather left the night before it sucked because I was losing a close friend and my greatest ally, but at the same time I realized: "Oh my God, once again, I'm a woman that's going into the final Tribal Council with two men."

And according to recent history, when you're in that position, you never get many votes. And I knew that so many people wanted to see a woman win and I broke down thinking, I'm so close. I know that I've done enough to deserve the win, but I'm so scared that I'm not going to be able to bring it home. But after I really cried out all those tears, I thought, "I know that I've played a hell of a game. I know that I played to my strengths and I know that I have what it takes to take it home."

Did any of the votes at the end surprise you?

Yes, I didn't think I was going to get Naseer's vote because Naseer and I had a really challenging relationship on the old Luvu. And what the audience didn't see was at Tribal Council at one point Naseer comes out and says, "You know, Erika, I promised that I was never gonna write your name down, but tonight I'm breaking that promise because I'm voting for you." And I remember thinking in Tribal Council: "Oh, I have Naseer on my side. That is an achievement. I never thought I was gonna get Naseer."

I was also nervous about getting Liana's vote. I was nervous about getting Shan's vote because I knew about the existing relationship with Deshawn. So when everybody was voting, I was thinking. "Okay, I know I have Heather. I know I have Ricard. Naseer has just told everybody that I would get his vote. Maybe I get Tiffany, and maybe I get Evvie because I know they're very rational players." So in this case, five is enough. And then when I saw that it ended up being seven, I was totally floored, totally shocked. I thought that my eyes were gonna fall out of my head.

Erika Casupanan on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

So whom were you rooting for to win at the fire-making contest and join you and Xander at the final 3?

You know what? I really went back and forth, but honestly wanted Heather to be there with me. I think in the early days of Luvu, it reached a point where it was very obvious that Heather and I were on the bottom and she and I would just sit there as the other four were kind of doing their thing and saying "We're gonna kill it at the merge. We're gonna show up." And we did it, this known pair made it to the end.

And I know that there is a previous episode that talked about me being weary of Heather being there. And that was not so much me worrying about her winning, but it was me thinking about how Heather being there could potentially discredit me when I'm at the final Tribal. Because as someone who works in communications, I anticipate, "Okay, if you are in an interview situation, what are the potential questions they would ask?" I know that if Heather and I were sitting beside each other, all the questions would be about Heather and I trying to differentiate our game. And I would be put in a position to say mean things about Heather and vice versa.

That was the one consideration I had, but in the end, I really wanted to make it to the end with Heather. Also I wanted to make it to the end with another woman so that I wouldn't have to carry the burden of potentially being another zero vote finalist woman.

Which is cooler: breaking the drought of there being no women winners in a while or becoming the first Canadian to win the game?

I wanna say that it's actually a three-way tie between breaking the drought of a woman winning, being the first Canadian winner, and being the first person of Filipino descent to win American Survivor.

Let's play a little Survivor What If? What happens if Jeff Probst does not hand you that hourglass? Do you go home on day 14?

I think if I am alone on Exile for two days and not in the game and come back with no power, of course, I'm out on day 14. Like, hello! It's so easy when these people are all on edge merging for the first time, and there's an easy target of a person who's not even there to defend themselves. Of course, I'm going to be out on day 14. But at the same time, I think that as much as people had opinions about the hourglass and that the hourglass was a big power, I was also given the big setback of not being there for the first two days of the merge.

I think that realistically the game wouldn't be designed so that I don't get the hourglass and I'm out of the game for two days. Like, there needs to be some type of balance between the consequence and the reward. So I actually think if just didn't give me the hourglass, it's very likely that I wasn't even going to be on Exile anyways. And I would've just been in the game playing those two days that I otherwise spent alone. So if I was in the game, who knows what could have happened.

Erika Casupanan on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Okay, part 2 of Survivor What If? What about if Xander does not bring you to the end? Whom among Heather, Deshawn, and Xander do you think you could have beaten at fire?

I watched the Deshawn and Heather fire from three feet away, and it was a nail biter. It was super close. And I know that I'm capable of making fire. We saw that I could make fire on Exile and I was able to take care of myself, but really watching the two of them go head to head, it was so close for the most part. Both of them had a flame going. So I think if Xander threw me in, the other person probably could have taken it and it might have been Xander that's currently sitting in a storage room wearing a crown speaking to you right now.

There has been a lot of talk this season about your edit. Do you feel the episodes did a good job of showing your game?

Oh, the edit is one that I have a lot of really complicated feelings about, because leaving the game, I had no ego about how I was going to be shown. I was really proud of the way I played. I kind of accepted that whatever was gonna get shown would be shown. But, at the same time I've been a fan of the show for so long. So I'm aware of "Edgic" and I'm aware of what a winner's edit looks like. So the first episode goes by and I think, "Okay, I see what they're doing." And then kind of seeing the beginning part of the pre-merge, you can't help but think, "Oh, I'm not getting the traditional winner's edit." So there were moments where I'd think, "Oh my gosh, am I going to be destined for a lifetime of having to defend my Survivor win even though I came home so proud of myself?"

But, at the same time, I thought, "Okay, well I know objectively, we've been winning on Luvu. We haven't needed to vote." My intention during the pre-merge when we weren't voting was to really just like lay low and blend in. So I go back and forth and have conflicted feelings because I think the volume of my edit was low. But the story that they showed of me was really positive.

I think that for me what was hard was people watch the show, and the edit that I had almost prevented people from rooting me. So there were some people who just felt "Because of the way she was edited in the pre-merge it doesn't matter what she's doing at the merge. There's just no way we can root for her." So it kind of sucks that the edit made me unrootable for some people in a way. But at the end of the day, I won in a commanding lead, so who knows, maybe the edit is a signal to people to kind of let go of their existing beliefs of how Survivor normally needs to go and let go of their systems and really just be open to the twists and terms that the game gives the audience.

So what are you going to do with the money, Erika?

Number one, figure up the U.S. to Canadian taxation situation. But my second priority has always been making sure that I set up my parents with whatever they need. My parents worked so hard to make sure I'm in a position to make my dream of winning Survivor come true. So my number one priority is my parents. And then my number three priority is buying some really expensive handbags.

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content:

Episode Recaps

SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Strangers starve themselves on an island for our amusement in the hopes of winning $1 million, as host Jeff Probst implores them to "Dig deep!"

  • TV Show
  • 44
stream service