Ricard, Erika, Xander, Deshawn, and Heather tell EW all about their first 23 days in the game.
Courtesy CBS
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

They have said all the right things to make it to day 24 and finale night on Survivor 41. But before a winner is crowned tonight on CBS, we asked the final five — Ricard Foyé, Erika Casupanan, Xander Hastings, Deshawn Radden, and Heather Aldret — to look back at their first 23 days in the game. What are the moves they are most proud to have made? What were their favorite non-game moments? And, on the flip side, when were they at their absolute lowest? We asked the final five contestants all that and more, and they delivered plenty of intel and insight on what has transpired so far in the game. (Also make sure to check out our interview with the jury as well as Jeff Probst previewing the show's first immediate winner reveal since season 1.)

Survivor- Finalist
Deshawn Radden, Heather Aldret, Xander Hastings, Erika Casupanan, and Ricard Foyé of 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS (5)

What is the move you were most proud of in the first 23 days?

RICARD FOYÉ: As hard as it may have been, the move I am most proud of my first 23 days in the game is the Shan Plan. I feel I was able to compartmentalize strategy from emotion and do the necessary move with the circumstances presented to me. Specifically, the move to not just tell DeShawn it was the right time to take out a threat, but specifically to show the cracks in his alliance and make him question his trust in order to join in with the plan wholeheartedly at a time when he and I had no trust or relationship.

ERIKA CASUPANAN: We didn't see this on the show, but I'm really proud of my role in putting together the alliance of underdogs that have since taken control of the game. The groundwork to pull this alliance together happened earlier than what you saw on the show. It was clear that people felt like they were being told what to do or left out completely. They wanted to feel agency and control.

I saw that the opportunity was with the people on the bottom. I identified certain people who I knew wanted more control and positioned myself as an ally that they can have agency with. I've never had any ego about wanting to look like the best, so I was trying to make people feel like with me they do have control! Heather and I became close when it was extremely evident that we were on the bottom of Luvu. Ricard and I had been building a relationship since we merged and talked about how we wanted to create the circumstances to work together. This is why, before the Naseer vote, I wasn't entertaining plans to target Ricard. The Naseer vote was an important moment to build trust.

During that infamous moment when the alliance of four walked off and left Xander and I on the beach, the two of us had an important conversation about how we needed to work together to change our position in the game. Most things that happen in Survivor aren't instant. I exercised patience, and when this group of four fully formed it felt pretty natural. When we got together, well, you've seen what happened! When I was hustling to make the 3-3-2 split vote happen, I wasn't just trying to save my ass, I was actually trying to protect my entire alliance.

XANDER HASTINGS: I'm most proud of using the extra vote to secure an alliance and keep Ricard in as my shield at a critical F7 vote, giving me the best path to the end. To strong-arm the vote, I told Erika that I was playing the extra vote and would go to rocks so she would vote my way to avoid a tie. The whole game, I had been fighting to minimize my threat level and boost people's egos. But while I could always whisper in people's ears that it would be better to take someone else out before me and overpromise playing my advantages for them, I never had the numbers on my side to run the game.

At F7, I saw an opportunity for a strong alliance I was sure wouldn't turn (unlike my previous alliances). The wildcard was Erika, because she's smart enough to not let me take control. She came to me and said that she thought this was our only shot to take out Ricard, but I argued it would be Danny, Deshawn, and Liana's move for flipping us, when we could just Pagong them and take out Ricard when he inevitably loses a challenge.

I needed a move on my résumé that was exclusively mine because people are cast for their big egos; in any move involving multiple people, everyone thinks it's their move. This was my move and mine alone, and if it played out the way I predicted, it would get me to the end because there would never be enough numbers against me if Heather and Ricard were solidly with me.

DESHAWN RADDEN: There were a lot of things I was proud of that didn't make the cut. But from what was shown, I am most proud of taking out Evvie. Maybe it wasn't super clear, but Evvie was a huge threat and would've won had they gotten to the end. During their vote out, it felt like I really sold Evvie and Xander that I would vote with them to ensure that Xander didn't play his idol for her.

So, being the swing in that vote was awesome because I got to show what I could do socially but also take out one of the biggest threats in the game. Ironically, like everything else I did out there, it may have been a catalyst for the tough situation I found myself in thereafter. But what can you do, right? It was either keep the threat in who gives me more options or take the shot. And as we've seen, that impulsive voice in my head was always saying, "Take the shot!"

HEATHER ALDRET: I was on the right side of each vote for the first 23 days. Having to vote off people I really liked, to further my game, was more difficult than I anticipated. It's not easy doing that. It does take some finesse to be in the know and be a part of the plan and execute it. 

Jeff Probst and the 'Survivor 41' final five
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

What was your favorite non-game interaction you had with someone out there over your first 23 days?

RICARD FOYÉ: That's a hard question, since two moments stand out. There was a morning after merge where Tiffany and I were laying in the shelter just joking and talking about life for hours, and I cannot remember a time I laughed more hysterically in the game. Also, back on my original camp for Ua, Shan and I went searching for a specific type of coconut that was deep in the cut and up a tree… she stripped down out of her overalls that I then put on to hack through with the machete and climbed the tree to get those damn coconuts. Me doing any of this is a complete disaster. Shan and I truly had so much fun in this game together.

ERIKA CASUPANAN: A very special moment was returning to the old Luvu/merge beach after being exiled. I'm not sure how evident it is to the audience that Heather and I were very close in the game. We're so different on paper, yet built such an unexpected and real friendship. When I got back to the beach, Heather gave me a long, warm hug. She told me she missed me and was proud of me. I could see in her eyes she was beaming like a proud mom and had the distress of someone who knew their friend had just gone through some s---.  After an experience as tough as exile, it was so meaningful to share a moment with someone who I knew truly loved and cared about me. In a game as crazy as Survivor, it was the greatest gift to know that someone genuinely cared about me out there.

XANDER HASTINGS: My favorite non-game interaction during the game was with Ricard. Our relationship formed when both of us stepped down for rice for the tribe, making ourselves vulnerable, and we bonded before Tribal that night for "putting the game on pause" and hugged watching the sun go down in fear that it might be one of our last nights on the island (likely mine). From then on, we became very close and would sleep in the same corner of the shelter where the tarp didn't stop the rain. One night he was shivering so I took my cardigan and pulled it over him to use my body heat to keep him warm. The next morning, he told me he's never met a straight man that looked like me who was as comfortable as I was around him. I explained that anyone truly comfortable in their sexuality wouldn't be bothered by someone else's, and I stand by that belief. 

DESHAWN RADDEN: My favorite non-game related interactions were of moments I had with Heather, Erika and Sydney individually. With Heather, she's this older woman from SC who has probably rarely been around someone like me. And despite that, we just clicked. I would often teach her the "young kids slang" and she would teach me her "older folks phrases." We laughed so much and it was unique because she had her moments of conflict with other people, but something about us just meshed well. Very Malcolm and Denise of us, but like the hated version, haha.

With Erika, I had just felt like she was genuine when we spoke about personal stuff. All of the talks we had about our families and background and culture really made the pre-merge worthwhile, I loved it. It was one of those relationships that was so up and down because I felt conflicted about her. I knew she was an amazing human who I wanted to be friends with for life, but at the same time someone who I felt like I couldn't trust game-wise. Definitely made for an interesting dynamic. Loved the pre-merge trio of Me-Erika-Heather nonetheless. And honorable mention to Sydney who is the funniest person I met out there. She's absolutely hilarious.

HEATHER ALDRET: I had many but these stay with me…. There is something quite magical about sharing intimate silent moments with others out there. Just being and watching as the sun would slowly creep above the horizon was a shared small victory. Another sunrise, safe another day. 

In the evenings, shortly after the sun would go down and we were all gathered in the shelter, like clockwork, Erika would lead by asking, "So what are you having for dinner tonight?" Going around in a circle, one by one we would share our preferred full course meal sequence, carefully choosing the most foodie-rich adjectives we could think of — making sure to realllllly emphasize every tiny detail down to the cut of beef, how many garlic cloves and if the beans were to be steamed or seared.

Most were three course choices, starting with the light plate description, continuing with richer dishes, and finishing off with the perfect dessert sampling. My dinner choice was a constant of shrimp and grits served with a freshly baked crusty bread loaf with drawn garlic butter to drizzle. Danny's was a perfectly charred steak choice and once a stuffed cabbage/sausage dish…mouthwatering.

Ricard's nightly descriptions were nothing short of a perfectly executed visual entree straight from the Joy of Cooking. Truly. Every. Time. Deshawn's perfectly described Cheez-It... "a lightly toasted one inch square puffed pillow of cheese, perfectly salted, with a centered tiny hole". Yes. Basic snacks were no longer basic. The "frozen chocolate cake" to end all other cakes that Erika spoke of nightly, I still dream about. Simple shared moments. 

The three tribes get ready to compete on SURVIVOR
The three tribes get ready to compete on 'Survivor 41.'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

What was your lowest moment out there over the first 23 days?

RICARD FOYÉ: What didn't make the edit was a video message from home during the Pizza Under the Stars reward. Shan, Heather, Xander and myself got to briefly see a prerecorded message from home that was very unexpected. I knew it wasn't likely for a family visit with Covid, but hoped for maybe a Zoom call. Seeing this video just made it very hard to focus the rest of the night, feeling the confirmation that we would have no real contact with home, not making it necessary for the families to know we were still in the game.

ERIKA CASUPANAN: It's a no-brainer that exile was rough. How can it not be? My old tribe decided to cast me off to leave the game for two days, live on an island alone, and spend both nights in the pouring rain. It poured rain the entire first night. The second night would pour rain on and off. It was actually even worse because my clothes would be soaked through and when the rain stopped I'd just be sitting there with the cold ocean breeze hitting me and my wet clothes. Here's a surprise for you though: exile wasn't when I felt the lowest. There were times when I felt lower that have yet to be seen...

XANDER HASTINGS: The split Tribal was such a great opportunity to shift the balance of the game in my favor; I had individual immunity, an idol, an extra vote, Evvie on my side, and Deshawn willing to work with me. I told Evvie my plan: get Liana to weaken Shan, but get Deshawn if Shan is gone. At the time, the two major players were Deshawn and Shan. Deshawn had Heather, Danny, and Naseer as loyal numbers and Shan had Ricard and Liana, so it made sense to get Liana unless Shan went home in the first Tribal.

The stars had aligned for Evvie and me, after being on the bottom all post-merge — but Evvie went right to Deshawn to tell him I would write his name down if Shan went home, and he understandably no longer wanted to work with us and voted Evvie out. That night after Tribal, I curled up in the shelter, feeling so alone — it was rock bottom. Even though my trust in Evvie was on its last limb at that point, it stung so much to know Evvie'd betray me after I had saved them (Evvie) by bluffing my idol at the merge episode.

Evvie is a fantastic person, but wasn't a great ally to me, and I'm glad I was wise enough not to play any advantages for them. It hurt to lose my last "ally," miss a great opportunity to make a power move, and get stabbed in the back by someone I was trying to help.

DESHAWN RADDEN: My lowest moment in the game actually provided me the most healing outside of the game, and that was my breakdown at the final seven tribal. At that moment, I felt the weight of the world on my heart, truly, and I broke down. And in my mind, the game was no longer a concern, I just felt so conflicted and confused.

Watching it back, though, made me realize that there is strength in vulnerability and there's also value in even having such a hard conversation on national TV. The fans helped me understand that. And now I'm no longer afraid of the "cry baby" label or the "emotional" label because I realize being vulnerable isn't so bad when it can help even one other person be okay with sharing their emotions too. It's healing for everyone. We aren't robots, so it's okay to not be okay sometimes.

HEATHER ALDRET: My epic reward challenge failure tops the chart of my lowest moment's on Fiji for sure. Yes, I lived my worst nightmare out there that day. It was awful. I let my team down. I let myself down. No, I was not proud of myself. 

Jeff Probst and the cast of 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Finally, channel your inner goats, butterflies, and broccoli and come up with a wacky, nonsensical phrase that future Survivor players will have to say to get an immunity idol.

RICARD FOYÉ: My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard. 

ERIKA CASUPANAN: Fried urchins can become sweet.

XANDER HASTINGS: I truly believe that llamas are just Tony saying hi. 

DESHAWN RADDEN: Love this. I would pull some inspiration from my own gameplay and poke fun at it by making the phrase go, "Don't worry about whether we will do or die, eventually a truth bomb will fall from the sky and kill us anyway."

HEATHER ALDRET: A toasted one-inch square puffed pillow of cheese is a choice. 
Opossums' pleasures are shared meaningful moments. 
Heather is besties with Waldo. 
Starfish are the scholars of the fisherman.  
Rainbows determine the future of our collective goals. 
There was a Heather on season 41? Who? 
Jello movement increases stamina. 
The Victory Garden houses America's best. 
Brides choose raisins over tamales every time.  
Well-maintained trapezoids require proper transportation.  
Magic dust is essential for survival. 
One-winged brown birds are sacred.  

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