"I think that the jury was just out on me. I don't think that there's a scenario in which I win."
SURVIVOR: Island of the Idols

Xander Hastings thought he had built a super solid résumé that would land him the million dollars as the winner of Survivor 41. But the jury thought otherwise. Even though Xander collected an idol and an advantage, dramatically protected them from the Knowledge Is Power twist, leveraged his idol into never being voted against, and won two immunity challenges, including the very last one, the jury remained unimpressed as Xander was shut out in the final three against Erika Casupanan and Deshawn Radden 7-1-0.

How confident was Xander heading into that final Tribal Council? Does he regret his decision to not only bring eventual winner Erika to the end, but not taking her on at fire himself? And why does he think the jury (and, in particular, Ricard and his former Yase allies) did not see him as winner? We asked the third-place finisher all that and more, and he also revealed a hilarious fake idol snafu that never made it to air.

'Survivor 41' player Xander Hastings
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, congrats on making it all the way to end and never being voted out of Survivor. Regardless of what happens at the end, that's an amazing accomplishment. That said, how surprised were you to come out of that final Tribal Council with no votes, because I have to imagine it was pretty surprised?

XANDER HASTINGS: I was surprised at no votes. I wasn't surprised at the loss. I knew I lost the moment I stepped into final four, and I had the necklace on, and I give Ricard a big smile. Ricard's been the closest person out there. I've been telling him all the things I've been doing, letting him in on all the strategy that's going on in my head. And Ricard knows me inside and out. He knows the game I've been playing. We've talked to each other about it. And he's the person that I love. He's the biggest threat, so it makes sense to take him out. And in doing so, I could also put him [on to work the jury].

And when I saw him, I gave him a big smile because I'm like, "Oh, man, I miss you." And he just gives me the coldest glare. And I knew it was going to be an uphill battle from there on out. Because having one person as well-spoken as Ricard very against you, it's going to be a tough thing.  When I saw his face, I was like, "Oh, okay. So he's going to be campaigning against me." And then with everybody else, it's like, it just takes one person to be like, "Oh yeah, no, he's completely ingenuine, doesn't deserve it." And then it's easy to justify everyone else's game by latching onto that narrative. Like, "Oh no, like he is just a bad person," or whatever it is. I wasn't at Ponderosa, so I don't know what the talk was.

Why do you think he was campaigning against you, because by both of your accounts, you were quite close out there?

Ricard and I both talked about our insecurities. When I was younger, I was very insecure. And that moment that we had, getting close in the shelter, that bromance that we were talking about, it was a very tender moment. It was a very real moment. And we both talked about how we're the people we've always wanted to be and we accomplish all these great things, but there's always that like, "Oh man, I used to be so insecure." And when I was growing up, I never thought I would be in this place.

And so, to hear that and to share that him…. I know that he probably didn't think that he was that guaranteed of a win as he actually was. I'm sure that he was, in his own mind, downplaying it like, "Oh, maybe I've just got a really good shot against other people." But I think everybody knew that he was guaranteed a win if he got there. So that's how I try and rationalize it is maybe he just didn't actually think he had that great of a shot of winning, and so for me to take him out was illogical when it was clearly very logical. And I'm sure that I'd be getting lots of hate mail if I played the idol for him, for making one of the dumbest moves of all time.

Were you surprised you didn't get any of the Yase votes?

I thought being the last Yase surrounded by a bunch of Luvus was gold because the Luvus didn't have to play through the pre-merge. So it was almost like to vote for a Luvu would be to invalidate all the hard work that we had to put into surviving pre-merge, which was so hard. It's really hard with the small numbers and all these crazy advantages, losing your vote. And at least from my perspective, my life was on the line so much that it was like. win this challenge or you're going home because you've got no vote and three girls who want you gone.

So I thought that they respected the fact that as the last Yase member, I beat out the odds despite having a huge target on my back as an idol-holder. But again, you've got to just pitch to them and make them know like, "Hey, I was doing this strategically," but I think I had burned the bridge so much. I think my biggest burden with the idol was the fact that since everybody knew about it, and everybody wanted me to play it for them. And by not playing my advantages, I essentially voted them out.

So Tiffany was like, "Oh, my God, you could have played the idol for me." I send myself home in that case. It's just about the fact that I have the power to save people, and I haven't done it. I chose selfish every time because the game that would get me to the end was a selfish game, and it's not the game that the jury's going to love. And sadly, I didn't see a route for me that was one of benevolence because the type of person that wins challenges and is threatening-looking or whatever, they never get very far. Because at some point, their allies who they trusted the whole time and did whatever for them, they turn on them.

So I was a little bit more grim trigger strategy of like, "Oh, okay. You gave me an indication that you're going to turn on me later on," which is like Deshawn revealing that Evvie had told him about the idol and the girls going off and washing clothes and not keeping me in the loop on the strategy. So it's like, "All right, well then I'm just going to go with people that I know at least think they can use me. Evvie's a really, really smart person, so I'm positive that if play the idol, they'd turn on me if it means their life in the game.

So for me to try and save people that I know didn't really have my best interest in mind, it felt illogical. So sitting at final Tribal, it's logical that I would think of my game selfishly, because you guys didn't have my best interest in mind. You're rolling your eyes behind my back. Of course, I'm going to try and save myself. So I thought that they would understand that, but clearly they didn't, for whatever reason it was. Yeah, I did think I would get at least one or two votes, but no, did not.

Ricard Foye, Heather Aldret, and Xander Hastings on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

If I gave you an hourglass and you could make history by changing history, how would you handle that big final 4 fire-making decision?

I trained Heather all that day. I was making sure that she knew exactly how to make fire. Of course, there's always that voice that's like, "Oh man, you practice so much for months knowing that you would be the person to make fire. You could do it in under six seconds. Every single day, wake up, make fire, go to bed, make fire."

I was always making fire. And then you see the scene where I just strike it once and it lights up. I'm like, "Oh, my God, this could be it. I could just step in and do it." But I was so afraid. And that's the fault in my game is that I showed the fear of not stepping in, which I think is a stupid precedent that you have to step in. I won the challenge. I shouldn't have to, but I understand that the jury wanted me to step in and show that confidence.

But I couldn't help but think, "What if I step in and lose?" And then I'm the fool who people are like, "You could have won if you just got to the end." And then I'm pulling out my hair. People are saying, "You could have won!" I wanted there to be no question. I wanted to get to the end. And I needed to know whether or not I was going to win. And honestly, I'm really, really glad. I wouldn't have changed a thing, because I played the best I could with the cards that I was dealt.

Would you have been better off not winning the last challenge?

I thought about that too. And I think it would've been awesome if I had stacked the blocks, and I just threw it, like a physical throwing of the challenge. It would've been really cool on TV, but I'm not sure.

I think the jury had been out on me for a long time. I played a game that was too showing the tender side of me, but then the brain in me is also willing to do anything to get to the end. And people just didn't like that I blended that like, "Hey, I care about you, and I want to get to know you, and I want to learn what makes you tick and figure out what's important to you in life. But I'm also going to do whatever's best for me, because I'm out of here playing my game." Yeah, I think that the jury was just out on me. I don't think that there's a scenario in which I win.

The one thing that they seemed to react pretty negatively to was your take on the Deshawn truth bomb. What led you to believe that the jury was anti-Erika when that went down?

All you have to work with is facial expressions. And you're looking at the jury. I was always checking to make sure how people were reacting. And at a certain point, there are a lot of egos out there, and a lot of people still want to matter in the game. So a lot of people were making lots of faces and scoffing and saying things, and it's hard to grasp when there are so many different reactions and so many in quick sequence and succession.

I'm sure that I just mistook their scoffs for Heather as scoffs for Erika. It's funny because, I knew. I talked about how I didn't want Erika having another thing on her résumé, because I feel like she played the better game — not better than myself since I'm biased [laughs], but I thought she played the better game of my competition strategically.

So I knew that I didn't want her getting something else on her résumé. I just didn't know what the jury was thinking in terms of her game. Because even she said it: She played a very similar game to Heather. They were lockstep the whole time, and some people might think that, "Oh, maybe she's just done everything with Heather."

And the jury really didn't like Heather, which I think was also a bad read. Like me, I really liked Heather. I was strategizing once in the shelter, and she just said out of nowhere, "Your parents are going to be so proud." I just broke into tears because I was running all the simulations. I'm thinking "What can I do from here?" And she just hits me with this human thing to say, and it brought me back home. And I was like, "Oh, my God. Wow. Heather's such a motherly figure out here." I hated how people were so down on her. I really wanted her to have that fire moment. And I practiced with her all day, and I thought she could do it.

You saw how I played the game. I gambled. I gambled every time, and I always went all in, balls to the wall. So for me, it was like, it's all or nothing. I'm going to say, "Heather is going to win this, and Heather's going to win this." So for me to say that Erika and Heather played a similar game, it's assuming that Heather is going to win fire and they'll be together, and they'll be talking about the same moves. It was a poor jury read on my end because I thought that Erika played a good game.

Xander Hastings on 'Survivor 41'
| Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Is there anything that didn't make it into an episode this season that you wish we could have seen?

Yes! This is the hardest thing about the final Tribal setup. There's no intro speech. There's no outro speech. It's just question and answer. So if you have something that you haven't told anyone about, well, then it's never going to get said because nobody's going to ask you the question on it.

So one of my favorite days is when — and I talked about it with my other interview with you about feeling so down — my lowest point was after Evvie [was voted out]. I woke up that morning, and I said, "You know what? I'm going to rain hell on camp. I'm going to do whatever I can to shake things up and just spread chaos." So I went out and made a fake idol. I'd torn up my actual letter because Naseer had me do it. He was like, "Oh no, they don't know about the idol. So tear it up." And so I did, to placate him. So I put some of the old tree mails in there, and I planted it. And I grabbed the camera guys and like, "Hey, get ready for this!" Everybody knows I'm on the bottom. They want me gone. So this is going to be my chance to like, "Oh, my God, what does he have now? What's he doing now?"

And this is actually the beginning of the secret scene where I'm looking for an idol [and Liana follows Xander around], but I actually planted the thing. So I go out to look for the idol, and I grab [the fake one I made]. I run away. Liana and Deshawn are chasing me, and it's just rained. It was storming all night, and I slip, I wipe out, and I check my pockets. And I'm like, "Oh, my God, I lost my fake idol!" So now I couldn't stop cracking up. The camera guys knew what was going on. They couldn't stop cracking up. And I'm trying to keep a straight face, looking for an idol that I know is fake, but they think I have something maybe. And if I find it now in the grass, then they're going to think, "Oh, my God, he really does have one!"

So I'm doing all this, and then I'm looking for it. And then that's when Liana and I are shoving around. It's like the brother, sister pushing each other around because I'm looking for a fake idol. But Ricard actually found it! And Ricard comes up to me, and he's like, "What are you doing?" And I'm like, "I'm looking for the idol that I found." And he's like, "Oh, don't worry about it. It's a fake. Naseer made it. Here you go." And he hands me the fake idol that I had made! And on the way out, he's like, "But thank you for trusting me that you found the idol."

That was one of the big seeds to our relationship and when we started talking about what we wanted to do and strategizing together. So I was like, "Wow, not what I intended." But it ended up being great because I knew I had to stir the pot somehow. And this crazy charade happens. And everyone on the cast still thinks that was just a real idol hunt and I never had anything. But little did they know that was a fake that I planted, dropped, looked for, Ricard found, and then was like, "Hey, thanks for trusting me."

Speaking of those secret scenes, do you still have a bit of a crush on Liana?

Oh, she's great. I was just spiting truth there. She's so athletic and intelligent. I was always so shocked at our rivalry, because it's like, we're the 20-year-old., We're the ones who want to prove ourselves, make our Survivor names. This is the new era. We could be the new legends or whatever. And so, obviously, we both recognized that in each other. And she saw through my bulls--- the best on Yase. She knew that I was downplaying myself, and I knew that she was playing herself. So there's that like, "Hey, I see you, but you're hiding yourself," and "Hey, you see me, but you're hiding yourself." So it's a very like, "Oh man, I see her as a threat." She sees me as a threat.

Of course, I definitely think very highly of her. I always thought it was in good fun and good spirit, our little rivalry, but I'm pretty sure she's got a boyfriend. So, no crush.

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