Erika Casupanan becomes 1st Canadian to win Survivor reality series

December 16, 2021
Erika Casupanan becomes 1st Canadian to win Survivor reality series

The tribe has spoken: Erika Casupanan is the winner of Survivor‘s 41st season — and the hit reality show’s first Canadian to take home the top prize.

The 32-year-old communications manager from Niagara Falls, Ont., has won the $1 million US prize after competing on the survival reality TV show. The CBS series opened up its casting call to Canadian applicants in 2018. While she’s the first Canadian to win the competition, Casupanan is also one of just 15 female competitors to win the show since it premiered in 2000.

“All I can say is, look what happens when Survivor starts casting Canadian women,” Casupanan joked in an interview with CBC News. “I think they’re onto something.”

Casupanan, who is Filipino, said she’s received support and feedback from fans, friends and family who were excited to see a fresh face win the top prize and felt seen by her presence on the popular series.

“It’s truly such an honour to be that person for a lot of people,” she said.

Casupanan, left, is pictured with castmate Xander Hastings, who was also one of the show’s final contestants, but he did not receive any votes from the jury during the show’s final tribal council. (CBS/Robert Voets)

Unusual season of popular reality show

This season of Survivor was a unique one. To account for COVID-related health procedures, the show’s traditional 39-day filming schedule was cut to just 26, allowing for a two-week quarantine.

Casupanan and her castmates found out they’d be competing on the show in early 2020 — only for the pandemic to hit days before filming was set to begin in Fiji, an island country in the South Pacific.

The show is a grueling game of strategy, in which contestants endure a series of physical and intellectual challenges while forming alliances to ensure that they are not “voted off the island” by majority ruling at the end of each episode. For Casupanan, competing on the long-running television show was a dream come true — especially after the pandemic caused a filming delay.

“After going through that roller coaster, finally getting to the boat in Fiji, I just started to cry,” Casupanan said. “I couldn’t believe that I actually — I felt like I had finished running a marathon, and I really mean it. 

“And then it turns out the real marathon was actually playing Survivor, so it was like an ultramarathon.”

‘You have to have a thick skin’

Watching the show was a challenging experience for Casupanan, given how the producers of the reality show craft a narrative around each contestant, sometimes portraying them in an unfavourable light. 

Casupanan became notorious for her “lamb to lion” strategy, positioning herself as a non-threat to give competitors a false sense of security.

WATCH | Erika Casupanan is revealed as the winner of Survivor 41:

For the season 41 winner, it was an exercise in letting go and accepting that she had no control over how the story plays out, both on the TV screen and on social media, where fans were dissecting her every move.

“You have to have a thick skin in terms of, sometimes, the criticism and sometimes the accolades that you get from the internet and know that you’re kind of not a real person,” she said. “To many people, you’re a TV character and you’re also still dealing with the emotions of the game.”

If Casupanan could do it all over again — Canadian-style, no tropical island in sight — she knows exactly where she’d go.

“I have always wanted to go to the Yukon,” she said. “I think it would be so cold, but I’ve always wanted to go there. I think that the nature looks beautiful.”

“So maybe that’s a trip I need to take now that I’ve come into some money.”

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