Spotlight: ‘Survivor’ winner Erika Casupanan’s asks us to dream unapologetically

Spotlight: ‘Survivor’ winner Erika Casupanan’s asks us to dream unapologetically

Erika Casupanan is the first Canadian and first female in seven seasons to win Survivor, the popular reality show. Born in the Philippines, she immigrated with her family to Canada and grew up in Niagara Falls. After winning the million-dollar prize on Survivor, she has been vocal about how her background shaped her and how her win hopefully will inspire young people to aim high.

Ascend Canada talked to her about her journey from Niagara Falls to Survivor winner – here’s what she had to say.

Congratulations on being the Sole Survivor! What was your intention, apart from winning, behind joining the show?

I’ve watched Survivor since Season One and I was 11 years old. It was always a no-brainer for me to apply for the show once Canadians were eligible. My grandparents lived with my family growing up. The first season of Survivor premiered after my grandfather passed away. The show became an escape and an inspiration. I loved seeing people find strength in surreal circumstances. I knew I wanted to do that too.

As an Asian-Canadian and the first reigning Canadian Survivor 41 winner, how do you think your heritage and culture has shaped the person you are today?

I think it’s impossible to fully capture how my Filipino-Canadian heritage has impacted who I am today. My family immigrated from the Philippines when I was a baby. I learned so much about resourcefulness and perseverance from my parents. By virtue of being a minority in many situations, I learned so much about recognizing people’s different experiences and as a result developed a strong sense of empathy. I also have a strong sense of pride and I’m grateful to be part of the Asian-Canadian community. The support I’ve received has been overwhelming.

What strategies from the corporate world did you apply to your time on Survivor?

Before Survivor, I worked in PR and corporate communications for about a decade. There were so many skills from my career that I used to earn the Survivor win. PR requires a lot of empathy and the ability to read the room. I did proactive (i.e. positive) PR and I did a lot of reactive (i.e. issues management and negative) PR. I needed to learn to quickly diagnose the situation and determine the stakeholders, their wants, the rules and circumstances at play (i.e. the law), how stakeholders view themselves, how the stakeholders view the business or person I am representing, and then I needed to figure what, how and when to communicate to get the outcome I want. My work in PR gave me a lot of insight into power. As a corporate communications professional, it’s common for your value in the organization to be underestimated when things are going well. Yet, when something goes wrong, senior leadership can come running to you to clean up the mess. Because of this dynamic, I learned a lot about how “power” views themselves and others, both when they’re feeling secure and when they’re feeling threatened. Survivor is a game with a lot of people trying to earn or retain power so it was incredibly valuable for me to bring this experience into the game.

Survivor puts its participants through grueling activities and challenges, what would you say is your biggest takeaway from joining the show?

The biggest takeaway was learning that I am enough. I was supposed to film Survivor in March 2020, but it got delayed a year because of COVID. Pre-pandemic I wanted to be the perfect Survivor player on paper and I did all of the studying and preparation to make that happen. During the year delay, I learned so much about my own strengths and my ability to navigate through messiness. I came into March 2021 ready to film the show while embracing who I am. I would play the game to my strengths regardless of how I’ve seen people play before. A big turning point for me personally was when I was exiled to live on an island by myself for two days and two nights. It was the LAST thing I wanted to do on Survivor, yet I figured out how to take care of myself and I thrived. I have left the game with a bigger appreciation for who I am and the strength I already have inside.

This season of Survivor had one of the most diverse casts in the show’s history – how do you think we can continue to move the dial on diversity, inclusion and representation in the media?

The diverse cast was the result of tireless efforts from former Survivor castaways and dedicated fans. I commend them for their work and I’m grateful that the audience can be exposed to more diverse characters. I think the diverse casting is a wonderful step forward. I think that, like a lot of media, there is work to be done to ensure that there’s equal representation behind the camera too. The incredible diverse cast, the life experiences they bring and their unique perspectives, need to have diverse people behind the camera helping to tell the story, in order to do everyone’s story justice.

Knowing what you know now as an adult, what advice would you give your younger self?

I would love to tell the 11 year old who started watching Survivor because she was heartbroken and mourning … that she did it!! I want my younger self to dream unapologetically and know that any dream, no matter how crazy, can come true. When I was a kid, I remember thinking, “I’d love to be one of the people on Entertainment Tonight.” I’m now fortunate enough to be a special correspondent on Entertainment Tonight Canada, covering the current season of Survivor. I can’t go back and share this message with that little girl though, so instead I’ll tell anyone else who will listen. Your dreams can come true!!

You can learn more about Erika at or connect with her on Instagram and Twitter and on LinkedIn. You can also see her coverage of the current Survivor series on Entertainment Tonight Canada.