Erika Casupanan, BA’11, kept her secret close to the vest for more than half a year.
And this week, the big reveal: she’d outwitted, outplayed and outlasted her opponents to become winner of the 41st season of Survivor.
The Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies (FIMS) graduate – whose trademark purple hair is a style choice more than it’s a nod to her “purple and proud” Western roots – became the first Canadian to win the event.
Today, she describes the experience as surreal: “It was super-fun and super-hard at the same time.”
The competition/drama show pitted 18 players against each other in Mamanuca Islands, Fiji.
To win the game, players – called “castaways” – advance through each day’s events by winning different challenges and avoiding being voted out by a ‘tribal council’ of fellow competitors.
It’s a game of skill, strategy and of forming – or breaking – allegiances and the Survivor series is one of the most popular of its genre.
The show’s “survivor,” the last one to be eliminated, wins $1 million.
The series was filmed during April and May 2021 but competitors were barred from discussing the show until after the episodes aired.
“I didn’t tell anyone at home,” she said in an interview with Western News. Each week, she, her family, friends and fellow graduates of Western’s Media, Information and Technoculture (MIT) program gathered for a watch party. “And every week it became more and more like an MIT reunion.”
One reconnection with a former classmate has even led to a wedding invitation, she said.
“I am a Filipino, immigrant woman who lives in Canada and I won the game,” she said in a post-show video tweet on the show’s official Twitter account. “What I want to say is, if I can do it, anybody can do it.”
— SURVIVOR (@survivorcbs) December 16, 2021
In the televised, post-season, question-and-answer session, it was clear that Casupanan’s solid strategy and earned-respect from fellow players, as well as the usual but dramatic quirks and twists of the game, had carried her to victory.
She said the experience revealed people’s true nature: in her case, being strategic, flying under the radar and showing “class and kindness.”
While at Western, Casupanan earned her way onto the Dean’s List.
She was also president of the Media, Information and Technoculture (MIT) students’ council and was on the University Students’ Council in her final year at Western.
She was a faculty soph and faculty councillor and part of the FIMS undergraduate recruitment team.
“I look back with so much affection on my time at Western,” she said. Her experiences in student leadership were instrumental in “creating opportunities for people to know themselves and to grow.”
A long-time fan of Survivor, Casupanan quit her job after 10 years in corporate communications in Toronto before filming began and went on to become the first female winner in seven seasons. She is also the first person of Filipino descent to win Survivor.
“I must be a witch bc I just broke a curse,” she tweeted after the finale Wednesday night.
— Erika Casupanan (@erika_cas) December 16, 2021
The season was shorter than usual – filming spanned 26 days instead of the customary 39 days – because all members of production were required to quarantine for 14 days before shooting began.