Last month, Erika Casupanan became the winner of the 41st season of CBS’ “Survivor.” She was the eighth person of color to win, first Canadian winner, first Filipino winner, and the first female winner in seven seasons. Viewers were quick to note that Erika had a relatively quiet edit in favor of other big name characters like Xander Hastings and Ricard Foyé; as a result, fans unfortunately didn’t get to see much of her gameplay, and may not know a lot about her.
So what is there to know about the most recent “Survivor” winner? As it turns out, there’s much more to Erika’s life both pre- and post-“Survivor” that fans might want to know.
Here’s what you need to know:
Erika Is a Filipino Immigrant Who Moved to Canada at a Young Age
According to the Philippine News Agency, Erika was born in 1989 in Hermosa, a municipality in the northern Philippines, and moved to Canada when she was a young girl. She was raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and attended a local Catholic high school there. For college, Erika attended the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Media, Information, and Technoculture. Shortly thereafter, she moved to Toronto, where she has lived ever since.
Erika is a communications manager; according to her LinkedIn profile, she worked at Toronto-based Media Profile as a consultant and senior consultant for nearly five years from 2012 to 2017. She then worked at Kijiji Canada from 2017 to 2021 as “Communications and PR lead.” She left in 2021 to compete on “Survivor” (more on that below).
Although Erika is not the first Canadian to ever compete on the show (or even, technically, the first to win), she is the first exclusively Canadian winner, and arguably the most well-known Canadian Survivor thus far. Erika has been open about her excitement at being the first Canadian resident to win, and has expressed pride for representing the Canadian “Survivor” community. As she wrote in an Instagram post following her win, “It’s an honour to have represented Canadians, Filipinos, Asians, immigrants, women and anyone else who saw themselves in me.”
In a post-season interview with ET Canada, she even got emotional when discussing the overwhelming support she had received from all the different communities she’s come from. “Knowing that that game where I truly was authentic to who I am was what led me to the win and led me to represent all of these communities, it’s overwhelming, it’s an honor,” she said. “I’m so grateful to all the support I’ve gotten…It’s truly an honor to help people feel seen on TV.”
Erika is a Lifelong ‘Survivor’ Fan
Erika has stated that she has been a fan of “Survivor” ever since the show first aired (at which point she was 11), and has “always dreamed” of being on the show. For the longest time, however, she couldn’t, due to the fact that she wasn’t American. “As soon as it was announced that Canadians could be on the show, I did not hesitate to send in an application,” Erika said in an ET Canada interview before the season’s premiere (but after filming was complete).
She added, “I think that after having lived through the pandemic, I felt so much more ready to play, so I’m really excited to see the show.” She also revealed that during hardships in her life, she would half-jokingly say to herself, “When I’m on ‘Survivor,’ it’s gonna be way harder, so I [can get] through this.”
Erika loved “Survivor” so much, in fact, that she even quit her job in Toronto in order to compete on the show. In the same interview, she described herself as someone who “was really dedicated to my career;” however, when she was accepted onto the show, she decided, “You know what? I’m gonna just leave my job, I’m going to start a new chapter, and in many ways going on the show was actually the start of this new chapter for me.” As it turns out, Erika’s gamble seems to have paid off; with a million dollars in the bank (more when converted to Canadian currency), Erika likely won’t have to worry about securing a lucrative job, at least for the time being.
In a sign for her love for the show, Erika posted a tweet about “Survivor” back in 2010, on the date of the “Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains” premiere, which has recently gone somewhat viral. The tweet reads: “Btw I still watch survivor.” Erika, who was 20 when she posted the tweet, responded to it shortly after her victory was announced, stating, “Omg I won”.
Erika’s ‘All-Time Favorite’ ‘Survivor’ Player Is the Only Other Canadian Winner
As previously mentioned, Erika is not the only Canadian winner. Although Todd Herzog, winner of season 15, “China,” was Utah-born, he was a dual Canadian-American citizen at the time of his win in 2007 because of his Canadian mother. However, he had to renounce his Canadian citizenship in order to claim his prize money, according to Canada’s Global TV. Obviously, the rules have changed since then.
Although it’s unclear as to whether Erika knew Todd was Canadian back when he won his season, she has been quite vocal about the fact that Todd is her all-time favorite “Survivor” contestant. When asked which previous contestant she would play the game most like in her CBS bio, she responded “Brenda [Lowe] on the outside, Todd on the inside.” She went on to explain:
Todd is my all-time favorite player. I can channel his ability to influence others and always be strategically in control of the game and prepare to pitch myself in an amazing jury performance.
In her pre-season Parade interview, she also referenced how both she and Todd were small in physical stature, which could let their fellow contestants underestimate them early on in the game. “When he entered the game, on paper,” she said, “no one believed that he had what it took to win…But he was able to build those relationships that allowed him to make the move he needed to get to the end. He took ownership and allowed his gameplay to make up for any challenges he had in relationships or betrayals…So I would love to be able to play a game like him.”
During and after the airing of “Survivor 41,” Todd, who is known for making a variety of personalized funko pops in recent years, made and posted a number of funko pops of this season’s contestants. On Tuesday, he made two of Erika – one of her with the infamous hourglass by her side, and the other of her wearing her immunity necklace – which he posted online. The caption read, “I give you the fabulous and lovely SURVIVOR superfan and winner of season 41, Erika!!!” A touched Erika responded, “Amazing thank you!! 😍❤️”
She Is 5 Feet Tall, and Loves to Box
As many fans may have noticed, Erika is relatively short. She described herself as 5 feet tall “on a good day,” in her pre-season ET Canada interview, but said in her CBS bio that people sometimes don’t believe she’s five feet tall “because my vibes make me seem 5’3.” What many fans may not know is that despite her small stature, Erika is an adept boxer.
In her CBS bio, she said that, among traveling and fitness, one of her biggest hobbies is boxing. She has posted videos of herself sparring at Stockyards Boxing and Fitness in Toronto, and has even competed in a number of competitions. In 2017, she competed in the Brampton Cup – a boxing competition in Brampton, Ontario – where she placed second (out of second, as she stated on Instagram).
In 2014, at the age of 25, she competed in Marketing Magazine’s (now Strategy) annual “Agency Wars” fundraiser, where she went by the nickname “Chili Pepper.” It was her first real boxing experience, and she trained with professionals over a period of several weeks. As she explained in the article previewing the event, she joined because she “wanted to prove to myself that even if you’re a petite woman who has never played a sport, it’s never too late to kick some ass.”
Erika is not the first “Survivor” winner to be a boxer. “Survivor: Micronesia” winner Parvati Shallow has been a boxer since 2004, and her official career title during her original season, “Cook Islands,” in 2006, was “Boxer.” When she returned to “Survivor” one year later on the season that she would eventually win, her title became “Charity Organizer.” According to her CBS bio at the time, the charity of which she was an organizer was “Knockout for Girls,” a non-profit which sought to empower young girls through the sport of boxing.
Erika Is Prioritizing Her Parents When It Comes to Her Winnings
Having won a million-dollar prize (which in CAD is about $1.26 million as of today), Erika revealed that her first priority (after sorting through the taxes) would be helping her parents with whatever they need. As she explained in her post-season EW interview, “my parents worked so hard to make sure I’m in a position to make my dream of winning ‘Survivor’ come true. So my number one priority is my parents.” After that, she said, she will focus on “buying some really expensive handbags.”
Per her ET Canada interview, she also revealed that “[it] may be irresponsible but there’s a lot of expensive shoes I want. And then after that I’ll do all the smart stuff you do with money.”
Although Erika is very close with her family, she actually didn’t tell them – or anyone except her therapist – about her win. As she put it in a TVLine interview:
It was hard, but I think it was also fun…My parents had no idea. I didn’t tell them anything about the show, so every episode they’d be sweating thinking I was getting voted out when I knew fully well that I was going to win. It’s been a fun secret to keep for the last few months, but I think once it finally came out…it was like a big exhale. Now I get to share the big news with everyone… finally!
On the day of the finale, Erika attended a screening of the episode (similar to the usual “Survivor” reunion show) at a large venue in Toronto, where her family reacted live to seeing her victory. Footage of this can be viewed here.
As she put it in ET Canada, experiencing her family seeing her win was one of the best moments of her life. “It was so worth it to keep the secret,” she explained, “because all of my siblings, my parents just broke down into tears. Even I started crying seeing their reaction. It was just one of the happiest moments of my life.”