Chris Underwood may go down as the most polarizing winner in Survivor history. If this were a typical season, Underwood never would’ve had a shot at the $1 million because his torch was snuffed out on Day 8 as he became the third person voted out of the competition. But this was far from a typical season. This was the Edge of Extinction, which offered eliminated players the shot to return to the game for a second chance at the grand prize. Underwood found himself on the good side of the twist, and landed back in the competition in the final days after spending weeks living on another island.
Controversial? You bet! Some fans quickly turned to social media saying Underwood never should have won because he only spent 13 of the 39 days in the game itself.
THE signature challenge of #Survivor is – how do you vote someone out in such a way that they'll vote for you to win.
Chris never had to deal with that.
— Stephen Fishbach (@stephenfishbach) May 16, 2019
Think about the fact that 97% of the audience just watched someone win a million dollars whose name they didn't know two hours ago. #Survivor
— Colin Stone (@colinstone) May 16, 2019
In some ways, it does feel like most of the gameplay that happened over 39 days was irrelevant. So why should we bother watching the show, if what happens on it is irrelevant? #Survivor
— Laura Morrell (@leleana) May 16, 2019
— Arvin Bersonda (@zarbinwakz) May 16, 2019
If this were a poker tournament, it would be like if Chris went out early, was allowed to re-buy into the final table and then was dealt pocket aces every hand. And everyone else had their cards face up. #Survivor
— Jason Gaitz (@JasonGaitz) May 16, 2019
We sat here for 10 weeks discussing the game, debating the Eric move, the Kelley vote, watching Vic & Gavin control the votes, seeing Wardog's rise to power, the Devens saga, we analysed every detail. The whole time Chris sat on an island. It was all for nought #Survivor
— Shannon Gaitz (@ShannonGaitz) May 16, 2019
For Survivor purists, his victory is unfathomable because Underwood spent weeks without the fatigue of strategy and challenges. On the flip side, it’s important to remember that Underwood can’t be blamed for the Edge of Extinction theme and twist. He took advantage of it and ultimately won the game. So how does Underwood himself feel about all this? SheKnows was in Los Angeles to chat one-on-one with Underwood on the finale’s red carpet, where he offered a response to the haters and so much more.
SheKnows: Congratulations! Any plans on how you’re going to spend the $1 million?
Chris Underwood: I’m going to Vegas this weekend, so I’m not trying to spend it all in one place. I got married a few weeks ago, and the good thing for her is she’s a financial person. I’m going to defer to her on how we’re going to spend it as a couple. I’ve had a crazy dream that motivated me to apply to be on Survivor the first time, and that’s to sail around the world. We don’t have kids yet, and she gave me the go ahead to live out that dream while we have a little capital to do so.
SK: You’ve had a long time to think about this possible outcome since this season finished filming back in July. Were you confident the jury had voted for you to win or did you still have doubt up until tonight?
CU: Before the final Tribal, I thought I had a very little shot. I would have to prove to myself that I could do it and to the jury. Then the tides started to change and I was gaining momentum in the final Tribal Council, so I had a pretty good grasp at that point that I could possibly win. It is Survivor. People aren’t always honest, so they could be just pulling your strings. I didn’t think that would be the case, so I was fairly confident that I took home the win that night.
SK: On the flip side, there are some fans who are saying you don’t deserve the title of sole Survivor because you didn’t spend a full season playing in the actual game since you were the third person voted off. What’s your reaction to those fans?
CU: If you think you know how to play Survivor, you’re wrong. Everyone has theories, but it’s in the hands of Jeff Probst and [producer] Matt Van Wagenen. Whatever theme they’re going to throw at you, you’ve got to adapt. That is the game. It’s not Survivor: Season 5 anymore. It’s developed, changed and that part of keeping players on their toes to keep fans excited. You’ve got to be able to leverage the theme. The theme wasn’t on trial tonight. We were on trial tonight. I used every tool that I had in the toolbox of the Survivor game inside the bounds of game play to get where I needed to be to win.
SK: As always, social media is filled with haters.
CU: It’s easy when you’re not talking to someone face to face. I’m definitely shutting that off. I don’t need that. Yeah, I’m good.
SK: When you got back in the game, how did you lay out your plan of action?
CU: I knew if Rick was still in the game, the best possible path was to work with the front runner. He was a bigger threat than I was. If I could keep him safe, I would have to gamble with fire but at least we would both get there. Victoria was spot on. She was really intuitive. From a strategic standpoint, I feel like she was the most on top of it out there. In my mind, she was a really big threat. If everyone is gunning for Devens, I could fly under the radar because she was perceived as a bigger threat than I was. Knowing that going into it affected how I was going to play and how I was going to use Lauren’s Idol to diminish her game a bit to elevate mine. If they were smart they would’ve voted me out as soon as I got back in.
SK: You made a risky move by giving away your Immunity necklace to force yourself into the fire-making challenge against Rick Devens. Instead of guaranteeing yourself safety, you were now up for elimination had you lost to Rick. How did you come to that decision?
CU: During my time on the Edge of Extinction, I spent a lot of time formulating what the best possible path for me was. It included winning the final Immunity challenge, giving up the necklace and taking the top competitor to fire to beat them out. There was no other way for me to win. I knew I had to do that, so that decision was made weeks before it happened.
SK: Rick has become a Survivor superstar and the fans can’t seem to get enough of him. What’s it like living on an island with somebody like Rick?
CU: It didn’t make the show, but Rick and I actually got married on the Edge of Extinction. Aubry was the officiator. We forgave each other, and had a romantic getaway. He’s a great guy. He makes everyone laugh. He lights up the room with his smile. You gotta love the guy. I knew I was going to give him my vote if he made it to the end.
SK: How did you get on the show?
CU: I started applying when I had no idea what I was going to do after college. I got a call from one of the casting directors, but I ended up not getting to LA for Millennials Vs. Gen-X. I had hair like Joe with a man-bun back in the day. I saw Jay Starrett on that season and thought he probably got my spot. I continued to submit my videos and refine my story.