He wasn’t long for this game. Daniel Strunk knew his time on Survivor season 42 would be short-lived after his very first tribal council performance.
The law clerk, 30, made it clear he did not want to go to rocks, effectively giving Hai Giang all he needed to stand his ground in a deadlocked vote. In the midst of all the chaos, Daniel also managed to upset his closest ally in Chanelle Howell.
“Everyone wants to focus on that moment because it’s the most salacious moment, but the real analysis begins way before that,” Daniel exclusively explains to Us Weekly. “The real analysis begins with an understanding that Chanelle and I were – at least I thought – very tight. I shared everything with her.”
The Cincinnati native goes on to say, “I lost the game the moment Chanelle comes back from the summit and says she lost her vote. At that point, I lost the game. I lost the game not because she lost her vote, I lost the game because it was on me and I should have in that moment gone to Hai and Lydia [Meredith] and just said, ‘Look, Chanelle’s playing you. She lost her vote. She’s lying. Let’s vote her out.’”
But he “trusted her so much,” Daniel tells Us. “I was all in on having her as my No. 1 ally, which in hindsight was probably a mistake, but I really was all in on Chanelle as my No. 1.”
And what ensued was what he calls “a human, emotional response to what basically felt like I was left in the lurch by people that I had trusted and shown loyalty to.” Daniel adds, “And that upset me. And I responded probably in a very bad way, strategically, but I’m not a robot. I’m a human being.”
He quickly became a target once the tribe lost another immunity challenge and went to tribal for a second time during the Wednesday, April 6, episode. Still, Daniel admits Hai had him “totally and utterly convinced” it would be Chanelle to go. “I was blindsided, which is the way to do it,” he jests. “Isn’t it so much better to go out on a blindside than to cast some silly little die and be like, ‘Oh, my God. One in six!’ For my own Survivor bucket list, [it’s] so much more fun to be blindsided.”
As for his journey on the long-running CBS series, Daniel, a leukemia survivor, is still taking it all in and has yet to watch the episode. “This journey began for me decades ago when I was sick in a hospital bed watching the show with no hair and couldn’t run.” he explains. “And so when you watched me snorkel last night, sure I’m a human being snorkeling, but there’s also a big story arc there for me in my own personal life. The story arc there is I was a very sick child who dreamed of doing something like that one day. And so when the time came, I did it. All right. And was it a good idea? Probably not. I thought I was safe. But, I was living in the moment, and at tribal, when I realized that it was time for me to go, after the votes were shown the first time, I didn’t care about the Mike vote. I didn’t care about whatever. At that moment, I said to myself, ‘This is it. Soak it in. It’s probably going to be the last few minutes of Survivor you ever play.’”
Survivor airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
Scroll down to read our full Survivor interview with Daniel…
Us Weekly: How are you feeling this morning?
Daniel Strunk: I feel great. I feel like a weight’s been lifted. It’s wonderful to have everything out there. The Survivor journey for season 42 has come to a close and that feels good.
Us: How did you feel going into tribal last night? What was the plan that you were told?
DS: So I was totally and utterly convinced that Chanelle would go home. I was snookered. I was blindsided, which is the way to do it. Isn’t it so much better to go out on a blindside than to cast some silly little die and be like, “Oh, my God. One in six!” For my own Survivor bucket list, [it’s] so much more fun to be blindsided. I mean, that’s the way to do it. If you have to go out, you might as well be blindsided. But, I was blindsided and the reason is because I totally trusted Hai. I thought Chanelle was going home. I thought Hai had my back. Hai and I had had a conversation on the beach that I distinctly remember where basically we discussed the game and I told him how happy I was to be out there. I told him I wanted to play and represent sick kids. We hugged and it was very emotional. I thought in that moment, like, “I’ve really bonded. I’ve had this human moment with Hai. I’ve bonded with him. I can trust him.” I trusted him so much I went fishing. We can talk about fishing if you would like. But, I was totally snookered. Hai is a very deceptive, very, very good player of the game. Very good player.
Us: Do you think he actually preferred for you to stay and then just got convinced otherwise or?
DS: No, I was toast. I was toast the moment the first tribal happened. I think Hai is a very … I think he forms deep relationships with people. That’s part of the reason I trusted him after the tribal, is I thought that I had formed a deep relationship with him. And I think he felt betrayed after the first tribal and he should have felt betrayed. I’m not begrudging him that. I think he felt that I had betrayed him more than Chanelle, and we can talk about why that is. But I think after that first tribal, there was no hope, in terms of he just felt betrayed. And if I’d gone fishing or I hadn’t gone fishing, the result would’ve been same. So might as well go fishing.
Us: Let’s talk about that first tribal. You kinda called out Chanelle and then you said you didn’t want to go to rocks, effectively telling Hai he had the power there. In the moment, were you thinking, like, “Oh, no. I may have messed up here”?
DS: Everyone wants to focus on that moment because it’s the most salacious moment, but the real analysis begins way before that. The real analysis begins with an understanding that Chanelle and I were – at least I thought – very tight. I shared everything with her. The key example I used was I told her that Mike had lost his vote. By doing that, I basically gave her the power to get rid of me because she could have allied with Hai and Lydia and voted me out. And then been in the middle between two pairs of two. That would’ve been a great move on her part, but I told her anyway because I trusted her so much. I was all in on having her as my No. 1 ally, which in hindsight was probably a mistake, but I really was all in on Chanelle as my No. 1.
I shared everything with her. So then you get to the immunity challenge that we lose, and right before that immunity challenge, Chanelle and I have a conversation where we both agree, and look at each other, and we both agree that under no circumstances will either of us risk our vote, if we go to the summit, under no circumstances. We knew it was very important that one of us that neither of us lose our vote. So then when she comes back from the summit and says that she’s lost her vote, I felt betrayed in that moment. I had a decision. Seven days, you’ve consumed 600 calories and you’ve got half an hour to an hour – at most – before tribal. What do you do? Do you remain loyal to Chanelle right there? Do you not? What do you do? I decided, Chanelle’s my No. 1. I’m all in on Chanelle. I will remain loyal to Chanelle.
I also wanted Lydia to go home for my own purposes. And so for that reason, I decide I’m going to vote for Lydia at tribal council. So then you go to tribal council, I vote Lydia. I don’t back down at the re-vote. Again, at every point up until now, I have demonstrated loyalty to my alliance. And then you have what everyone wants to talk about, understandably so, which is this rocks draw moment. So the key thing to know going into the rocks draw analysis is I did not view it as a one-on-one situation. I just did not view it that way because I clarified with Jeff [Probst] in advance who would draw rocks. I’m like, who would draw rocks if we drew rocks. And do you remember his answer by any chance?
Us: I can’t remember. That feels like years ago!
DS: The answer is that four people would draw rocks – Mike [Turner], Chanelle, me and Hai would draw rocks. So in that moment, I think to myself, I have the fate of two of my allies in my hands, right? I have Mike’s fate and I have Chanelle’s fate. If we go to rocks, they might go home. So it’s on me. One out of four of their fate is on me. And in that moment I have to make a decision and I make a terrible decision. And my decision is that I’m gonna communicate to Mike and Chanelle that I’m loyal to them and I have their back, and I will not force them to go to rocks. And I do that by saying, “I don’t wanna go to rocks. Let’s have a discussion.” And what I hoped to communicate by doing that is Mike, I got your back. Chanelle, I got your back. You’re not gonna have to draw a rock because of me. Let’s team up on Hai. The three of us, let’s together team up on Hai.
And yeah, I was totally wrong about that because as soon as I needed help and I turned to Mike and I turned to Chanelle, and I say, “Hey, like, help me out here” – which I probably didn’t do well to be clear. Again, very tired, very hungry – but that’s my thinking. They both kind of ran for the hills. It was both, “We don’t have anything to do with this. Go away, Daniel,” sort of moment. Then I was screwed. At that point, I was totally screwed. And I had what I would basically describe as a human, emotional response to what basically felt like I was left in the lurch by people that I had trusted and shown loyalty to. And that upset me. And I responded probably in a very bad way, strategically, but I’m not a robot. I’m a human being.
Us: I mean, we’ve seen people say before, “I don’t want to go to rocks.” That’s not necessarily out of the ordinary. I just think the specific circumstances combined with Hai being a very good player were not on your side there.
DS: We will never know the world that would exist if Mike and Chanelle went all in on joining the discussion. If the two of them had joined, I don’t think there’s a good chance that Hai backs down. I think there’s probably not a good chance. But I think there is a chance. I think that was probably our best chance of saving Jenny. Also, the thing to know is, after the inflection point where I realize that Chanelle and Mike are not gonna join me in any way, at that point, I would’ve gone to rocks had I not thought that there would be a swap the next day. I thought there would be 14 people after this. They’re gonna swap us into two tribes of seven. Things are a shitshow right now, but everything changes when there’s a swap. So don’t risk a one in four chance when you can just have a swap. I was wrong about that. I was operating off of premises that at every point were basically wrong, but you can’t say I wasn’t playing, at least, correctly given my very bad premises.
Us: You didn’t play your Shot in the Dark last night because you thought you were staying. What did you think when Chanelle didn’t play hers either? And what were your thoughts when Mike’s name came up in the votes?
DS: At that point, I’m like, “I’m screwed.” This journey began for me decades ago when I was sick in a hospital bed watching the show with no hair and couldn’t run. And so when you watched me snorkel last night, sure I’m a human being snorkeling, but there’s also a big story arc there for me in my own personal life. The story arc there is I was a very sick child who dreamed of doing something like that one day. And so when the time came, I did it. All right. And was it a good idea? Probably not. I thought I was safe. But, I was living in the moment, and at tribal, when I realized that it was time for me to go, after the votes were shown the first time, I didn’t care about the Mike vote. I didn’t care about whatever. At that moment, I said to myself, “This is it. Soak it in. It’s probably going to be the last few minutes of Survivor you ever play.” And I don’t know if they showed it cause I actually didn’t watch the episode. But I mouthed to myself when I went to grab my torch, I mouthed to myself and said out loud actually, I said something to the effect, “Soak in this moment, Daniel.” That’s basically what I said to myself.
Us: We did hear you say something along those lines before Jeff snuffed your torch. And then when you were walking away, you said it was heartbreaking.
DS: Oh, I really said that? The “take in this moment” thing, that’s me taking in the fact that, like, this is it. This is a decades long thing for me, going back to when I was like 15, and I wanted to take in the moment because there’s only one time in your life where Jeff Probst snuffs your torch. And there are very few moments in life where you know in the moment that it’s a big moment. I just proposed about a week and a half ago and you know, when you propose, this is a really big moment, right? And it’s a bigger moment than getting your torch snuffed, to be fair. But there are other really big moments in your life that you don’t know when they’re happening that they’re big moments. When you know that one is happening, you should really soak it in. So when the votes were read, who gives a crap about the Mike vote. At that point, I was just soaking in the moment.
Us: Would you like to play again?
DS: The No. 1 obstacle would be my significant other. I think this was a very, very difficult thing on her. To be blunt, I love her dearly and I don’t think that I would prioritize Survivor over her. That’s what it would come down to. If I was a single man, then sure. I would go play again. I would like to, but I’m not gonna plan my life around it. Right now, the rank order priority is being a good partner to my fiancé, being a good future father to kids that I can’t wait to have one day, and being a good lawyer. Survivor is a thing I did, but it’s a thing I did. And let’s move on in life.
Us: I love that. I know you have to go, but to wrap up, do you think there was anything you could have done at tribal council that night to save yourself or do you think it was a done deal when you walked in?
DS: No, I was toast. I think I lost the game the moment Chanelle comes back from the summit and says she lost her vote. At that point, I lost the game. I lost the game not because she lost her vote, I lost the game because it was on me and I should have in that moment gone to Hai and Lydia and just said, “Look, Chanelle’s playing you. She lost her vote. She’s lying. Let’s vote her out.” And that would’ve put me in a bad spot because then there would’ve only been four votes after that. And Hai and Lydia would’ve been two of those votes. It would’ve been me, Hai, Lydia and Jenny. So it wasn’t ideal, but I would’ve gotten tighter with Hai and Lydia. I’m not sure I could have even convinced them to do that. They might have not done that. They might have said, “All right. Let’s vote Daniel out. He’s been deceptive as well.” So, you know, shoulda, woulda, coudla.