Chris Underwood disappeared from May through July in 2018.
Yet, when the Surfside Beach native returned, another eight months went by before he could tell the masses where he’d been.
Now, some of the mystery has been revealed as family and friends of the Greenville resident await Wednesday’s first episode of “Survivor: Edge of Extinction,” in which he fulfilled a longtime dream of competing on the grueling and drama-filled CBS reality show in its 38th season.
“The craziest thing is you leave in May and get back in July, and you’ve got to stay dead quiet for eight months,” said Underwood, 25, a Surfside Beach native who attended high school at Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach. “So it’s super exciting now to finally be able to talk about it, and family members and friends go ‘Oh, so that’s why you’ve been gone for so long.’ So having that excitement is really cool.”
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Still, secrets remain. Underwood is unable to reveal how he fared on the show, whose setting was the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji.
But starting this week, viewers will be able to watch the journey of Underwood and 17 other contestants as the first episode airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Underwood said the experience included 40 days of no contact with the outside world as he competed with others in a battle of will, wits and physical fitness.
“No phone, no internet, no nothing. It’s just a complete black hole until you get back. So whether it’s the first vote out or the sole survivor, you’re just on a major lockdown the whole time,” he said. “That was the hardest thing, knowing that going into it.
“For my family and my fiance, I was like ‘Hey, whether I’m out first or out last, I’m gone. I’ll see you six weeks from now.’ That was kind of tough to swallow, but obviously the experience and the opportunity to do such a cool thing was just a sacrifice of playing the game.”
Underwood has long been a fan of the longest-running reality show of all time. His father is from Panama, and the fact it was included in one of the early seasons led to what became a family tradition when Underwood was a kid. Therefore, when he finished college with no immediate job lined up, he decided to attempt to get on the show.
“So I’m like, ‘You know what, screw it. I’m gonna go apply and see if I can get on “Survivor.” I think I have all the skills needed to do that.’ I got close, but I didn’t get the call out to L.A,” he said. “I just kept applying actually each year, and finally I got the call back and was sent out to casting finals last year. And then I was notified last spring that I made it.”
Underwood, who left the Myrtle Beach area to attend Wofford College, said his years as a youth on the Grand Strand helped mold him into someone who’d be fit for “Survivor.” Underwood fell in love with the outdoors as a surfer and became a dive master while working for his uncle’s company, Coastal Scuba and Little River Fishing Fleet.
That experience, combined with a persuasive personality, made him a perfect fit for the show, he said.
“I was always in the water, outdoorsy. And then I knew I had certain things that worked out there — just being likeable, being personable, having a certain level of charm, if you will, strategy,” he said. “Understanding how the game is played is a strategy that goes into that, which really is letting people know pieces of information, withholding other pieces of information, kind of having an edge of manipulation.”
That even means lying at times, Underwood admitted.
“I know what it takes to get to the end, and sometimes you’re going to have to lie and sometimes you can be honest with your alliance,” he said. “Just some of those elements, I was like ‘Yeah, I totally understand the psychology of “Survivor.” I think I can do really well.’”
Underwood said he knew being on the show would be physically grueling. Therefore, he said he worked out a lot, ate healthy, got right mentally, meditated and watched previous seasons while taking notes on past players he’d want to mimic.
“Just being focused before heading out there, knowing that I was going to be out there to win, to put it all on the line and make it happen,” he said.
Underwood said his biggest fear was going into the competition with a target on his back, as the bigger, more athletic guys typically are seen as a threat. His goal was to combat that by using some of the same strategies he uses in everyday life.
“So i knew going into it — I’m a sales manager and I teach people sales strategy, kind of the art of persuasion — I’m going to be just a regular surfer guy, like a regular guy, not too much strategy or game play that I think about,” he said. “I was just a fishing guy and a dive master. That was going to be my strategy going into it.”
Week by week viewers find out if his game plan worked or not, and Underwood said he’s excited to “get this thing going.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive support from my groups back in Myrtle Beach and my groups here in Greenville,” he said. “So I’m super pumped to have this crazy experience and enjoy the opportunity to watch it with family and friends.”