Shantel Smith wasn’t familiar with The Challenge franchise before she signed on for the new CBS iteration but “just wanted another adventure” after her impressive run on Survivor season 41.
The pastor, 35, binged some of the all-star versions of the show but went into The Challenge: USA filming not knowing “how scary it was going to be.”
“I felt like I was dead in the water before I got there,” she exclusively tells Us Weekly in an interview, which you can watch above. “I knew I had that strategic target on my back.”
Because of that, Shan wanted to form as many relationships as she could, knowing she’d be “pulled in so many different directions” as players were likely going to stick to cast mates they knew from their respective shows. “It was so interesting because all the people I felt connected to outside of the game were people that weren’t Survivors, oddly,” the Toronto native explains, referring to Amazing Race winner James Wallington and Big Brother 23 alum Azah Awasum.
“It just makes the most sense for Survivor players to stick together, for Big Brother players to stick together,” Shan says. “I felt very comfortable in that way. I have a home, a very strong home, but I’m not necessarily glued to that. I know that just because we all played on the same show doesn’t mean it’s all gonna shake out the way that we want it to.”
“I was very much willing to build alliances across show lines and further myself in this game,” she adds. “Loyalty killed my game in Survivor. I want to be loyal, but I also want to play my own game here.”
Still, she was hoping her Survivor 41 cast mate Danny McCray, a former NFL player, could be an ally. “I really wanted to mend fences, and we had, but I really wanted to be sure,” Shan says. “There was a part of me that was thinking, ‘OK, Danny could be my No. 1.’”
But at the end of the day, her plan was simple: “Play your own game, be as savage as you can, but also make the most relationships as possible.”
Shan, who’s been open about living with multiple sclerosis, says she went into the game telling herself, “I want to push myself. I want to try really hard and I never want to give up.”
The Challenge: USA premieres on CBS Wednesday, July 6, at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT.
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