Usually, when an actor learns that his character is going to be buried and covered with fire ants, he has a few questions: "Buried? Live ants? On my body?" But not CSI's George Eads.

When the actor read that his character, Nick Stokes, would be kidnapped by an angry father and buried alive in the show's season finale, Eads says, "I pretty much kept my mouth shut. I gave [guest director]

Quentin Tarantino no calls. The producers? No calls. The way the whole season started... I just wasn't asking."

Eads is referring, of course, to last summer, when he and costar Jorja Fox were fired during contract negotiations. They were eventually rehired, but the dispute created tension. "You're made to feel like, 'Hey, there's somebody right behind you who can take your place. You're not important,'" Eads tells TV Guide. "It brought out the fire in me to work that much harder, to really go for it."

And boy, did he go for it. To prove he couldn't be so easily replaced, Eads sweated it out — even when Tarantino teasingly left him in the coffin longer than planned. And even when the bugs came. Handlers poured thousands of crickets, which stood in for the deadly fire ants, on Eads.

Once, Tarantino — who usually filmed the bug scenes in 10-second takes — kept the cameras rolling just to see if the actor could last. "I went a pretty long time," he says. "It really hurt. Those crickets have little hooks on their feet, so it was like 1000 needles prickin' my face."

Well, it worked. As the more than 30 million CSI fans who tuned in to the May 19 finale can attest, Eads' creepy-crawly experience played brilliantly on screen. And for the show's sixth season, he plans to come back equally strong. Eads doesn't know what producers have in store for his character next. Regardless, he says, "[I'll take] whatever they throw at me."