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Survivor's Hannah Shapiro Is Your Vote For "Best TV Performance of 2016"

And reveals why she kept David over Bret

Liz Raftery

Survivor's Hannah Shapiro may have fallen just short of taking home the title of Sole Survivor this season, but she's a winner in our readers' eyes.

Hannah was voted the "Best TV Performance of 2016" by TVGuide.com users, taking the top spot in a landslide and getting more than twice the votes as the second place pick, SAG Awards nominee Millie Bobbie Brown for her portrayal of Eleven on Stranger Things. (In our list of editors' picks for Best Performances of the Year, Hannah came in at No. 19.)

TVGuide.com spoke with Hannah about her biggest Survivor regret, what she thought her chances were to beat Adam in the Final 3, and her reaction to being a fan favorite.

I know it's not exactly a million dollars, but congratulations on winning our readers' poll for Best Character of 2016!
Thank you so much. It's insane to me and so flattering. ... The fan responses are so cool. And, yeah, I've been really touched by so many people sharing about their anxiety. I was super vulnerable out there, and that could have really come to be embarrassing, but I really felt very supported. And I'm happy to speak on mental health and anxiety, because I think there should be no stigma when it comes to those things.

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And congratulations on making it to the Final 3, which is a huge accomplishment. Looking back at your time on Survivor, what's your biggest regret?
Hannah: Probably the thing that I made the biggest mistake on was underestimating the value of perception. I was thinking through my moves in an intelligent way. I was being strategic. But in many ways, I was leading with being goofy and quirky. Which I am, and that is a part of myself, but I purposefully led with that so that people weren't seeing what my cards were, and so that I was getting a lot of information. Survivor is such a tricky balance between showing the moves that you're making while still not getting your torch snuffed. I think going into that final tribal, I really thought I had an argument of how I was in control of a lot of the game. The tricky thing is, if your game's not perceived that way, then you're going to have a challenge. Obviously there are specific moves that maybe I, in retrospect, sitting on my couch, say, "Oh, if I had just done this and then this, then bam, that would have happened." But I think those specific moves are secondary to the overall understanding that your performance at Tribal and what you're saying and how you're articulating it is the only thing the jury is seeing. You don't really have a receipt for what you're doing.

Most people saw Adam as the clear frontrunner in the Final 3. Did you think you had a shot at beating him and Ken?
I did feel like I had a shot at beating Adam. The thing that you don't understand watching from home is, we don't see these confessionals. We don't see a lot. And there was a long period of time where a lot of people did want to sit with Adam. I know Will did. I know Zeke did. This was not this crazy notion, going up against Adam. Ken was so key to my game and I always knew I had a strong case against Ken. And Adam was someone that I had been working with for a while. But no, I felt like I had an argument against Adam. I was playing to win. I wasn't playing for second. I really was trying my best to try to take it.

In the second to last vote, why did you decide to keep David over Bret, when David seemed like the much bigger threat?

Hannah: Oh, David was a huge threat. The thing is, I always knew that I couldn't sit at the end with David. I knew if I sat at Final 3 with David, David took it. David beats Adam. David beats everyone in that game, except perhaps Zeke. But no, it was a really, really risky move. I knew that one of the three other people were going to have to win in order to get David out. At the time - and of course, hindsight, risk-taking, you can debate this back and forth - but ... there were two reasons. The first was, Ken, what you don't see is he would talk for hours and hours about loyalty and all this stuff, and I had been working so hard for weeks to try to put a wedge between Dave and Ken. But I knew that if I blindsided Ken with this vote, this is just how Ken works: he might be so emotional that he wouldn't be willing to go with me to the end if he had won that challenge. Also, again, the perception of Adam wasn't necessarily as clear as we see it back on TV. I wasn't sure what would happen at four, and Dave [was] a shield. It was a risk, and people can debate if it was right or wrong. I'm not sure.

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Adam had kept his mother's health a secret for most of the game, until his emotional moment at the final Tribal. Did you have any idea about that, and what was your reaction?
Hannah: I specifically did not have any idea. Adam has vocalized he never wanted me specifically to know. I think there were certain people he knew he could tell. I was heartbroken. Game stuff aside, you grow so close to these people out on that island, and at that point Adam was practically a brother to me.

I remember after Tribal Council, he revealed this thing. Tribal ends, the lights come up, so to say, and I walked over to Adam and I gave him a hug and I said, "I'm so sorry to hear about your mom." And I remember him being like, "I didn't think you'd hug me after this Tribal." And I said, "Of course. This goes to a much deeper human level." I said, "Listen, I'm going to call you in a day." And two days later I called Adam, and again, he was like, "I can't believe you called me." I said, "Yeah, of course. How is she doing?" And Adam told me what had happened and how he had had a last hour with her. [Ed. note: Adam revealed at the reunion special that his mother died within a day of him returning home from playing Survivor.] And we just cried together on the phone. I have a lot of love for Adam, and certain things go beyond the game.

Hannah Shapiro, Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X
Screen Grab, CBS

That seemed like an overall theme this season, contestants being able to separate game strategy from personal offenses. No one seemed to hold a grudge.
I'd say yes and no. I think part of my problem in the game was I built really deep relationships with people, and I think more than anyone, people felt very hurt by me. I got this a few times. But I think our cast is just a really amazing group of people. Even people that were hurt at the time -- I know Zeke was very hurt by me on that island, and today I consider him one of my best friends.

Zeke said that you guys had an "epic soap opera" going on that we didn't really get to see. What can you share about that?
Oh my goodness. Zeke's and my story. I mean, it was just a love story with so many ups and downs. You have to understand, Zeke and I were instant friends. Zeke is someone who would be my soulmate probably if we were out of the game or in the game. When I voted with the majority, we had this epic meltdown together on the beach. And then we built trust back, and then it was broken again. Zeke and I would talk for hours on the beach. We would do what we called "cocktails," where we would go to the beach and drink our dirty canteen water and just talk about life and love and the game.

I think by missing [seeing] our relationship, [viewers] miss part of why the perception of me changed in the game. We had these cocktails where we realized we wanted to go in different directions. I made the decision to turn on Zeke, and I think that Zeke narrated a lot of how my game was viewed after that point, just by his passionate way of speaking and how he was able to talk to people. ... I will say that today, Zeke is one of my closest friends. I don't think I could have gotten through watching all this back or any of it without him. He's a wonderful dude.

Going back to Adam, you mentioned that he was surprised you hugged him after the final Tribal Council. And he was definitely pretty harsh with you there. Did any of the things he said about your game bother you?
It's funny. I think Adam and I are two people who are very passionate and competitive. We played against each other really hard, and Adam was trying to take credit for things I had done and I think Adam was coming at me quite a bit. And I was fighting back really hard because I wasn't going to take it. Because I'm also passionate and competitive. At the end of the day, I think we both can separate the game from life. I didn't go and give him a hug when we were still playing the game during that final Tribal. When the lights came on, I did. Because at that point, we're just two young Jews who had fought it out at the end.

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What was all that whispering between you two at the Tribal Council where you guys ended up drawing rocks?
Hannah: So much whispering. I went into that Tribal, and I knew how hurt Zeke was, and I also knew that they would want to put the votes on someone they didn't think an idol would be played for. So, I told Dave -- and I love Dave to death. Dave is basically Generation X me. But I told Dave, I said, "The votes are coming my way. I know this." I was so confident that that's what was going to happen going into that final Tribal. And there was just so much whispering that things became a little blurry. I knew that the votes weren't going to be on Ken. But everything was happening so fast, and Zeke had prepped his team - I think Zeke should get some credit for this -- to put a false Ken name out there. Zeke had prepped his team to go to rocks. Zeke had really gotten some things moving. And Adam and I were just trying to figure out what was going on, and we were talking about where the votes were going.

It was a very heated Tribal Council. Everything you see on TV is accurate to that Tribal Council. It was insanity. As a fan, I was like, "This is the best thing ever!" As a player whose name was coming out, I was like, "This is the worst thing ever!" But I will say, in all that insanity, despite some of my early Tribal performances, I was cool as a cucumber and very calm.

Going back to the beginning of the game, you had a panic attack while watching one of the challenges, and you said afterwards that you were scared that was going to have an impact on your game. What was going through your head in those moments?
Something you don't see is, on Ikabula - you kind of got a sense of it -- we were not only starving on that beach. We weren't sleeping. The bugs were so bad that production would wear, like, netting over their faces. We would wait for the moon to change places in the sky so the tide would come in and the bugs would be bearable enough that we could sleep a little bit. So, I walked into that challenge [from] Ikabula, and we were so much more drained than any other tribe. And I had wanted to be the caller for that challenge, and then I kind of didn't step up.

But what happened was, it felt like dehydration, and I quickly realized I was having a panic attack. But the thing with panic attacks is, they're so physical. I think what people don't understand is, you can logically understand what's going on, but your body still feels like it's having a heart attack. So I had shooting pain in my arms, I couldn't open my hands. I was having so much trouble because my body was physically breaking down. And in that moment, I actually remember looking up and - this speaks to the kindness of the cast - I saw Michelle praying. I saw Zeke was just giving me this look like he just wanted to run over. And of course Bret was holding the umbrella. So, in that moment I felt a lot of support.

Afterwards, I was so embarrassed and scared. First, going back to camp, I remember the hardest thing was... all you want to do in that situation is be like, "Alright. I'm going to take five minutes off camera and collect myself." But you can't. And, because perception is everything, you have to go forward and be like, "Alright, let's keep chugging!" So, I was definitely aware of that at camp.

Was it difficult to watch that on TV?
Coming out of the game, I was so nervous for that episode. I even gave Zeke my Twitter for that week. I was like, "Take my Twitter. I don't want to hear the comments. I don't want to do this." But Zeke texted me and he said, "You're getting nothing but support. All these people are sharing their stories about anxiety." And I took my Twitter back and my social media and I started just reading. People were sharing their own stories of panic attacks. And it made me feel like - not only not alone, but it felt like I was in a position where I could speak on this thing that might be able to help someone else who has panic attacks or feels social anxiety. And so, really, the response from the fans and the public helped me change my attitude of how I could approach what happened.

Do you think it ended up affecting your game at all?
Did it affect my game? Perhaps with someone like Bret who didn't quite understand what was going on and then maybe perceived me as weak. But, I tried to articulate to people what had happened. And I'm very thankful that the show let me narrate it. Getting to have a confessional talking about it, and then showing me talking to Sunday about what had happened, I was thankful that the show didn't cut to someone like Bret, I don't know, like, teasing me about it. I was very thankful that the show let me narrate my own story.

Were you upset at the reunion that they focused so much on your crush on Ken?
Listen, I think I got time to speak on my growth and on the response to anxiety. I think any time there's love in the air, Probst is gonna ask about it. I think the real love story was me and Probst, and I think we all saw that.

Any final thoughts on your Survivor experience?
From the island, you see what you see, and watching it back and seeing how many incredible stories my friends and cast members had to tell was amazing. We all played so hard and most of us were superfans. ... I hope the fans liked our season.

(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)