Meet the 'Survivor 43' Cast! Karla Cruz Godoy Says Her Triumph Through Struggle Will Help Her Win

The 28-year-old educational project manager from Newark, Delaware used sheer will and determination to rise to success out of humble beginnings.

Karla Cruz Godoy has always lived with the motto "if you don't like something, change it." The 28-year-old grew up in a low-income household, building resiliency that got her a prestigious scholarship and an impressive education to boot. She comes to the show wanting to provide more representation, hoping her social and eavesdropping skills will lead to her thriving once more.

Read on for my interview with Karla, and make sure to check in with every day for interviews with this season's contestants and other tidbits. Survivor 43 premieres on September 21 with a special two-hour premiere on CBS. 

Related: Meet the Full Cast of Survivor 43

Interview with Karla from Survivor 43

Why are you here on Survivor?
I'm here on Survivor, one, to obviously win. But I was tired of watching Survivor on TV. I was honestly really just tired of saying, "I would do this differently. What if this person did that? I wish I could be there." And I've just always been the type of person to go for it. If that's something you want to do, then just do it. And so I mustered up the courage, and I was like, "Let me just apply." And I did. (Laughs.) And here I am! But also, I saw this lack of representation for queer women of color and Chicanas and Latinas in the show, and I was like, "I need to be there. We need to change things up a bit." So that's why Survivor.

What's your history with watching Survivor?
So I went to UC Berkeley for undergrad. And that is something that I'm going to try to keep on the DL because I know how sometimes the institutions that we go to can be used against us. But at Berkeley, I was taking an education class, and I met one of my friends, Dane. He came up to me, and he was like, "Do you watch Survivor?" And I think this was in 2014 or 2015. And I was like, "No." Because for my understanding, I just thought Survivor was a white people show, honestly. And he's like, "Girl, you need to watch it immediately."

But I think the one thing that got to me was that people are manipulating each other, and they're really forming relationships and getting to know one another. But ultimately, the people that you vote out, they vote to decide who the winner is. And so that hooked me. I started watching it with him, and I got my wife into it. And then we would host watch parties. It got to the point where we would then play Survivor at a bar with our friends. And our friends hated us for that. And Survivor kind of has just followed me everywhere I've gone.

So after Berkeley, I moved to Washington, D.C, where I did my Master's and taught there. And in my apartment building, I met neighbors who were obsessed with Survivor. And so we'd have watch parties. And I played gay kickball in D.C. And the folks in the gay kickball league have their own Survivor day where people won money. And it's funny because it's gone full circle.

I live in New Jersey, and I got hired for my new job in 2020. And the first thing they did was put us together with a mentor. I overheard he was talking about Survivor, and I was like, "Wait, you watch Survivor?" And now we have our weekly calls. It's called literally "Chris and Karla Talk About Survivor." And at this point, it's ingrained in my work, my personal life with my friends, and obviously with my wife. We watch it, honestly, every day and just jump from season to season. It doesn't matter if it's old-school Survivor or even Australian Survivor. We recently just got into that. So that's a little bit of my history. (Laughs.)

Give me one Survivor winner and one non-winner you identify with the most.
So I'll start with a non-winner I identify with, Cirie Fields. I love her. I feel like she's a favorite for a lot of people. But I identify with her the most because I'm a plus-sized woman, and it's really hard to see plus-sized women on Survivor. It took a lot of guts for me to apply. I was really scared because of the perception. I don't want people to see me and be like, "Oh, this girl's weak."

But Cirie's story's very similar to my story. She got off the couch, and I literally did the same thing. Because I was just tired. I was tired of watching people, and I wanted to challenge myself. So not only because of Cirie's story, but her social game. I'm a social butterfly. I can literally meet a stranger and then ask them to go to a bar, and we'll drink. That's the type of person I am. I love to have friends; I love to make friends. And I love to get to know people. And I can dig a lot of information out of them by just being genuine and interested.

And a winner: Tony [Vlachos]. I think Tony's strategy, but also his ability to have fun, is something that I relate to the most. He wasn't afraid to turn people against each other, similar to Sandra. He also wasn't afraid to start lies and start rumors. And I think just he was just willing to go and build a hiding shack to go and eavesdrop on people. It'd be a little hard, but I'm going to be eavesdropping in a different way, hopefully. He just has confidence that I feel like I can emulate in a way. I can mirror that. Maybe it's a cop thing. Maybe it's a Jersey thing. And not that I'm a cop or from Jersey. But it just feels I can relate to that.

What's your favorite moment in Survivor history?
The all-women's alliance with Parv and that Erik moment, that's my favorite moment. They convinced this kid to give up his immunity so they could get away with going to the Final Four and vote all the men out. I just thought it was so wise. It was the epitome of what old school Survivor was, really using their social dominance in a way to get what they wanted. The women work together well. It's one of my favorites because, it sucks to say, but it's so hard for women to come together without people assuming that there's going to be an all-girls alliance because of that exact moment. So because that happened, it's a lot harder now to do that. But if I could do something similar, I would love to do that. It was just a "hurray" moment.

What's one life experience you feel has prepared you most for the game?
It's hard to say one life experience because my life is super intersectional. But I think growing up low income. I grew up in San Diego. My parents are immigrants from Mexico, and I was born here in the U.S. And struggling while growing up was tough. It kind of built this resiliency in me that I carry everywhere I go. And my parents worked a lot, so my grandparents raised me. My parents didn't graduate from high school. My older brother didn't graduate from high school. It felt like the cards were stacked against me. But I wasn't gonna give up that easily.

I'm a critical thinker, but I'm also very introspective. And even at a young age, seeing what was around me and seeing what was set up for me, I was like, "Nah, this is not going to happen." And so I kind of took it upon myself to do what I had to do to get out of the situation that I was born into. To add to this, there's one really cool thing about me that shows I've worked for everything I've had.

In high school, I won the Bill and Melinda Gates scholarship, the Millennium Scholarship, which has allowed me to go and get my undergrad degree, my Bachelor's, and my Master's–and if I wanted to, my doctorate–for free. I have $0 in debt because of this scholarship. And it was because of all the hard work and goal-setting and sheer will and determination to say, "This is the situation I'm going to get out of. I'm going to break that generational curse. And I'm going to make my ancestors proud." That ability to do that at 14 to 18 years old is what's going to best prepare me for Survivor.

I know what struggle is. I know what being hungry is like. I know what it's like to play with someone, whether it's lying to them or making people feel good, because that's the life I've had to live early on. And I'm able to code-switch easily. Coming from San Diego, you learn to be tough. You learn how to protect yourself and stand up for yourself. But then going to institutions like UC Berkeley and Johns Hopkins, that's a totally different kind of community and environment you grew up in. You're mingling with future lawyers and doctors. It's a totally different social game. And so all of that put together, I think, is going to help me win, for sure.

 Next, check out our interview with Survivor 43 contestant James Jones.