In the spring of 2021, University of Chicago economics student Xander Hastings left Hyde Park for Fiji to compete in the 41st season of Survivor, CBS’s endurance game show. His combination of athleticism, smarts, and moxie powered him to fan-favorite status, fueled by a great TV moment when he bluffed his way out of being double-crossed. He ended up in third place, despite the starvation diet that caused him to drop 34 pounds.

It was not his first transformation. A self-described “chubby kid” who grappled with body image, the Florida native switched to a paleo diet in high school and became a competitive runner. Post-Survivor, he reluctantly quit U. of C.’s cross-country team last fall. “When I started running competitively again, I very much hit a wall. My body wasn’t ready,” says Hastings, 22. But he’s gotten back on track, literally, this year.

Xander Hastings’ water bottle
Photograph: Xander Hastings

How do you start your day?

“Lots of water. I carry around a 64-ounce Yeti, full of stickers from all my travels. Hydration really matters, for clarity of mind, body, everything. And right out of bed, I do a set of countdown pushups, which is 10 pushups, 10-second plank; nine pushups, nine-second plank; and so on, going all the way down to one. I don’t do any coffee, so the best way for me to get going is exercise.”

How’s your return to running been?

“I did just run a race in New York. That was a huge milestone for me. I’d been trying to get back up to what I used to do, which was between six and 13 miles a day. I was worried it wouldn’t come back. During the race, I felt that power again. There’s an inspiration that comes from running.”

What else is a key part of your wellness routine?

“I try to stay off my phone as much as possible. General wellness, attention span — it all gets improved when you put the phone away. I consider myself a very happy person, and a lot of that is just observance and attentiveness. The world’s so beautiful, and you can actually look around and see the beauty if you’re not sucked into the fake world of the internet.”