Savannah Chrisley is learning how to prioritize internal acceptance over external validation.
Despite being one of the early frontrunners on season two of Fox's Special Forces: World's Toughest Test, the reality star made the surprising decision to leave the competition early during the Oct. 9 episode. But the 26-year-old doesn't feel like a quitter, choosing to leave the show early to focus on raising her brother Grayson, 17, and her niece Chloe, 10, while her parents Todd Chrisley and Julie Chrisley serve their respective prison sentences. And if the decision to quit the show makes some people think she's soft, Savannah is more than okay with that label.
"I've always been super hard, like, 'I'm fine, so nothing else bothers me,'" Savannah told E! News in an exclusive interview. "But I've learned how soft I really am and I think that's something I've always wanted."
In addition to dealing with her parents Todd and Julie being sentenced to seven and 12 years, respectively, after they were convicted of bank and tax fraud, Savannah is also grieving the sudden death of her ex Nic Kerdiles, who died in a motorcycle crash on Sept. 23.
While Savannah said she is "sad," she is ready to "battle through" her recent hard times.
"I don't know when the blows are gonna stop coming, but I'm going to try," Savannah shared of her plan to "battle through" the hard times. "It's not fun playing on the defensive, it's not fun being hard-hearted. I've taken a lot of hurt, I've been scarred and I've allowed that to turn into anger. Now, I'm going to take that and try to turn it into something productive and live a life that is full and happy and where I can actually breathe."
Speaking to E! News hours before her Special Forces exit aired, Savannah revealed why she chose to hang up her battle gear and lean fully into her new role as de facto parent.
E! News: You have had a rough couple of months. How are you doing?
Savannah Chrisley: This week, I'm like, alright, we're going to get back to normal life. We're going to start creating a good schedule for ourselves. For me, working out has been a good gamechanger for me, for my mental health as a whole. And I haven't been doing that, so I'm like, 'Alright, I need to get back to it,' and just try to give myself a little grace along the way. Luckily, I've surrounded myself with a great group of people who have been there for me and who have shown up for me when it's been hard and who have helped with the kids. So for that I am forever grateful.
E! News: Was doing Special Forces a nice distraction for you?
SC: It's been a great distraction because I sit and watch it with my friends and we'll laugh and cut up and just joke about everything that's happening. And I know my parents are getting to watch it, so that's enough for me.
E! News: You talked about Special Forces being the last show you watched with your parents before they went to prison. How have they responded to your time on it?
SC: When we were watching the show my mom said, 'Savannah, you would be great on this,' and then they reached out and I didn't even think twice about it. I was like, 'Yes, yes, yes.' And now they get to watch it and it's a way for us to connect, even though we're not together. So that, for me, is enough. We can talk about it after and they get to see me and that's the biggest blessing.
E! News: You started off as one of the top recruits before you began struggling. What do you think was the changing point for you?
SC: It was tough because I was there a week before the show ever started filming because we had to do different COVID protocol stuff. I had already been gone for that long and that was a challenge just being away from the kids, and all I could think about was, 'Oh my god, are they okay?' They were with their grandparents and my grandparents are in their '70s, so it's not like they are paying attention to everything that I would be paying attention to. They just can't be as present, so I started worrying. And then I just started thinking to myself, I miss the kids so much. Like, losing my and dad this past year has been really tough and trying to get them in a place of being okay. Especially with Chloe, I kept telling her, 'Hey, I'm coming back.' And she kept saying, 'Are you going to come back?' I was like, 'Yes, I promise you I am coming back!' So I kept replaying those conversations in my head and I was like, 'You know what? I came and I showed up as best I could and that's enough.'
E! News: Do you regret your decision?
SC: I've always been such a perfectionist, and now for the first time, I was like, 'I don't need to show up perfectly, just as long as I show up, it's enough.' With the kids, I didn't want them to think that just because I didn't win, it was all just for nothing. You can be patient for yourself, give yourself some grace and just show up as you are because in today's day and age, that's enough.
E! News: Did they try to convince you to stick it out?
SC: Oh, trust me, they did. They kept telling me, 'Stay, stay!' Granted if you paid me more to stay to the end, if there was a prize at the end such as money, I would have endured anything! There's bragging rights at the end. I'm good, I don't need to brag!
E! News: How have you handled becoming a guardian to children at such a young age?
SC: It's so tough. At first, I felt so much guilt. I'm not their mom, I'm not their dad. So whenever people would say, like, 'How old are you kids?' Well, that's my brother and sister. It's been a challenge, because I didn't get to have a child and learn as I go. It's been a learning curve. We're learning as we go because we're struggling with the same things, we're struggling with that loss, and unfortunately, I have to deal with mine at a later date. They are the priority and making sure they're fine is what's most important to me, so I'm having to take it as I go.
E! News: How did your siblings react when you came home from Special Forces?
SC: They are so happy. Chloe slept with me for a solid two weeks. They were so happy and before I left, I Grayson and Chloe were crying. It's hard when you lose two parents, and granted, they're still alive, but we don't get to call them, we don't get to text them, we don't get to just go and see them whenever we want. So I think they were so scared, like, 'Okay, what if she doesn't come back?' And that was the biggest struggle.
Special Forces: World's Toughest Test airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on Fox.