It was last summer, about a month before taping was set to begin on the newest “Survivor,” when it happened.

Ashley Underwood, 25, of Benton, was walking — and texting at the same time — when she took one false step and stubbed her foot on the sidewalk.

She broke her toe.

Undeterred by the bad timing, Underwood continued her intense workouts and studying in preparation for the popular TV contest. And she didn’t tell the makers of “Survivor” about her toe, just in case that might jeopardize her spot on the show.

That minor hitch, and Underwood’s determination to suck it up and press on, is a pretty good indication of what kind of contestant she’ll be when “Survivor: Redemption Island” begins airing on Feb. 16 on CBS.

“I want to be the tough girl,” Underwood said Thursday, in her first interview since it was announced last month she would be on the show.

“I wanted whichever tribe I was on to view me as asset, someone who would help in the challenges, even though I’m a woman, a young girl. I want them to know I’m a basketball player and that I know how to work hard. I wanted to be the strong, athletic girl and be seen as someone who could really help.”

Underwood, who turns 26 on Tuesday, is known as a standout basketball star who also was crowned Miss Maine in 2009.

She’ll be among 18 castaways who will vie for a $1 million prize on “Survivor,” which will also include two former contestants, Russell Hantz and “Boston” Rob Mariano. The show will feature a new twist as contestants who are voted off the island by the tribal council won’t immediately leave the show, but will instead be exiled to “Redemption Island,” where they’ll duel for a chance to return to the game.

The show was filmed on the beaches of Nicaragua, where the previous show took place, during the late summer and early fall last year.

Underwood is a graduate of Cony High School in Augusta and the University of Maine, where as a basketball star she topped 1,000 career points at each school. She earned her nursing license and has previously worked full-time as a nurse for School Administrative District 49, which serves her hometown of Benton, as well as Albion, Clinton and Fairfield.

After reigning as Miss Maine, Underwood has been modeling through a Boston-based agency.

In her interview Thursday, Underwood described how she came to be on the show, but she was contractually obligated not to discuss what happened, so the outcome of “Survivor” remains a surprise for viewers.

Underwood said she has always been “a huge fan” of the show and even met the only Mainer to win the show — 2008’s Robert “Bob” Crowley, of South Portland — at an event while she was Miss Maine. Crowley, she said, has been inspirational to her by representing Maine, and they’ve planned to even watch some of the show’s episodes together.

Many people had told Underwood she’d be a good contestant on the show, she said, and she would nicely shrug it off.

But she did eventually become interested in joining a TV reality series.

During her time as Miss Maine, Underwood became close friends with Stephanie Smith, who was crowned Miss South Carolina. Smith and Underwood decided to audition together for spots on another CBS reality show, “The Amazing Race.”

Underwood didn’t make it, but Smith did and she appeared on the show last year.

Instead, Underwood successfully tried out for “Survivor,” which she found to be a better fit anyway. It was an easy decision.

“I’m personally more cut out for ‘Survivor.’ I love to compete, and really ‘Survivor’ is the ultimate adventure and ultimate challenge,” she said. “I’ve always been kind of a thrill-seeker and been about going after things you want to do.”

To prepare for “Survivor,” Underwood went back to school.

That meant workouts in the gym and getting into “really good shape,” hearkening back to her basketball days at Cony and the University of Maine. Her goal was to put on more weight, more muscle and “bulk up,” so she’d unmistakably be the “tough athletic girl.”

Her workouts included weight training, cardio, swimming and running.

“Frankly, I didn’t want to be in a bikini on national television …” she said, trailing off. “You want to look good.”

She also aimed to acclimate herself to the sweltering temperatures of Nicaragua by regularly hydrating herself, going to the sauna, and even cranking up the heat while driving in her car.

Underwood also refreshed her memory on outdoors skills — starting a fire, fishing, withstanding the elements — much of which she had learned from her parents, Charles and Theresa Underwood, of Benton. Growing up on the family farm helped, too, and she knew she’d be comfortable in “Survivor’s” setting.

There was also mental preparation.

“It felt like being back in college. In basketball, we used to study film, and honestly that’s what I did here. I watched so many past seasons, especially the recent ones, really studying peoples’ personalities, how people dealt with certain situations, and figuring out: how am I my own person?”

Faith and family helped, too. Underwood said she prayed every day and was constantly supported by her parents and friends.

“Honestly, going through Division I basketball and pageantry — all of that preparation literally led me to this point, and I really felt mentally prepared,” she said. “My family has always supported me, all of my little projects, endeavors. They never laugh at me. I’m an athlete. I said I want to be Miss Maine. They probably could have laughed in my face, but they didn’t. They always support me 100 percent.”

But all of the preparation in the world wouldn’t be enough, Underwood said, because the show involves many twists that you can’t plan for.

That’s why, ultimately, Underwood resolved to just “be myself as much as I could.”

“I know that sounds hard to do in a game like ‘Survivor,’ to be as forthcoming and honest as possible, but I really wanted to try to do that. I’m a Maine girl, born and raised.”

And that pride in her state has been validated since the network confirmed last month that she’d be on the show. Underwood said she’s received many supportive calls and messages, and “it kind of leaves me speechless.”

“I’ve gotten so much support from, really, people across the state, and that’s why I love Maine so much,” Underwood said. “People from Maine care about what you’re doing.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

[email protected]

“Survivor: Redemption Island”

Wednesday, Feb. 16

8-9 p.m., on CBS


2008: Robert “Bob” Crowley, of South Portland, won “Survivor: Gabon,” on the west coast of Africa.

2006: Tina Scheer, owner of The Great Maine Lumberjack Show in Trenton.

2004: Julie Berry, a youth mentor from Gorham.

2002: Zoe Zanidakis, a lobster-boat captain from Monhegan.