Few contestants have been beaten down by Survivor as much as Shirin Oskooi.
After spending 10 years applying for the show, she was finally cast in Survivor: Worlds Apart. On that season, she had vitriolic clashes with contestants Dan Foley and Will Sims that reduced her to tears.
Then she got the chance to play again in Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance. There was just one hitch: she would be playing back-to-back seasons. As soon as the Survivor: Worlds Apart live finale was finished, she would be whisked away to play again.
Before she knew it, Oskooi was back on an island, scheming her way through Survivor Cambodia: Second Chance
But her stay would be short. After her alliance fell apart, Oskooi found herself scrambling on Day 6. It didn’t work, and she was the second person voted out of the game.
Oskooi, a 32-year-old executive for Yahoo!, tells PEOPLE what went wrong, and whether she thought she made a mistake by returning so soon.
Okay, let’s start with a statistic: of the 9 people to ever play Survivor back to back, you are the one who, um, struggled the most.
(Laughs) Okay, but I’m very clearly in a unique position. In my first season, I probably had the emotionally toughest time of all the back-to-back contestants. A big part was that I didn’t have time to process my season, and I don’t think I was emotionally ready to return. That became very evident to me on Day 4. I was so emotionally drained, and I just didn’t know what was wrong with me. That was part of why I got caught up in my own head and went into overdrive.
I assume you thought, ‘I screwed up. I shouldn’t have done this,’ right?
The problem is that I would never say no to Survivor! What if this is Jeff Probst‘s last season and Survivor was gone? I would be so mad at myself! My emotions were too raw to play again, but I couldn’t say no!
It was between you and your closest ally, Spencer, last night, but you seemed that to know that it was going to be you. How come?
I thought I had a slight chance for it to be Spencer, but I had gotten caught redhanded gunning for Jeff Varner after he had flipped on us. So I knew that I was a bigger threat to him at that point, so I knew it was going to me.
So when was the exact moment that you knew you were screwed?
I had a conversation with Terry where I said, “Hey, would you be willing to vote out Varner?” And Terry shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said “I’m not going to tell anyone about this conversation, but let me go think on it.” And the second he said that, I thought, “Oh, no. I’m screwed.” And he went straight to Jeff Varner.
I know, right? You could just see from far away, Jeff Varner’s facial expression as he was being told the news that I, one of his lieutenants, had offered to vote him out. That was on Day 5.
So you went to Woo, and he wasn’t receptive at all. He said that you hadn’t spoken to him for the entire game. Why was that?
The thing is, that’s not true. I can tell you Woo’s last three addresses. I could tell you his girlfriend’s name. I could tell you girlfriend’s ethnicity and racial background. I can tell you so much about his life. We spent a lot of time talking about our lives, but we had never spent any time talking about our strategy. My mistake with Woo was that I overestimated him. I gave him the benefit of the doubt; I assumed that his cluelessness was just an act. I was deeply, deeply wrong.
So Woo was never going to work with you?
He was really insecure about my million dollar comment at my finale. [Oskooi had disclosed that she had made her first million dollars when she was 25.] He was the only person to bring it up; not just once, but multiple times. So I think that was an issue for him. But what was I going to do? I had to try.
How much did you scramble to try to stay in the game?
I did what I could, but the reason why I didn’t scramble harder was that I had a reputation of overstrategizing. So if I had been seen running around and scrambling, that would just be another nail in my coffin.
Let’s talk about the fight between Abi and Peih Gee
Yes, let’s. (Laughs)
A lot was made about the fact that you didn’t try to defend Abi. Jeff even said that it was like your situation when Mike rescued you from Will. Was it the same to you?
No. Abi came at Peih Gee and started a fight. The two of them had this half-discussion, half-fight. I was totally emotionally drained and couldn’t deal with them. I walked away. But it was a fight between the two people. This wasn’t a situation where someone was being treated unfairly. Strategically, I should have gone to Abi; emotionally, I wasn’t there.
Okay, you’re always good for a quote. Give me one to end this interview.
I’ve got to give you my favorite David Sedaris quote. “If you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it between sh– and syphillis in the dictionary.”
Wow. that’s a perfect way to end this.
Isn’t it? (Laughs) I love that.
Want to hear more from Shirin Oskooi? Check out the audio interview below to hear her exit interview with two-time Survivor contestant Rob Cesternino!