Shirin Oskooi: I Don't Understand the Cruelty of the Other Survivor Contestants
In an emotional interview, the latest castoff talks about how painful the season was
When Shirin Oskooi was 21, she applied to be a contestant on Survivor. She didn’t make it, so she applied again and again, at least once a year.
She finally got the call to compete. She was 31.
But things didn’t go as planned. Oskooi, a Yahoo! executive from San Francisco, found herself on an exceptionally unpleasant season. The arguments often devolved into vicious personal attacks – many of which were aimed directly at Oskooi.
The ugliness reached its peak when fellow contestant Will Simms derided Oskooi for not having a family. It was clearly a painful moment for the contestants and an awkward scene for the viewers. Thankfully, Oskooi’s ally Mike Holloway physically led her away from the confrontation.
Oskooi tells PEOPLE about life on the island before her elimination on Wednesday’s episode – and how she feels about her experience today.
Let’s get the strategy talk out of the way. Did you know you were going home?
I did. I thought there was maybe a 1 percent chance, if that. But at that point, I was willing to do whatever I could to help Mike’s game. That was my focus.
It was a great tribal council.
It was! I was so thrilled that we managed to eke out two votes against Dan! That was more than I anticipated.
Let’s talk about the other contestants. Who should we talk about first? Dan or Will?
Oh, wow. That’s a tough question. Laughs.
Well, which one did you have a bigger problem with?
At the time, Will was so much worse than Dan. I didn’t even care about Dan; I just thought he was dumb and ignorant. But then I watch his confessionals and his responses on social media, and I realize how cruel he really is. I try really hard to be a kind person, and I fundamentally don’t understand cruelty, so I don’t understand Dan.
You had a particularly brutal confrontation with Will last week. Were you surprised?
I knew Will didn’t like me. He wouldn’t make eye contact. I approached him twice and said, “Look, I know you don’t like me, but can we work through it?” And he said, “Oh, no. It’s all in your head. We’re good.” And then he really let me have it when he got mad.
Did we see the worst parts of the argument?
It was so much worse than you saw. He kept saying that I “have no soul,” and he really meant it. He literally believed that I had no soul, and I really don’t think I gave him any reason to believe that.
I’ll ask this delicately. Race, gender, religion. Do you think any of those were a factor in–
[Quickly] Yes. Absolutely. 100 percent yes. If you can tell someone that they don’t have a soul and that they’re subhuman, there’s a lot more going on than the fact that he didn’t like something I said.
When it became clear that the attack was going to be ugly and personal, why didn’t you get up and leave?
I just froze. I sat there, unable to move, until Mike came over and pulled me out of the situation.
Let’s talk about some of the other contestants. Did Tyler have any role in your confrontation?
Yes. Tyler is the one who brought me into the camp. Will and Rodney had come to camp carrying the box of food that Will had gotten. Tyler looked up and said, “Oh, hey. Something’s going on. Let’s go up there.” He walked me into being insulted.
To be fair, he didn’t know that Will was capable of that – nobody did – but he watched it happen and said nothing.
Tyler was not good to the women out there. When I voted for him, I said, “Just sit there and look pretty.” That was his catchphrase that he said to the women all the time.
What about Sierra? She was there, too.
Sierra gave me my space, and then we both broke down sobbing. It cut deeply that she was a friend of mine and then she let it happen. But we’re good now. She is the kindest, most goodhearted person on the planet.
What about Rodney?
Rodney is very funny, even when he’s complaining. He was actually nice to me a lot of the time, which is more than I can say about other people. He was never vicious.
Carolyn means well. She’s playing hard – a lot harder than any of us knew while we were out there. We didn’t know she had an idol; we didn’t see the moves she’s making. She’s got her eye on the prize; she’s just aligned with some horrible people. She was kind to me, and we had a working relationship.
You’re a longtime fan of Survivor and applied several times. And then you get on, and people are really mean to you. Do you regret it?
No. I would do it all over again.
Because of Mike Holloway. He stepped in when I was being abused and snapped me out of it. [She starts to cry.] I’ve never had that happen before, where someone came to my rescue. I’d take it all again for that moment. From Survivor, I take away love.
Survivor: Worlds Apart airs Wednesdays (8 p.m. ET) on CBS.