Although her story was cut short on Survivor: Second Chance, Shirin Oskooi spent several days with one of the game’s most notorious villains: Abi-Maria Gomes. In our one-on-one interview with Shirin, she reveals why living with Abi is so much worse than it seems before explaining why she would strategically want to take all women to the Final Tribal Council.
SheKnows: What is the deal with Abi-Maria this season of Survivor?
Shirin Oskooi: Yep. She’s emerging as the Donald Trump, Republican Party leader of this season. She’s all kinds of crazy. You’re getting just a taste of what it’s like to live with Abi in these episodes. You’re only getting a fraction of it. She is really aggressive. She’s just constantly on edge, lashing out at people. Making comparisons between people in front of her and people from her past who wronged her, in her own mind. When she behaves this way, she doesn’t see it as a negative thing. When people defend themselves, she gets really hurt, runs away and cries. You saw that happening on the episode. That was like the 50th time that it happened. I unfortunately had the job of babysitting her for the first three days. It really wore on me and I just couldn’t take it anymore.
SK: You’re a big self-admitted Survivor fan. That being said, you’ve seen Abi’s strategic style before when she competed on Survivor: Philippines. What is the difference between watching her on TV and experiencing her actions on the beach?
SO: Playing with her is so, so, so, so, so much worse. I remember watching her first season and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s insane.’ When I watched her, she acknowledged her insanity and apologized and seemed to be lovely outside of the game. Then she seemed so badly to want to turn around her image that I supported that. I thought, ‘Wow, I could help probably her with that.’ The second we landed on the beach on day one, she just reverted to that old self like it had never gone away. It was miserable. You have no idea what it’s like until you’ve been through it.
SK: Is she the reason you were voted out?
SO: No, Jeff Varner is the reason I’m gone. Jeff Varner was the mailman between the two alliances. He’s the only person that everybody was willing to work with. When he turned on our alliance and started gunning for Spencer, I immediately saw what was happening. He was the guy in the power position. I thought maybe I could turn this game around and get everybody to vote Jeff Varner out. I overplayed my hand. I got caught. When Varner found out that I was coming for him, he immediately counterattacked and got me out because he’s not gonna tolerate anybody coming for him. The Abi situation was just adding drama to it all.
SK: Did you know you were going to be voted out?
SO: I knew it was gonna be Spencer or me. I knew it was more likely to be me because I had gotten caught gunning for Varner. Varner didn’t want to talk to me at all the last couple days. I think he was so hurt that I had been coming for him. Everyone kept telling me that I needed to leave him alone and stay away from him. I really didn’t get to close things out with him. I knew that he was pissed. I knew that he was upset. I knew he was coming for me and I knew he was in control of the game. So, that’s how I went out.
SK: Vytas, the first person voted off this season, said he wouldn’t have gone to compete in Second Chance had he known he would be the first eliminated. Had you known prior that you would be snuffed out second, would you have still wanted to take on the experience?
SO: One hundred percent. I would never say no to an adventure like this, even if you only get to play for six days, it’s still once-in-a-lifetime. Totally worth it. Even with what my experience was like in Season 30, I was looking forward to being able to have new Survivor memories with lighter-hearted, fun-loving people.
SK: What was the biggest difference between your first experience and Second Chance, other than being out earlier?
SO: The people [laughs]. I think that a lot of people on the Season 30 cast are disturbed and have some demons. I think that they exhibit a lot of really ugly, negative, dark qualities. Whereas I think most of the people who came to Second Chance love the game, love fun, love adventure. Not all of them, but most of them, I think, are kind people. I think that’s the biggest difference.
SK: Looking at your previous season with some of those people you didn’t get along with, have you and Dan had any conversations? Has he reached out to you? Have you reached out to him?
SO: Oh, God, no. I have not reached out to him. He certainly has not reached out to me. All the apologies that you saw from him and Will, that was just for the audience because they came down under so much scrutiny at the way they had treated me during the season. They have openly talked shit about me, particularly when I made it on to this season. But, no, I haven’t heard from him. I don’t care to hear from him.
SK: That being said, if you were on an island with Dan and Abi with one vote to kick somebody off, who would you eliminate?
SO: I’d kick myself off.
SK: So who is worse?
SO: [Long pause] Are you familiar with Game of Thrones? In the world of Game of Thrones, Abi is Joffrey… they’re both so awful in such different ways that I can’t choose, and I would rather kill myself.
SK: When you had your torch snuffed in Season 30, you geeked out as a superfan with excitement about having that experience. Was it as exhiliarating the second time around?
SO: No, not at all. The first time I had at least made the jury, had my voice heard, I got to go on a bunch of rewards. I had a good run despite how awful those people were. This time, I feel like I had only just begun to start to play. I could see a path for myself to actually get far in this game. My torch was snuffed prematurely, so it was tough. Heartbreaking.
SK: What was it about Spencer that made you bond with him so closely, and what was it like watching him cry as he talked about voting against you?
SO: He and I are really similar. It doesn’t seem like that because we look like totally different people. We had totally different seasons the first time around. In actuality, we see life in very similar ways. We see people in very similar ways. We just gelled. I came to really care for him a lot. It was really hard going through that and voting for each other. It was certainly hard to see it again on TV. It was tough.
SK: When Abi told you on the beach that you and Spencer were being targeted, were you aware of that before she spoke up?
SO: I knew that Spencer was on the chopping block. Prior to talking to her, I had a conversation with Terry about voting out Varner. As soon as we were done talking, Terry ran over to Varner and told him that I was gunning for him. The other thing is, when Abi got pissed off at me, she made up all these lies about me to throw me under the bus to Varner and Terry. I don’t think Varner would have voted me out on Abi’s word alone, but when Terry told Varner that I was gunning for him, that was it. When Abi told me that it was me or Spencer, I already knew. It was pretty obvious. Varner had been open with me that he had been gunning for Spencer, so that’s why I came after him in the first place.
SK: Was Jeff Probst any tougher on you guys since this was your second chance?
SO: I just played, so I don’t think that between Season 30 and Season 31 he changed all that much. The only thing was maybe how he got on people for giving him shitty answers. Terry and Wiglesworth would both give him really generic, bland answers at Tribal Council and on the mat. Jeff ripped into them a bit to be more real and more authentic when answering his questions. He even did that a bit in Worlds Apart, you just didn’t see it as often. I think it was because everybody was so new and figuring out that dance with Jeff.
SK: At the beginning of the game when you sized up the competition, who were you hoping to take to the Final 3?
SO: Kelley Wentworth and Ciera. I always imagined myself going to the end with two other women because men beat women in the finals 70 percent of the time. Purely mathematical, it’s more advantageous to go to the end of the game with women. Kelley and Ciera both seemed like rational, logical, calm, normal people that I could work with and I could really trust.
SK: What about after the bond with Spencer, would you still say those two?
SO: I also saw myself going deep into the game with Spencer. The problem is that you can’t really decide who you’re gonna go to the finals with until you’re that far into the game. You don’t know who is going to end up liking whom and hating whom and being burned or bitter. Could I imagine myself in the finals with Spencer? Absolutely. But it’s one of those questions if I had to choose up front right now exactly who I’d go with, I would pick two women.
SK: Would you go out and give this game a third shot?
SO: Oh, yeah, totally. I could never say no to an adventure like this.
SK: Even if Dan and Abi were both included?
SO: Even if Dan and Abi were both included. If it were just Survivor with us three, no way in hell. If it were a full 20-person cast with those two, yeah, I’d go again.