Karishma Patel of Survivor opens up on being made to feel 'worthless'
Karishma Patel had one of the most interesting journeys of this Survivor: Island of the Idols season. At the start of the season, we saw her struggle with how to best blend in with the group while also observing her own cultural norms. We saw her talk openly about some struggles in her own life that extended into her marriage. And we saw her struggle to fit in with the tribe who often showed disdain for her.
But at some point, Karishma found another gear. She located a hidden immunity idol. She refused to follow marching orders and instead helped flipped the vote to oust Missy. She went into full fight-to-survive mode and attempted to take a (metaphorical?) wrecking ball to the heads of her enemies. And, most importantly, she used her experience on the island to reevaluate and appreciate what she had back home.
Karishma’s time came to an end on day 32 after a chaotic Tribal Council in which Dean flipped back against a newly formed alliance and she was voted out. How does the world’s No. 1 Applebee’s fan feel about all the highs and lows of her time in the game? We asked her!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, first question: Have you eaten any Applebee’s lately?
KARISHMA PATEL: You know, I have! It was awesome. I went there the day after the episode aired actually, and I ordered everything that was a part of that reward and I finished it all.
I want to start by reading your own words back to you. This is what you said to camera after you were voted off: “This journey was an opportunity for me to learn about myself and what love really means to me. When I saw my husband, I saw a love that’s more powerful than I ever could imagine. That’s the love of being accepted for who you are. I’m going to go home with that feeling in my heart for the rest of my life.” What did your experience out there on the island teach you about your life back off the island?
I had a unique journey. I started this whole thing going out there as just like a personal challenge. I wasn’t going out there for the money or anything beyond just to see if I could do it and accept the challenge. And then when I got out there, the way the game unfolded for me, it was a lot different than I expected. You know, here in life, I have a job, I have a lot of friends. I’m able to take leadership roles. Out there, it was really, really hard for me, for a variety of reasons. And I felt really levels of loneliness that I never knew could exist.
I felt feelings of being unwanted and being unliked. Obviously, I felt unliked before, but this was just beyond anything I’d ever experienced. And what you have to do when you’re on that island is you have to really, really channel your thoughts to what makes you tick outside of the game, and I would think back to my family, my husband, my friends who just unconditionally love and support me. Because unfortunately when you’re kind of treated as worthless at times and you’re living in that vortex…. I hate to admit it, and I’m just going to admit it now to you — I’m going to say it out loud for the first time — I had moments where I started to believe it too.
It’s a painful thing to admit, but there were the low times where I just felt unlovable and worthless and just, I must be this horrible, horrible person because look at the way everyone’s viewing me and treating me. And that was a tough pill to swallow. But what would always bring me back, what would push me out of that horrible place that nobody should ever, ever go to, is a reminder of the phenomenal, unconditional, most amazing support system that I have at home. And to understand that, that these are the people who enrich my life. And from this day forward I need to really make sure that they know how much I appreciate them, how rewarding my life has been and will be because of them.
In the show, a large focus of it was my relationship with my husband because I mentioned early on in the season when I was having a really vulnerable moment with Janet and Jack and we were just talking about, you know, our families and our struggles in life. I just unloaded and I opened my heart and I let them in to know that one of the biggest struggles that I’ve ever had in my life was with feeling like a burden to my family for taking so long to get married. And with that came not an arranged marriage. I absolutely have to fix that misconception. I am not in any semblance of arranged marriage. I think that term is just such a buzz word that people tacked onto it. But what I was actually getting at is because I felt so much pressure from my parents and my culture and my society, I probably got married a little sooner than I normally would have.
I got married pretty quickly of my own volition. It was my own decision and very happily made that decision. But you know, you get that five-year itch where you think, “Well, you know, let me take a step back, let me evaluate everything in my life through a lens.” And what the game taught me is that: Okay, this was absolutely the best decision I ever made, to marry this man, be it after two months of dating or two years of dating. I got lucky and I was blessed to have been introduced to somebody like him who will never ever let me fall, who will always support me, who let me go on this journey. Gosh, who let me leave for like two months to go out and live a dream like this!
And so I was able to come home with this amazing perspective. And I do want to mention something really important and it’s really cool. Day 1 we were on Lairo and we were weaving palm fronds and Elaine said something to me that I have always remembered where she said, “Karishma, not everybody is gonna love you the way you want to be loved, but it’s still love.” And my gosh, if I haven’t carried that sentence with me because it is the truth. If you take that one moment and just alter your perspective and you focus on what you do have, you can really, really be happy and be satisfied. And so I came out understanding I have everything that I will ever need and I don’t need anything more.
I’ve never seen someone in 39 seasons talk more about how much they love their spouse, but you mentioned that moment a few weeks back where we did see you at a more vulnerable moment talking about and questioning certain aspects of your relationship with your husband. What was it like to have to watch that back on television?
To be completely honest, I didn’t expect it to be aired. It wasn’t game related. It was a vulnerable moment. I think a lot of past players would agree that everyone shares personal things. And you know, I have to be frank, I was exaggerating a little bit. I was really, really, really focused on integrating with this new group, letting them in. And they were a warmer bunch than I had been used to with old Lairo. And so I was just trying to show them that I was vulnerable and that I was willing to be honest about difficult things with them. And there was a bit of exaggeration going on there.
But at the same time, I am blessed to have a really, really understanding and supportive support system. So I was able to have the conversations with, with my husband and my family that I needed to have to sort of clear up, “Listen, this is what I meant.” And I just hope that at the end of the day after watching my entire journey, they can see that too.
You were concerned as an Indian-American woman about going against some cultural norms while you were out there playing. What sort of reaction did you get from your family or the Indian-American community in terms of how you acted and dressed out there?
I am just so appreciative of the support that I’ve gotten from the Indian community and it was unexpected, but it’s also really, really I think a step in the right direction because it’s important for people of all backgrounds and nationalities and whatnot to be represented. But it’s also important for people to understand that there is a way to maintain your identity and your culture and your self-respect, and still go out and play a game.
The funny thing is that Indian people just don’t watch Survivor. It’s the weirdest thing. I didn’t have a single friend to watch Survivor with, not a single family member. I didn’t know any Indian person who watched Survivor. And so when I mentioned to some of them, “Hey, I’m going out and playing Survivor,” this is the response I would generally get: “Oh wait, is that the show where the crazy white people run around the beach in their underwear?” So I think it’s super cool that that diversity was highlighted this season. I think it’s super cool that I was accepted, not just like by production and being accepted into the cast, but also accepted by fans. And I really hope to have opened up a whole new viewership of Indian people. Now, start applying and playing because that’s how the world should be.
It was kind of heartbreaking to hear you earlier saying how when you were out on the island you felt worthless. You talked a lot on the show about being bullied out there, and we heard people on the show agree with you, but then other people in their exit interviews have denied that. Looking back at your experience 7 months ago, how do you feel now about the way you were treated out there?
I will say this: I feel I was absolutely ostracized out there to a certain extent, and bullying can come in various degrees. So I did feel bullied. I do have to take a side note and say that I have come to know many of these cast members outside of the game and have formed genuine friendships with them. They are just incredible, loving, warm people who I don’t think encompass any of the qualities that a bully would. But in the game, it started off more subtly with little things like when I hurt myself and I didn’t feel any of the compassion that I would normally expect. Maybe that was wrong of me to expect that in a cutthroat game like Survivor. But that felt like bullying to me.
That felt like a group of people coming together to put somebody else down or make somebody else feel bad. And then little by little it would escalate. And after the merge, it just took on another life in and of itself. And that’s what I think a lot of other castmates agree that it turned into this whole concept where maybe insulting Karishma outright was just the norm. And it got pretty crazy when you think about it at the end the game. It’s funny, nobody really identified it as crazy. I’ll give you an example: There was a scene from the water well with Tommy, Noura, and Lauren, and I said something that seems to viewers out of the blue, but it wasn’t out of the blue where I was like, “Are you trying to get me thrown out of the game?”
Well, what viewers didn’t see was that for a while before then, I had heard people say, “I hope she gets medevaced.” Or “Gosh, is there a way to get her medevaced,” like literally within earshot shot of me! To me, that’s bullying. That has a purpose of hurting me. That has the purpose of putting someone down. And then you just saw in the last episode where it’s just like nonchalant, there’s just really cruel things being said about me that I think in the real world, these people would never… I mean, they’re wonderful people who would never say it — but in the game, it was happening. And it just gives credence to the whole concept of group-think and mob mentality where one person has a negative sentiment and a second person has it, it gives it credence.
And then suddenly it’s a whole group of people that have blinders on and are seeing things through another lens. And no matter how blue the sky is, if that group is saying that it’s red, it is red. Like there’s just no changing it. And what happened was it kind of morphed into this whole “We hate Karishma. We hate her and it doesn’t matter. This is how we feel and no matter what, this is how we’re gonna feel.” I put on a security blanket. I have to take responsibility for my own actions, and I protected myself with whatever defense mechanisms I had in me. But I put on that security blanket, I protected my heart, I put a wall up. I stopped doing work around camp to help others because you know, you are insulting me. You’re treating me like dirt.
I would bring back a pile of firewood and somebody would say, “Well, Karishma, we asked for smaller sticks. Why are you bringing back logs over?” I would weave a palm frond and somebody would walk by and take their foot on it and say, “When are you going to be done? How many are you going to do?” And it kind of felt like, “You know what? I’m not your servant. You’re treating me like crap everywhere. I’m going to go ahead and use this as a game strategy and see if I can create a perception of maybe being a goat and I get myself to the end with a couple of notches on my belt that I can reveal at final Tribal.” And it became kind of like a game strategy. But along with it I had to build tougher skin because I knew along with that strategy I was going to take a lot of hits.
Take us through that last Tribal Council there, because everyone seems to be whispering and yelling and having side conversations — and yet you’re just sitting there quiet with all the madness happening around you. What was going on and why were you so still and silent?
Well, Dalton, didn’t you hear me? I said it before: Chaos is a ladder. You got to let the chaos happen. What was happening was Noura was digging her own grave. In my opinion, I think Noura was doing a good enough job at spitting out a lot of things that just didn’t make sense. And to her credit, she was fighting. She got caught in a lie and she was doing everything she could. But in my opinion, none of the things she was saying were making sense. The more she said, the more she sounded like a liar. And to my own detriment, I gave credit to the people around me in that I thought they’re going to figure it out.
Enjoy an exclusive deleted scene form the episode above, and also make sure to check out our full episode recap and weekly Q&A with host Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.