Noura Salman was Survivor: Island of the Idols’ resident wild child. But she proved to be too wild for the jury, who did not award her a single vote for the million dollars, even though she won a season-high three individual immunity competitions — including the most important one at the end.
But while players may not have valued Noura, viewers certainly did as the loquacious free-spirit let her freak flag fly for 39 days while being a self-proclaimed “disrupter.” We spoke to the third-place finisher about making it all the way to end, why she couldn’t seal the deal, and if she would consider doing it all over again. She also talks about her rough reception at the final Tribal Council, most of which never made it to air.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congrats on making it all 39 days!
NOURA SALMAN: Last woman standing. Lots of big players that were women this season to try to beat.
How were you feeling about your chances when you first walked into that final Tribal Council?
I got to tell you, I got very psyched out by the bromance happening between Tommy and Dean. They were just laughing and having fun all day. And I’m like, “What is going on?” And I’m thinking to myself, I outwit, outlast, outplayed better than the two of them put together. So why are they going in so confidently? And I’m not? And in that moment you realize, like, “Damn, the jury doesn’t get it” and you’re going to have to really paint that picture well for them tonight. And if you don’t do that, you’re not going to make it happen. If you can achieve that; however, you can win. But walking in, I was not feeling confident. I knew I deserved to be there, but in that moment I didn’t feel like I deserved to win. And walking in with any doubt in your mind is not going to help you at all.
There’s always a lot we don’t see at the final Tribal Council and I heard it got pretty rough in there and rougher than what we saw. What do you remember from that night and some of the things that the jury was lobbing at you?
I remember every moment of this game. That Tribal had me for about an hour and a half, literally being attacked. Even the psychologists that are behind the show said, “Yes, you’re not crazy. That was an attack.” The thing is, I never took it personally. And 90 percent of what people do has nothing to do with you. It’s what they are going through. And you have to realize, so many people got taken out of the game in a harsh way. Even Karishma’s exit. You don’t see it, but that was a fully harsh exit. Janet’s just blockaded like that at the end when you think you’re in. Lauren, who thinks she’s got hurt. So many number ones that could take her to the end, don’t. So you got a lot of people, like Missy and Aaron, they’re bitter in that moment, they’re bitter. They’re not the people that I know them to be today.
So you’re walking in and they’re like, “What the heck? Noura is there, ahead of me?” And that’s what you’re going against. Now, you’re not walking in on the offensive like, “Hey, this is why I deserve to win. Hey, I have three immunity necklaces. Tommy has none. Dean has two.” Yeah, Dean, all these trinkets because he just followed the numbers. He never had any real strategy. He never made any moves of his own. Any big move, I gave him. He just stepped away because it wasn’t with big numbers that he felt comfortable with. And you realize, okay, I found an idol and I got it flushed. I had an idol play for me from someone who was coming at me the whole game that I turned around to then wanting to work with me. Who’s around camp doing anything? Me. Literally, day 39 breakfast. Noura made that breakfast. I’m a vegan making a carnivorous breakfast, for these other two guys.
When you look at that and you realize I’ve got solid relationships with everyone in that jury, I’m like, “Why would I not win?” The issue is the game that got me to the end wasn’t going to make me when I had to deliberate in a way that was convincing. And I did not convince that group who’s very heady and they’re very focused on the strategic play. And that’s where Survivor is today. They don’t care about outwit, outlast, outplay. And who did the best in all those areas like challenges. They care about who is that person that is moving the game? And they’re the strategist and they’re the maestro behind the moves. They want to know who that person is. And it was Lauren. And then when she’s out, it’s now Tommy.
It’s interesting because men have now won the last five seasons of Survivor. Not only that but in the last five seasons, there have been 52 votes cast at final Tribal Council. Of those 52 votes, men have gotten 50 of them. Is there anything to that or is that just a really weird coincidence?
I’ll say this: There’s a job out there and a guy’s like, “Okay. I have 70 percent of what this job requires and wants. I’m going to apply.” A woman sees that job and says, “I’ve got, like, 80 percent. I don’t have enough. I’m not going to apply.” They might have 85 percent, 90 percent and they’ll say, “No, I’m going to step away from it.” That is what happened. You have a Dean and Tommy who think more highly of themselves in their game than it actually was, and they can put on the theatrics that Rob and Sandra said to do that. You know, I didn’t get that amazing lesson that Dean got. And they’re blowing themselves up and talking themselves up, and a woman in her head is talking herself down. She’s saying where she missed the marks, where she’s not doing it and you don’t have to say a word.
We see it in your body language. A woman, like Sarah, that won, she came in like, “Oh, let me tell you”. Her presence was commanding. Her eye contact, her conviction. That’s what you need. And that’s what these women that you’re seeing, these final three, are not doing. When you see my body language, I’m looking down, my shoulders are closed, I’m crying. I’m barely looking at the jury. That is not going to win the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman. You need to be compelling and competent. And unfortunately, these men are talking themselves up and the women are talking themselves down.
And the biggest problem is the jury is making you walk into that and you can’t let them do that. I let them do that to me. They looked at me like, “Why do you deserve it? Tell us why. Why?” And you feel at that moment you don’t have any cheerleaders, and now you let them pave the future instead of you taking the reins and saying, “No. Let me tell you what’s up right now”. That’s where we go wrong as women in this game. I’ve got to say, there are other reasons too, but I think that’s what’s happening.
I have to ask: Are you a terrible liar? Because that lie when you came back from Island of the Idols was pretty damn terrible.
[Laughs] I’ll tell you, there are a few things going on there. I’m not a good liar and I’m actually proud of not being a good liar. As you know. I’m very candid and honest and transparent. The other thing is you got villains telling you that you should do it this way. You should do this or that technique. And what you don’t see is they actually had me practice them. Some of those directions that were given to me from Boston Rob, I used and people were like, “That sucks. That’s a s—y direction.” It’s not coming from me. It’s not. If it was coming from him, it’d be fricking brilliant. So bottom line is they came, they basically said, “This is what you should do.” And I was like, “Okay.” That’s just not Noura. That’s not my personality. It doesn’t suit me. It just wasn’t going to work.
What I would have done if I could do it over and say, “Hey guys, I know what the challenge is. If you give me the most pivotal role, I’ll get an advantage. It allows me to have an extra vote. If I don’t get that role, I’m going to lose my vote and that’s going to mess us up.” And last thing I’ll say: That group was never going to let me be the caller without me telling them all of those pieces. Because they felt Noura gets an advantage and if she’s the caller she’s going to get it. Or even in the game: She’s going to go behind some chair or whatever and have this advantage. So they didn’t want me even on the course. And that’s why they sat me out. I had no chance in hell.
One of my favorite moments of the entire finale was at that day 39 breakfast feast. And they always traditionally have everyone talking about their game and the journey. But I loved what you said when you called yourself a disruptor, and I thought that was really fascinating. I was wondering, was that intentional from a strategic standpoint, or is that just who you are?
It’s both. I’m an entrepreneur, and the only reason I’m successful in the spaces I’m in is because I have to do it differently. I have a nutrition bar that is in a market that’s saturated with bars. We have a million bars. Why am I starting to kill that game? Because I’m doing something different that has never been done before. And that’s why I did Survivor. I’m going to play an open game. I’m going to show you my cards. I’m going to tell you what’s going on and I’m going to play this game in a way that you’ve never seen before. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m not going to backstab you. When I have to walk away from you, I’m going to let you know. I’m going to say this is why we have to part ways, but I care for you. And I’m sorry. No one’s done it like this before.
When you enter the saturated game of Survivor where so many people have played, you have seen their gameplay. People played this game before where you didn’t even get to see how they played and now everyone’s got your repertoire. They see what you’ve done and you can binge-watch the heck out of all the seasons and know what’s up. How do you go in there and do it differently, and potentially when you do, you do it the Noura way? And that’s what I do, and that’s what’s made me successful. So I took it in this game and look at me — final three.
Maybe that will become the new Noura-mal. Okay, what happens when Jeff Probst calls you up and asks you to come back and play again?
I’m on a plane tomorrow. You send me my ticket, let’s go.
Watch an exclusive deleted scene from the episode above. Also make sure to read our episode recap, finale interviews with winner Tommy Sheehan, Dean Kowalski, Lauren Beck, Janet Carbin, and Kellee Kim, and scoop on next season from Jeff Probst. And for more Survivor intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
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