Sandra-Diaz Twine has won Survivor twice. Kim Spradlin may have given the most dominant single-season performance ever. But for my money, the best Survivor player goes by the name of Parvati Shallow. When I interviewed the cast of Heroes vs. Villains before the game began, the player they feared the most was Parvati, and yet she still made it all the way to the end.
Parvati’s success in the game came from her lethal mix of social and strategic gameplay, mixed with an impressive endurance challenge résumé. But that was all a decade ago. Since then, the player who was branded as the most notorious flirt in Survivor history has gotten married (to Survivor: Samoa’s John Fincher) and become a mother. While Parvati never planned to play again, she was finally lured back for Survivor: Winners at War to both allow her Survivor-loving husband to live vicariously through her and prove that moms can have big epic adventures too. (The increased financial guarantee didn’t hurt either.)
But how will a 36-year-old Parvati be a different player this time around when the show premieres on Feb 12? Why was she not getting a good vibe from Sandra before the game? And which women is she looking to recruit into the Black Widow Brigade 2.0? We spoke to the legend out in Fiji before filming began and learned that “haters gonna hate.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Give everyone the update because you do have some big updates since people last saw you on the show.
PARVATI SHALLOW: Yeah, really big updates. It’s been 10 years. A lot of things have changed. Probably the biggest things that have changed are I have made the commitment of a lifetime. I’ve gotten married and I have a baby, a 10-month-old little baby girl. She’s the love of my life.
How hard was it for you to make the decision to come out here? First off, even pre-baby, because you and I have talked about this for years before you had a kid and you were like, “I’m done.” And now to come back and have a young child at home, I’m sure it was a very difficult decision for you.
I mean, anyone who’s a parent — you’re a parent, you know what it’s like to have kids. And I didn’t until I had one, and now that I have one I’m with her all the time. And up until a couple of months ago, I was breastfeeding her exclusively. We were super connected, and when I got the call to come back to play the game, I was like, “No. What?” That’s so out of the realm of where I am in my life right now that it didn’t even register as a real possibility.
And then as just days went by, I just kept thinking about it and then it was like some kind of rot in a tree that just kept rotting away. It was eating me up. I was like, “All right, I guess I have to consider this, because I can’t stop thinking about it.” So I had some conversations. I talked to my husband [John Fincher], who has also competed on Survivor, and he was very excited about the opportunity of me coming back, because he really wants to come back.
Yeah, he’s jealous a little bit, right?
He’s a little jealous, but then also, it’s kind of like how parents will sort of make their kids live out their dreams for them. There’s some of that going on. So I think that he is pushing me to live out one of his unfulfilled dreams. And so for me, part of me was like, “No, I can’t. How can I do this? She’s too young. I’m still breastfeeding. I just want to be a mom right now.” And the other part of me is, “But I’m more than that.” And Survivor and winning Survivor and losing Survivor in a heartbreaking way is part of who I was before I had a baby. So making sure that I come out here and do this is also me reconnecting with my own sense of self in a way that is different from mom me.
How concerned are you that you’re going to get out there and we’re going to get to day 13 and it’s going to be raining and you’re going to be cold and you haven’t slept and you’re going to be very emotionally vulnerable and then that separation is going to hit you? Because, as you know, your emotions are so amplified out there. Are you worried about that?
Yeah. I mean, I’ve already cried in an interview and I’m fully fed and basically slept. I know I’m going to melt down. And I also think that’s okay. No one’s ever seen that side of me playing this game. That’ll be a new version of myself to expose, and I doubt that I’ll have any control over that at all. I’m sure that I’ll have a moment of weakness where I’ll be vulnerable and the producers will pull me aside and we’ll have an interview where I break down crying and all I can do is weep about my baby.
You and I have known each other for a long time now, and if you’re going to do really easy labels on a player, when you used to play this game, it’d be what? The flirt. That was it, especially in Cook Islands. Now you’re married, you have a kid. You’re so different now. That has to mean you’re different as a player, right?
It has to mean that. I don’t know what that really means. I don’t know what kind of box people can put me in because I doubt they’ll put me in the mom box, because typically in Survivor, the mom box is more for women who are a little more out of shape, who only identify with their children, which I think is bull. Honestly, I think mothers are the most powerful of all of the species now that I’ve come through that experience and had only just had a short time in the arena.
I think it’s an incredible accomplishment and achievement of a lifetime to be a mom. So I don’t know how they’re going to place me in the show categories. But for me, in my own mind, I’m going to be myself. And I think people just feel like I’m flirting with them even when I’m not. And now that there’s this barrier of, “Oh, I’m married, Oh, I have a child” maybe it’s safer for them to allow that relationship to develop with me and with them. And maybe they feel less threatened by that.
How do you think other players will see you now?
I think I’m an easy target. I’m an easy person for everyone to point their guns at so that the guns aren’t pointing at them. So I had that sense that a lot of people are looking at me like, “Oh, well she’s dangerous. She’s been voted in the top few winners of all time over and over and over again. We got to get her out so that we can take out one of the bigger threats in the game.” And, I get it. I get it. I understand and I see why they think that. And I also hope that I can use that to my advantage and just say, “Hey, the obvious choice isn’t always the right choice. Let’s think a little bit deeper here.”
What’s your biggest weakness then?
I think my weakness will probably be similar to some other people’s weaknesses, that the game is moving really fast now. I was on 20 and now it’s 40, so it’s been 10 years since I’ve played, and the game started moving super lightning fast. So one of my weaknesses is I have never found an idol without a clue. I’ve never just gone hunting in the jungle and looked for an idol and found one. I’ve never had to keep up with the pace of the game where it’s like you can’t sleep at night because Rick Devens is climbing up in a tree, getting an idol up over your head and if you fall asleep, you’re the bozo who let him save himself the next vote.
Well, you’re used to not getting sleep. You’ve got a young baby at home.
I know, so that’s something that I’m going to just remind myself that I’m capable of, but there’s also the starvation. There’s also the paranoia and the mistrust, and every time I’ve played the game, I’ve had people that I could trust, that I could work with, and I’ve really heavily gone out on a limb for those people and it’s been fine. It’s worked out for me. So I think in this season, if I misplace that trust and I put it in the wrong person’s hands, then that could be really foolish and that could burn me.
As we know, you and Sandra have a history from Heroes vs. Villains, so let’s start there. How do you think that plays out?
God, man. I don’t get a good vibe from Sandra. I really don’t.
Do you think that’s because of your experience playing together before or do you think it’s just because you are also seen as competition when people talk about the best players ever? Or do you think it’s both?
That’s a good question. I think it might be both. I think it might be. We have history from playing together and the history was not … We weren’t on the same side ever, so we didn’t really hit it off in the beginning of the last game that we played. So why would we hit it off this time? And she goes around, running around talking about how she’s the queen all the time and I’m like, “Fine, whatever.” I don’t have anything to prove to Sandra or to anyone else about being the queen. And also, as soon as she took that and put a crown on her head, I don’t want to be the queen anymore. I’d rather be like Arya Stark and go and slay the Night King and that might be Sandra this time.
Sandra’s the Night King?
What about the other women that you’re here with? Is there anyone here that you’re thinking, I really would like to work with this person?
I would love to work with Kim. I really would. And I hope that she is open to working with me because I just think that we could get a lot done together. She’s smart, she’s really likable, she’s super strong. She seems like a loyal person. I know she has connections with people from outside of the game, so I know she has friendships with people that are in this game. So that would be helpful.
I want to work with people who are different from me. So I think Kim would be an easy one because people will assume that we would probably connect. She’s a mom, I’m a mom. We’re similar age and stuff. But there’s also people who I think that people won’t anticipate working with me. I don’t know if people know that Sophie and I have a relationship outside of the game. It’s possible that they do. But if they don’t know that, I doubt that people would put us together. But Sophie’s brilliant. I mean she reads a book an hour. She’s a superstar, strategic person, so I would love to work with her because I think we could do some great stuff. And Denise, I think.
Denise, I just think she’s such an outlier that not a lot of people will assume that she’s a big personality. She’s not a big personality. She’s not a big threat, but she’s really strong. She’s got some energetic intensity. I see her running laps around Ponderosa and I’m like, “I want to know what makes you tick.” I just am really fascinated and curious about Denise.
So one thing that we haven’t really spoken about as you’re coming back to play after 10 years away, there have been a lot of changes in the game as we spoke about earlier, but what about just being in the spotlight again? Twitter was just starting out when you were last on. I’m sure that’s a consideration when you take on this whole thing. There are great advantages to it in terms of your having a bigger profile, but there can also be downsides with people talking about you online, which is not always pleasant. You’re pretty good about brushing that stuff off, but you have a child that one day who is maybe going to see this all on television. How did all of that impact your decision?
It’s a really good question and it’s something that I did consider because I don’t love that aspect of it. I don’t really like all of the stuff that comes with Survivor, because this is a vulnerable game to play. I’m totally exposed out here. I’m in my weakest moments and I’m saying stuff that I’m like, “Oh, damn, I shouldn’t have said that.” And then it’s on TV and it’s like, “Oh, I would not have said that. If I could take that back, I really would like to take that back.”
I mean I know that it’s part of it, it’s just tough to think about when I think about I have a child now and someone that I really care about to model a good example for, and also I’m here to win. So there’s that ambivalence about, do I play in a way that my daughter can be proud of and look up to me and say, “Oh, my mom is noble and honorable”? Or do I play to win?
But what is noble and honor in this game? I know there are heroes and villains, and you are literally dubbed a villain, even though you and Cirie did the same thing and she was a hero. That’s a whole other conversation. You were dubbed the villain. But what does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Because it is a game and emotions are going to come out. So there are game moves and there’s what you’re talking about also in terms saying things about people maybe behind their back, and what have you. But I don’t know how you make the determination afterwards in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Yeah, I mean that’s what this game is. It’s a pretty dark arena to be playing and brings out some not so pretty sides of people’s personalities out here. It’s a game of scarcity. One person can win, kill or be killed. So the survival instinct takes over and there’s a lot of brutality that goes along with that. Plus, it’s like a gossip arena. And the more you can gossip and make other people look bad, the more they might keep you around because they want to get rid of the people that are bad. So that’s how the game is played. It has to be. In my experience, I’ve never seen anyone play an honest, straight-up forthright game who hasn’t lied or deceived or cheated anyone and make it to the end. You have to lie and deceive and cheat in this game, and I know that coming back in. So it’s kind of like, haters gonna hate.
What’s your ultimate goal out here besides winning? What does it for you outside of winning that has you back here?
I really want to reconnect with the version of myself that is myself, and I want to learn about who she is now that she’s gone through the decade since last I’ve played, gone through all of the ups and downs, stepped into marriage, had a baby. I’m so different. So I’m really curious to see: Who am I going to be?
Although having the baby made you more hesitant naturally to come out here, is it also a case of, “I want to have one more great adventure. It’s the time to do it. It’s season 40, it’s a big thing. I’ve been devoting myself to child, I’m going to continue to devote myself to the child, but let me just go have one more big adventure”? Is there any aspect of that, or am I just making crap up now?
No, you’re on. You’re on. There are so many reasons why I’m back, and that is definitely one of them, because I can feel myself being sucked into the current of motherhood that’s very strong and it narrows the scope of my life in a big way because I’m consumed by this little sweet, beautiful child who is just the best.
And also, part of me is like, “Wait a minute, who am I? What do I stand for in addition to being a mom to this baby?” What example do I want to set for her that when she’s a mom, she knows she can step out of her new motherhood life and go out and adventure and explore and be brave and courageous to put herself out there and take risks and live life, because that’s what it’s here for. And I also want to, I hope, serve as an example for other mothers who have maybe been putting that side of themselves aside.