Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire: Kelly Shinn talks about her infamous 'purple edit' in Nicaragua
With Survivor filming for seasons 41 and 42 indefinitely postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, EW is reaching back into the reality show’s past. We sent a Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire to a batch of former players to fill out with their thoughts about their time on the show as well as updates on what they’ve been up to since. Each weekday, EW will post the answers from a different player.
Now you see her, now you don’t. Unfortunately for Kelly Shinn, it was more of the latter on Survivor: Nicaragua. The lively nursing student — I can vouch for the “lively” part, having interviewed her on location before the game — appeared (or didn’t?) on season 21. The continued absence of Kelly (who became known as Purple Kelly due to the streaks in her hair and the presence of another Kelly on the season) during episodes led to the creation of the infamous "purple edit” — meant to signify whenever any other player since is barely seen on the show.
So it should come as no surprise that Kelly has strong feelings today when you ask her now how she feels about the edit she received on the show. “You mean the 'purple edit'?!" she asks. “I talked a lot, stayed strong in my alliance, and had a lot of fun with everyone — these people were my life for weeks. CBS did themselves a disservice by giving me the edit they did.”
And then, one of the few times producers actually did show her, it was out of context. “During the finale episode, they made it look like I was talking with one person when in fact it was directed at someone completely different,” says Kelly. “That was disappointing. I think you get the drift — not thrilled about the edit I was given, but I've also enjoyed proving myself to others. I am not what CBS tried to make me look like, and for that I am very proud!”
But Kelly does have plenty of stories about things that did happen out on the island, even if they never made it to TV, and she shared them with us in her Survivor Quarantine Questionnaire. She also talks about why she needed to take some time off after Survivor before reconnecting with her reality TV family. Read on to hear more from Kelly than you heard during her entire run on the show!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, give the update as to what you’ve been up to since appearing on Survivor.
KELLY SHINN: Since appearing on Survivor, I finished school, became an RN, and am currently working as an ER nurse in one of San Diego's level 1 trauma centers. It's wild and amazing, and to this day I still have patients recognize me. How crazy is that?!
I moved from Hawaii, back to Arizona, and then out to California where I bought my first beachy condo — that's been an adventure all in itself. There's also been a lot of traveling since Survivor — any chance I get, I'm somewhere new. I've spent a month traveling Italy, Bali, road-tripping across the United States, the East and West Coast, playing down in the Caribbean, and picking up and getting away to Mexico on a last minute’s notice. Life has been good to me.
That being said, Survivor was a huge eye-opening experience for me. As I'm sure you know, not all of it was positive. After it aired, I stayed in Hawaii, finished school, and basically didn't touch the fact I had been on a reality TV show whatsoever — ignoring almost everything and everyone related to it. I did do a couple of photo shoots/advertisements, but even that much attention seemed more than I wanted.
It wasn't until I moved back to the mainland, two years post-Survivor, that I started to connect with the fans that had been so welcoming and wonderful at our Survivor finale that I couldn't ignore it any longer. I had been convinced I needed to attend this reality charity event, "Hearts of Reality." So I flew out to Florida and not only reconnected with some of my fellow castmates, but made friends with so many other wonderful reality people and reality TV fans — I decided I had been missing out on a wonderful family. I realized I could use my platform to help others and that these people are seriously wonderful.
I've since attended nearly a dozen reality charity events, raising over thousands of dollars for people in need. Most frequently, "Hearts of Reality" — a wonderful event based in Kissimmee, Fla. If you love reality TV and you have the chance to attend, I would highly recommend making that weekend a priority.
What is your proudest moment ever from playing Survivor?
My proudest moment was in episode 10 — although it was a team effort — winning the reward challenge. It was a helicopter ride to the volcano and was absolutely my happiest, most proud moment. We did it! We won! There was food, fresh water, warmth in the helicopter, and everything in life seemed just perfect.
Not necessarily "proud," but definitely memorable are the evenings spent together on the beach. We had found this long plank board that we made to be our dinner table. We would lay dinner (a.k.a. the giant mud crabs) out on this plank, sit on the beach during sunset, say a prayer, and enjoy eating together. It was so normal, it was so wonderful, and the sunsets always seemed to be so out of this world. We could see the rain rolling in, but in that moment our bellies were being fed and we were having normal life conversations. Life was good. Until the rain started.
What is your biggest regret from your Survivor experience?
My dress! Many of you probably know, Survivor asks you to send them an "interview outfit." Thinking this was an outfit I would be interviewed in, I sent them one of my favorite dresses that also fit within the required color scheme they had given me. This was that dang yellow dress that I lived in for my time on Survivor. I definitely regret not doing more research into this. Who knew I'd be tricked like that! I froze! I also wore Fabio's jacket for the majority of my time on Survivor — that's one reason he earned my million-dollar vote.
What’s something that will blow fans’ minds that happened out there in your season but never made it to TV?
There are SO many little clips that would have been wonderful to air but didn't make it to TV. Here are a few of the things that come to mind:
—Benry swinging on a vine in the middle of the jungle and having it break. This still makes me laugh out loud.
—Fourth of July, we had a little mini-concert at our shelter. Chase sang songs that we requested, and we used random tree mail supplies to create beats. We waited for fireworks, from any surrounding beach... they never came.
—I also specifically remember during one of the Tribal Councils, Jeff Probst had the producers stop filming! At which point, he proceeded to yell at us how this was going to be the worst season of Survivor ever if we didn't give him more of what was actually going on back at camp and all the juicy goodness he knew we were bottling up.
—I stepped on a thorn so long it required serious help from Jane to get it out. She was my immediate go-to and to this day, I'm thankful for her. I then later received medical attention for it prior to a challenge. They dressed it in antibiotics and a wrap all discreetly under my orange tennis shoe. I wasn't to take my shoe off so the bandages could be seen.
—Something I wish they aired in some aspect, but did not, was the bus ride we took from Orquidea del Sur (Ponderosa) to the airport. It was on that bus that we all received our letters from home. SO EMOTIONAL. My mom and dad each wrote me a letter, that I still have, and that still means so much to me. They also stamped the paw prints of my two Great Danes and two kitties onto a letter. Anyone that knows me knows that my animals have always been my world. I was, at that point, more excited than ever to get back home to Arizona and start this "new" post-Survivor life and the process of readjusting.
How do you feel about the edit you got on the show?
You mean the "purple edit"?! I talked a lot, stayed strong in my alliance, and had a lot of fun with everyone — these people were my life for weeks. CBS did themselves a disservice by giving me the edit they did. However, it did spark the "purple edit." This refers to a "mostly invisible character." Also speaking of editing — during the finale episode, they made it look like I was talking with one person when in fact it was directed at someone completely different. That was disappointing. I think you get the drift — not thrilled about the edit I was given, but I've also enjoyed proving myself to others. I am not what CBS tried to make me look like, and for that I am very proud!
What was it like coming back to regular society after being out there? Was there culture shock or an adjustment coming back?
The culture shock was real. Survivor is such an experience — beautiful, wild, and ugly. You're out of the country and without any contact with civilization for over 50 days. Survivor becomes life at that point. I remember the exact moment, seeing my reflection for the first time. I could hardly believe I was staring at myself. I looked so... different. I was starved, dirty, exhausted, and a different person.
Eating became the first adjustment. Each meal would make me so sick — my body just was not used to the intake — that I had to really take it slow. Trying to get used to texting again became one of the next challenges. Who knew you'd have to readjust to texting?! It was overwhelming! I often found myself flustered and not using my phone at all. I then had to get used to people recognizing me in public. That was not something I was prepared for, but I welcomed everyone, sometimes bashfully, but was usually eager to talk about my experience.
Then there was the first time it rained while being back home. I did not welcome it like I once had. In fact, it seemed a bit traumatizing. I since love the rain again. A couple of things have stuck with me: I will not go anywhere without a jacket. I refuse to be cold. I also refuse to be hungry. The abundance of snacks I constantly have on me is often commented on by my co-workers and friends. No way in heck do I ever want to be hungry again.
Something else that has also stuck is my appreciation for this life. I am so beyond blessed. I remember winning that helicopter reward challenge and flying over some of the most poverty-ridden areas I have, to this date, ever seen. Not every day is wonderful, but I am definitely well aware it could be a heck of a lot worse. I'm not cold, hungry, or alone — nor do I ever need to be again.
Was there ever a point either during the game or after you got back where you regretted going on the show?
The very first night on Survivor, it poured and poured and poured. I had never been in such a downpour. I had fully regretted being out there that first night. However, the sun came out that next day and from then on, not once did I regret any of it. I took everything day by day and learned from each moment. I made the most of it. I went out there looking for an adventure, and I sure as heck got it.
Whom do you still talk, text, or email with the most from your season?
We just had an amazing 10-year reunion Zoom — also for the Hearts of Reality charity event, about 14 of us joined in. We spent some time, prior to broadcasting live, to catch up and just chat. I loved it! I swear, we all look the exact same as we did 10 years ago — nobody has aged and we all picked up right where we left off, not skipping a beat.
I do loosely keep in touch with many of my castmates though. I've seen Holly at charity events, Dr. Jill also at one of the events, I was a part of NaOnka’s wedding in Vegas, enjoyed Chase's concerts in Arizona, still get Christmas cards from Marty. I love these people! I'm closest with Nay, we bonded early on in the show and we've kept in touch checking in on each other periodically.
Do you still watch Survivor, and if so, what’s your favorite season you were not on and why?
I will occasionally tune in, but I have to say, it's not often. It seems like the Survivor seasons most recently have gotten so many rewards and luxuries that it's a bit frustrating. Maybe I'm just jealous? I'm looking forward to seeing what's to come of Survivor post-COVID and hoping it gets back to more of the "original" Survivor, like the first 21 seasons.
Who’s one player from another Survivor season you wish you could have played with or against and why?
If I could play alongside Russell Hantz, I have no doubt we'd both make it the final 3. Plus, he's a total Survivor icon. His track record proves he can do it, but we'd make a great team and great TV. We met at a Hearts of Reality event and had so much fun. He's feisty, not necessarily liked (sorry, Russell — great person to bring the final 3), but he's loyal to the end. We've been friends for almost 10 years and it is never a dull moment. I appreciate his friendship a lot and know that we'd kick ass out on an island together.
If you could make one change to any aspect of Survivor, what would it be and why?
I would love Survivor to be recorded live with video so that fans can tune in online 24/7 and see what's going on, what the weather is like, what we are doing and talking about during the days of no challenges, how we spend our nights, campfire talk, etc. I think it'd increase fan involvement and people would have a way better idea what it's like out there — rather than three days of filming crammed into a one-hour episode weekly.
Finally, would you play again if asked?
Absolutely. As much as I say I don't ever want to spend another night sleeping on the ground, I'd be a fool to pass up such an opportunity. I've grown so much over the last 10 years. I was 20 years old when I played! What did I really know about life?
I'd go out there with a similar game plan — have integrity, fly under the radar, be friends with everyone (this is naturally my personality) and enjoy the ride. However, I'd be stronger within my alliance, mentally prepare for the starvation and struggles (because now I know this is what Survivor entails), and physically bulk up prior to going out there. I don't know if you guys remember in my interviews (CBS didn't want me to admit this publicly because being recruited was apparently frowned upon), but I had never actually seen Survivor prior to playing.
I asked my tribemates on multiple occasions, "What’s the merge?" They talked about it with such excitement and I was dying to know! Thankfully, I found out what the merge was, how amazing the merge feast is, and the sense of accomplishment in creating your own tribe name and flag — and then further on, the importance this played in voting for the million-dollar winner. I'd happily accept another merge feast in my lifetime.