The 40 Most Influential Survivors: Shirin Oskooi

Shirin Oskooi

Worlds Apart, Cambodia

To celebrate the 40th season of Survivor, we’re counting down the 40 Most Influential Survivors to ever play the game. Because Survivor is a game, a tv show, and a rabid fandom, we’re taking all forms of influence into consideration for this list. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. Note: this list is presented in chronological order and there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.

Shirin Oskooi is the 35th entry in this series.

Over its first 29 seasons, Survivor had cast many fans of the show- they even had two seasons subtitled “Fans vs. Favorites” (and one of those seasons actually had some Survivor fans). But as a general rule, those fans of the show were rarely allowed to talk much about the show’s history; the idea that people watching the show might have seen and been influenced by previous seasons was apparently far too sophisticated a concept for the core CBS audience. Thus, fans of the show were often just the types that would tell you how excited they were to be there because they’d watched the show forever.

Oh, and also “fans of the show” were men. You want to be cast as the Fan of Survivor archetype? Gotta have a penis. At least for the first 29 seasons. Then, casting stumbled upon a crazy idea: “What if fan, but like, BIG fan? Also, what if woman?”

Enter Shirin Oskooi.

Shirin and Jeff Probst do a pregame inverted bomb dance
Probst gets it. The others, not so much.

Shirin was the first woman that the show ever identified as a “superfan”- an easy single-word descriptor that lets other fans know that you are a better fan than they are at being a fan of something. Worlds Apart was the first time the show and its players leaned into the term, so much so that The Ringer’s even included “superfan” in his Survivor dictionary. Casual fans merely watch the show. Superfans like Shirin didn’t just watch Survivor. Shirin had seen all the seasons, analyzed the game and its familiar patterns, and was determined to change it. And when she made the merge and was treated to a Survivor auction, she finally got her chance.

Shirin realized that the Survivor auction could easily be broken by collective action. Big Daddy Capitalism Probst wants you to bid on an item? “What if,” Shirin asks in her best labor-organizing voice, “we all collectively decide that we will only pay a set amount for an item?” You know what happens? Big Daddy Capitalism Probst caves in to your demands. Shirin managed to get everyone a letter from their loved one for the bargain basement price of just $20. Shirin had broken the auction, and the show has given up on auctions because of Shirin’s actions.

Big Momma Socialism

Survivor allowed Shirin to be meta in that moment, talking about the show’s history within the show itself. Until its 30th season, Survivor only very rarely allowed discussion of its own history to make the final edit. By Worlds Apart, blogs, podcasts, and social media had allowed the fandom to go deeper. Perhaps more importantly, the show’s audience had hit a plateau. While that may sound like a negative, it was actually an admirable achievement to hold onto a stable audience as ratings were falling across the board for network shows. To be a top-rated show, all Survivor needed to do was cater to its core audience of loyal viewers. And if all they needed to do was keep the fans they already had, they could allow the show to become self-referential.

But even as the show dipped its toes into allowing its players to openly engage in such meta behavior, it still left out some things. In podcasts and on Twitter, Shirin was quick to discuss the tendency for a woman to be voted out first on Survivor, and the struggles that women have in a final tribal council against men. The show itself was far less interested in airing discussions of the disadvantages faced by women in the game- after all, that would imply that the game or the show might somehow need to change to make the playing field more equal. Yes, women were often targeted first. Sure, any time a showmance formed, it was the women that were voted out. Ok, the clothing the female players are given made it harder for them both from a survival standpoint (less clothing means they suffer more in the rain and cold) and a strategic standpoint (an idol can’t be hidden in your pocket if your outfit lacks pockets). But it’s not that they were being unintentionally sexist, it’s the women who were wrong, the show’s overwhelmingly male production team agreed.

The additional concern with having Shirin (or any other woman) discuss sexism on the show, of course, is that sexism is a political issue. And if you’re trying to attract a broad network audience, you tend to shy away from any political topics. Those tweets and podcast appearances turned Shirin into a political topic. Those who ignore or benefit from sexism were quick to denounce Shirin and suggest that they knew the real truth- that she deserved the treatment she got in Worlds Apart (looking at you, shitheads on r/Survivor). Others (me, for instance) liked that Shirin was discussing issues that were otherwise ignored. But as discussion of Shirin turned into an online ragefest, the fact that she was a fun, nerdy, quirky character on Survivor got lost in the fog of war.

Challenge beast.

One of the first times we see her on the show, she’s telling her tribemates about watching monkeys fuck! And she acts it out!

There was pelvic thrusting!

She even goes full Winnie the Pooh and lets her lower half air out in front of her tribemates.

While the online fandom may have forgotten this, the show’s casting team did not. Another of Shirin’s undeniable influences on the show was the establishment of the quirky female superfan archetype. There is a direct line from Shirin in Worlds Apart and Cambodia to Aubry in Kaoh Rong, Hannah in Millennials vs. Gen X, Kellyn in Ghost Island, and Angelina in David vs. Goliath. And considering that you’re on this site and reading this post, you’re likely in the group that hopes this casting trend continues.

Who else made the list?

You can see each entry on the list by clicking this link.