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Shantel ‘Shan’ Smith Post-Elimination Interview (2021)

At long last, Survivor 41 has arrived! Every week, Parade.com’s Mike Bloom will bring you interviews with the castaway most recently voted off of the island.

“Hmm hmm hmm, hmm hmm hmm.”

It obviously doesn’t translate to page, but this was the song running through Shan Smith’s head every time she was up to something mischievous on Survivor. Call it an island hymn for the pastor. And given her eventful 19 days in season 41, she ended up humming it a lot. Going to Tribal Council four times premerge, she cultivated many relationships into a power position when the merge hit. From then on, her tune began to crescendo, so much so that the other players began to overhear it (quite literally in this last episode). Eventually, they combined their forces to stop Shan and her music, as some of her closest allies completely blindsided her.

Hitting the beach at Ua, Shan used her active listening and persuasion skills from her pastoral day-to-day to put herself at the Survivor pulpit. Everyone felt close with her at one point, and despite going to Tribal four times, she never received a vote against her. Unfortunately, their multiple dates with Jeff Probst meant that Shan had to make some tough decisions about which allies to keep around. Despite unwavering loyalty, information, and even advantages from Brad Reese, JD Robinson, and Genie Chen, she got rid of them all in favor of her number one ally: Ricard Foyé. Though the two would get into tense spats from time to time, they still had an inherent trust in each other. But little did Shan know at the time she was bringing to the merge the very person who would pivotally stab her in the back.

After a torrid series of events at the merge, Shan continued to find herself in a great position. She joined up with Liana Wallace, with whom she had an incredibly powerful afternoon with the previous round. The two of them then joined up with Danny McCray and Deshawn Radden, in the hopes of getting the four remaining Black players to the end. But Shan soon found a much bumpier road on her new tribe than her old one. Two times she consented to the targeting choices of her allies, even if she disagreed with them. And even so, they considered her the mouthpiece of the majority, someone whose position and resume were growing too far out of reach. And so, at the final eight, everything broke. Ricard won immunity after being targeted by Danny and Deshawn for his closeness to Shan. When Shan found out about this, she momentarily targeted Deshawn, which came back to the two guys. And with safety around his neck, Ricard decided this was his “now or never” moment to get rid of his closest ally. And so, forces from all over the tribe came together to blindside Shan, the biggest power play of the season that had her walking out of Tribal with an idol in her overalls.

Now out of the game, Shan talks with Parade.com about how much she saw her betrayal coming, how she feels about Ricard and the move he made, and her response to being called “bossy” by her fellow players and fans.

Related: Read our Survivor 41 pre-game interview with Shan Smith.

So you come into Tribal Council with a plan for an Erika blindside, and you leave with an idol in your pocket. What made you feel like you didn’t need to play it this past round, especially after you just voted Naseer out with his the round before?
The truth is, I wasn’t feeling very secure. That morning, I had a conversation with Deshawn where he promised me and swore on the culture that he was going to vote with me. I doubled down, too; I was like, “I’m in it.” He had student loans; a few years earlier, I was homeless. But we were both in it for the culture. This is what I do. I’m an activist; I was leading the marches in L.A. for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. After seeing the episode, I can see what he was thinking and what happened. And it was really was that pivotal conversation with Liana where she told me they were coming for me that made everything more hectic. But even then, I circled back to them and said, “Let’s stick together.” For me, when he swore on the mission that way, I was so locked in.

What they didn’t show was, after the challenge, I was actually really sick. I had that one conversation, and I was with the medics the rest of the afternoon. I came back maybe ten minutes before Tribal. I really wasn’t anywhere on the beach. So when I got to Tribal, I was trying to recover from my visit to medical. I wasn’t trying to read the room. I know people are asking, “Did she not play her idol because of ego?” No! If I had been on that beach that day, I probably would have played my idol. But I wasn’t around. It was a fantastic episode! It made me weep. I’m still in my feels about it! (Laughs.) They didn’t air me being sick, and that’s fine. I still feel the episode was very true and authentic to what took place. But I wasn’t there for any of it, and at Tribal, I was feeling very dizzy and not at my best.

Let’s go back to the early days of the game. You became the most well-connected person on Ua and talked about how difficult it was to pick and choose who went home. Talk to me more about that premerge.
In the pregame, I was so shell shocked. I was so terrified that I was going to go into this game, and my M.S. was going to flare up. I was so terrified that I’d get in this game, and I would have to play alone, and no one would want to work with me. I never thought in a million years I would have gotten the screentime that I got, that I would have had the relationships that I had.

The truth is it was one conversation with Jeff Probst in the pregame. I was in tears, asking if I should do this. He said to me, “Shan, you can cry all you want now. But when you get on that beach, you pop open that top and let that S on your chest show. You become Supergirl; you become Wonder Woman at that moment.” And I really took that to heart. He’s like, “Remember, this is your game. This is your show.”

So when I got to the beach, I was like, “I’m gonna own this. I’m gonna become Wonderwoman on this beach, and I’m just gonna play my heart and have fun.” I remembered the best players play this game the way that they live their lives. So I just thought, “Shan, live your life. Make the relationships that you’re gonna make, but then make the hard decision at the end of the day.” And that’s what I did.

So I can imagine all those relationships you built on Ua were genuine.
People wonder whether the father-daughter relationship between Brad and I was real. I learned so much from Brad, like how to make fire and fish. Genie was my best friend out there, and is until this day. I love that girl. JD was my little brother. All these relationships were so real on the beach. Nobody believes people when they say that unless they compete. But I wore my heart on my sleeve. I shared my life with them. I felt connected to them. When it came to Tribal, I just made the hard decisions. I always thought, “You have to do what’s best for you and move forward in this game.” But all my relations with all those people were absolutely real. I love them all.

Honestly, I don’t know how I did it. Sara, at one point, was like, “You’re a wizard!” And I’m not! (Laughs.) I just love hard. People love to be loved, seen, and heard. And I spent a lot of time just listening to stories. I’m just seeing them for where they were and who they were in their real lives. And I guess that translated to trust.

You end up getting rid of those people you mentioned in favor of Ricard, who is your number one ally right through he votes you out. Talk to me about your relationship, including all the arguments you had throughout the game.
Ricard and I were together from Day One. I just kind of fell in love with him. Nobody wanted to work with Ricard on Ua. Een going into the merge, he had a hard time making relationships. I really watched him struggle, and my heart honestly went out to him in that way. I felt like he was misunderstood by Genie, Brad, and J.D.

But I saw something in Ricard. I believe in what he shared with me about his life. And there was something about Ricard, where we could stand toe to toe as competitors and as game players. When I wanted to strategize, he wanted to strategize. It was such an interesting relationship because people would be like, “Oh, my goodness, they fight so much.” But Ricard was my husband on that island. We would fight, we would bicker. But at the end of the day, we were gonna move together no matter what.

It was like a marital relationship, and all respect to Andy and his loved ones. But that’s who he was to me. I loved him. So we would debate way more than you actually saw. But at the end of the day, we would say, “I love you, let’s do this.” We would move together. So it was a complicated relationship. But that’s my boo. I had a lot of fun playing with him. And his move was probably one of the best moves of the season.

Let’s go back to the conversation you mentioned with Deshawn and the idea of the Black alliance with Liana and Danny. In this episode, you both talked about how difficult it was to weigh standing for something outside of the game versus helping your pursuit for a million dollars. Talk to me about that struggle.
So for sure, I wanted the million. But more than winning the million–and people don’t believe this–I really just wanted to play Survivor. I love this game so much. I mean, Jeff Probst was a parenting voice in my life. When I was in foster care and group homes, his messages of “dig deep” and “keep pushing” really stuck with me. I really just wanted to play this game.

And I think with the Black alliance, that was the moment where my gameplay shifted from being an individual game to playing a group game for something bigger. The Black community had just gone through so much in 2020. I really wanted to prove to the world that Black people could come together and really work together and achieve greatness in this game. If not in the real world, where systems oppress us all of the time. So I was really sold for that mission.

Never in a million years did I think we’d ever vote against one another because I was just so locked in. I believed in Deshawn and what he said, that he wouldn’t sell us out. I know who he is in real life, and I know he’s a great person. And yet, at the same time, it was a really hard moment for me.

So at the point you were voted out, were you all-in on going to the end with the four, even at the cost of your own game?
In my perfect world, the final five was the Black alliance and Ricard kicking it on the side. I didn’t know what would happen at that point. But I actually told them, “Listen, if we get to the final four, I have won the game. You guys can take me out.” Nobody believed me, of course, and I certainly needed the money. But when it became about this mission, I felt if we got to the final four, I’ve won.

My dream is that we’re all on the cover of Oprah Magazine or something. It would never happen, but that’s my dream. So I said, “You guys can take me out at the final four. You’d have three at that point. I don’t care. I just want us to get there.” But we couldn’t. And Ricard was smart. He saw how much influence I had on our tribe. And he read the tea leaves right. And he made a great move.

Let’s talk about that influence, because the perception of you shifts a bit in the merged tribe. We hear from a couple of people how they felt you were being bossy and exercising your voice too much. What’s been your reaction to those remarks?
It’s so interesting. Everyone says, like, “Your game went downhill when you stopped listening to people. You didn’t have good listening skills.” But I really think that the truth is that my game actually started to tip downward when I did start listening to people! (Laughs</em).) When I knelt before Deshawn, I’ve never seen a man ever kneel before a woman in Tribal Council and say, “Whatever you want to do, we’ll do.” And I still get written off as not listening. I went with my alliance, I listened to them, which is just so ironic.

At the end of the day, when I think about the stronger players in the game, I think about Evvie, Ricard, Deshawn. I was another alpha amongst them, but I just had the relationships to move the game in the way I wanted it to go. I’m sure there are tons of Ricard confessionals where he said, “She’s not listening to me.” Because there were moments where I wasn’t listening to Ricard! Because I wanted to be part of the game, and I was trying to keep him safe.

I feel like Deshawn was a very sensitive player. And I don’t think it’s completely fair in that way. I can understand why they were showing it from Deshawn’s perspective. But I spent a lot of time on that beach trying to listen to Deshawn and really hear his feelings. There was a lot of time early in the morning when it would be me, him, and Danny sitting on the beach, and I really just tried and heard him out. It just never seemed like it was ever going to be enough for him. My hunch is that he just knew that I probably would have won the game if it was him and me in the final three.

So given that perception, how do you look back on your time in the game?
I was definitely a boss on that beach. I’m never gonna say I wasn’t a boss. I don’t know if I was bossy. But I was definitely the one strategizing. Seriously, Deshawn would walk up to us and say, “I don’t care who goes as long as it’s not me,” and then walk away. So then it’s just Danny and me strategizing. And of course, I’m going to play! I came to play Survivor. I didn’t come to become anyone’s “yes woman” and agree with everyone. But I came to play my game and play it well.

I think if any other man was playing, I don’t think that they get told they’re bossy. I’m a leader in every space that I occupy. That doesn’t mean that I don’t listen. If I didn’t listen, I wouldn’t have gotten this far in the game, you know, but it’s just that. I had an opinion; now, we can go back and forth about our opinion. And at the end of the day, I sided with them every time. I gave them what they wanted.

There’s obviously a lot to learn and grow from. In my life, I’ve always said, “Whatever’s on repeat is what you take into consideration.” And I spent a lot of time thinking, “Do I not listen in real life? Am I bossy?” But members of my congregation, my boyfriend, my loved ones all assured me that’s not who I am. In this game, there’s nowhere to hide. If you’re out there on the beach, and you’re strategizing, and you’re sharing your thoughts and your opinion, and you’re a woman, and you’re a woman of color, you’re gonna be pinned as someone dominant and bossy. But that’s not who I was.

I mean, if you had seen the Tiffany she was running around that beach, trying to gather numbers, you could call her bossy. But she’s not; she’s just playing her game. If anyone had any fodder to say things about me, it would be Ricard because we worked together a lot. But there were times where I felt bossed around by Ricard, like using my extra vote. But I went through with it because it’s good for my game. Because I want to work with him. And still, I’m bossy and not listening.

Next, check out our exit interview with Evvie Jagoda, who was voted out in Survivor 41 Episode 9.

https://parade.com/1300702/mikebloom/shantel-shan-smith-survivor-41-interview/ Shantel ‘Shan’ Smith Post-Elimination Interview (2021)

Ashley

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