‘Survivor’ White Collar Shirin – “Morons Are Great to Play With”
Name: Shirin Oskooi
Current Residence: San Francisco, California
Occupation: Yahoo Executive
Gordon Holmes: I’m told there’s some special significance with your last name?
Shirin Oskooi: (Laughs) You may notice that my last name has three Os in it for Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.
Holmes: Hmm…my name has two Os in the first name and a third O in the last. I might steal that before this interview goes to press.
Oskooi: Doesn’t count!
Holmes: I’m stealing your gimmick.
Holmes: Yahoo Product Manager sounds super important. What does it entail?
Oskooi: It means that you’re like the CEO of your own product. You do everything from conception to launch to post launch. You have an idea and a vision and you work with designers and engineers. You work with marketing and PR. You work with users to collect their feedback. You figure out what’s missing in people’s lives, then you fill that gap for them.
Holmes: Much like someone would want to do on “Survivor.” How many people are under you?
Oskooi: (Laughs) I run the org of Yahoo Answers, so while I’m not their direct manager, I’m probably running a hundred people. A hundred people are executing my vision.
Holmes: Keeping a hundred people focused can’t be an easy task. Can that leadership apply to the game?
Oskooi: Oh yeah. Another thing about being a product manager is that you don’t have people reporting to you, so you have to lead by influence.
Holmes: How can you win people over in a situation where there is no corporate structure and there’s a goal that everyone shares, but only one person can achieve?
Oskooi: That’s very similar to how it was at Google. There’s nobody I can go to and say, “They’re not doing what I want them to do.” At the end of the day the engineers were king and they could do whatever the (expletive deleted) they wanted to do. It’s really about a couple of key things. My style is really befriending people and getting them to believe in me and trust in me. Not that they really can or should, but at the end of the day if you win someone over on a friendship level they’re going to have a much harder time (expletive deleted) you over. And you’re going to be able to have more frank conversations to get them to do what you want them to do. I don’t want to be bossy and tell people what to do. These people are going to be very type-A.
Holmes: Oh…so you’ve watched this show?
Oskooi: I’ve watched a ton. I want to have a one-on-one relationship with every player in this game. At best, that would be an actual friendship with all of them. And at worst, I want to have a working relationship with them. I don’t give a (expletive deleted) what I feel about them. I wanna have groups. A threesome here and go-to twosomes over here. I’m going to be constantly running these numbers in my head and adjusting as necessary.
Holmes: What are your early thoughts on this cast?
Oskooi: I’m pleasantly surprised and excited. There are a lot of fun, high-energy, youthful looking people. And when I say “youthful” I don’t necessarily mean age. There’s a positive energy here. And for me, I was hoping to play with people who are fun rather than a cast full of Phillips and me. (Laughs)
Holmes: That would be an adventure.
Oskooi: It would be challenging, but not enjoyable. There’s a girl here with a tattoo on her face. There’s a guy here with feathers in his hair. There’s a guy who’s like a beautiful specimen of man. He’s got Greek goddess hair and he’s tall. And beyond that, he’s friendly and gentlemanly. He’s got a first class ticket to the end. Because in spite of being attractive, he’s also so nice. You can tell that he’s outdoorsy and skillful and has an artistic side. He’s the kind of guy I want to work with. I want him to trust me. But, I’m going to have to (expletive deleted) him over. In JT’s season, everybody just wanted him to win. Nobody talked about voting him out. I think we’ve got a couple of people that if I want them out that nobody is going to be on board. I’m going to have to do some shady (expletive deleted).
Holmes: First thoughts on Nicaragua?
Oskooi: It’s beautiful. The weather has been perfect, which is a downer for me because I was hoping for pouring rain for days on end. I think that it’s going to break everybody down.
Holmes: And it won’t break you down?
Oskooi: I’ll be miserable. But I’ve been miserable plenty of times, including in cold, wet weather. And I can help people get out of a dark situation, or I can push people over the edge if I want them to quit.
Holmes: You don’t like “morons.”
Oskooi: It depends on the kind of moron. Morons are great to play with. You figure out what their needs are and make sure that they’re being met. It’s the stereotype that you get a couple of young girls who don’t know what they’re doing. They’re looking for mommy/daddy figures. As long as you’re keeping them happy and keeping them fed, they’re don’t realize they’re playing a game and will vote the way you want them to vote. It’s easy to get them to hate somebody. There’s one girl, she’s got a nose ring and short blonde hair, she reminds me of Kat. She walks and she will kick a rock and then be like “(expletive deleted)!” and then keep going.
Oskooi: And that just happened. I want her on my side. There’s no way that girl can win. She’s going to be a sore loser, she’s going to be a sore winner.
Holmes: Any issues with lying?
Oskooi: Lying comes easy to me. It’s like my first language. And because I’m such an expert at lying, I don’t believe in frivolous lying. I think people are going to come in thinking they need to make a big move and they’re going to lie a lot. It’ll be really easy to catch them in those lies. The easiest way is to let them run their mouths. And then a couple of days later you pick on a bunch of small things. And when you see their reaction you can see if they remember.
Holmes: You have a boyfriend at home, will that influence your ability to flirt?
Oskooi: I’m totally OK with flirting. But because I’ve had a boyfriend for four years, and we’re practically married, I haven’t had to be a sexual being to the world.
Holmes: You feel like a partner.
Oskooi: Right. And furthermore, for the majority of my adult life I was overweight by a lot…I was fat. I wasn’t attractive enough to use flirting to get ahead. And then there was a turning point where I lost a lot of weight and I learned how to flirt and how to use sexuality to get free drinks at a bar. So, I’m not opposed to doing that. I just don’t see myself in that way. I don’t think that I need to do that. It’s a tool that’s buried deeper down.
Holmes: You compared yourself to Jonny Fairplay and Rob Cesternino. I’m assuming that makes you an old school fan. Is it better to be a fan or to come in blind and open to more diverse possibilities?
Oskooi: I think if you know how to use the information that it’s an advantage. So for me, it’s an advantage. My boyfriend who watches the show because I make him, the more he watches, the worse the information he gives me. And he’s a brilliant guy. He has social aptitude. But for him, he does worse with more information. I think that’s a personality type. I know the twists and turns that have happened. I know what to read into and what not to read into. I know all the places the immunity idols have been hidden. As long as people don’t feel like I’m dangerous because of how much I know about the game, then it’s a tool. What I love about Rob Cesternino is that he had a one-on-one relationship with every single person at his camp. It wasn’t necessary friendship, but he had a relationship with everybody. That’s why he was able to flip as often as he did and as effectively as he did.
Holmes: He changed the game.
Oskooi: And another way where we’re alike is he was a big goofball.
Holmes: He still is.
Oskooi: (Laughs) But, I’m a big goofball.
Holmes: Any guesses as to what kind of twists Probst and his buddies might have in store for you?
Oskooi: It would be a twist to not have twists at this point.
Holmes: “Survivor: 30 – Twistless!”
Oskooi: Twistless! Back to season one. Pure…old school. That could happen. I just don’t think that will happen. I think they want to see people really squirm. I have a feeling that they might change the twists based on how the game is turning out. If they see one tribe that is way too successful, like maybe they’d do something to (expletive deleted) that tribe.
Holmes: So, “Survivor: 30 – (expletive deleted) Over Everybody.”
Oskooi: “(Expletive deleted) Over Everybody Constantly”…yeah.
Holmes: If you had your choice of any past player to align with, who would it be and why?
Oskooi: Amanda. I absolutely hate her.
Holmes: Amanda Kimmel?!
Oskooi: Yeah. To be clear, personally…I do not like her. But, she is loyal to a fault. She’s not quite as emotional as Dawn, but she’s emotional to the point that it makes you sick and alienates other people. If I could align with her I’d never have to worry about her deceiving me. She’d annoy lots of people. And, she’s good enough in challenges to not weigh me down, but she’s not always going to win.
Oskooi: I want to bring the chest bump to “Survivor.”
Holmes: That’s random.
Oskooi: (Laughs) No, it’d be like, “Yay! We won.” Chest bump. So, keep an eye out.
Holmes: So, I’m told you have a unique strategy for a fire-making challenge.
Oskooi: I’ve grown my hair particularly long so if we’re in a fire challenge I can cut off a ton of my hair, and it catches fire really easily, especially if everything else is really damp.
Holmes: That is hardcore.
Oskooi: I hope they have a gross food challenge. I’ve eaten every “gross” food item they’ve ever had except for a tarantula.
Holmes: I beg for that every season. Hopefully Challenge Producer John Kirhoffer will come through for us.
Don’t miss the 90-minute premiere of “Survivor: Worlds Apart” on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 8 pm ET on CBS.