In a show known for its unconscious sexism, racism and other problematic -isms that were never really brought to the forefront of the series before, by the end of her run on Survivor Shirin Oskooi was unmistakably notable, even if she was never all-around popular. Shirin’s entire raison d’être could possibly even be pointing out these ugly biases that exist in the show, and in an audience dominated by its white male fanbase it was never going to be a move that made her a conventional favourite. But the bizarre and dark circumstances surrounding her first season saw her turn into an unlikely hero, as well as a reminder of the ugly unfairness of society in general.
Shirin’s stay on Survivor initially started out somewhat low-key, but still enjoyable – her first act on the show was to strip off her bathers while she washed dishes to the discomfort of her tribemates sans Max. She would annoy them incessantly with Survivor trivia and sounds of monkey sex, essentially living out a Survivor superfan’s ideal experience. For a while it seemed like this would be all that Shirin could offer, but her story took a somber turn once a tribe swap hit, her only friend Max was voted out and Shirin was forced to adapt to a tribe that tolerated her at best, attempting to connect with a tribe of “No Collars” that were confused by her superfandom of Survivor. This somberness quickly turned itself to enjoyableness once she found her old self again, including voting out Joe over a Jenn who wanted to quit just so she would have a friend still in the game.
However, this low-key underdog story turned into a righteous crusade once Will let loose an ugly tirade against her, with which she retaliated by refusing to let him have a letter from home, tearfully revealing her history of abuse from her family and even creating a social media campaign post-show against the dangers of abuse in a swift but effective character destruction that not only got the point across, but also help raise awareness towards issues that would certainly have gotten swept away due to her being an opinionated woman. She even used her jury speech to compare him to a dead fish in one especially tortured metaphor. Shirin didn’t end up winning the season, or even making the finale, but her impact was astronomical to the point that she immediately returned for another season.
Her Cambodia journey was not as eventful, only existing to help put an end to any aspirations Vytas Baskauskas might have had in Survivor and having her own circumstances used against her (although having her compared to Will when Abi was felt to be on the outs was especially cruel), and though it didn’t add to her legacy in any meaningful way, it certainly added to Abi-Maria’s and definitely kept her Worlds Apart legacy intact.
From destined first boot to unlikely fan favourite, it’s hard to scope the impact Shirin had on the show in her short time on it. While she might have had even more of an impact had she not been eliminated early in Cambodia, she made the right kind of impact when it came to her season – geeking out over being on Survivor, exposing some ugly bigotry and abuse, then exiting stage left to let them wallow in the filth they created. While she was never a fantastic Survivor player, she was one of the biggest characters of the year.