Every returnee season there is an under the radar female included in the cast which causes confusion amongst the fanbase. Survivor: Game Changers has two of these females in Hali Ford and Sierra Dawn-Thomas, both from Survivor: Worlds Apart. Hali was the quirky, free-spirited No Collar tribemate. Sierra the Blue Collar barrel-racing country girl. Both women had quiet edits, and neither made any monumental game moves during their first season. Shirin Oskooi, originally part of the White Collar tribe, played with both Hali and Sierra during Worlds Apart and was actually aligned with Hali post-merge. At the merge, Shirin and Hali both tried convincing Sierra to turn on her former Blue Collars and join an all-girls alliance. Despite considering this move, Sierra ultimately stuck with her alliance, sending Hali, and then later Shirin, out of the game. The alliance later eliminated Sierra at the Final 5.
Inside Survivor reached out to Shirin to get her thoughts on Hali and Sierra’s return to Survivor: Game Changers.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in June 2016 while Survivor: Game Changers was still filming in Fiji.
1) Thanks for doing this, Shirin. You played with both Hali and Sierra throughout your time on Worlds Apart. What was your overall opinion of them both as players?
Sierra had a phenomenal social game and was a great liar. She’s good at getting along with absolutely anybody because she’s a kind person who listens and gives everyone a chance. Also, because of the way she looks and because of her Middle America charm and because she’s inoffensive and warm and doesn’t appear to hurt a tribe in any way, most people are also willing to befriend and work with her.
Sierra had a good read on whether or not a person liked her, but she wasn’t as good at sensing whether or not people respected her and at understanding how that impacted her game. People told her all the time that she was a follower and made no moves, but she took no action to change that perception. She didn’t think she needed to. She also refused to acknowledge the existence of an obvious sub-alliance that excluded her, and to her dying day, she assumed she was in everyone’s final three plans. Because she’s unfamiliar with Survivor history, she didn’t know the difference between playing a “get to the end” game vs. playing a winning one. In my opinion, Sierra just needs to change one thing about her game to win: take control of at least one vote after the merge.
Hali was fun to be around – when she was around. She spent most of her time with a select few people, which meant most people didn’t get to know her, and everyone assumed that she would be loyal only to those few. Though she was often quiet, she was fiercely unique and willing to speak up against the grain on occasion, so she was never perceived as milk toast in a way that other under the radar women typically are. Her trust radar outside the game is perfection, but inside the game, it was out of whack. She trusted people when they were obviously lying to her, and she mistrusted people when they obviously were not. I think if she played more organically rather than “trying” to play a game, she’d have a better read on the people around her.
2) Hali and Sierra are falling victim to the classic, “why was <young, beautiful, low visibility woman> included in this cast?” backlash. They join the esteemed ranks of Amber Brkich, Parvati Shallow, and Kelley Wentworth. What are your thoughts on the inclusion of such people in all-star seasons?
Let’s not also forget to list Joe Anglim as an example of a low-visibility bikini babe who was good at challenges, but neither went all that far nor showed much game strategy his first time around. I think the inclusion of these people in returnee casts has panned out enough times to warrant taking the risk, letting these people have another go at realizing their potential. However, I also think these players consistently perform well in returnee seasons because of the distinct advantage of not being well known. They aren’t seen as threats like nearly every other person on the cast. More people are willing to work with them because they are underestimated and presumed to be good little goats. I can imagine very few scenarios in which it makes sense to eliminate Hali or Sierra over Tony or Sandra or Cirie or Aubry or literally any other person on this cast until at least the merge.
As a fan, when these kinds of players are included, I can only hope that they do turn out to be the next Parvati or Kelley and not so much another Ambah.
3) You were aligned with Hali for a part of Worlds Apart. What was she like to work with as an ally?
It was more pleasant playing with her before we were on the same side. When we met at the swap, we had some good moments socializing together, getting to know one another. When we joined up officially at the merge, paranoia struck hard, and it was frustrating. For example, Carolyn and Kelly had both told me that people wanted to split up the tight pair of Jenn and Hali and that I should vote for Hali at the first vote. When I told Hali this, her response to me was, “You’re acting shady, talking to people, and I don’t know if I trust you anymore.” It nearly made me switch my vote to her that evening.
She didn’t talk to very many people, as I mentioned above. She spent most of her time with Jenn, and eventually Mike, rather than doubling down on the relationships she made at the swap, which is why all those people so easily flipped on her at the merge.
4) Sierra teased flipping over to your alliance several times throughout the season but never made the jump. Do you think she regrets that? And will she be able to find that killer instinct this season?
Sierra always went along with other people’s plans because she assumed she was included in those plans. She truly believed she’d make it to the final three. When she was voted out, I think it was a shock to her how suddenly the game turned for her, and it gave her renewed perspective on some of her earlier game decisions. For example, she knew she could trust me, and she thought she could beat me in the end, yet she voted me out over bigger threats anyway. She has told me a number of times that she regrets that vote; whether or not she’s telling the truth, I’ll never know because, as already mentioned, she’s a phenomenal liar.
I do think Sierra is capable of playing differently, flipping when she needs to, specifically because she knows it was ultimately her fault for getting voted out. People who get voted out because they don’t have the numbers at a new phase of the game so easily blame their boot on bad luck. E.g., every season we hear people whine about being “swapf**ked.” There’s no ownership of the poor social game or strategic misplay that so often dictates that vote. But when you’re in the majority alliance and control nearly all the votes all the way to the final five, if your own people turn on you, there’s no hiding from that bitter truth, the sting of responsibility. Sierra knows that it’s on her to change; it is known. There’s added incentive that, people who flip get more airtime, and she now knows this, too.
5) It seemed that Hali didn’t have her head fully in the game. Instead, she had these quirky moments, and “Merica,” and speeches about the Constitution. What was she like to live with day to day?
Those quirky moments are some of my fondest memories from that season and made her a joy to be around. That’s Hali, through and through. She’s passionate about the USA and being an American. She loves to hunt and would often go on snake missions with Mike. She loves adventure and would take us on cave explorations at the far ends of our beach. I think these were the moments when she was “playing” the best, notwithstanding how great she was at challenges (she was probably the best all-around female competitor from our season).
Being ascribed the “No Collar” label is what made her resist having her head fully in the game. There was a sense that we had to fully embrace our tribe theme, to the point where it became intrinsically tied with Hali’s identity. In her mind, it wasn’t very “No Collar” to talk to people and strategize, so she stigmatized the idea of purposefully and explicitly “playing the game.” The fact that she had never really watched the show especially hurt her in this regard.
6) While Sierra never made a “big move” during Worlds Apart, people have talked about how good her social game was. Do you think Sierra could have won that season?
On that particular season, it would have been difficult for Sierra to win playing the game that she played. The men of that cast had a patronizing view of her as a meek woman who did what she was told. Specifically, Dan, Tyler, and Mike all referred to her as “a beaten housewife.” (Incidentally, when I chastised Dan for using this terminology at Ponderosa, his response to me was, “Everything is always sexism with you! There’s nothing wrong with calling her that because that’s what she is!”) Which leads me into my final point on this matter… I would have voted for her if she had made the final three, and I probably would have been the only one. I think that on most other seasons, her deep friendships with members of the jury would have carried against the reprehensible Season 30 people she likely would have sat next to.
7) Do you think Hali and Sierra will work together this season if given a chance? Who else on this cast do you think they should align with, and why?
I think they’ll work with each other if it’s convenient, but they won’t rock the boat to make it happen. My guess is that Hali is more likely to work with Sierra than the other way around. Sierra will do what’s best for her. If that means using her Season 30 friendship and matching tattoos (https://www.instagram.com/p/1zPivMIWuu) to mislead and blindside Hali, I believe that Sierra is cutthroat enough to do that.
As for who they should align with, I think Sierra could do well with anybody on this cast as long as she cuts loose any challenge beasts and players with strongly strategic reputations during the merge. She needs to fight the perception of being a goat to someone with a more dominant personality. As for Hali, I think she should pair up with someone who is excellent at connecting with people and who can successfully manage a large group. Tony would be a great ally for her in this way, though I could also see Ciera taking the lead. These other players will be a bigger target than her and will hopefully stump for her at Ponderosa if/when they are taken out before her.
8) On the flip-side, who do they need to be wary of? Who will be their biggest threats?
Sierra’s biggest threat is herself: will she change her behavior from last time? Will she flip and take out the people who are perceived to be calling the shots for her alliance? The kinds of personalities that I think would be rewarded over Sierra in a final three are JT, Tony, Ciera, Cirie, and Varner.
Hali should be wary of people who are afraid that a lawyer will be sneaky-sneaky or who are threatened by a beautiful, tough-as-nails country girl who never pissed anybody off. People whom I think might target her are Troyzan, Sarah, Andrea.
9) Putting you on the spot, how far do you think Hali and Sierra will make it? And who is your overall pick to win, and why?
I think one of them will make final tribal council, and I think both will make the merge. I give the slight edge to Sierra because of her social game and approachability.
My overall pick to win is Malcolm because he fits in with most of the groups you can slice this cast into, yet he stands out the least within those groups. He’s the least bro-y of the bros, the worst at challenges of the challenge threats, the least nerdy of the intellectuals, and he’s one of the most easygoing (read: inoffensive) people of the cast. He’s the Jeremy of this cast – the approachable guy who nobody will manufacture any issues with.
10) Lastly, before we let you go, what is new in the world of Shirin? How has life been since we last saw you in Survivor: Cambodia?
The majority of my time has been consumed by traveling, for work, fun, and volunteering: Israel for work, Denmark for food, Greece to volunteer at a refugee camp. I hope to visit London later this summer and see the Harry Potter play. Being on back-to-back seasons of Survivor caused me to miss out on some important life events for my friends, e.g., I missed my best friend’s wedding and my two other best friends’ first child births. So when I’m not traveling, I can be found at friends’ dinner tables making up for lost time and getting screamed at by babies.
Thanks again to Shirin for taking part. For more, check out the Hali Ford and Sierra Dawn-Thomas retrospectives, as well as the official cast bios. Stay tuned to Inside Survivor for more Playing With Game Changers interviews. Survivor: Game Changers premieres March 8, 2017, on CBS.