'Survivor': Parvati Shallow on How the Show Has Helped Her Find Herself Again After Motherhood (Exclusive)


The 'Survivor: Micronesia' winner opens up to ET about how life has changed over the past 10 years.

Leaving her 10-month-old daughter to go play Survivor was one of the hardest things Parvati Shallow has ever had to do. It was also one of the most important. 

The three-time Survivor player returned to the game for round four on the show's milestone 40th season, Winners at War, but with a new perspective. Shallow was known for flirting with other players to get her way on the beach. Now, as a new mom, she found herself using parenthood to connect with new alliances. 

"I have changed a lot from 10 years ago, and being a mom has been the biggest transformation of my life," Shallow told ET. She and her husband, fellow Survivor alum John Fincher, welcomed their daughter, Alma, in July 2018. 

"There was a vulnerability to me this time, coming back out there, that I hadn't had before. There was an emotionality that was uncontrollable," she continued. "Even before the game started, when we were in pregame and doing press, if someone asked me about my baby, I would break out into tears. So, I was really at a place in my life that I wasn't able to separate that and put a wall up or a shield up around that vulnerability like I have been able to do in the past. That was really the difference for me."

As difficult as it was to leave her daughter for a month and a half, returning to her Survivor roots was an opportunity Shallow couldn't say no to. 

"I wanted... it was the call to adventure. I wanted to be out there on my own, because I had just had a baby," she explained. "I had been in this mom mode, where my identity was all caught up in being a mom, and transitioning from not being a mom to being a mom, and giving all I had to that new role."

"When Survivor came along, I was like, 'This is an opportunity for me to come back to myself a bit and like -- tune into me and remember who I was before I had a baby and before I became a mom,'" Shallow added. "I thought it would be helpful for me now to ground myself in this other part of myself, to like, experience this part of myself that's adventurous and strong and competitive and independent, because I hadn't done that in a while. I had, like a year of being pregnant, and then 10 months of being a mom."

In an interview with ET, Shallow opened up returning to Survivor after 10 years off the beach, being one of the show's biggest targets, and what her future looks like within the franchise. 

ET: It's been a long time since Heroes vs. Villains, which aired in 2010 -- what brought you back for this season? 

Parvati Shallow: I think it really was the FOMO. It was like, I had always thought in the back of my mind that only way they could get me back was if it was an all winners [season], because the competition would be so fun and up-leveled, or if it was Blood vs. Water, and I could do it with my husband. They weren't calling John, they weren't calling my family to get him out there, so I knew that it would be a winners season. I had that sense, like, "Oh, this is it. This is going to be the ultimate competition. I can't miss this. I have to make it happen."

Were there certain players you thought you'd definitely get a chance to play with? 

Ethan [Zohn] and I have been good friends for a long time. Knowing I would have a chance to go back and play with my friend Ethan and like -- I had always really admired Kim Spradlin's gameplay, so I was hoping I could play with her, and I could play with Sophie [Clarke], who is also a friend of mine. And I was just thinking, how fun could this be? I got a chance to be out there with Rob [Mariano] and Tyson [Apostol] and Sandra [Diaz-Twine], who I had played with before, and see what that would be like. I mean, there was a lot going through my mind of like, "This is going to be an incredible competition, because the level of competition is going to be so high. Everyone's going to give everything they possibly have."

It's interesting to hear you talk about how excited you were to tap back into the version of yourself you were on Survivor -- some people come out of the show, and they really don't like the person they became. 

Yeah, and let me be clear about that too -- when I say [I was looking forward to] getting back in touch with that side of myself, I mean me as this athlete, as a competitor, as independent and adventurous and courageous, being really bold in the face of the unknown. That's really what I was craving. It wasn't necessarily coming back in to like, manipulate and deceive and blindside. I was thinking about that as like, "Oh, that's another aspect of the game that yes, I'm going to have to acknowledge that I have to be willing to do that in order to win this season," and that wasn't really what I was looking forward to. That was just a part of what this game requires. But the most exciting part for me was the adventure and the challenge and the independence and competition -- that was what I was really being called to do.

A lot of these old school players aren't used to the new tricks of the game. Did you feel those challenges coming in? 

Yeah. And I always feel that way, coming back. I've always been a target from the get go, from Day 1. People have tried to vote me out on season 16, and then also again that happened on season 20, so I assumed that this would not be different.

I knew I was going to come back and be a huge target. Jeff [Probst] recently called me the best winner of Survivor of all time, so that's like, not helpful. I mean, it feels great to hear that, I'm like, "Yeah, cool, thanks Jeff. That's a really great acknowledgement," and also not helpful for me coming back out here with more recent winners who don't feel like they deserve to win, or have been criticized by fans of the show saying they didn't deserve to win. So, there's a lot of people that are new coming back with something to prove, and I don't really have that, and Rob doesn't have that, and I don't think Ethan had it, and I don't think Sandra had it. So, the old school players -- we didn't really have so much to prove, and I think that's a fundamental difference between the old school and the new school. Plus, the new school had recently played with all the different twists, like multiple idols, all these different kinds of advantages and things like that, that not a lot of us have had much experience with. There was a lot for the old schoolers to catch up with.

What was your strategy going in this time around?

For me, it was I feel comfortable with these old schoolers, and they have big targets on them too, so I want to be with people who have big targets. And in addition to that, I'm thinking there's a lot of people here who flew under the radar and won the game, and that to me is more dangerous than being an outward -- a visible threat. So, I was thinking, "I need to link up with a couple of under the radars, so that they aren't just ganging up against all of the big names and getting rid of the big names." So I wanted to do both, really.

Are you happy with how the season played out? 

Yeah, I mean, Survivor has given me a lot of gifts in my life, and like, even when things are really hard and challenging, if you can really look in and find the gift inside the hard and challenging parts, that's really the blessing in playing this game for me. It's not easy, and I know I have to be the greatest, strongest, bravest, most connected version of myself every time I play, and I knew leaving my baby at this point in time would also give my husband a chance to bond with her in a really unique way, because he would be the No. 1 primary caregiver while I'm gone, and he hadn't had that opportunity.

I had a really strong bond with Alma, our daughter, and John was kind of second. So, I knew would really have a chance to step into his leadership as a dad, and he really did that, so I think that was a huge blessing that leaving for a month and a half, because as hard as it was for me, it gave him a chance to really connect and bond with our daughter in a beautiful way, so that was really great.

That's a much narrative than we usually see about parents spending time away from their children. 

Yeah, he was a real superstar, because I don't think I would have done this without his encouragement, and I think John having played Survivor before, he knew what I was having to say yes to, and having to really think about. And he was like, 'You have to do it. You have to. I will do this. I will step into this role of being the single parent while you're gone, and I'll hold it down, and you can trust that I've got this under control while you're gone.' And that gave me a sense of confidence in going out there that I was like,' OK, this is OK. I'm not being a bad mom in leaving my daughter. I'm actually -- this is the best thing I could do as a mother is leave and give myself this chance to have this adventure, and also give my husband a chance to step into the role of No. 1 and it really worked. We set it up in a way that he was supported, he had child support as well, because you can't not have that with a 10-month-old. So he had that, and it just gave me a sense of like, peace in being able to leave for that long, because otherwise the mom guilt would have just been too much to bear.

You mentioned Blood vs. Water -- would you play again? What does your Survivor future look like? 

Oh my god. (Laughs) Great question. I don't know. I mean, this game -- what's really incredible is that this game continues to evolve and shift and change. And they did Island of the Idols and Rob and Sandra came back in a really unique role, and that's something I would be willing to do, is come back and participate in a role of mentorship and supporting some of the contestants as they play. Coming back and competing, it's like, never say never. And every time I play, there's something that I gain from the experience that is more than just the pot of gold at the end. So, I don't know. Survivor has woven into the fabric of my life in a really unique way and it's possible that that just keeps weaving in more and more. 

Survivor: Winners at War airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.