Shawna Mitchell certainly had a roller coaster of a ride on the 6th season of the Amazon. From starting off socially strong to fading completely and nearly quitting to being right back in the game and ultimately getting voted out, her journey had it all. Outside the game she has lead an amazing life, and even studied right here in Tasmania a few years before she was seen on Survivor. And in our very first written interview on this site, Shawna goes into detail about her time on the show, her time in Tasmania and just why she doesn’t watch reality TV.
Shawna thanks for chatting with us today! You’re only the 6th person from Amazon we’ve had on the show so it’s been the least successful season in terms of guests we’ve had! So it’s a pleasure to chat with you today! It’s amazing to think that it’s now been over 11 years since your season aired and getting close to 12 years since you filmed it, does it seem like it’s been that long and is it amazing to be asked to do interviews like this still?
It does seem like a lifetime ago. Frankly, I was just baffled that you all wanted to speak with me. You are definitely my only interview in the last decade since Survivor, with the exception of informal questioning from my Grandmother (who is known to tote me around her senior home bragging… which is amazing and completely embarrassing at the same time).
What drew you into applying for Survivor? How much of a fan of the first 5 seasons were you?
I was a big fan of the first season. It was such a phenomenon and so powerfully innovative. The theoretical construct behind the game was unbeatable for its time. Outside of the first season though, I have to come clean that I did not watch the show. Embarrassingly, I did not even see all of my season. I tend to have the attention of a small butterfly when it comes to television.
Did you go into the season with any pre-game strategy? Were there any players that you wanted to base your game off from those first 5 seasons?
I am myself. I definitely did not have any plans/people to idolize, copy, or scrutinize from previous shows. I could have cared less about that kind of stuff. The dynamic on each tribe, though often predictable, varies not due to character but to its interpersonal relationships within each cohort. Plus, it obviously does not make a ton sense to be anyone else.
In terms of my character, I am great #2, worker-bee type character. I am not a ferocious leader or a slacker. I do not actively plot or strategize. I think one of the reason I was casted in the show was because I was generally likable, funny, and had a sarcastic bite. That said, I never really came into my own in the show due the environment and (unfortunate) circumstance of an all-women tribe… or because my head was up my ass.
Disaster for me. I had no inkling. None. My immediate thought at the announcement was, “Well… I am going to be voted off first. That’s a bummer.” There was nothing in the game prep that gave it anyway; perhaps just the legend of “Amazon Women” in an idle Google search would have prompted the idea. I am sure some people on my cast claimed they saw it coming; they are lying. We were all floored.
Did you feel as though when it was announced that it was going to work to your advantage or disadvantage to have the tribes separated by gender?
God no. That worked against me horribly, and I knew it would. As a tribe, it hurt too. It took us entirely too long to get our act together. If we’d had weeks there, we would have been fine and figured it out. With only days there (and barely knowing each other), we struggled. I don’t think this is a comment on women in general. More so, it is comment on the women we had in our tribe. Most of them had very, very little experience outside.
How hard was it to watch those scenes of you and the rope at the beginning? How often were you asked if you could untie ropes when you got home?
I shrugged that one off. People used to make jokes about it. It still makes me cringe, but that is my own issue. It wasn’t an obvious slipknot to me. So be it.
Who were the people who you connected with straight away, maybe more so than we actually got to see on our screens?
Jeanne was my closest friend out there. She was my rock and confidant. I actually was not that close to Heidi or Jenna, which the show liked to promote excessively. To this day, Jeanne is the only one I keep in touch with. She is such a wonderful lady and her friendship is one of the best gifts I received from the show.
What was it that drew you to Jenna and Heidi? Was it the fact they were young beautiful women like you or was there more to it than that?
I think circumstances made us closer than we appeared. I did enjoy hanging out with them. We had similar sense of humour, enjoyed sarcasm, and helped each other get past really tough times. There was a rawness to all the relationships in the game that the camera fails to contextualize. I think I was drawn to everyone because I wanted/needed to have support out there. I was a scared 22 year old… and it is a place you hope for the best in people. This is also a perfect example of why I sucked at the game 😉
Beating the men was fun. There is no doubt about that. More importantly though, our women tribe needed a win. We needed to feel cohesive and effective, but we were certainly missing the benchmarks at camp. It was a good win for our belief in our tribe.
The granola bar incident: can you give us any insight into this? Was there more that happened that we didn’t get to see? To this day do you know who smuggled it in?
Oh… poor Janet. That was terrible. There is NO possible way she could have smuggled that in. I always just chalked it up to a producer accidently leaving it there or someone planting it. We all wanted that bar, but no one is stupid enough to try to smuggle it in. The flavour was a terrible choice as well… so you know it was not a player. No one would have pick that crappy apricot-poop energy bar as the one thing to smuggle in. Blech.
During the ‘get to know you’ reward challenge you got to meet Dan, and the other guys and things seemed to be turning a little more fun for you. Who were you most excited to meet at this stage?
Alex, of course. But we all knew the answer to that question.
The reward was some toiletries and shampoo and similar items, and we got this scene of you, Jenna and Heidi obviously enjoying this moment in the water. Were you surprised at how this was edited at the close ups and everything that came with it? And how did you react to that when it aired?
The soft porn-like music was a bit much, considering we were scrapping fungus off our bodies. It is hard to believe that they were able to make that look attractive.
With things not working perfectly around camp, Deena was ‘put in control’. What was your take on that? And do you feel it worked as affectively as it seemed to?
I was fine with that. Someone had to step-up and Deena did. The woman likes control and she is/was an effective leader.
Deena was hilarious. She was a good woman too. I really enjoyed her at the beginning of the game. Once I was mentally out of it, she did not know what to do with me… but I would not have either. I was indeed in a great position. It is too bad I got the better of myself.
The men win reward, you then breakdown and ask to be voted out. Was there more to this than we saw? What exactly happened for you to break down like that?
There was and was not more. The fact is that I am a tomboy; I always have been. I do not do well with all women, and I tend to clam up in life with catty or lame people. I withdraw from drama not because I think I am better than it, but mainly because it freaks me out and I get sad/helpless. Unfortunately, I probably was pathetic looking, but all I wanted was some light at the end of the tunnel. Quitting seemed to be the only way out. At age 22, I did not have the best perspective in life or hardship. I struggled very hard to getting out of my head. So yes, the “boys helped” and all, but mainly it was the fact that there was new energy and personalities to play with. Alex was a breath of fresh air in that situation. I needed to be revived and I was. It was a pretty instant turn-around, for better or worse.
Was that difficult to watch that all play out when the episode aired?
I still cannot really watch it. It is all the best and worst parts of oneself in one brutal blow. I still hold to the belief that at 22 years old, very few people should be taped. It is a lot of half-cooked brains wandering around make for great TV yet poor decision-making. Survivor has become more of a mutant home video for me. I like to pretend 22 million people did not watch it.
The big question I’m sure you were asked a lot at the time is why didn’t you just quit? We had never seen someone quit to that point so it would’ve been a history making moment, and if you really wanted to go home that no doubt would’ve been the easiest option. Was it a pride factor? Or again, was there maybe more to this and perhaps did the edit make the situation look worse than it was?
I did want to. I touched on it a few question ago, but essentially I felt paralysed and trapped in the game. I was struggling internally with my psyche and externally with the commitment I made. I was a huge disappointment all around. It ate away at me for long time and I had a rough few months after the game ended. Loads of anxiety, loads of regret… but in the end my most public fail became the launching ground for a new life. No joke. I love where I am now. In a way, Survivor enabled that by freeing up all the stupid garbage I had in head about my capabilities. By building myself up from nothing, I received a clean slate. I was able to build the life I wanted with a clear honesty. No more excuses or qualifying stories about why I did what. It was strangely freeing. I am off-topic now though. Sooo… back to the questions.
Against your wishes, you aren’t voted out and Joanna goes home. What was said back at camp when you guys got there that perhaps we didn’t get to see? And again at that point were you still wanting to leave?
I am glad they did not cover it personally. I was just dumbfounded and a bit helpless. Not a shining moment in my wall of achievements. I wanted to leave more at that point. The train had left the station.
The tribe switch comes, men come to camp. You are happy again! Were you disappointed not to have Dan in the game so you could’ve played with him at that point?
I didn’t know Dan at all at that point. I had only seen his face and shook his hand in the game. Again, nice guy though. Our cast had a lot of really good people in it.
On the flip side though, you got Alex. We saw your interest in him, and his in you. Was there more with Alex that happened than we saw? Not only in game but also of course out of the game? Spill the beans!
Alex and I remained friends after the game, but as time went on and we each went our own ways, we haven’t kept in touch.
Alex of course went on to marry Africa contestant Kim Powers, did you get an invite to his wedding?
Naw. We unfortunately do not chat much, but not for any real reason. Life just happened. I was thrilled to hear that he and Kim got married. They are a really great couple.
How did you approach the men when they came over? Was it more of you approaching them or them approaching you? Were there ones you wanted to work with more so than others?
I just tend to do better around guys. I grew up wearing sweatpants, playing sports, and worshipping Bo Jackson. You’re out in the jungle and stuck with these people in one 45-foot location, so there isn’t really “approaching” that goes on.
How was it working and playing with Rob? We saw how strategic he was out there and of course he went on to be labelled at the time ‘the greatest player never to have won’. Do you feel this is justified? And do you think he would’ve won had he made it to the final tribal council?
Everyone adored Rob in the game. He was a pig in mud out there. In a way, if you aren’t going to win, you’d rather it go to someone who lives/breathes the game. I think it would have been awesome if he won. I don’t know what the “greatest” player means for this. He was one of the first true Survivor nerds. His strategy would no longer apply. It isn’t as “cute” anymore, I’d imagine.
That is probably a correct assumption.
Did it hurt having two of your alliance members in Deena and Jenna vote against you?
No. It’s a game. I knew it all along, but I also could never really internalize that. I do a bad job compartmentalizing identities (in-game v. out-of-game). I came there for the experience, and (as you saw) I wasn’t very good at the game part.
Was it disappointing to just miss out on the merge by one spot? Had you made the merge, how do you think you would’ve gone and what would your plan have been at that point?
Not disappointing at all. I got to be back with Jeanne, and then I they sent me off on an incredible vacation. Way better than sitting on the Ponderosa for a couple more weeks.
Had Matt gone the night you went home, how different do you think the game is and who do you think would’ve made it to the end?
Don’t know. Very interesting question. I think I would have been out the next round though. That said, I think if I got to the individual immunities, I could have bought a lot more time. I never thought Jenna would win. Unsure how the game would have gone otherwise, but I am sure it would have been different.
Jenna and Heidi stripped naked for chocolate and peanut butter, what food would it have taken for you to strip naked for?
That’s going to have to be some really, really good food for me to strip naked.
Had you made the jury, who would’ve you voted for between Matt and Jenna?
Matt. I really liked him. People in our cast got a mob mentality about his personality… which is lame. He’s a really thoughtful and quirky man. One of my three favourite people from the cast.
Have you kept watching the show since your season? If so what are your thoughts on how the game has changed over the years?
No, I don’t watch any reality TV
Who do you keep in contact with the most from your season? And perhaps also from other seasons over the years?
Jeannie (S6) and Kelly Goldsmith (S3)
We always ask our guest have they ever been asked back for any subsequent seasons, so Shawna have you ever been asked back to play again? If not, would you if asked?
Nope, never been approached. I highly doubt they would want me back.
What were your thoughts on Rob & Jenna in All-Stars? Has it surprised you not to see more Amazon contestants return for other seasons?
No idea. Didn’t see it.
You told me that you actually studied right here in Tasmania which excited me a great deal as it’s very rare for me to meet a contestant who has heard of Tasmania, let alone been here! What brought you to Tasmania when you came here and how did you find studying here and living here? Would you ever come back? We have some exciting new things here now such as the great Museum of Old & New Art (MONA) which is just the most amazing place you’ll ever visit!
I loved my time in Tasmania. I studied abroad at U-Tas in the 2000 during my junior year in college (uni) for about 9 months. I have the softest place in my heart for Hobart. I met some incredible people and had the time of my life. My best memories were hiking in the south and playing soccer with the club teams there. I would LOVE to come back… and plan to one day.
A couple of things that stood out to me in your pre-game profile was the fact that you played international soccer when you were young and if you could become a politician you would be the US Ambassador to New Zealand. Why did you never pursue your soccer career further Shawna and what draws you to New Zealand?
I went to college to play soccer, but like a lot of people, I just got burnt out. New Zealand is an incredible/beautiful/insanely wonderful place. Adventure is ripe. Little slice of heaven.
You are also one of the growing list of Survivor contestants to have an identical twin. Do you feel that could help you in the future to return possibly on a Blood vs. Water style season? How would your sister go at Survivor do you think?
My sister kicks ass. She is far much more strategic and has much more of a business/game mindset. That being said, she works super hard, so something would have to happen with her job for her to get time off. I feel like she’s been working 60-80 hrs/week since she was 19.
What have you been up to since your time on Survivor? And what are you up to in your life at the moment?
Ha. School, lots and lots of school. I got a couple of graduate degrees in psychology and then another degree as a nurse practitioner from UCSF. I am currently working in developmental & behavioural paediatrics, specializing in autism, ADHD, and genetics. I spend some time on the side as a public health nurse and volunteer on the medical team with the Special Olympics. I also created and manage a site called NP Student (www.npstudent.com), a free medical reference site for paediatric primary care providers.
Some questions from our listeners/readers now, Jon-Michael De Bella asks Do you think the tribal switch was the downfall of both Jeanne and you? Did you enjoy your experience on Survivor more when your tribe was all women or when it was mixed up?
The tribal switch was a saviour and a downfall for me. I enjoyed both parts of it, but when it was mixed up more. That being said, I wasn’t there for very long!
Dino asks Had you made the merge instead of Matthew, what would the plan have been? Also, how crazy was Matthew at Jaburu?
Matthew got a bad rap. He’s a thoughtful guy who a lot of people misinterpret. He’s a good guy and a friend. As for the plan, I wish I had one!
Will Hatch asks Shawna, what was your relationship with Jenna, Heidi, and Deena like on Jabaru? Were you just a hanger on, or did you take part in the decision-making?
I was there, but I didn’t really come to the game with a plan and thoughts on how I was going to win and make it through. I’m not sure how I feel about being a “hanger on.” I made decisions at the beginning and then realized that things were slowly slipping out of my control.
Phillip Burke asks Shawna- what are your thoughts on Heidi’s edit. Did it correctly portray her personality?
I don’t think anyone’s edits really portray them correctly. It’s TV. If they made people out to be who they were in person, it would be pretty boring. We all cried, laughed, pooped… everyone had good and not-so-good sides that the camera easily picked up.
Joe Solarte asks Shawna- I know it’s been a long time. But if you were to step back to day 12 TC, when you mentioned wanting to quit and go home, if Probst opened the door for you to quit ala Janu in S10, would you have taken the out?
In that moment? Yes. Without a doubt, yes. Now, I would hope my life perspectives would challenge the impulse.
Ryan Hockley asks if there were other ‘dumb’ Heidi moments that weren’t showed on TV?
Heidi isn’t that dumb. If you’re out in the Amazon for that long you will do dumb things for sure. They just wanted her to fit that “blonde” portrayal, so they edited things for her to appear that way.
Is this the time I wanted to get voted out? If so, I did it as a “throw away” vote. I knew no one else would vote for her, so that way it wouldn’t hurt my chances of getting kicked out. Yes, lame. I know.
We always wrap up our interviews Shawna with a set of 6 questions to close it out with some opinions on Survivor! Now if you haven’t watched much since your season, feel free to answer these as best as you can!
First question, what are three things about Jeff Probst you learnt during your time on Survivor?
1. He is that asshole who is in your close friend group whom you love but no one quite knows how he got into it. (Read: You like him, but it is unclear why.)
2. He is shorter than you’d imagine. Also, he is better looking in person.
3. He is DAMN good at his job. He only need one take and the man knocks it out of the park. He is a walking pivot table of well-timed clichés.
Question number two, what is your favourite and least favourite season of Survivor?
Favourite was the first season, naturally. My least favourite was my season because it made the mystery of television vanish. I cannot watch any form of reality TV now without hiding under the covers or drinking wine, then feeling pitying the contestants.
Question number three, who to you is the sexiest ever contestant?
Did my husband get on the show? If not, then… Burton Roberts. Double bonus that he is actually an excellent person as well.
Question number four, who to you is the greatest player NEVER to have won?
Unclear. I lack a substantial sample size on this question.
Question number five, who is your least favourite winner?
Richard, mainly because he has been a pompous prick the multiple times I met him.
And the final question today, Shawna Mitchell, who to you is the greatest player in the history of Survivor and why?
Ack. I cannot answer this question. I haven’t watched the show enough. I’ll go with Kelly Goldsmith as she is now. She would tear it up.
Massive thanks to Shawna for taking the time to fill in our questions! We hope to get Shawna on at some stage in the future for an audio interview!