Shannon “Shambo” Waters: “I can’t completely be myself because I will rub people the wrong way”

This is the 15th in a series of interviews with Survivor Samoa cast members.

Shannon WatersShannon Waters is nothing if not enthusiastic. She borders on being Gillian annoying, but she’s also aware of how she comes across, which might give her longevity in the game–which, by the way, she doesn’t care if she wins.

Shannon changed her name to Shambo pretty much the moment the game started, surprising everyone, including Jeff Probst. She is a “lifelong fan” who lost 70 pounds in the past two years, so she decided to apply after watching the Survivor Gabon finale. Her video “that was pretty obnoxious and loudmouth, true to my own personal character, being a Taurus, I have a pretty big mouth. I will engage anybody,” she said. “I am a very gregarious, what you see is what you get personality, but I’m also really sweet and really sensitive.”

We spent more time talking about her personality and work than the game, and there’s a good reason for that: “I’m so not here to win,” Shannon told me. “I don’t give a shit about the million dollars, I care about touching people’s lives in a positive way.” Among other things, she said, “Every human being I come in contact with I try to make smile. I always befriended the underdog.”

However, she seemed to change her mind about winning, because it would help her achieve her ultimate goal. “Dude, the million dollars is nothing compared to being immensely famous and being able to touch people’s lives. To be able to go on a USO tour to where our troops are in these third-world countries, sacrificing time with their family and watching their kids grow up,” she said. “I’ve always been famous, so I’m now I’m taking it to the next level, baby. I mean, seriously. I’ve always wanted to do youth mentoring, motivational speaking.” Citing her dyslexia, she said, “I want to reach a massive audience to tell kids it doesn’t matter what your shortcoming is.”

Shannon has the most clearly defined plans about her post-game fame I’ve ever heard. “If I am the winner of Survivor, I am absolutely going to go on The Ellen DeGeneres Show because I’d really like to dance with Ellen, because she’s kind of a dork like me. She’s just a doofus but she’s funnier than hell, absolutely love her. I’d like to do a cooking segment with Al Roker on the morning show that I watch, and I want to go on a tour overseas where the troops are and just say, we appreciate you guys, we love you, keep doing what you’re doing, we understand why you’re here, instead of this whole Vietnam adage of make love, not war bullshit. They’re there and they are government property, and civilians don’t understand that, and it’s really important that they do,” Shannon said.

While she has a clear idea about what she’d do if she wins, and that involves her larger-than-life personality, Shannon thinks she’ll tone that down on the show. “I can’t completely be myself because I will rub people the wrong way in the early stages. I would go in there and I would take charge of absolutely, positively everything, in a very lighthearted manner. But you can’t be all things to all people, and you have to pick your battles.”

Instead, in her tribe, Shannon just wants everyone to have fun. “I think there’s a way to be unified and to have a blast instead of just sitting around. There’s a million things you could do. Dude, you could draw a giant tic-tac-toe thing in the sand,” she said, and wants them to “play games for confidence-building, to have fun, to kill time.” She’s thinking that way because, as she said at Ponderosa, “this sitting down reading books, this shit’s killing me, dude.” As to her role beyond that, she will cook and fish, but decided she won’t work on the shelter. In addition, she said, “I’m not going to break up fight if fights break out–I’m such a peacemaker, totally.”

Shannon told me she’s worried that others in her tribe won’t be as positive as she is. “I really truly pray to god that we have the people that don’t use the word ‘can’t.’ That feel like even if we’re not winning challenges, we’ll have strength in numbers by sticking together instead of turning on each other,” she said. As she does in her life for “people that have a negative outlook,” she said “I wouldn’t really go after anybody. I would try as best as I could to mentor them, to see the light, that there is hope for tomorrow. … Maybe they need a little Shannon butterfly to tap them on the shoulder.”

Shannon works as a salesperson for a restaurant equipment supply company, and thus works with people, although didn’t connect that much to her game play. Shannon is close to her family–they were “pretty much raised as our parents’ little platoon” but “were very much encouraged to speak our minds and be individuals as we grew up.” When she talked about family, and being particularly close to her brother, she revealed something interesting: “He’s who’s coming if I make it to the 33rd day for family member, because seeing us together, dude, it’s like double jeopardy. There’s like two Shannons.” (I wonder if day 33 for family visits is a guess, or if family members were given an actual timeline.)

Shannon was a cook in the Marines, and although she has the title of sergeant and had people under her, “it wasn’t what civilians would think of as a drill instructor, or the sergeant in charge in the movie Platoon.” She thinks her experience in the Marines might benefit her in the game, so she won’t hide it. “If they find Shannon’s got a big mouth, she’s obnoxious, [revealing military experience] will kind of qualify it a little bit, but I’m also going to downplay it. That was a long time ago; obviously I’m not a physical threat 26 years later having been a civilian for 26 years.”

She hopes they’ll think “Shannon’s not an asshole, Shannon’s just a little gung ho” because “I can’t change who I am inherently.”

Hear Shannon describe what she sells, and what happened when she was awarded salesperson of the year, “the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life”:

Surprisingly, man not eaten alive on Eaten Alive

Eaten Alive

Discovery Channel’s happy family holiday special Eaten Alive aired Sunday, rewarding viewers for their two full hours of viewing by ensuring that they spent quality time in the company of others instead of wasting that time doing something else that might not have been as satisfying, such as buying things that have labels which accurately reflect their contents.


Winter 2015 reality TV debut schedule

winter 2015 reality TV schedule

Mark your calendars with all these upcoming reality TV show debuts, including Celebrity Apprentice, The Bachelor, and another season of MasterChef Junior, all of which kick off in early January.

There are also 20+ shows debuting in December--including the one-off return of The Sing Off. No winter break for reality TV.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.