Parvati’s “dream come true” trip around the world interrupted by emergency surgery

Survivor Micronesia winner and Survivor Heroes vs. Villains runner-up Parvati Shallow is currently finishing an around-the-world trip as part of CBS.com’s Around the World For Free, and her travels were interrupted by emergency surgery she needed to have after suffering an injury in Africa.

Last summer, Big Brother’s Jeff Schroeder went on the same journey (read my pre-trip interview with him), which began as a TV series created by Amazing Race 2 winner Alex Boylan. All of its episodes are online. It’s an intriguing concept, and while there’s some entertaining and even educational footage, the series is a lot more telling than showing; Parvati often narrates things that have happened, rather than us seeing them. That’s somewhat disappointing, but seems like the result of both the production (there’s a single camera operator and occasionally a producer) and the relatively real-time nature of the series that relies on viewer suggestions and support.

In the most recent episode, day 90 of her 100-day trip, Parvati arrived at a refugee camp in Kenya that she learned of earlier in her travels; she still has a cast on her arm from surgery that took place a week earlier, on day 83. We talked last week, and Parvati said that while “I want to end on a high note, something so people aren’t crying at the end of the show,” “it’s been my mission since I heard about the crisis” to get to Kenya, so she was committed to finding her way there despite the “roadblocks” she’s hit.

The biggest roadblock was an injury she sustained in Namibia on a quad bike she was riding over sand dunes. The bike, Parvati told me, “crashed so hard that all of my pressure went on my right wrist,” but she pointed out that “with all the things taht could have happened, I feel extremely lucky with the injury.” That’s because people who crash quad bikes where she was usually fly off the bike and end up with neck injuries, or even die. But it wasn’t until she arrived in South Africa until she learned how bad the injury was. After the surgery, Parvati told me, “I am in excruciating pain. It feels like my arm is being squeezed in a vice.” That’s thanks to the “huge steel plate in my wrist” and “screws just go all the way through the bone.”

When she started the journey this summer, “I had no idea how I was going to pull this off,” Parvati said. “How can anyone do it? That’s impossible.” But “one thing leads to the next” and there’s a “rush of momentum behind you,” and she said that the interactive nature of the show has “turned [it] into this really fun social experiment, and I’ve enjoyed every second.” Where she ends up is a combination of her own desires and the offers and information she gets from viewers, so it’s “guided by myself and my personality, and also by viewers, and also by people who reach out,” Parvati said. “The stars have to align for me to end up” somewhere.

Parvati has won more than $1 million on Survivor, and I asked her about how she felt about letting people pay for her trip that is being filmed for a series that includes product placement and, of course, makes money for CBS. “In the beginning, it was a little bit strange,” she said. “But then, you kind of get into the spirit of the show. It’s not trying to get money from people, it’s about people taking part in this huge, epic adventure.” She called it a “symbiotic relationship.” Parvati has been surprised by the generosity and excitement she’s encountered from her hosts, who sometimes even “force me to sleep in their bed.” When she’s refused, offering to sleep on the floor, “they won’t let me.”

CBS’ web site notes that to help, “you have to be a local or connect me with a local. No freebies can be sent from afar,” and also notes that “CBS.com will help [Parvati] out with four overseas flights only.” Production also covered her surgery.

Besides the obvious differences, she said Around the World For Free is “so different from Survivor, beacuse they are real people, and you are creating real relationship.” That comes from being “thrown into this situation” that’s a “whirlwind of a time with them,” and those she’s encountered “let you in very quickly because they’re welcoming you with huge, open arms.”

“Survivor is so much about creating relationships with people so you can screw them over in the end; this is you’re creating actual friendships with people. The spirit of the show is genuinely good,” Parvati told me. On Around the World For Free, “you have no ulterior motives; you’re not trying to win. Everyone just wants to help out. It’s nice to be able to trust people.”

I asked her the inevitable question for a show that keeps recycling past contestants, and Parvati said, “I don’t want to play Survivor again, I really don’t.” That’s because “there’s a level of human decency that I think you have to neglect when you play Survivor. … You have to hurt people. I’d rather not spend my life hurting people, and if I can spend traveling around the world making friends, I’d rather do that.” She called it “a great game” but said that “once you’re in Survivor mode you have to wall up and be so defensive.”

Parvati said it was “such a blessing to be part of this experience,” and was especially grateful to her ESP Wellness Center business partner (and former Amazing Race cast member and later casting producer) Erika Shay, who’s running it while she’s gone. “I know it’s not easy. She’s been handling it like a pro.”

On this trip, “I’m feeling very open and vulnerable,” Parvati said. “I would do this every year. This is my dream come true. I love this.”

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