For the third season of CBS' web series Around the World for Free, Parvati Shallow circumnavigated the globe for 100 days without a single dollar to her name, and she has social media to thank for her (mostly) good fortune.
Around the World Productions, the producers of the show, brought the idea to CBS after the first season had aired online in 2007. "We thought this was such a uniquely interactive opportunity because it authentically involves an audience," says Michelle Lynch, director of original programming at CBS. "It was different for us because we were new to the original content space, so it was the perfect property for us to jump on and run with." CBS Interactive obtained the rights to the show, and Season 2 premiered in July 2010 with Jeff Schroeder, a former contestant on Big Brother. (Fun fact: Alex Boylan, the star of the show's first season, created Around the World after winning Season 2 of The Amazing Race.)
A year later, Shallow began her journey. Throughout her 100-day adventure, five-minute episodes launched on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on CBS.com. The former Survivor winner relied on the show's online community of fans to shelter, feed, transport and guide her. Through polls, Twitter, live chats and an interactive map that followed her journey in real time, fans determined her route and activities. They even voted on which tattoo Shallow got during the show's second episode.Overall, CBS says that 30,000 fans tagged along as Shallow volunteered in Haiti, learned to samba in Rio, and broke her wrist (requiring surgery) in Namibia, resulting in more than 9 million video plays.
After trekking 30,000 miles, over three continents and 12 countries, Shallow is back in her hometown of Santa Monica, Calif. We caught up with the now-professional nomad and asked her how her attitude toward social media shifted, why it was different from her time on Survivor and whether she'd ever consider doing it all again.
TVGuide.com: The entire show was dictated by your interaction with fans. What was that like?
It was wild. You couldn't script it. And that's what was great about it at the same time. It's really a reality show. In most reality shows, you're put in a scripted situation. This show? It was all me. It was what I wanted to do, who I wanted to connect with. That's what was wonderful about it. The host can really make it their own.
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Were you at all hesitant going into it?
I didn't 100 percent understand the concept of the show. I thought, "I don't even know if I can do this. I don't know where I'm going to go, who I'm going to talk to." And I didn't like talking to people on Twitter. Relying on people you don't know online? That's weird! Not really my style. Social networking wasn't my forte, and the show is built upon social networking.
So you obviously had a change of heart at some point.
I said, OK, I need to fully change my attitude about this. One of the biggest challenges I needed to overcome was to just allow these people into my life. And it turns out, the fans I connected to online and through the show are some of the most wonderful people I've ever met. I'm really glad I opened my mind.
Do you think it's important for shows to be engaged with viewers?
I realized social networking is a really great tool, especially for fans who are in areas removed from Hollywood. They're more interested and excited, and if they want to talk to TV personalities, they can reach out and actually get a response. It's a cool way to connect. If you could play a part in guiding someone's journey and you could see the actual results of what you did the next day or the day after, it definitely encourages people to get more involved.
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What was the most moving experience you had throughout the 100 days?
It was probably making it up to the refugee camps in Dedaab [Kenya]. I had wanted to do that for months, ever since I had heard about the famine situation in Somalia and what was happening in the refugee camps in Kenya. I made that a personal mission, and I hit so many roadblocks, but I still pushed through and made it there. To me, that was a personal victory.
Which was more physically and emotionally challenging: Around the World or Survivor?
Around the World was longer — so that's more like a marathon. Survivor is more like a sprint. With this, I had so much passion and it gave me so much energy. I didn't really feel exhausted or wiped out, even when I broke my wrist and was in the hospital. I still wanted to keep going. And in Survivor, you're dying. You're starving, you're dehydrated, everyone is driving you insane. It's totally different.
Any plans of traveling the world in the near future?
I would love to! This is my calling. I just love it so much.
Check out Day 67 of Parvati's journey, after she broke her wrist riding a quad bike in the Namib Desert.