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'Your Life Does Not End Because You Have A Diagnosis': Shantel Smith Opens Up About Her Battle With Multiple Sclerosis Before 'Survivor'

(CBS) - Survivor 41 is heading down the stretch and Shantel Smith is officially the fourth member of this season's jury.

CBS' Matt Weiss spoke to Shantel about her experience on the island, her bond with Ricard and competing with multiple sclerosis.

MW- Hello Shan! It's been a few days since your elimination episode. I always feel bad talking to people after their game is cut short but I'm extra sorry you've had to stew on it over Thanksgiving.

SS- Thank you! I kept thinking about all that as I'm eating stuffing, I'm like I got interviews one Monday. Just really stretched it all out [laughs].

MW- Of course your time on the island didn't go as long as you'd hoped but when you think back on even getting to the island in the first place, what was that moment like for you?

SS- Oh, my gosh, I think there's nothing like it. First of all, I'm soaking wet because I just was in the water and I'm like, oh, there's no laundry, I'm going to be wet all day [laughs]. Then I meet Brad, Ed, Davey, Sarah, Ricard, all these people I saw pregame but couldn't talk to.

Everyone was so sweet, everyone's so great, it was beautiful. I mean, the sun hitting the beach and Fiji is beautiful. There was nothing like it. It was hands down one of the best experiences of my life.

MW- And then you get sorted into the Ua tribe and you all just start getting picked off one by one. What was it like watching the tribe get taken out in numbers like that?

SS- We started on such a high right because we won the first challenge. We were doing good and all of a sudden we start to get picked off one by one. I'm reading the tea leaves and I'm like I've got to stay on my A game.

I just knew I had to work my little hiney off just to get through it. I knew I had to be strategically strong and socially smart but it's so hard. This is the game though and someone's got to go and you just don't want it to be you.

MW- You always have to look out for yourself but at the very least you think you'll have some time to build with your original tribe, you didn't have that luxury though...

SS- My gosh, yeah. It's so funny because the other tribes had all this time to really build relationships and stay together, you think they'd be the strong force and really tight. Oddly, Ricard and I were probably the tightest pair out of everybody because we had to be to stick around.

I mean, I went to tribal every single day. I was there every single day and it was just awful. I was working my little tail off just trying to get through.

MW- You mentioned Ricard and there's no bitterness in your voice so credit to you for that [laughs]. You tried to have his back and he threw you under the bus. Walk me through that blindside from your perspective.

SS- I mean, we are who we are, right? At the end of the day I wanted to protect him. I was with that boy for 19 days. I was locked into this all Black alliance, which just you know, plummeted. But I was all locked into this and I just believed in it and never in a million years thought they would go against it.

So my dream was for Ricard and I to be there at the end, he was my husband on that island. You know what I mean? He was the Will to my Grace, I love that boy, I love him. He made the best move of the season in my opinion because had he not taken me out I would have not taken my foot off the pedal. I would have gone straight to the end and I would have won the game; I feel that way in my heart.

Both he and I, our resumes were stacked. He made the best move and I give kudos to him, there is no love lost there. There's not an ounce of bitterness there and when I went out everyone's like well, she was trying to put a target on people's back but I was being honest. There was no bad blood at all.

MW- Changing gears a little bit, you are someone who has battled multiple sclerosis and you decided to put yourself through Survivor and did an incredible job. Can you talk about that experience of going on the show with your situation?

SS- Yeah, I mean, I was terrified [laughs]. I was diagnosed in 2018 and I lost vision in my right eye, my legs were going a little numb. I got diagnosed after lots and lots of tests with MS. I had a great neurologist who was super aggressive so I was put in chemotherapy; I did eight rounds. That was hard but I'm in remission now, I'm plant based and I eat well.

Pregame what nobody saw was that I was actually so terrified to go and play Survivor I almost didn't even get on the plane. Before flying out there I told my family I'm not doing this, there's no way, I'm not going to put my body at risk, I'm in remission.

But I prayed about it and I felt like God released me. My congregation, my pastor released me to go chase my dreams.

Your life does not end because you have a diagnosis. If anything, it just begins. I really just didn't want to live my life in fear. I went up there and I was terrified. I was thinking I'm going to be medically evacuated, this is going to be so embarrassing if I have a flare up.

But, I went out there and during pregame Jeff said to me you can cry now but when you get out there you're Wonder Woman, this is your show, you own it. I took that and I just got up there and I was like I'm going to play like I'm a rock star and I'm going to own this.

I did just that! I will say I don't know if it was being around the water or some kind of electromagnetic field, the climate, the air, eating less, living minimalistic, but my body healed in a lot of ways out there being around nature. and stuff. I really do believe in wellness and wholeness and plant-based eating and all of that.

It was terrifying but you know I was a rockstar! I want everybody with MS to know the diagnosis is not the end of your dreams. I believe that even though modern science hasn't figured it all out completely. I believe with mixing therapies there is a way to live well and to still be happy and to live a wonderful life.

For all those that are disabled, I'm just out there for you and I hope regardless of color or gender or ethnicity, I hope you can see yourself in me playing the game and know you can live a full life.

MW- God bless and congratulations on the remission! So with all that being said, one last question before I let you go, if you get called to go back would you do it again?

SS- Oh my gosh if Jeff calls me oh yes! I'd go back but I'd be terrified again [laughs].

MW- [Laughs] Thank you so much for the time today Shan, it's been a pleasure talking to you and all the best moving forward!

SS- Thank you so much. Take care!

Tune in for a new episode of Survivor 41 Wednesday nights at 8 PM ET/PT on CBS or available to stream with Paramount+. Check your local listings for more information.

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