SHE DID IT!
This was truly one of the most perfect and satisfying endings to a season in a long time (Tony’s win was terrific but predictable). Going in to the finale, I said I’d be happy with several outcomes, but this is by far the one that makes me the happiest. Survivor 42 started its premiere strongly as The Maryanne Show and we’ve never had a winner start off in such a way, so Maryanne remained off my radar as an actual contender until just last week. I thought her winning would just be too good to be true, but being the unique individual she is, she did something extremely rare.
As far as a story goes, Maryanne may just have the best, and that’s a lot to say after 22 years of Survivor being on the air. We’ve had plenty of compelling winners, but Maryanne’s ride this season was a journey filled with both personal growth and game growth. Was she the biggest driver of the strategic narrative? No, but was she the biggest driver of the emotional narrative? Absolutely, and it’s the latter I care more about, so as to not bury the lede, I’m going to go ahead and call this now:
There are many to remember among the cast of 42, but most of all will be Maryanne. She introduced herself as this larger-than-life personality but one who carried some emotional baggage underneath that bright and smiley exterior. Maryanne self-identified as “weird” which a lot of people in the world use as a negative word to describe someone, but not Maryanne. She embraced it. She loved it, and she wanted others to love it too. Looking back at this line especially now that she’s a winner, it’s my favorite quote from the season and among my top quotes from any season ever:
Maryanne is her own, completely new archetype. She’s just … Maryanne. I don’t know how else to describe her. She started out as an over-the-top character, but watching her growth throughout the game was something special, and she delivered one of the best finishes in Survivor history. She went full throttle at the exact moment she needed to and she closed the deal. Everyone in the final three had a good final tribal council, but Maryanne’s was perfect. She showed emotion, she showed game, she gave the jury an exciting reveal — an all-timer — absolutely everything Maryanne needed to deliver at the end of the game, she did.
In a “new era” of Survivor filled with so many twists, advantages, and heavy strategy talk, it was so refreshing to have this kind of “feel good” winner who not only navigated all of those elements well but wore her emotions on her sleeve and gave the audience someone compelling to root for on a more personal level. In terms of “edit,” Maryanne’s was thankfully much stronger than Erika’s whose edit is one I hope is never repeated, especially for a winner. Both women were impressive winners (back-to-back 7-1-0 landslides) but I’m glad that Survivor fixed 41’s disaster and gave us a proper Sole Survivor story in 42.
It also should be noted that the casting initiative to diversify the player population made the noticeable impact it should have. The make-ups of the finales of the last two seasons were more diverse than any other, we ended up with two (Canadian!) women of color, and Maryanne is the first black woman to win Survivor since Vecepia 20 years ago — almost to the day. What a celebration of women and persons of color! The game design may be declining, but the casting direction is on the climb and I expect great things again from the 18 new faces coming in 43.
While still on the train of praise for Maryanne, there’s another “title” I have to give her this season. 42 was a little lacking in a certain type of challenge element, one that is tailored to gymnasts, chemists, Red Lobster servers, or the like all combined in one. You guessed it — my favorite part of my finale blogs is here! It’s time to award the Debbie Donato-Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam! As mentioned, there weren’t a lot to choose from, and I can’t say this season’s winning moment was as entertaining as 41’s scooting sensations Tiffany and Heather:
Instead, the award this season is going to an approach to a balance beam rather than on a balance beam. Last week, the final six had to spin their way to a beam, and Maryanne spun herself counter-clockwise on the way there, so being the smart spinner she apparently is, she decided to un-spin herself, going clockwise to correct her body’s sense of balance. For this impeccable innovation and ingenuity, without any further ado, I present the Survivor 42 Debbie Donato-Wanner Award for Best Performance on a Balance Beam to Maryanne Oketch:
She just wins everything this season, as she deserves!
Maryanne was an absolute joy to watch and I’m going to guess that there have been a lot of “weird kids” like her and myself who have grown up watching this show wanting someone to see themselves in, and Maryanne is the hands-down best representation of this type of Survivor fan. Be you, be authentic, don’t let anyone knock you down for it, and through it all, you can succeed and you can win, just like Maryanne. I think that’s a beautiful bow to wrap around this season and a massively important takeaway message. I’ve been satisfied with many Survivor winners, but I don’t know if anyone has filled my heart up with more pure joy than I felt when I watched Maryanne win. Her emotion and her energy are infectious — she’s got a million-dollar smile and now a million-dollar check to go along with it.
While Maryanne’s emotional journey from Day 1 to Day 26 was top tier, Mike would have also made a solid Sole Survivor, but what he just couldn’t quite do was close the deal. Rather than the final three getting generic final confessionals at camp, I loved the old school throwback to the “jury speaks” segment where we got to hear from each juror about what they needed to hear from the finalists in order to give them the title and the money. The jury confirmed what I already knew Mike needed to do: he needed to own his game. He needed to own that his strategy was intentional, that he broke bonds, and that he did whatever he needed to do to get to the end. Too much talk of keeping his word or playing with honor and integrity would be his downfall, and that’s exactly what happened.
Objectively, I think Mike played a more standard Sole Survivor game. He was socially at the top of the totem pole, he was a strategic driver of key decisions, he found advantages, he won an immunity challenge (with an emotional acceptance speech to go along with it) — Mike played a fierce game; he just failed to recognize exactly the kind of game he played and couldn’t capture it well enough in an argument to the jury. You can make a strong sales pitch, but if you can’t close the deal, then someone else might, and at that final tribal council, it was the Maryanne who ultimately made the jury go, “Sold!”
I get it. It’s hard for a 116-year-old to admit they played a little “dirty” — that’s not the moral “code” they grew up learning. Mike did everything you’re supposed to do in Survivor; he just didn’t really revel in it. Omar especially wanted Mike to admit that he was a shark and came here to eat everyone, but Mike just didn’t have it in him. He thought the only bond he broke was with Rocksroy, when the rest of the jury had identical receipts.
Mike was another great character and a favorite of mine from beginning to end, so as happy as I was for Maryanne, I was heartbroken for the Hoboken whisperer having to sit through the after-show not having fully processed what just happened. He told Jeff he was good with the outcome, but there were moments were Mike’s face showed a different feeling.
To be fair … totally justified.
I’m not a fan of this new “reunion” format and while I understand why the LA studio has been sidelined, it sucks for the players. They get no time to process, especially the losing finalists. Those two have to put on a brave face and smile so they don’t seem bitter, only to, I’m sure, break down when they get to Ponderosa. You don’t just get over 26 days of blood, sweat, and tears in a split second over celebratory champagne and pizza. Mike’s a great guy and handled himself well there, but I know that on the inside he was hurting hard.
It's rare for the token “old guy” to go far in the game and drive so much of it, but Mike did. Mike not only hung in there with competitors half his age, he often led them. It goes to show how genuine and good this guy is to be able to connect with so many different individuals the way he did, definitely a worthy runner-up. There have been some “dad” archetypes but I think Mike is another who doesn’t fit any particular mold. I pictured him performing similar to how Rocksroy did, so I was immediately impressed when Mike started the game setting himself up so well with alliances, but when you position yourself that way, connected to everyone, you’re bound to get blood on your hands. Man, if Mike just embraced that a little more, he would’ve had the million, I think. I’m still satisfied with his story, though. We got equal parts heart and head from him, a very well-rounded character and player.
Rounding out the final three, finishing two spots shy of the Survivor Sash (no, not another 0-vote finalist from Nicaragua), was expectedly Romeo. Unexpected though was his surprise win at the final four immunity challenge, ultimately sealing Jonathan’s fate and possibly sealing the Sole Survivor’s when he chose to take Maryanne to the end. Romeo wasn’t winning in any final three make-up, so if nothing else, I’m glad he did what he does every day of his life and gave rise to a new queen.
Even Romeo, who we know the jury had little intention of voting for, had a strong showing in the season finale. The smallest guy beat the biggest guy at the final immunity challenge, making it to the finals on his own terms and no one else’s. He gave a good performance at final tribal council, but Mike and Maryanne just were stronger. I’m glad the jury didn’t get in too many digs at Romeo’s expense either — it really was one of the best, most well-rounded, and respectful final tribal councils of all time.
Romeo will be remembered for me as someone who had a strong, social start but was overwhelmed when the tribes merged. He faded into the background a bit, but I’m glad he too got to be his most authentic self in Survivor. It wasn’t a winning Survivor story, but I think it’ll be a win for him in life and between him and Maryanne, the underdog duo will walk away the most changed for the better from this experience. Their fun run at the end together was also super sweet, and having written about all three finalists now, this truly was just a “feel-good final three.” Even if I knew he was getting 0 votes, I wouldn’t have hated Romeo winning. It wouldn’t have made as much sense as Mike or Maryanne, but I was rooting for Romeo in other ways and will continue doing so as a fan.
Is Lindsay one of the shortest Survivors ever? I can’t recall anyone else whose had their face covered by the snuffer!
Funny how the two biggest challenge beasts of the game lost it all because they couldn’t clutch a win when they most needed it. Both had only two individual immunity wins, but I guess that still makes them this season’s “beasts.” Arguably Tori has as much claim to that title then, doesn’t she?
Challenge strength was all Jonathan really had in his arsenal, but it deserves a nod especially the way he literally dragged Taku to some of those wins. Lindsay was much more versatile, maybe the most well-rounded player in the game. Super social, strategically sharp, and a physical powerhouse. It makes sense that no one wanted her at the end. Had she been able to argue all aspects of the new “social/physical/strategic” theme of final tribal council (still a little hokey, but not as horrible as outwit/outplay/outlast), I think she could’ve made a case to beat anyone she was up against in all three.
I felt like Omar, Hai, and Drea got the bigger “threat” edits, but comparing them to Lindsay … maybe it was her most of all; her edit was just smaller because she was successfully able to shrink her target more, and it almost made her a millionaire! She definitely has the intensity of fellow New Jersey girl Stephenie Lagrossa, but Lindsay’s social game is leaps and bounds beyond Stephenie’s. I don’t think Lindsay will be the most talked about name of 42 as seasons go by, but when you add up the social, physical, and strategic games of all its players, Lindsay probably has the best score and I think is an excellent role model for women who play this game.
FAREWELL TO 42
Overall, 42 was an improvement over 41. The twists were the same, but the cast and editing were stronger. This season’s story made sense and was satisfying from beginning to end, and there was no one who got “Heather’d” in the edit. I still have the same feeling, though, as I did after the last finale — it still could have been better without the twists, but the cast did the absolute best it could to do give us a good narrative. I can’t think of a single dud. Jackson, Zach, Marya, Jenny, Swati, and Daniel all had big, memorable moments for pre-mergers. Lydia was lighter than I’d have liked, and maybe most fans don’t remember her as much, but I forever will (if you don’t, go follow her on social media and your worldview will be changed).
Chanelle was an intense, cutthroat gamer, Rocksroy gave me old school character (for better or for worse) that’s been long-missing in the show, Tori was … actually, on the show I probably gave her too much shit — she served her character role well as the annoying one who gave me some laughs (her as a finalist would’ve been legendary in all the worst best ways imaginable). Hai was a bloody delight, Drea literally sparkled with all her Survivor bling and shining exit, Omar was our almost-winner after being on top for his entire game until the end — an impressive run.
Jeff joked (or maybe he wasn’t kidding) that he’d bring this entire cast back, but I’d believe it. They’re all hungry players (hangry* in Jonathan’s case) but they love and respect the game so much to not make it too personal. It never felt “ugly” at any point. While I don’t need “Camp Kumbaya” all the time, I’m glad to leave a season with nothing but a positive impression. I would still welcome a new villain to the Survivor franchise, as I still don’t feel like we’ve had an iconic one in years, but I’m happy everyone is happy.
Ew, gag, I’m almost getting emotional. Stop.
NEXT TIME ON SURVIVOR…
Is that octopus what will finally be revealed as this Survivor monster Jeff has been hyping since the end of last summer? That logo looks fucking sick at least. 41 and 42 were what you’d expect for kind of a generic “no name” season, but this logo looks like it could fit in with some classics. I’m excited to see an official shot of it. It looks like a lot of yellow which is, you know, kinda my vibe.
Jeff has gone on record saying most of what we’ve seen the last two seasons is here to stay: small starting tribes, shot in the dark, “earn the merge” (because at some point, surviving 6 tribal councils became not enough, apparently). It’s … whatever. He also said during the pizza party that one of his new favorite twists was Do or Die, so he’s completely out of touch with reality which isn’t new so I can’t act like I’m SHOOKETH over this confirmation that we’ll likely see that one again too. This season showed that the cast can still soar in spite of all the heavy twist and advantages weighing them down, so I’ll try my best not to bitch about the same stuff again next season, but if the show’s allowed to recycle its shit twits, I should be allowed to recycle my shit-talking.
Early winner pick? This colorful goddess:
I don’t even know her name but I’m obsessed with her and she is my entire world. I just can’t help but stan women who wear rainbow.
What a convenient segue into…
You don’t have to wait until September for more Survivor. It’s coming July 18th, and it’s going to be better than probably 41 and 42 combined (that’s not dig at them – SA is just that good). Survivor: South Africa is at the top of its game right now, and if you haven’t watched any, you should. It has the perfect mix of old school vibes and new school strategy. It was on Paramount+ for like 2 weeks and I don’t know why they took it off, but if you want to watch, DM me and I’ll direct you to Season 8. Then you can update me after every episode as you watch it and I can experience it all again vicariously through you — it’ll be great!
Season 9 will be a returnee season, but if you don’t have time to catch up before July, it’s okay. There’s no wrong season to start with SA. If you’re watching any season, you’re doing something right with your life.
Okay, plug over. Thanks for reading!
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter:@Ryan__Kaiser