Survivor 42 came to a satisfying conclusion, as one of the biggest characters of the season came away with the million dollars, after giving a focused, well-prepared Final Tribal performance that included inventing a new use for hidden immunity idols. In the end, one of the show's biggest fans ended up winning it. What's not to like?
Not only that, but Maryanne is the first Black female winner since Vecepia (Towery) Robinson, almost 20 years to the day. So it was a historically important win, as well, and it marks the second consecutive victory by a woman of color since CBS instituted its new diversity initiative (after prodding by Black Survivor alums) which put 50% non-White contestants on the casts of Survivor 41 and 42. Fun fact: we've never had a Filipina-Canadian or a Kenyan-Canadian contestant before, and now we've had one of each, each of whom has also won!
(Weird, obviously unrelated side note: There are no Canadians in the Survivor 43 cast.)
It's a big change from "old era" Survivor, which hit its COVID-related pause on a run of six consecutive male winners, and had fans wondering if a woman could ever win the game again.
(Don't worry, somehow the show was still allowed to cast
women for 43.)
These more diverse sets of contestants have brought different life stories, different lived experiences to the game, and at the same time, the show has leaned heavily into their backstories for character development. That's been a really welcome change.
Did we really need yet another former Miss USA competitor talking about how pageant life prepared them for a cutthroat game (that they've never watched before)? Or another retired pro athlete/coach talking about getting their game face on? Or the obligatory telegenic actor/bartender/underwear model living in West Hollywood/Santa Monica who was picked up for the show a few days before the cast flew out? Give us fun people who love Survivor and have a series of heartbreaking/interesting/exciting stories about growing up/figuring out life over any of those bland slot-fillers, every time.
A more cynical person might point out that all this new focus on storytelling and compelling narrators almost makes up for all the game-disfiguring twists the show has piled on while we've been distracted by the contestants and their journeys. But not this commentator!
(Just kidding, we'll get to that eventually.)
But first, a look at the final five, each of whom brought different track records and skill sets to the finale, which made the discussion a bit more complex than the traditional "strategic game/big moves" vs. "physical game" arguments, which was one more nice development.
Maryanne: The perfect winner for an imperfect season
Maryanne may not have played the greatest strategic game ever. She didn't control every vote, although she did play a key role in the big Final Six vote. But even so, she played a really solid game, particularly socially — everyone liked her — and her overall performance was good enough to receive ~90% of the jury votes. Her confessionals also revealed a deep love of the game, and knowledge of strategic gameplay.
But perhaps the best part of Maryanne's victory was that she was one of the season's biggest characters, full of enthusiasm, life, and energy. She laughed, she cried, she was vulnerable, and embraced her weirdness from Day 1. She knew how the game was going at most times, even if at times her execution was imperfect, but by the final six had a clear path to the end, and a plan for securing the million. As such, she was the perfect winner for this fun, complicated, and occasionally flawed season.
That's not to say Maryanne is a bad winner in any way, quite the opposite. How could anyone begrudge someone as ebullient and enthusiastic about playing Survivor as Maryanne was for taking home the million? She did what was required: She positioned herself to get to the end with people she could beat. She cast ballots for the person who ended up being voted out (VFB) 8 out of 9 times, and only received 2 votes against her (VAP). Among winners, the closest statistical comparisons are Earl Cole (8/9 VFB, 1 VAP) or Tommy Sheehan (7/9 VFB, 2 VAP). Earl was also 0-for-8 in individual challenges, where Maryanne was 0-for-10. (Tommy won an unaired RC, but was 0-for-8 on the televised show.) Pretty good company.
Maryanne admitted she played a somewhat "reckless" game in the first half, unguardedly sharing her true self with her tribe, and occasionally irritating her tribemates just by constantly being 100% Maryanne, 24 hours a day. Because of that, and perhaps also because of her youth, people didn't take her seriously, which probably helped her in the post-merge, but may also have even better long-term/meta-game effects. Was she guaranteed to win this time? Not until Omar and Lindsay left the game ... but that's okay, because she made some big moves in those two votes. Could she win again in an all-winners season? If she makes it to the merge again, absolutely, because she will again be underestimated, most likely to other players' detriment.
There's also a good argument to be made that in "new era" Survivor, we're going to see a lot more winners whose biggest gameplay emerges in the final days, rather than someone who runs the game from start to finish. (Unless they're a subtle, behind-the-scenes strategist like Omar.)
So if you don't like it, go complain to Mr. Probst.
Mike: An old-school player in a new-era season
Mike seems like a warm, genuine, and effortlessly friendly guy, and that probably helped him stay in the game as long as he did. Who doesn't like Mike? But by the end of the game, his "honesty and integrity" routine had worn a bit thin on his fellow castmates, as Lindsay, Maryanne, and Romeo all complained in the finale that Mike didn't seem to keep many of his in-game promises.
As a show-highlighted example: In Drea's boot episode, Mike "gave his word" to a final five alliance with Drea, Omar, Lindsay, and Jonathan — all of whom were in fact eliminated at the next four Tribals. When you add in Chanelle and Hai (and Rocksroy, whose boot wasn't Mike's choice), that's a lot of burned bridges. So of course the jury was reluctant to reward Mike with the million, unless he owned up to his deceptions (and that they were intentional, strategic moves) ... which didn't happen, despite Hai asking him some leading questions, trying to gently nudge Mike into a confession that never quite materialized.
Mike played a really strong game, and clearly engineered a lot of exits. But he was never shy about telling everyone in earshot when he felt he had been wronged (particularly about Chanelle and Hai), giving everyone around him the impression he was making boot decisions for emotional reasons. The rest of the time, Mike was a calm, empathetic guy who seemed very supportive of those around him.
If Mike had kept his irritation about his opponents over perceived slights in his confessionals, he could well have won this whole thing. Maybe a change to make for next time? There's still time to set the record for oldest winner.
Romeo: Better than the edit implied
Romeo also had a lot more going for him than it appeared at the end. He ran Ika in the pre-merge, and it's still unclear whether Drea abandoned him before he got paranoid about being abandoned, or the reverse. His triumphant win in the final immunity challenge, guaranteeing him a spot in the final three, was both a victory for the "ultimate underdog" and a belated vindication for all his work in the pre-merge.
What happened to Romeo's edit after the merge? From his RHAP exit interview with Rob Cesternino, he was tired of being the backup vote, so he started giving catty confessionals complaining about it, and then ... "I was so mad out there, Rob, I was like 'screw you,' all my confessionals were like 'I can't wait to leave these people, I hope they drown, I want to hit them in the face with a baseball bat,' like, it was bad. It was bad. The producers were like [makes a queasy face] 'Ohhh, we can't use that.'"
In light of the overall good-natured vibe of the season, that was probably a wise decision, but it would be still be amusing to see the Angry Romeo Edit version someday.
Jonathan: You have to get to the finals in order to win
Jonathan somehow managed to be a better strategic player than he appeared on paper, a worse social player than his legions of extremely loud fans seem to think, and somehow both really, really good at team challenges and also merely very good at individual ones (in the post-merge). He's a man of contrasts!
Still, his fanbase's outrage that Maryanne won and he didn't overlooks the obvious problem that he wasn't a finalist. There's one clear culprit there: Jeff Probst. Had Probst not insisted on forced Final 4 firemaking back in season 35 (and every season since), Jonathan was virtually guaranteed to reach the final three. Mike wanted to take him. Maryanne wanted to take him. Romeo wanted to take him. (Jonathan presumably also wanted to be there.) He probably still would have lost, but oh well, guess we'll never know for sure.
But that clear path to the finals was thwarted by good old Mr. Jeff. Instead of joining a 3-1 majority to vote out Mike, Jonathan was forced to make fire, and in that minute-long contest, after 25 days of battling the elements ... he failed. If you're mad that Jonathan wasn't a finalist, and therefore couldn't win: take it up with the host.
In the early game at Taku, as he was single-handedly carrying them through challenges, Jonathan did a great job of biting his tongue, hiding his frustrations, and being calm, hard-working, and friendly. But that self-restraint waned a bit towards the endgame, as he grew more physically depleted. (If you're mad about that part, again, take it up with the host, who has convinced himself that literally starving the contestants by not giving them rice was a fantastic idea in a 26-day season.) He bickered with Drea and Lindsay over showing them how to use the fishing net, which was not optimal social play. He complained that people weren't being more grateful to him as the provider, which also wasn't the best.
Jonathan had some solid reads on his competitors during the game, especially in seeing through Lindsay's attempts to lull him into complacency before she voted for him in Ep12. And yet what his game really lacked was some compelling reason to make other people vote for him at the end. His original goal was to just win all the immunity challenges, which has been proven over and over again to be insufficient grounds for a victory to most juries, starting with the very first one in Borneo. And then the next one in The Australian Outback, too. And then ... well, you probably already knew this.
In the end, it's not the big moves, it's not the number of necklaces, it's making people like and respect you enough to give you a million dollars that wins Survivor. Had Jonathan actually been the pleasant, selfless workhorse he imagined himself to be, maybe the game works out for him. But charity is not transactional, it's when you do something nice because it's the right thing to do, not because you expect something in return. In contrast, Jonathan all but explicitly demanded payment in the form of thanks (and/or jury votes) for catching fish and winning challenges. On Survivor, that seems like a losing argument almost every time.
Lindsay: Finally, a Stephenie LaGrossa who could have won
Lindsay came into the game as a huge Stephenie fan, citing her fellow Jerseyite's (Jerseyan's?) fierce competitiveness and never-quit attitude as inspirations. Lindsay matched or exceeded Stephenie's physical game, with three individual challenge wins, and a top-30 all-time single-season Mean % Finish in individual challenges score (76.3%). Stephenie racked up just one win across her three seasons, and topped out at a 62.7% MPF in Guatemala.
More importantly, Lindsay was actually contributing to moves and maintaining alliances — with Omar, with Mike, and keeping Maryanne in the Taku fold, even when she was on the bottom — to an extent that Stephenie never quite seemed to grasp.
Lindsay's fatal flaw was clearly a late-game tunnel-vision quest to vote out Jonathan, mainly because he was condescending to her, and she found him annoying. It was a mission that made little strategic sense for her, since Jonathan was a useful meat shield, and if she'd succeeded in voting him out early in the post-merge, she would likely have been the next target. But all in all, a solid performance. Like Jonathan, the physical game would only have gotten her so far with the jury, but with the right Final Three opponents (probably Jonathan and Romeo), she could plausibly have won. A surprisingly well-rounded performance out of the "challenge beast" slot.
So all in all, a great cast, and a satisfying ending. As time has passed since the finale, though, some less-savory accusations have come out concerning one juror's line-crossing behavior at Ponderosa, allegedly systematically undermining someone who was still in the game with a set of lies. It ended up not mattering to the end game as both wound up on the jury. But it's still deeply hurtful.
For a season that felt as fun on TV as this one, that's really disappointing, and it erodes a lot of the goodwill for the season that the cast generated. Maybe that's the real reason there were no Ponderosa videos this season?
At the moment, we only have one person's word for it (who has no real reason to lie about it), and on-the-record discussion about it appears to have been squelched. It was never on the show. There is no official record of it. The RHAP interview in which it aired has now been edited to remove it. It's the CBS way: If something bad happens, cover it up.
Because of that, though, that puts all of us fans in an impossible place. There is now no way for the juror who spread those stories (Drea) to respond, now that the story has come out (via Omar's deep dive on RHAP). The original problem was that Drea spread negative stories to the jurors, when Omar had no possible way to respond or counter them. Now we're in the same situation, just in reverse. We have one side's story, while the other (apparently) can't give their side. (Although that was not Omar's intent in sharing the story.)
So what do we do about this? Do we hope that maybe Drea misinterpretated some comment from Omar, and that set everything off? That is was just bad sportsmanship on her part? Should we forget and forgive? Probably not, but what else can we do?
If CBS/Survivor is intent on clamping down on any discussion of this event, that's fine, but they need to establish some sort of rules to ensure something like this doesn't happen again.
Clearly, part of the healing process for finalists and jurors
(and pre-jurors) is airing their grievances about the game and
hashing out their differences with each other after they're
voted out. That should stay. But jurors should not be allowed
to talk about anyone who could potentially be a finalist
— positively or negatively — until that person is
at Ponderosa. They are supposed to be open-minded jurors, not
political campaigners. They have production staff with them,
so it's not that difficult to enforce. To maintain the
integrity of the game, the show owes nothing less to the
people they starve and exploit for feel-good TV.
Great work, riddlers
One of the relatively minor twists introduced in Survivor 41 was the Morning 24 treasure hunt for a challenge advantage in the Final 5 IC. This was fun at first, but it comes as a replacement for the old format: an individual reward challenge in which the advantage is the prize. It's unclear why this is preferable, apart from allowing the crew to build one fewer challenge. It also may simply be because with just 26 days, the producers don't want to waste four of them on the finale (F5 RC, F5 IC/Tribal, F4 IC/fire, final Tribal). Might as well squeeze off a side quest near camp the morning before the F5 IC, right?
This season revealed the problem with this format: If people have idols that are active at Final 5, they're much less likely to participate in an island-wide wild goose chase (see: Maryanne). Especially when, as Lindsay's efforts showed, the reward may not be worth the effort, particularly when the treasure hunt was as poorly executed as this one.
First off, the clue was terrible. The giant rock that marked the location of the F5 challenge advantage was surrounded by other large-ish rocks, and at best looked like a foot from one direction, and even then, only with the addition of on-screen graphics (above). Still, somehow, Lindsay after "running around like a banshee" (not what banshees are generally known for) managed to climb up to the exact, difficult-to-get-to spot where it was *supposed* to be: "tucked in the toes of the sleeping giant."
Except that the advantage wasn't there. It was down on the beach, sitting on top of a rock, at the "heel" of the alleged oversized "foot." This is the kind of attention to detail that keeps this show on the air for 21 years.
(For what it's worth: Damnbueno's conspiracy theory makes a lot of sense here — he suggested that Lindsay probably looked for it in the right place, didn't find it, and it was clear the others would never find it, so the producers just put it on the rock and told her to go back and get it — which makes sense for logistics reasons, since they were probably under a time crunch to get everyone over to the immunity challenge.)
And then, after all that work ... the "advantage" turned out to be completely useless, because the big barrier to progress on that challenge was the various bridges people had to cross, not the stupid knots. For comparison: When Cochran had a similar advantage in Caramoan, there were only three bags (there were five here), it was a simple slide to get back to the puzzle station, and his bags were completely untied, zero knots. (He won this advantage at an RC the day before.)
So, basically, Lindsay wore herself out scouring the island in the hours before the challenge, only to receive no real advantage, and then lose the challenge by one puzzle piece.
Just bang-up game design all around. Going cheap has its costs.
The future of Survivor: drown them in twists (quantity over quality)
Back when record companies were still trying to fight online music sharing, one fairly successful approach they took was: Rather than shutting down torrents and other file-sharing sites, simply flooding those sites with thousands of files that looked like popular songs/albums/whatever, but were actually bogus files, in the hopes that fans would eventually give up trying to find the actual file they wanted.
This appears to be Jeff Probst's new approach to fan criticism about his creative decisions with the show. Remember how mad people were about F4 firemaking after the HvHvH finale (especially considering how it kneecapped Chrissy's otherwise bulletproof strategic endgame)? Well, today F4 fire is maybe 10th on the list of things fans would like to remove from the game.
Now there's Do or Die! Or Knowledge is Power! Or the hourglass twist! Or (name any number of superfluous twists from 41/42). If you keep adding more and more new stupid twists, people will stop complaining about the old stupid twists! It doesn't matter that the new ones are terrible. If you keep piling them on more and more new ones, eventually people will stop complaining about the old transgressions. (Perhaps this is Mark Burnett's sole contribution to the "new era" of the show, borrowing from his old friend Donald Trump's M.O. of distracting from yesterday's outrages by creating new ones today.)
For most of 42, the showrunner's excuse for duplicating 41's twists almost shot-for-shot in 42 was because "this cast hasn't seen 41." The twists were still fresh to *them*, even if the audience was now doubly tired of them. So the players were still surprised, and had to adapt to the new game structure. With that in mind, some fans (well, this one, anyway) were thinking, "Okay, many of these twists are still really dumb, but at least they'll be gone next season, because they won't have that surprise factor any more."
"... things like small tribes, earn the merge, no food, risk/reward dilemmas, Shot In The Dark, are here to stay."
That's right! All those things you especially hated in 41, and hated again in 42 ... will be back in 43! (And probably 44, because the show can't possibly come up with new ideas due to the tight filming schedule ... nor apparently when they have a year off between filming.)
Small tribes? Fine. A bit boring when it's done every season, but whatever. Shot in the Dark? Eh, largely irrelevant, but sure, okay. Everything else: Why? What more can we possibly get from the dilemmas? Why do we need to starve the contestants? Is it really that much of a budget hit to let them have a few bags of rice?
Sometimes the twists are so bad, they (thankfully!) don't even make the edit. For example, from his exit interviews, Omar had an idol nullifier! This was a really bad idea which US Survivor stole from Australian Survivor: 2017. It was briefly fun in David vs. Goliath because it achieved the highly improbable but desired result of helping the underdogs. Then was decidedly un-fun when the more likely outcome happened in Island of the Idols: it took out a really popular player (Janet Carbin), who was just desperately trying to stay in the game.
Thankfully, everyone voted out Omar before he had a chance to use the idol nullifier on Mike, preserving Omar's reputation both as a good strategist and a fun villain.
Of the unwelcome returning twists, "Earn the merge" (the hourglass twist) was the most egregious Probst-driven atrocity, since it involved his outright lying to the contestants, *and* it removes half the options in the merge vote. Danny McCray rightly objected to the first part in real time in 41. The show's response? As you could have guessed, the twist came right back again for 42, just with slightly different wording (which was still a lie). And it's coming back again for 43! To be fair, everyone knows what's up with it now, so it's not really a fakeout, unless they switch it up and let the people who get the Applebee's feast actually be immune. So if they do that, and ditch the hourglass part, it's not *that* terrible, although it still takes away half the players as merge vote targets, which isn't great.
In general, the problem with the "new era" twists is that they replace a lot of contestant-driven action, particularly votes, with production stunts. Already, the final 12 (half the merge tribe immune), final 10 (split Tribals), final 7 (Do or Die), final 4 (fire), and final 3 votes have been tinkered with or eliminated. The risk/reward calculation for the "beware" idols incentivizes the people who find them to hold them as long as possible, increasing the likelihood of a final 6/final 5 idol-play cascade. Do or Die, again, stupidly risks jettisoning one of the most important votes of the game in favor of eliminating someone via a game of chance.
Still, note that F4 firemaking wasn't even mentioned. That's not because it's now gone, but because it's now a permanent part of the game, like the Final Three. (As far as we know.)
You see, Probst isn't making the show for fans, nor for the players any more. He's making it for Tyler Perry and Mike White, and if they don't complain to him about twists as they happen (that is, while they're filming), he can't possibly fix anything, ever.
So far, the "new era" game has thrived, despite its overstuffed twist barrage. But that's mostly because the 41/42 casts have been filled with aggressive, adapatable Survivor fans, who can be interesting on camera even when the twists are not, and have rolled with production's punches because they love the game, even when the one they're playing is only occasionally recognizable, relative to the one they've been watching for two decades. What happens if/when casting sends out a set of duds? It has to happen eventually, right?
He knows exactly what's wrong; he just thinks it's what right
So as we examine the state of the Survivor game, with 43 already filmed and 44 about to start, we turn to the one guy with the power to change things: Jeff Probst, who is talking directly to the camera, begging us to like his show, while also ignoring any and all criticism about his choices. While we're here, let's listen to what he has to say, and what it says about the show itself.
In his introduction to the finale, Probst talked about how the finale was "unpredictable" because Mike and Maryanne had idols, so in theory at least one of them was guaranteed final three. (Literally everyone predicted this.) Probst then went on to diagnose exactly what's wrong with the show: "For the other players, it will come down to immunity challenges, because without the necklace, you are left to rely on your ability to persuade others that what you want is what they need. [Emphasis mine, mostly.] And that is very tough to do on Survivor."
That's Survivor. He just described Survivor. That's the entire point of the game: Convincing people to keep you in the game (which is bad for them), while voting them out ... and then to give you a million dollars for it afterwards! That's what everyone likes about it!
What show does he think he is making?
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes