Survivor 42 finale recap: A legend is born

·21-min read
Survivor 42 finale recap: A legend is born

Wait, did that just happen? Is this real? Did we seriously just etch the name Maryanne Oketch into the Survivor history books as the champion of season 42? I want to start celebrating, but I'm worried there might be a stray hourglass somewhere that is going to magically undo this entire thing.

MARYANNE!!!! The woman I predicted to win back after episode 1! Granted, I also predicted she would magically acquire the power of flight at some point during the course of the season and would also win every installment of Survivor from now until the end of time, but no matter! A successful prediction is a successful prediction. (Don't look now, but after 23 seasons in a row of laughably inaccurate winner picks, I've managed to nail two out of the last four seasons thanks to Tommy and Maryanne. Do not expect that trend to continue.)

But I'm not delighted for the dominant 7-1-0 Maryanne victory as a sorely needed résumé padder. I'm delighted because Maryanne is delightful. She laughs. She cries. She makes up her own curse words that are not really curse words. She can speak so passionately on serious issues or be the world's biggest goofball. She loves Survivor, and the only season she did not finish was one that Stephen Fishbach starred on. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE?

Survivor season 42
Survivor season 42

Robert Voets/CBS Maryanne Oketch on 'Survivor 42'

Oh, and she played the damn game. She was the only one smart enough not to tell other people about her idol or advantage, and she rallied the troops to take out Omar when there was hesitancy because of Lindsay's idol. She never won a challenge, but if I've said it once I've said it a thousand times: JURIES DO NOT CARE ABOUT CHALLENGE WINS! You can go ask Brad Culpepper and Chrissy Hofbeck all about that.

To win Survivor, you have to make the jury want to vote for you (and you can ask Russell Hantz all about that), and that's exactly what Maryanne managed to do. I mean, as a juror, how could you not want to give her the money simply to see her reaction upon being named the winner? That alone would have been worth it for me. But that's not why she earned it.

No disrespect to Mike and Romeo in the least. The social game Mike played as a 57-year-old — forming strong bonds with people less than half his age — was super impressive. He won a big challenge, he dominated on the fire-making, and you know I love the way he repped Wesleyan University (where both our sons attended). He stumbled in his final Tribal, however, not presenting a clear message as to why he deserved to win.

Mike tried to coast on an integrity platform during the Q&A, but appeared a bit flustered once people brought up the deceiving he had done along the way, and he didn't seem to know the best way to adjust his pitch around that. He neither took ownership for his deception nor was able to explain his lies away to the satisfaction of the jury, and that was essentially that for him.

As for Romeo, he played from the very bottom ever since the merge, which is a truly terrible and exhausting place to be. He won the final immunity challenge and made a semi-decent fake idol. He should be super proud of all that. He also probably knew those accomplishments were not going to come with a million-dollar check, no matter how many pageant metaphors and analogies producers kept making him trot out (the sash, the crown, the shiny dress… WE GET IT!). Winning that final immunity and getting to the final three was Romeo's victory.

The rest was all about Maryanne. You all know how I felt about her from the second she leapt onto my television screen. The ebullience. The excitement. The goofiness. It was reality TV love at first sight. If Maryanne was not the least pretentious contestant in the history of the show, she had to be close to it. The only way this story could have ended any more perfectly is with a televised Maryanne and Zach Wurtenberger wedding. Hey, CBS did it for Rob and Amber! Speaking of which, did you ever watch the Rob and Amber wedding? You have my full and complete permission to skip the rest of my recap and just take in the hour-and-a-half televised spectacle below instead. So worth it.

So, yes, I'm happy! I said that if Maryanne won Survivor 42, I would change my season ranking from the 21st best Survivor season ever all the way to number 1 with no chance of it ever being displaced. And while I will probably not go that far, one can expect it to creep up a spot or two for sure. Was Maryanne an amazing player? Maybe not. But she was amazingly fun to watch, and it was a pleasure watching her winning journey unfold. I've said before that the enjoyment of Survivor is often based on a feeling it evokes, and the feeling I got watching Maryanne was a lot of joy. And joy is something we could all use right around now.

It's also worth noting that Maryanne makes for the second straight Canadian woman of color to win Survivor after Erika Casupanan was crowned the champion of Survivor 41. Seeing as how Canadians were only first allowed on the show in season 39 (and season 40 was all previous winners from the United States), that means Canucks have now won two of the three seasons in which they have been eligible, even while being wildly outnumbered in all three seasons. Canada! Land of ice hockey, tuques, poutine, and Survivor champions!

Now, let's be champions ourselves and hit on the other big moments of the Survivor 42 season finale.

Opening Statement

Let's step away from the game for a second. No, not to go back and watch Boston Rob and Amber's wedding. (Seriously though, have you checked that out yet?) But rather to talk about how well shot this show is. Just take the very first scene this week. Now, perhaps you were too unnerved by Jeff Probst talking to you through the television screen. Me? I've gone on record as digging these little confabulations between host and audience. But while I usually find myself getting lost in Probst's dreamy dimples, this time I was struck by how amazing it looked as he walked around telling us how much "I love finale night." I do too, Jeff!

It's not easy to light things that well and that dramatically at night. A lot of work went into that little intro scene, and you know what? It was worth it. And it totally got me jacked up for the finale to come. It was not the only production wrinkle to do so this episode.

Survivor season 42
Survivor season 42

Robert Voets/CBS The 'Survivor 42' final five

Lindsay's Last Stand

Romeo called her the fighter, and that's an apt title. Lindsay knew she was in deep doo-doo and had to fight to stay alive after she was left out on the Omar vote. I don't quite understand why she was so mad at Jonathan for not bringing her in on the plan even as she had been trying to get rid of him forever, but we've seen a lot of that double-standard logic this season.

Of course, Lindsay's best chance to stay was to win the final five immunity challenge, and she seemed the safe bet to do so after she scored the pre-challenge advantage by solving a word scramble that read "Good fortune is tucked in the toes of the sleeping giant." (Hopefully, the sleeping giant has more secure toenails than Maryanne.) Lindsay secured that advantage when the others could not figure out the scramble, giving the challenge beast the advantage of only having to untie one knot per station as opposed to six knots per station.

Did I mention stations? I certainly did! This show just has a different energy when the contestants are running around, and bouncing off of nets and struggling on rope bridges as opposed to just standing there and balancing on something. Sure, all that running around in the night's first immunity challenge was pointless window dressing and all that really mattered was the puzzle but… I DON'T CARE! It's exciting! It's fun! It makes for good TV! And this is coming from a guy that was really only half paying attention because I was still so wildly distracted by Probst asking, "You want some meat sauce?" before the challenge began. I don't know why that sounded so awkward, but it did, and I loved it.

In the end, it came down to Mike and Lindsay, with Mike winning by a single piece while also scoring "Hoboken points" with a bloody knee. As a two-decade Jersey guy, I've never heard that expression. I certainly have scored a few "Hoboken pints" in my day back when I used to hang out at this bar Maxwell's, but seeing as how the sight of blood makes me light-headed, I'd probably pass out before scoring any Hoboken points. Come to think of it, I've actually passed out a few times thanks to Hoboken pints, so I guess it's all kind of even Steven.

Anyway, very cool moment for Mike — a fan of the show from day 1. And now his kids got to see him win a huge challenge on a Survivor finale. He may not have won the season, but he won in the game of life with that moment right there.

Survivor season 42
Survivor season 42

Robert Voets/CBS The 'Survivor 42' final five

After that, Lindsay's only chance of staying was if Maryanne played an idol for her — either her own or the one Mike had promised to her. Shockingly, it actually appeared for a while like she was going to do exactly that. Maryanne told us how she wanted Lindsay to find the advantage and win the challenge, and also talked about the possibility of making a second big move of blindsiding Jonathan to impress the jury. At this point I was screaming at the TV, and what I was screaming was… You want some meat sauce?!

And, after that, I was screaming NOOOOOOOOOOOO! Which, granted, was because I realized I was out of the Milwaukee's Best Ice I purchased up in Connecticut specifically for the occasion of Survivor finale night because apparently nobody in New Jersey has stocked Milwaukee's Best since the year 2007. But, like, I was also worried Maryanne was going to save Lindsay… so I guess I was kinda warning her as well?

Luckily, Maryanne came to her senses at Tribal Council and — after being given Mike's idol — did not play her own for Lindsay. Not only was that the smart play to get jury favorite Lindsay out of the way, but it also gave Maryanne a big prop surprise to pull out at final Tribal Council. Speaking of pulling things out — and no, this is not another meat sauce reference — we need to pause for the cause and talk about Romeo's fake immunity idol. First off, it didn't look half bad for a guy that failed arts and crafts, but I guess now that I think about it, it's not really the fake idol I want to talk about, but rather the jury's reaction to said fake idol.

It's clear Romeo was hoping to get a big reaction when he stopped the vote reading by saying "Jeff…" Did you see the jury reaction? HUGE! This was it! Maryanne made her big move last week and now it was Romeo's turn! Maybe we should get that Survivor sash and crown ready after all! It was time to unlearn all that we had learned! It was time for Romeo to drop the hammer! Annnnnnnnnnd then he revealed it was just a fake and threw it into the fire.

The vivid disappointment on the faces of the jury was a letdown I have not seen en masse since walking out of a movie theater playing The Phantom Menace. If anything, that pump fake actually seemed to hurt Romeo in the eyes of the jury, as if he was being punished for daring to get their hopes up. Brutal. Dude, if you're going to try to serve the jury a meal, you better bring some damn meat sauce.

The Simmotion of the Ocean

After Lindsay was sent to the jury, it was time for the final immunity challenge. But not until we heard from each of the contestants about how personally important it was for them to win it, including this emotional response (is there any other kind?) from Maryanne: "I sit in the sorrow and sadness. It's okay to feel sad. But the thing is, sadness doesn't take you anywhere. It's what you do with that. What am I going to do with my sadness? I'm going to turn it into passion and drive so that I push myself and do the best that I can and I win this competition."

I mean, she didn't… but it was still a nice speech. And at least Maryanne made it to her second ball in this Survivor classic in which players have to drop balls in chutes and catch them with the one hand that is not tied behind their back. Mike was out with just one ball, a section of the challenge so easy that Probst referred to as the "warm up phase" — which, oddly enough, is also what I call my first can of Milwaukee's Best Ice. BUT YOU DON'T SEE ME DROPPING THAT!

Mike and Maryanne dropping out so early left us with a clash of the titans between Jonathan and… Romeo??? All kidding aside, it was nice for Romeo to have this moment. It was clear he was never going to win the game, but this gave him something that enabled him to hold his head up high with a big moment for really the first time since the merge. I'm glad he got to have that.

As for Jonathan, it shows why fears of him going on an insane challenge-winning run were so overblown. Make no mistake, Jonathan is a physical beast and did things in the pre-merge portion of the game we have never seen before. But those were pre-merge challenges. Individual post-merge competitions are a different thing all together, and when all was said and done, Jonathan won only two immunity necklaces, and he only had to beat one other person to win the second one thanks to the Do or Die twist. Again, not throwing any shade at all, but it's a note to future contestants to not get so carried away worrying about big physical threats once you get to the individual portion of the game.

Fire Represents Life

You all know how I feel about the fire-making at final 4. Suffice it to say, not a fan. But, like 26-day seasons, they're seemingly here to stay, so not a lot to be done about it. The intrigue here was whether Romeo would put Maryanne or Jonathan against Mike. My guess is that Romeo probably had a sense he wasn't going to beat any of them at the end anyway, so that maybe took the pressure off of him blowing it with a bad decision. That said, I was nervous as hell that Maryanne was going to go down in flames… almost literally.

Thankfully, Romeo picked Jonathan to take on Mike, and it was the better call for viewers in terms of an epic match-up of the two best fire-starters on the island. At least so we believed. It seemed like everyone just assumed Mike was a great fire-maker because his former job was putting them out, even though he had actually not done much of it on the actual island. Well, in this case, perception equaled reality as Mike built a sturdy flame that quickly snapped his rope… crushing any hopes of another hilarious Becky vs. Sundra match-up of the matches.

For his part, Jonathan seemed stunned by his loss, staring over at his still burning fire even after the competition was well over. Jonathan was a bit of a curious case this season. At times, he seemed to be pretty attuned to which way the wind was blowing at camp. But we also heard women on the tribe voice that he could be disrespectful at other times. It's hard to imagine Jonathan having gotten many (or any) votes at final Tribal. But he was a huuuuuge part of the pre-merge portion of the season, and that one water competition when he tossed drifting tribe mates through and over giant swells was arguably the most insane challenge performance we have ever seen on the show. Jonathan made the season a better one.

Survivor season 42
Survivor season 42

Robert Voets/CBS The 'Survivor 42' final five

Final Tribal Pre-Game

I have a confession to make: My least favorite part of a Survivor season is often the last day of the game before the finalists head to Tribal Council. It usually consists of the final three sitting there eating food and toasting their success ("Can you believe we made it this far?"), which is fine. But then we also have to sit and watch a bunch of confessional interviews where they just kind of restate things they have already said and spit out lots of generic sounding sound bites about how hard they are going to fight for votes to prove they should be the Sole Survivor. Been there, yawned through that.

Considering how Survivor has veered towards an all-killer, no-filler approach in the past few years — cutting out everything from the opening credits, Previously On recaps, and infamous Rites of Passage where contestants would struggle to say something nice about someone who only lasted three days and they never even met — this pre-final Tribal ritual of pseudo-inspiring babble always struck me as filler. But producers did something very, very smart this season. They went super old school and inter-spliced those snoozy remarks with pre-Tribal comments from the jury that were actually… kind of awesome!

Whether it was Omar letting us know that "I need Mike to own that he was a snake" or Drea telling us that "I hope Maryanne sways me. I am a feminist. I want to give a woman some money. But I'm also a competitor and I can't in good faith just give somebody some money because I like them" — these little tidbits gave us a peak into the jury's mindset without actually spoiling anything. And they also got me totally hyped and fired up for final Tribal.

Of course, leave it to the enigma wrapped inside a mystery wrapped inside a question mark that is Rocksroy to deliver the best line of the entire season: "Romeo's strength was the fact that he was weak." That is so perfect on so many levels and just reminds me that I would be totally cool if season 43 of Survivor was merely a live cam of Rocksroy just doing regular Rocksroy stuff in his regular every day Rocksroy life. Throw in some footage of him getting nagged by his wife, and I'll even pay premium charges to watch.

But seriously, adding in those jury comments was a great way to juice what is often an otherwise pretty blah point of the finale. Well done.

Final Tribal Council

Probst started the final Tribal off by asking for a "tough and respectful" treatment from the jury, and while I would have preferred his opening to have also involved meat sauce of some kind, I did really like him setting the tone and essentially telling the jurors two things: 1) To actually challenge the finalists (even the one they planned to vote for) and make them work for that vote. And 2) To not descend into personal ugliness.

And guess what? It worked! They were tough (Jonathan even told his biggest ally, Mike, "You need to own your game!") and respectful (Drea took down the temperature when folks were getting upset at Mike for lying when absolutely everyone lies on Survivor).

As for the players, while Mike clearly struggled laying out a cohesive argument to vote for him after his integrity platform was shot down, Maryanne and Romeo weren't exactly killing it either. They were fine. No screwups. But no home runs either. Until Drea told Maryanne that she slept next to her at the fire every single night and had no idea what she did in the game. It was all the opening Maryanne needed.

Maryanne calmly and confidently explained how the Omar vote set her up with multiple combinations that pretty much guaranteed her spot in the final three, and then she did the thing that is extremely hard to do — she legitimately (and simultaneously) surprised and impressed the jury. "I kept the only secret in the game," she announced while taking out her previously secret immunity idol in a move that amounted to game, set, and match.  Another note to future Survivor players: When the jury answers "Touché," you just won Survivor.

Alas, because this is Survivor, we didn't end on strategy. We had to end on "personal evolution." And while sometimes (okay, most times) these proclamations of emotional growth can come off as forced — perhaps because contestants are prompted by producers to talk about it approximately 3,718 times over the course of a season — you have to feel good for Romeo after he explained how "I am leaving this game as a free man who will no longer have to hide because I am scared of what people might think, even my religious family back home just because I am gay and they won't accept me. I am gonna leave this game as a free man the way I have wanted to live since I was 19."

Look, if you are going to get shut out in a Survivor final Tribal Council, getting shut out with a statement like that after also winning the final immunity challenge is a pretty good way to get shut out. Speaking of which, did you know Stephen Fishbach got shut out by a Survivor jury? It's one of my favorite Survivor facts! And one which Maryanne didn't even know since she refused to finish his season. Which only makes me love her more.

Survivor season 42
Survivor season 42

Robert Voets/CBS Maryanne Oketch on 'Survivor 42'

Break Out the Champagne

The biggest revelation from the After Show was certainly not that Mike really, really likes pizza. Nor was it Jeff Probst's self-described mullet. Rather it was that so many people (Drea, Lindsay, Rocksroy, and even Tori and Omar to a degree) were leaning towards voting for Mike walking into Tribal and then ended up casting them for Maryanne instead. It speaks to the difficulty he had illustrating his gameplay, and the hammer she dropped with that hidden immunity idol. It is also SUPER rare in that jury decisions are usually pretty close to set in stone before the jurors actually walk into Tribal Council. I kinda love that the people charged with making such a huge decision were so flexible in their thinking and actually allowed themselves to be swayed. I'm sure Mike doesn't love it, but it's still cool.

And now it may seem like were done, but we're not even close to being done. We've got interviews with the entire final five coming your way so follow me on Twitter @daltonross and Instagram @thedaltonross to keep tabs on those (and here they are for Maryanne, Mike, Romeo, Jonathan and Lindsay). And don't forget to check out our exclusive deleted scene from the finale at the top of the post. You may also be interested in perusing some of our pre-finale content, including our interviews with the final five as well as the jury. We also chatted with the Hostmaster General himself, Jeff Probst, about the future of the franchise, which will give you some hints about what to expect on season 43.

I guess once you finish all that nonsense, that will be it for us until the fall. As always, I want to thank you for taking this journey with me. Wasting time writing about a reality TV show is a lot more fun when others are around to waste time reading about it, so I do truly appreciate everyone that keeps ignoring their better judgement and coming back for more of these random musings. I only wish I had more scoops of the crispy to give. See you in September!

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