Despite some repetitive twists and unnecessary Jeff Probst fourth-wall-breaking, Survivor 42 has been a success, capped off here with an unlikely but intriguing final three. This season introduced a diverse and competitive group of players with big, bubbly personalities. And there is perhaps no bigger personality than the ultimate sole survivor, Maryanne, who becomes the first Black woman to win Survivor since Vecepia Towery 20 years ago!
Looking back on this season, it really has been Maryanne’s story. Her enthusiasm and eccentricities were on display from the moment she hit the beach. In one of her first confessionals, she talked about how she’s often labeled “weird” and ostracized because of her quirky personality. These real-world plights came to light in the game, particularly at the merge, where Maryanne was left out of the majority alliance. But her goal was to show that you can be weird and a winner, proving that you can succeed without compromising who you are.
Using her outsider status to her advantage, Maryanne hid behind the more vocal threats that underestimated her. She let them cannibalize each other while she found idols and secured social bonds. This allowed her to plot and observe until it was time to strike. And she struck big-time last week when she pulled off the move of the season in an epic 3-2-2 blindside on Omar, taking out the season front-runner with a bold and impressive piece of gameplay.
Maryanne’s move last week sets her up in good stead for the finale. With Omar out of the way, she has multiple options to guarantee her spot in the final tribal council. She explains this to the jury later, but there’s a moment in the first part of the episode when she almost sabotages herself. With a secret idol in her back pocket and assurances from Mike that he would play his idol for her at the final four, Maryanne has the opportunity to make a monumental move that she could claim entirely for her own. But it comes with a risk.
That risk is Lindsay, who has built up quite the résumé of late with an impressive streak of challenge wins; combined with her impeccable social game, she has become quite the end-game threat. So all eyes are on Lindsay for the next vote. It’s another do-or-die situation. Lindsay must win the immunity challenge or she’ll be voted out. And it looks like she’s going to pull off another miracle. She earns the game’s final advantage, giving her a head start in the challenge. But a dropped plank costs her time that the advantage bought, and she’s ultimately defeated by Mike in an extremely close puzzle showdown.
Lindsay is now a sitting duck. Her only hope is to appeal to Mike’s sense of loyalty. Maybe he’ll play his idol for her? After all, he previously said he wanted her at the end. But Mike says a lot of things and makes a lot of promises. He tells Maryanne, Lindsay, and Jonathan at various points that he’d use his idol for them. Lindsay essentially resorts to groveling — not the greatest look, but desperate pleas have worked in the past. It was a guilt trip that saw Erik Reichenbach give up his immunity necklace to the Black Widow Brigade in one of Survivor’s most iconic moves. However, Mike tells her that he already promised Maryanne that he’d play the idol for her during the discussion of the Omar vote. His hands are tied.
That’s where Maryanne’s opportunity arises. If Mike plays his idol for her, she could use her secret idol to save Lindsay and blindside Jonathan. Not only would she be protecting a friend, but she’d be making a flashy move in front of the jury. As a fan of good TV, of course, I was rooting for Maryanne to make a move. And honestly, with the way the edit set things up before tribal, I was expecting it to happen. Instead, however, Maryanne decides to take Mike’s protection from his idol and keep hers hidden away, sending Lindsay to the jury.
The drama of a Jonathan blindside would have been fantastic, but Maryanne ultimately makes the best play for herself. As I said last week, making a move is all about timing — there’s no point in just making a big move for the sake of it. It has to have long-term benefits. Maryanne might have received gratification in the moment, but she’d potentially be ruining her chances of winning. Lindsay was a much bigger jury threat to go up against at the final tribal. On top of that, Mike is an emotional player, and he could well have seen this as a betrayal and made it his mission not to let Maryanne make the final three.
Maryanne gets her chance to explain her thought process behind this move at the final tribal after Romeo picks her to sit next to him. Yes, you read that right. Romeo wins the season’s final challenge and earns the power to decide who sits next to him and who has to fight it out in fire-making. It’s a sweet moment for Romeo, who has played from the bottom since the merge, often used as an easy backup vote in case of an idol play. “This is my Miss America moment,” the pageant director says as he enjoys a rare moment of control.
Romeo chooses to put Mike up against Jonathan in fire-making, hoping that touted fire starter Jonathan can take out the real-life firefighter. It’s kind of fitting that the final spot comes down to these two guys. Mike and Jonathan had bonded early in the merge and agreed to protect each other as two of the bigger, more physically imposing castaways. And here, experience beats youthful exuberance as Mike builds an inferno, burning through his rope while Jonathan still nurtures his smaller flame.
With that, the final three are set, and it’s not one I would have predicted earlier in the season. Hell, I probably wouldn’t have guessed this configuration at the start of the finale. Romeo, Maryanne, and Mike are very different personalities and players. They each started in different tribes. And each has their own story of how they made it to the end. The jury does an excellent job of getting those stories out of the finalists with some good-natured grilling and a few laughs along the way.
An emotional Romeo talks about how he didn’t come into the game wanting to play from the bottom. But that was the hand he was dealt. He had to scrape by, constantly making new alliances and even crafting a fake idol at the final five to increase his odds of making it one more vote. However, he never gave up, and that perseverance paid off at the final four when he won the most important immunity challenge of the season. By making it this far, he’s proven to himself that he can do whatever he sets his mind to. The experience has also given him the confidence to live his truth, saying he will reenter society as a free gay man, no longer shackled by what others might think.
Mike, on the other hand, talks up his social and strategic game, explaining the difficulties older players sometimes have at fitting in with the larger group. He is complimented for his social skills and ability to connect with multiple people. And he talks of how proud he is to show his kids that they can do anything. However, he comes a little unstuck when confronted about his so-called “honor” and “integrity.” Mike lied more than he is initially willing to cop to, and he’s called out for not owning his game. He does eventually concede and defends his position pretty well.
But it’s Maryanne that steals the show. While her gameplay might not have been as showy as Mike’s, she does a great job explaining her strategy. In responding to claims that she didn’t take the game as seriously as others, Maryanne points out the reasoning behind that. She saw other young strategic players being voted out early (such as Zach, Swati, Lydia, and Tori) and so didn’t want to come across as another sharp-minded superfan. She has a bunch of great answers to tough questions like this. But her crowning moment is the reveal of the idol that she never needed to use.
By unveiling the idol, Maryanne provides evidence to back up her argument that she set herself up with multiple paths to the final three. She says she took out Omar with the assurance that Mike would use his idol on her at five — and if he didn’t, she had her own idol as a fail-safe. Once Lindsay was out, she had promises from both Mike and Romeo to take her to the end and knew that Jonathan would want Mike out as a big move on his résumé. Her name was practically etched into one of the final tribal seats.
It’s an incredible display of jury management and even more proof that voting out Lindsay was the right move — though Maryanne reiterates that she struggled with that particular vote. She explains that it’s in her personality to self-sabotage because she’s afraid of losing friendships or putting herself in a position where she could be hurt. She wanted to keep Lindsay but knew she’d potentially be giving up her shot at the title. But she ultimately made the selfish move, giving herself the chance to lose or win on her own merit.
Maryanne claims victory with all but one of the eight jury votes. It’s a feel-good ending to a stellar season of Survivor. I’m still not big on the on-island vote read and aftershow; it’s just kind of awkward watching the losing finalists sadly eat pizza while Jeff probes them with questions. I understand the pandemic forced the on-island post-show, but from what Jeff has said in recent interviews, it’s here to stay for future seasons. But I can forgive some cringe-inducing post-show shenanigans and frustrating twists as long as Survivor keeps bringing excellent casts like this and giving them time to shine.
Until next time, the tribe has spoken.