For the second week in a row, Survivor 42 has been captivating, and it’s all thanks to the bright, enthusiastic, and earnest fun of the cast. But the icing on the cake is that this season’s approach to the edit has felt remarkably balanced across the board, showing characters, relationships, and their emerging strategies through camp life and personal scenes. There’s no doubt that the casting is fantastic, but the show giving room for these characters to shine is what’s made S42 magnetic thus far.
It’s certainly helped by having so many twists previously introduced, so we can have the ship wheel or the Beware 3-way Idol without having to litigate the twist itself so much as focus on how the players react to them. It is proof, once again, that Survivor doesn’t need to be constantly reinventing itself every season. Introduce a twist and let it simmer for a few seasons, and let the twist mature through the lens of the players—the actual living, breathing, lifeblood of the series.
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Yet even aside from the player reactions to twists and game mechanics, the season has put so many small camp life scenes up front. It’s Jenny and Chanelle trying to catch a giant hermit crab. It’s Hai’s moral dilemma to consume crab meat just to eat and his guilt for breaking his veganism. It’s Omar sharing his Muslim faith in a meaningfully frank, light, and earnest way (again, broader representation is so valuable) or his odd coupling with the hulking Jonathan. It’s Maryanne being her bubbly self as she swings from Jack Nicholson to Ashley Tisdale, and that contrasted with Marya’s heartbreaking motivations for her Survivor experience. The episode thrived on these small, personal moments, some for laughs, some for contemplation, some for deep resonance.
And the best part? There was still plenty of time for strategy and gameplay. But it felt organic and lived in because we felt like we knew something about the players themselves. Even the advantage-centric stories still felt character-driven between Drea’s loose-lipped confidence landing her in hot water and Mike’s self-inflicted Idol hunt and Daniel’s witty manouevering. Perhaps it’s just the glow of a fresh season or the fact that our two Tribal Councils thus far have been relatively straightforward affairs that have left more room for character beats. Still, if the rest of the season can continue to capture this same energy, we’re going to be in for a wonderful journey.
DOING IT FOR MARYA
Unfortunately, though, most Survivor journeys end prematurely for its players. Marya’s short stint on the Island didn’t feel like a surprise. And not just because the season promos spoiled a scene with Maryanne we’d yet to see—spoiling their own Tribal tension two weeks in a row, promo and editing team!. Nevertheless, I felt for her as she headed towards that inevitable demise. Her desire to make an independent mark was a compelling drive, especially as her motivations for embracing the experience also drew on the tragic loss of her brother, the first nurse to die of COVID in the US. Marya speaking openly about her loss with her tribe and her hope to bury a pendant depicting him on the Island in order to part with peace was a beautiful and moving conversation.
And yet as soon as the connections began to form on Taku, it was clear Marya was the easy target. With Jonathan and Omar finding their differences to be a commonality and Lindsay finding purchase in that core as a physical and trustworthy asset, there just wasn’t that same connection with Marya. That’s not to say her relationships with her tribemates weren’t real—they just didn’t click with the same solidity as others. And it was clear that as much as she hoped to play this game for her, she needed someone else to play it with. With our second ever clean sweep vote after another failed Shot in the Dark, it’s plainly apparent that she just couldn’t find those connections.
Did she do anything especially wrong to become the unanimous target? Not really. Sure, she lost the lead in the jailbreak portion of the first challenge, but she seemed to hold her own otherwise. She wasn’t causing chaos or disrupting camp. In fact, Jonathan, Omar, and Lindsay all identified that her calm, steady loyalty could be an asset. It just seems like she was a victim of the social game. Maybe it was just age or life experience that disconnected her from her tribemates—an unfortunately common situation for mothers in Survivor, especially those that don’t actively cultivate becoming the Tribe Mom. But for Marya, it also didn’t help that it came down to her or one of the most charismatic players of the season. Maryanne’s boisterous energy brought a loud levity that overshadowed Marya’s quiet surety.
Let’s face it: Maryanne’s the early breakout star of the season. Is she playing the most tactful game? Not necessarily. Her high energy seemed to be grating on some of her tribemates in their increasingly exhausted state. And her mile-a-minute manner seems to be colouring the perception of her gameplay as chaotic and potentially untrustworthy (despite us having never seen these qualities from the couch). But Maryanne’s energy and likability were her saving grace too. Jonathan mentioned how much he vibed and enjoyed Maryanne’s presence. And while Omar & Lindsay certainly noted that she was a riskier ally in the long run, there was never a sense of her being a direct adversary.
There’s something that’s appealing about players who are open. The more we see of someone in their earnestness and honesty, the easier it is for us to connect with them. Maryanne is nothing if not an open book, and while she may be at an 11 out of 10 (and that’s not everyone’s cup of tea), there’s no sense that she’s playing up a character or being over-the-top for OTT’s sake. That’s just her, and she owns it. She owns her loud laugh and her rambling rhetoric. She’ll reveal her crush on Zach to everyone, casually mention her insecurities about her romantic experience in her young life, but still crack a smile and a joke at her own expense for her Billy Garcia-esque attraction. And it is all earnest and endearing.
Credit to the show’s storytelling here too. In the past, boldly quirky and outgoing characters might be edited with the dodo music or portrayed as the butt of the joke. It’s not a universal trope, and we’ve had quirky characters with nuance for sure, but there is something refreshingly transparent about the way we’re seeing Maryanne. It’s clear the show loves her energy, but we’re also seeing the light and shade of her role in the game. We’re seeing other players talk about how much fun she is and how she can sometimes come on too strong in the same sentence, and we can understand that duality.
Game-wise, I’m fascinated to see how Maryanne factors into the story going forward. There’s every possibility she could be this season’s JD—a high-energy spark of a character whose journey ends far too prematurely. But I can also see her finding her footing and being in this for the long haul, especially with an extra vote in her pocket, which is a huge boon in these small tribes. I certainly hope she’ll stick around—not just for the levity she brings, but to see how she manoeuvres the bigger complexities of the game. Her impulsive enthusiasm could easily mask her more cunning side, and I’d love to see that duality arise too.
That said, I also think that the core three of Jonathan, Lindsay, and Omar made a good call here. Maryanne brings a lot of energy, but that palpable enthusiasm can sometimes be a helpful boon. Her charisma could also be a valuable asset to draw others to their side come a swap or merge, and in the long run, she fills the room in a way that means she’ll always be on others’ radar. Omar identified Jonathan as his meat shield and himself as Jonathan’s brain shield. Well, Maryanne is a social shield. Whereas Marya might be more loyal, she might slip under the radar behind them. But Maryanne? She’ll have a tough time making it to the Final 3 in any situation because everyone will be nervous about going up against her likability—and that makes her a perfect asset to keep around.
LOST & FOUND
Speaking of assets, the central drama on Ika and Vati this week all centered on the effective deployment of advantages. Andm more specifically, information. On Ika, Drea’s blunt confidence is exciting to watchm but it’s leading her down some worrying paths by putting her on everyone’s radars. The chaos Taku was worried about with Maryanne? Well, Drea brings actual chaos in the form of steely commitment to any which whim.
Despite her early alliance with Rocksroy & Romeo, Drea is doing a good job keeping her options open. Last week, she extended the possibility of a Rocksroy blindside to the on-the-outs Tori, and this week, she seized on the potential for a women’s’ alliance. While this should theoretically position her perfectly as the swing vote, Drea’s directness may have oversold it when she revealed her extra vote. While far from the most powerful advantage in the game, any power strikes concern into the hearts of Survivor players. No sooner had Drea pitched a women’s alliance than Swati proposed voting her out because of it.
More and more, we’re seeing public information about advantages becoming a hex on the wielder. And it seems risky to reveal such information to tentative allies at best, especially as it’s not apparent if Drea has also told her original alliance (which gives the women easy ammunition to turn Romeo & Rocksroy against her). While Drea’s boldness is enticing, there’s dangerous impulsiveness to her approach that feels destined to ultimately bite her. But regardless, she’s a fascinating force of nature.
On Vati, sharing information became one of the most absurd scenes in recent Survivor memory. After Mike managed to locate an Idol with the same code-phrase restrictions introduced in Season 41, he was put in a precarious position. And not just because he’d have to swallow his pride and acknowledge the grace of the sport of soccer. To his credit, Mike realised that losing his vote until the Idols were activated would put him at the mercy of his social game, and he’d need to shore up those bonds. We’d seen him partner with Jenny last week, and it seemed his next step was to pull in the swing pair of Daniel & Chanelle (leaving Lydia & Hai on the outs). However, to solidify this partnership, Mike wanted to show Daniel the clue to take advantage of his strategic mind…
Only… Mike misplaced the Idol. After stashing it in the undergrowth, he lost track of which fork in the road marked the spot, and watching Mike slowly panic as he couldn’t relocate his own Idol while Daniel watched on in shock and awe was an absolute delight of a scene. It’s a scenario many a fan has thought about when a castaway rehides their Idol, but to see it actually happen was just a treat.
But the most compelling aspect of the whole situation was Daniel’s immediate manipulation of the shared information to benefit his own game. Amongst his first reaction to the new twist, Daniel quickly identified that if he could find a way to prevent Mike from activating the Vati Idol, he could simultaneously block adversarial Idols on Ika and Tavu. It’s an ingenious thought and impressive that he quickly convinced Mike to hold off on announcing his phrase by suggesting he not put himself out there as the first. But it’s also a fascinatingly natural evolution of the twist that highlights my earlier point about letting new twists and advantages have the time to percolate and be reinvented and exploited by the players themselves. Even though this cast didn’t see Season 41, for Daniel to naturally cotton onto a loophole to kill three Idols with one stone is brilliant strategic thinking.
It’s also another death knell for the concept of sharing advantage information to gain allies, as Mike’s trust in Daniel immediately led to Daniel & Chanelle conspiring to use that information against him. Or, at least, to manipulate his trust in them to benefit themselves. One of the best parts about the advantages last season is the way that they’re introduced via mechanics that reveal some degree of information to other players. The ship wheel prisoner dilemma, the code-phrases, now the amulet: it’s a great way to tease out complexity in wielding and using an advantage. So it’s wild to see the players themselves taking so much initiative to leak this info themselves. It creates a transparency that makes the game more open but significantly more complex: and I love it.
Frankly, I love this season thus far—every bit of it. Thus far, this season is the Zach to my Maryanne. From a glance, it’s everything I want in a modern season. I’ve got a bit of a crush. And I just hope that the more we see of each other, the more we’re going to fall in love until we’re proposing at the finale. Okay, that might be getting ahead of ourselves, but when Survivor is good, it’s great. And that’s the magnet that keeps me coming back.