Survivor 42

Finale Recap – Life, The Universe and Everything

What went down in the season finale?

Photo: CBS

Survivor 42 was billed as “fun” throughout, even on the show itself, and it managed to cement that reputation with a beautifully satisfying finale. It may not have had the fireworks, shocks, or big moves that have elevated past finales, but a straightforward conclusion is not always a bad thing. When you’re invested in the characters—and this has been a season that has invested in its characters through a far more balanced edit than we’ve seen in a long time—then you just need the catharsis of the conclusion. And we got that in spades.

Lindsay’s fight to the bitter end, synonymous with her high-wire battle in the last few weeks. The comeuppance of Jonathan’s arrogance, laid low by the most basic survival skill. Romeo’s push to earn the power he’s been deprived of throughout the merge. The internal conflict of Mike, a wholesome supportive guy caught in wanting to play hard and succeeding, but hoisting his own petard of “honour and integrity.”

And Maryanne Oketch: what an incredible winner to represent this season. She came into the game with such a bright, vibrant personality full of joy and heart. But we are conditioned to expect these Characters™ to ultimately be the supporting players who just so happen to steal the spotlight from the main (winning) protagonist. Yet Maryanne bucked that trend, embracing that guise to cover her tracks while intelligently and intentionally setting herself up to make the Final 3 with a few key plays and then delivering on a decisive, persuasive articulation of her gameplay. Even as the game grew tougher and more focused, she never lost the spark of personality—the ‘weirdness’ she embraced from the start, her infectious enthusiasm: and she managed to make a miracle happen.


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Not only did she emerge as one of the youngest winners in the show’s history (and age has often been cited as a factor against the winning chances of younger players) but she also became our second straight Canadian winner. And the second Black woman to win Survivor, 20 years to the season after Vecepia Towery won Marquesas. That’s quite a high mark for the 40th person to win Survivor.

I came into the finale hoping Maryanne could pull it out, and I am thrilled that she succeeded on the back of her own quality. Mike, especially, was tough competition—both likable in spite of their flawed games. But Maryanne commanded her seat at Tribal and had the evidence to back up her claims. She spoke with confidence, insight, and self-assurance beyond her years, and it thrills me that the self-described oddball not only made an impact on the game but won it. She was a one-in-a-million character, but now also a one-with-a-million Sole Survivor.

I’m sure I’m high on the recency bias, but this season feels like it’s cemented itself as a Top 10. An incredibly dynamic cast and a push towards a more nuanced and balanced edit. An embracing of the fun side of Survivor while also centering some heavier topics such as implicit racial bias. And capped off by one of the most unique winner journeys we’ve had, there was just so much to love about Season 42. It feels like the kind of season I would want to rewatch if I just wanted to enjoy some Survivor.

That’s not to say there aren’t criticisms—largely towards production twists like Do or Die and the Hourglass Fake Merge. That’s not to say the season is all hits, no misses; here were definitely some straightforward episodes, the finale among them. But the season was always good, entertaining, and engaging, and especially in modern Survivor, that is an incredible baseline.


After Omar’s blindside, Lindsay had an uphill battle, but her push to the end nevertheless proved a valiant effort. Foiled in her plan to eliminate Jonathan—and his hypocrisy becoming even more grating as he shone the spotlight on her isolation—she had nowhere to hide. As a challenge threat and a social, well-liked player, she posed a significant danger to other castaways. Even though many of them liked her and wanted to support her as a friend (Mike and Maryanne both considered playing their Idols for her), she was simply too big a threat.

Nevertheless, Lindsay’s swansong was an impressive effort and a real roller-coaster demonstrating just how good her social game could be. When the Final Five were presented with the riddle for the final Challenge Advantage, Lindsay’s quick wit pieced together the clue to give her an edge. But her ultimate success in locating it in the toe of the sleeping giant was aided by Maryanne working to sandbag the rest of the group from solving the riddle, giving Lindsay the time to find it with less pressing competition.

Photo: CBS

But from a high to a low, Lindsay’s challenge advantage fell just shy of what she needed when Mike managed to beat her by mere seconds. From a glimmer of hope to a flicker of inevitability, there seemed to be very little chance Lindsay would make it through. Even though Jonathan was ominous competition come the Final Immunity Challenge, or the fire-making beyond that, his game had been relatively one-note. He didn’t seem to be widely regarded as a true threat to win due to his dismissiveness of some of his competitors, especially the women. So while principles might make him a danger, Lindsay was equally dangerous on the challenge front and had a greater chance of pulling votes should she manage to make the Final Tribal.

For a vote that ultimately was straightforward (a unanimous elimination of Lindsay), there was still plenty of tension around the players who would ultimately be the winner and runner-up, framing their choices that led to their final placement. Mike, eager to play an earnest and honest game, found himself caught in the webs of his own making. Having promised to play his Idol on 3 of the 4 vulnerable players, he’d put himself in a position where he’d have to break his word to somebody. Lindsay weaponised guilt as much as she could to pressure Mike into using his Idol on her, and Jonathan seemed convinced it would come his way. But it was Maryanne’s confidence he’d play the Idol on her that proved the right read.

From Mike’s perspective, playing the Idol on Maryanne was a solid choice. It honoured a deal while not interfering with the vote itself. Nevertheless, it left the opportunity for shenanigans, between the possibility of Lindsay pulling Romeo and Maryanne to seize a majority or another Idol to upset the balance. Would it have been better to just hold onto it rather than play it on someone he assumed would be safe? Not necessarily. And we just saw what happened when a safe Lindsay didn’t play her expiring advantage on an ally. There’s also something to being able to present the play at a Final Tribal in a way that would diminish Maryanne’s contribution.

Photo: CBS

Of course, in actuality, that only gave more ammunition to Maryanne. She could ultimately show that her social strategy was well-positioned enough that she could trust Mike would play his Idol on her, all the while having her own Idol as insurance. In a way, Mike’s play would have been great for him 9 out of 10 times, but this was the one that backfired. If Maryanne had wanted to, she had a clean shot to take out Jonathan by playing her Idol for Lindsay. It would have been a big move and a commanding move. It was something her heart wanted, but to her credit, she focused on improving her chances to win overall, and Lindsay was a far bigger threat than Jonathan.

This maturity of strategy is one of the things I loved about Maryanne’s game, especially in the post-merge. While she knew she needed to make some big plays and prove her quality, she also understood that a quantity of Big Moves™ was not the path to a winning game. Sometimes the biggest move is not making a move at all.


In all honesty, there’s really not all that much to say about the Final Four anymore. The fire-making has its intrigue, but it’s usually the same every season, and this iteration was very much standard fare. While I’d prefer to have a straight vote any day of the week, I’ve made my peace with the now-standard twist, so now it’s just about looking for whether anything of particular interest ekes through.

The fascinating aspect of the whole thing was that the decision lay with the most unlikely player: Romeo. As exhaustion saw Mike and Maryanne drop out of the iconic Simmotion challenge (and I appreciated Jeff dropping the deep lore on the challenge’s origins), tension mounted with challenge beast Jonathan up against “the skinny guy.” But the great thing about a challenge like this is that it’s not about strength, smarts, or pure will. It’s a game of concentration and observation, and it feels so fitting that the player deprived of so much power that all they could do was observe won out.

Photo: CBS

Romeo came into the merge in what I thought would be a strong, commanding position, but he very quickly ended up the tribe pariah, blamed for his (often justified) paranoia. He tried to snipe power or protection here and there, becoming the key vote at the Omar boot and trying the hail Mary of the fake Idol to spook votes off of him at the Final Five. So to see Romeo hold the fate of the Final Tribal felt like a poetic subversion of our expectations, and he handled it incredibly well.

The question of fire-making is always how to ensure the ideal Final Tribal configuration when it comes down to a notoriously unpredictable challenge. Good fire-makers lose; bad fire-makers win. Sometimes, it might just be the luck of the wind. So how can you wrestle as much authorship from randomness as possible? Romeo had two options. Mike was poised as the biggest threat remaining, with the most active strategic game and a high degree of likability to boot. Had this been a straight vote, Mike is probably on his way out the door (unless Jonathan decided to try to push him to fire against Maryanne). But with fire-making on the table, it was all about who was the better opponent.

Jonathan was the better fire-maker, and perhaps would be the odds-on favourite to beat Mike. Jonathan would also be a more optimal Final Tribal opponent given the relative regard the Jury might carry for him. But if the unlikely happened, and Mike beat Jonathan, then that would mean Romeo would be sitting in Final Tribal with two of the most likable players on the season.

By contrast, pitting Maryanne against Mike could make the fire outcome more of a toss-up, but it would ensure that at least one of the likable social threats would go. Perhaps this could increase Romeo’s odds at the final vote, and taking Jonathan to the end would also deny the challenge competitor the platform of a final challenge win.

Photo: CBS

In the end, I think Romeo made the right decision. He was probably drawing dead in either circumstance, so taking the best shot to knock out the biggest threat was the right call. Unfortunately, luck swung back the other way, with Mike ironically beating out Jonathan to result in the worst-case scenario Final Three for Romeo. But it was still worth the risk. And keeping in mind what he knew at the time, taking Maryanne to the end was merely a reinforcement of the “little ones” sticking together. Little did he know that this active protection of Maryanne would allow her to reclaim their action as her strategy in her Final Tribal performance.

Nevertheless, for Romeo, who’s talked often about his role as a pageant coach and lifting up capable young women, it seems so fitting that Romeo’s last big impact on the game was giving a platform to the ultimate victor.


It’s rare that Final Tribal Council truly feels like it matters—that it isn’t just a formality en route to a decided outcome. The fluidity of this final showdown had its scene perfectly set by the return of the Jury Speaks segment, allowing us to head into Final Tribal with a small glimpse of each of the Jury’s mindsets. It’s a stylistic choice that was a delightful surprise and one I hope we continue to see moving forward. We already spend a lot of time with the finalists in the finale, so getting to hear more from the players who will decide the fate feels like a much-needed perspective.

Especially given the winner of Season 42 was determined by the events of that final night. Romeo entered with an outside chance at best, and though he largely carried himself well, it was difficult to see how he might sway a vote to win. He spoke emotively of his experience and what he’d come away from the game learning about himself, with his optimism about leaving as a free man inspiring. He spoke of how he didn’t play the game he wanted to play but played the one he was dealt. And that honesty was a refreshing articulation of what many finalists in his position must feel. Just because his game wasn’t the blockbuster he’d hoped for, it didn’t mean it was without merit, and so his decision to present his game as it was—not downplayed, but also not exaggerated—was his best play.

Photo: CBS

Meanwhile, Mike had the opposite trajectory. Entering Final Tribal as the front runner of the three, he fell into a long-established trap of building an argument on loyalty and integrity. These words always seem to trigger a visceral response from a jury, as it implies others didn’t play with loyalty or integrity. And more significantly, it is often incongruous with the actual game played. Mike made many promises to many people and broke nearly all of them—as many Survivor players must do, for it is the game. But claiming, as he did, that he only truly lied once in the game (to Rocksroy) casts doubt over every other relationship he had. If Mike didn’t see betraying them as breaking his view of honour, then was there ever a relationship to begin with? It’s a fraught and losing argument, and it shocks me that it still comes up so often, but this Tribal did manage to lead to an interesting iteration of this dilemma.

For as the Jury questioned Mike’s adamant assertion of a loyal, honest game, Mike didn’t push back or dismiss their concerns the way many others before him have. Instead, he listened, absorbed, and admitted that he had ended up with a skewed perspective of his game—and that he hadn’t played with as much integrity as he’d thought. It’s surprising to see such immediate self-reflection and acceptance, but that also speaks to so much of what we’ve seen of Mike. His genuine investment in others, his hunger for getting to know them as people and love and support them has been an ongoing narrative throughout. And while that’s then conflicted with his desire to play the game hard, Survivor is an inherently contradictory game. Mike feels like both an archetype and an incredibly unique character, and seeing all the light and shade of that in his Final Tribal performance proved a perfect narrative conclusion for his journey.

While it must have been disappointing to learn that he more or less lost the game at Final Tribal, Mike handled it with such grace (especially given the unfair immediacy of the vote read and After Show giving absolutely no time for emotional decompression for the poor finalists). His enthusiasm for Maryanne’s victory was a delight, and his love for his cast and the experience was infectious and indicative of how positive this season has been on the whole.

Photo: CBS

But this Final Tribal ultimately belonged to Maryanne. From the moment she first spoke, she commanded attention and recognition for her gameplay. She didn’t exaggerate, admitting that she’d overlooked her position on Taku pre-merge. But she also didn’t shy away from claiming her moves. Her magnum opus was revealing her strategy for the endgame, with the elimination of Omar setting herself up with contingency upon contingency to make it to the end and her showing off her Idol like Exhibits in a court case. Even when she was challenged, most notably Jonathan downplaying her role in the Omar vote when her extra vote and trust in Romeo were what got the vote across the line, she maintained unshaken confidence in her own game.

However, a list of facts is not necessarily the secret recipe for Final Tribal. Maryanne managed to also weave in an earnest, honest presentation of her vulnerabilities and struggles throughout the game. Notably, openly discussing her quandary with self-sabotage, not fully believing in her capacity to emerge victorious, and not wanting to end up in a position where she couldn’t understand how she lost. Going to the end and losing to Lindsay or Omar, at least she could make sense of that. But her articulation of realising she had earned her place in the game as much as anyone else was a moving argument of nuance: she needed to “take the chance to lose because [she] deserved the chance to win.”

She spoke strategically without being braggadocios. She talked of vulnerability without being cloying. She didn’t resort to transparent flattery and owned her game both with its highs and lows. She, like her competitors, didn’t resort to criticising her competition but prioritised the merit of her own decisions and actions. It was still, perhaps, an understated Final Tribal Council by comparison to some of the instantly iconic confrontations and presentations of the past. But Maryanne’s performance is arguably one of the best we’ve seen in recent years.

Photo: CBS

And a 7-1-0 vote (near-unanimous), save for Jonathan voting for Mike, is the proof of just how well Maryanne succeeded in turning a fluid Jury into a landslide outcome. As a representation of the season, too, her bubbly and earnest qualities are a perfect fit, and I am so thrilled to have such an incredible and instantly iconic character join the winner’s circle.


Survivor 42 has felt like something of a revelation from the beginning, and though it’s been imperfect along the way, I hope that this is a season indicative of the new era. Survivor 41 took some steps in the right direction, but this season felt like a culmination of those ideas. And most notably improved with a largely balanced, nuanced, and complex edit. The casting is some of the best in years, and the players gave so much to the game to create a dynamic, competitive season.

With Seasons 43 and 44 on the way, I hope Survivor learns the right lessons from what made this season so special. There is a reason this show has survived for over two decades, and if they can keep delivering as they did with 42, then they might have found an answer to life, the universe, and everything in making Survivor the best it can be in the modern age.

Written by

Austin Smith

Austin hails from Canberra, Australia. By day, he works by the light of office fluorescence. By night, he can be found swing dancing to Top ‘40s tracks (1940s, that is), playing board games, and enjoying life with his wonderful wife. His pedigree as a long-time Survivor superfan is evidenced by his Survivor-themed 11th birthday party featuring a gross food challenge comprising Brussel sprouts. Austin writes Inside Survivor’s episode recaps for both Survivor US and Australian Survivor.

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