Maryanne Oketch is the winner of Survivor Season 42! Despite being considered one of the weakest players, Maryanne convinced the jury she was the most deserving between her, Mike Turner (one vote), and Romeo Escobar (no votes) in the May 25 finale of the CBS reality competition.
Here, Maryanne chats with TV Insider about her win, from pre-game preparation and early game mistakes to the strategic moves that led her to victory.
Are you proud of yourself? How do you feel?
Maryanne Oketch: I feel amazing. It feels so good to say, “My name’s Maryanne, I’m the Survivor Season 42 winner.” I’m so happy I can finally go out and say it!
Will you be introducing yourself that way now?
Oh my goodness, no. But I did go down and tell my family, “you must call me by Millionaire-yanne now, or, like, we will have a problem.” [Laughs.]
I think you won because you figured out the meaning of everyone’s actions. You weren’t just reacting. Once you realized you were out of the loop in the merge, you course corrected and set yourself up to not only get Omar out, who had been running everything, but also set yourself up to be safe enough to not need to use your idol.
Oh, yeah. That was great. It was so nice knowing that I could bring a souvenir home. [Laughs]
How did you feel when, in the jury, Jonathan kind of tried to take credit for that 3-2-2 vote? He was speaking out of a lack of information, so it makes sense that he would ask more questions about this. But I thought you explained your whole strategy well.
Of course I understand where Jonathan was coming from, because Jonathan did organically think of taking out Omar as well — separate from me — during the final Final Seven cycle. But I decided to take out Omar after the Final Seven Tribal separately. And because he went and approached Mike, it seemed like I was trying to take credit for him.
A lot of times, multiple people will think up the same idea. A good example of it is when you see Hai’s vote out. Multiple people wanted Hai out. It doesn’t mean that one person wanted him out, and that person takes all the credit. But I understand what Jonathan was doing, because he was concerned that I was like, “Oh, this is my move,” when it wasn’t, actually. So I tried to explain to him, “No, I’m not saying that you didn’t think of it. I’m saying that I also thought of it as well.”
You were the leader of that strategy, though. If it weren’t for your extra vote and the way you coordinated everything, it wouldn’t have happened. Mike and Jonathan (in what viewers saw in the episode, at least) weren’t campaigning as hard for that plan as you were, so you were the puppeteer there to get the master puppeteer out.
After that challenge, I was fighting. I was like, “We need to get Omar out, this is the plan.” I remember sitting down next to the shelter and running through the numbers between Mike and Jonathan, being like, “this is why this is the best plan. If you two vote this way, it’s foolproof. It’s perfect. It’s amazing.” So I did go and really drive who voted for who in that section.
Was there anything that wasn’t shown on camera that made you realize that Omar had been running the show for a while?
Yeah! Actually, after the Final Seven Tribal, I physically saw Omar give the idol back to Mike, so that was when the veil was lifted for me. Mike trusted Omar enough to give him his idol and hold on to it, so that means that Omar is in with more people than I thought he was. I saw him as the bird keeper, and I was like the bird. He was just going to go and take me in my cage all the way to the end. So I was like, I have to get Omar out if I want to have a chance of winning.
How did it feel when Mike stayed true to his word and used his idol to protect you?
It felt really, really good. Because Mike wanted me in the Final Four and I didn’t have to use my idol. When I decided I did not want to save Lindsay, I really didn’t want to use my idol. I did not want to make fire, so then I had to go and control my threat level when I was inside the game. If you’re pulling out an idol, that’s seen as a resume builder. So I was very happy that Mike used the idol and I could move to Final Four, and instead talk about the idol at Final Tribal.
I was just speaking with Lindsay, and she said you all were filming the Final Tribal for over three hours when Jeff Probst said it was time to wrap up. But then Lindsay asked for more time, allowing you to reveal your idol.
Yes, I am a very dramatic person. So I knew — because this was a secret that was kept for so long — I had one shot to really have the maximum effect. And with the questions that the jury was asking me, there wasn’t a good time. It would’ve been really random, and I really wanted it to flow perfectly. So luckily, when the jury had more time, that was the perfect time. Here’s my big move. I can explain exactly what my game is, exactly how the idol played into it, and exactly how I was thinking this whole time.
Did you start to panic? What were you going to do if Lindsay hadn’t done that?
I probably would’ve cut in and say, “I have one last thing to say, Jeff.” Or worst-case scenario, I would’ve just shoved it into the last question.
I thought your pitch was thorough and sounded very practiced. And unemotional, which everyone judged you for beforehand. Look how the tables have turned.
Yes, going into the game, I knew I wanted to play with my emotions. I wanted to experience the highs and the lows. But a lot of times, people go and think that when you play with emotion, you’re playing emotionally. Those are two different things. I knew when it was time to push [my emotions] aside and play the game.
People counted you out from the beginning because of your “emotional” playing. But you were more laser focused on not making common Survivor mistakes than anyone else. Even Hai and Omar, who were leading for a while, got too Survivor confident. But you recognized when you were about to make a mistake like that and pivoted. Was it hard to keep your focus through the exhaustion?
It was very difficult. And that’s why Omar said I had a sloppy game, because sometimes I would go and make those emotional moves. For example, during Tori’s Tribal, I kept on saying, “I have an extra vote, I’m gonna do X, Y, Z,” but then have to go back and fix the mess that I made because I played with emotion.
That was something that I struggled with throughout the whole game. But I really feel that in the end, I always made that right decision. So even if I played emotionally, I was like, “No, we’re gonna have to fix this.” And then, I fixed it and moved on.
Because of the shortened season, you had less time to execute strategies. What did you find was the most difficult aspect of balancing the limited time you had?
What’s so much harder in the shorter season is you need to be able to process things quickly. If you’re hurt by someone, it’s only a two-day cycle. That means you have two days to either get over it or you might play emotionally and get that person out, even if it’s not in your best interests. For me, luckily I was able to go and process my emotions and try to play as strategic a game as I can. But I know for other people, that was more of a struggle for them because they just did not have that time.
That’s where emotional intelligence comes in. It takes someone who’s already skilled at processing their emotions to be able to do that quickly. I imagine these circumstances could make people learn fast as well because the situation demands it. But I think you might have had a bit of a leg up there. Do you agree?
Before going on the show, I had a bunch of therapy. My therapist actually knew I was going on Survivor, so we actually shifted a lot of my goals to focus on social interactions and being able to process emotions, so I really feel as if that was a very good thing that helped me in the game.
People should add therapy to their list of Survivor training. What was the vibe like off-camera during the final days with the Final Five?
You could feel that the end was coming near. And for me, it was a very weird energy. After voting out Omar, at that point I didn’t care about allies. I just cared about what am I gonna do to get myself sitting at the end seat? What am I gonna do to pull the jury in? I was very much more emotionally detached than I was through the whole of the game.
Were you confident that Romeo would bring you into the Final Three?
I felt if Romeo won, then he would take me into the Final Three. Because I played a very cerebral game. Nobody knew what I was doing.
And like Hai said, that made people think you didn’t have a strategy at all, which of course wasn’t true.
What do you want people to take home from watching your performance this season?
Don’t be the one to reject yourself. Always push. If you really want something, don’t half-ass it and be like, “Oh, that’s the reason why.” Don’t give yourself an out. Put it all out there. Try your best.
Would you come back for more?
Not now, but maybe in a bit, yes.