From hours upon hours of podcasts to lengthy online recaps to every corner of Survivor Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and Reddit, it was rare to find someone who didn’t believe Omar Zaheer was in the driver’s seat heading into the episode 12 of the 42nd season. He was “Survivor confident”, but so were we all, swooned by his mastery of the game, hypnotized by his effortless maneuvering at each stage of play. Omar was calling the shots, but he walked through the game light-footedly—like the ostrich on his shirt—without anyone having a clue just how much power he wielded.
When Drea Wheeler left the game last week, she did so with great fanfare…like, literally, she blared those trumpets like no other. On her way out, the seventh place finisher spilled the beans that it was Omar who’d hatched the plan to hold onto Mike Turner’s idol so that Drea’s Knowledge Is Power plan would fail and she’d be blindsided. For the first time, the entire tribe was privy to the inner workings of Omar’s brain. It clicked for Mike, and especially for Maryanne Oketch, that Omar had to be eliminated for anyone else to have a chance.
Fortunately for the viewers, Omar wasn’t ousted from the game amid a flurry of advantage plays. Instead, he was voted out because Maryanne refused to let a perfect opportunity slip through her fingers (or her imperfect toenails). She wrangled Romeo Escobar, whose allegiances the entire post-merge have been anyone’s guess, and sent the biggest threat to the jury via a 3-2-2 vote.
Most lovable hero: Maryanne
It took no time at all for fans to fall in love with Maryanne, what with her enthusiasm for even the tiniest rewards, her what-could’ve-been showmance with Zach Wurtenberger and her genuine love for the game. As the season progressed, we went from hoping Maryanne’s tribe doesn’t get rid of her because she’s so damn entertaining to realizing she has what it takes to win the whole thing.
As she climbed to the summit, Maryanne spoke of being counted out in life, being ostracized as “weird” and her lifelong process of reclaiming her eccentricities as what makes her special. As her loquaciousness grated on her tribemates, Maryanne was a source of levity to those watching at home. The merge tribe began to dwindle, and Maryanne made us not only laugh but also think deeply, as she contextualized racial dynamics and laid out the stakes of her survival—and ability to thrive—within the game. She had come to win from the very start, but gradually, that belief started to seep into the viewers’ minds as well.
In the past, winners have needed to display a full résumé of big strategic moves to earn the majority of jury votes. In the current era, it’s all about timing and patience. It’s impossible to hide in Survivor when everyone knows the game and each jury member values similar attributes because they’re all fans of the show. Omar skirted attention as long as he could. Once he was found out to be the one pulling the strings, he was cut loose. Now that Hai, Drea and Omar are gone, Maryanne has emerged as the one to beat. The loudest player stayed quiet long enough to punch her ticket to the Final 4. Barring a loss in the fire-making challenge, the game is Maryanne’s to lose. There is no better way for this season to end.
Most confusing move: Lindsay keeping her idol
After cheating destiny and angering mathematicians everywhere last episode, Lindsay Dolashewich let her disdain for Jonathan Young cloud her judgment. When she won her second individual immunity challenge, she thought it would be a foregone conclusion that all votes would go to the strongest person remaining in the game. That move made sense for Lindsay, since she’s the second most physically dominant contestant. If Jonathan goes, she can run the table in challenges and have a solid case for the million. Additionally, her game has been linked to Jonathan since they have been together since the start, so if they sat with one another in the end, the person next to them could wind up receiving most of the votes.
The problem is, getting rid of Jonathan no longer made sense to anyone else. He’s been found out to be a lackluster strategic player, and the threat of Jonathan winning challenges doesn’t outweigh the desire to sit next to someone everyone except Romeo knows they can beat in the end. Mike has no problem hitching his wagon to Jonathan and Maryanne sees that as preferable too. Lindsay not only was unable to realize where everyone else’s heads were at; she also started working too closely with the person everyone besides Lindsay had identified as the person most likely to win.
Lindsay’s reasoning for not playing her idol on Omar was confusing. If she played her idol on him, it would show to the jury that she had control of his fate in the game, not the other way around. And if another idol was hidden after she took out Jonathan (although Romeo would’ve likely gone home in a revote, Lindsay didn’t know that when making her decision), who was she afraid would use it against her? Ultimately, Lindsay took a gamble and now not only is she far less of a threat to win than Maryanne; she’s probably the next to go if she doesn’t win immunity at final five.
Least trustworthy edit: Winners
We always think we know. For as long as Survivor has been on the air, fans have tried to guess who will win based on what the edit is telling us. They always want to cast the winner in a positive light and, usually, give that person a healthy share of screen time. This season, the edit seemed to be revealing Omar as the future winner. His confessionals explaining how he controlled each vote portrayed a perfect narrative to show why he would be Sole Survivor.
But lately, the editors have caught on to the fact that fans pay close attention to the edit. Last season, Erika Casupanan won despite being virtually invisible the first half of the game. A few seasons before that, Chris Underwood won even though most fans barely knew who he was in the finale. Safe to say, the conventional winner’s edit is dead. The five remaining contestants—save for Romeo, who was invisible this episode—all seem like they have a decent shot to win, and there’s no telling how it will all play out. Maryanne appears to be the frontrunner now, but she could just as easily lose in a fire-making challenge, paving the way for a Mike or a Lindsay to claim the prize. There really is no way to predict who will win anymore. Maybe that makes it even more fun in the end.
Survivor airs Wednesdays at 8pm EST on CBS.
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