What an end! Maryanne Oketch took home a million dollars and became the winner of Survivor 42 after an epic performance at the final tribal council.
The seminary student, 24, beat out Mike Turner and Romeo Escobar in a 7–1–0 vote.
“I genuinely do not think that I went in with as many votes as I got, so I was shocked actually, at the margin that I won,” Maryanne exclusively tells Us Weekly. “I thought it would be a very close vote when I was going into tribal.”
Still, she does think “the jury was very open to hearing people’s cases” and not many votes were locked, aside for perhaps Jonathan [Young], who ultimately voted for his close ally Mike.
“Jonathan and Mike from the merge played a very close game together,” the Canadian explains. “As we saw on the show, they bonded as well being, like, the larger guys. And that was such a connection that they had. So I totally understand.”
Maryanne found an idol but because of her social game and the way she positioned herself, didn’t have to use it. Instead, she brought it out at the final tribal council.
“I felt that the idol was the clincher because I was a very cerebral player, where I wouldn’t really talk strategy with a lot of people because when I did, the things that I told them would come back to me from someone else,” she explains to Us. “So when I was able to go and pull the idol out, it really showed that I wasn’t just sitting there doing nothing. This was a part of my strategy. I had tangible proof [that] the way that I played was a strategic game.”
She became the first Black woman to win Survivor in 20 years. (Vecepia Towery took home the million back in 2002 during season 4.)
“It feels amazing,” Maryanne tells Us. “I’m just so happy to be able to go and represent my community. But the thing that makes me more excited is that with us having a diverse cast, there’s going to be more firsts that are coming.”
Scroll down to read our full interview with winner Maryanne Oketch from Survivor 42.
Survivor airs on CBS Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
Us: Hi Maryanne. First of all, congrats! How are you feeling this morning?
Maryanne Oketch: I’m feeling great. I was prepared for this, so I knew that it would just be a day. It’s like a work day! And it’s only from, like, 9:00 [a.m.] to 2:15 [p.m.], so it’s not even that bad.
Us: True (laughs). Has it sunk in? You won a million dollars! Have you thought about what that means for you or maybe what you will do with the money?
MO: Oh, my goodness. I haven’t even thought about it. It’s just a large amount of money that I probably would’ve never made in my life. Right now, I’m still trying to process that I won Survivor. We’ll talk about the money when the check clears.
Us: Fair! (Laughs). You had probably one of the greatest tribal council performances we’ve ever seen. How much do you think your performance swayed the jury? Do you think you went in with as many votes as you got?
MO: I genuinely do not think that I went in with as many votes as I got, so I was shocked actually, at the margin that I won. I thought it would be a very close vote when I was going into tribal.
Us: Yeah, on past seasons, it’s been clear when the jury’s mind is made up going into the final tribal. Do you think your jury was more open to hearing everybody’s case at that point?
MO: I do think that the jury was very open to hearing people’s cases. I know that after the game, people were talking about how they would just daily, every single day, discuss about who should be the best person to win. So I really do feel as if it was a very open jury.
Us: Mike’s one vote came from Jonathan. Do you think there was anything you could have done to get his vote or was he all locked in on Mike the whole time?
MO: Going into final tribal, I did feel that Jonathan was very locked into Mike. Jonathan and Mike from the merge played a very close game together. As we saw on the show, they bonded as well being, like, the larger guys. And that was such a connection that they had. So I totally understand why [Jonathan voted for Mike] especially since Mike took out Jonathan, then Jonathan would be like, “Yes, this was the perfect move.”
Us: How did you feel when you saw Hai’s “Feminist” shirt? Did you think, “OK, maybe I have his vote?”
MO: Even before going to tribal council, I felt that I could get Hai’s vote because I knew that he would respect the underdog game that I played from being from the bottom and going to the top.
Us: I know in other interviews you said you were most surprised by Rocksroy and Drea’s votes for you. Have you talked to them since the game about why they voted for you or did they say anything about what convinced them?
MO: So, they were looking at the game more holistically. Like Drea, at that point, when she left the game, she believed that if Mike went to the end that Mike would win. But then after she wasn’t as locked in on her vote as shown because it must have been shown to her that there were other things that she appreciated in addition, For Rocksroy, I think he recognized that the physical part of game isn’t just challenges. It’s about helping out at camp. It’s about being a provider in the way that you can. So I, obviously, wasn’t as massive a physical help at challenges, but I made sure that when I was at camp, I always gave firewood. I would be the person who tended the fire throughout the night. I would go and get and scale fish. So I would do what I could do with the talent that I had.
Us: Right, and you had the strategic chops to back it up too. Let’s talk about your idol reveal. How much did you prepare for that moment and did you know that might be a pivotal moment?
MO: So I felt that the idol was the clincher because I was a very cerebral player, where I wouldn’t really talk strategy with a lot of people because when I did, the things that I told them would come back to me from someone else, which means they didn’t use me as, like, an end point of strategy. They used me as someone to go and supplement their strategy for. So when I was able to go and pull the idol out, it really showed that I wasn’t just sitting there doing nothing. This was a part of my strategy. I had tangible proof [that] the way that I played was a strategic game.
Us: Definitely. Talk to me about the credit for Omar’s blindside. You had come up with the plan on how to execute it, but was it tricky for you not to take too much credit because Jonathan and Mike were also involved? Did you have to play to their egos a bit too?
MO: I think for Jonathan, there was some miscommunication in how he interpreted the Omar vote. So I stand by that I really was the driving factor for the vote-out after the challenge. But, Jonathan did independently decide that he wanted to vote out Omar with the information that he had about the idol nullifier. I did then decide to vote for Omar a little bit later than Jonathan, but I think he interpreted me going and taking credit for how I coordinated the vote, as basically invalidating how he also has the idea of taking Omar out.
Us: Got it. Do you think Omar giving you that bit of credit on the way out helped the jury see your part in it? Do you think he went back to Ponderosa giving you props for that move?
OK: I do feel that Omar did go and give my accolades about getting him out. But then, also, when Jonathan came, there was then a different narrative that, like, “Oh no, it wasn’t actually Maryanne. That’s not the person who has credit. Jonathan has credit.” So I feel that that was a barrier that I had to go and explain at final tribal that, like, “No, Omar’s assessment was correct.”
Us: Well, you did an amazing job. I know you thought about playing the idol on Lindsay. How do you think you would’ve fared sitting next to Lindsay, and let’s say, Romeo, for example?
MO: So, I think that if it was me, Romeo and Lindsay, it would’ve been a very, very, very hard uphill battle for me to go and win. Lindsay had a very good all-around game. She was strategic. She was social. And then, also, she had multiple moments when she had luck on her side. That would’ve been a very difficult tribal to win.
Us: Who from the cast do you talk to the most since filming?
MO: Omar does live 10 minutes away from me. Omar and I are so, so close.
Us: I know you mentioned you have a boyfriend now. But of course, there was some buzz surrounding that photo of you and Zach holding hands on Instagram.
MO: Yes! The Instagram photo! He’s not signing a prenup, so that’s gonna be a problem. That’s why I had to get a [different] boyfriend. I refused.
Us: So, to be clear, Zach’s NOT the boyfriend.
MO: Zach is not the boyfriend. Zach and I are very close friends. We’re trying to make it the new Rob and Amber. Unfortunately, ‘cause I went with someone else, CBS won’t go and pay for our wedding, but oh well.
Us: Oh well! I would be remiss not to mention you’re the first Black woman in 20 years to win this game. It took 20 years after Vecepia Towery’s win in season 4, which is insane. What does that feel like?
MO: Oh, it feels amazing. I’m just so happy to be able to go and represent my community. But the thing that makes me more excited is that with us having a diverse cast, there’s going to be more firsts that are coming. Like, for example, I don’t think there’s been a Puerto Rican who’s won Survivor since Sandra [Diaz-Twine] or, like, I think that the last time a gay man won Survivor was season 15 with Survivor China with Todd [Herzog]. So once we’re having a more diverse cast, we’ll be able to see more and more firsts come. And that’s such an amazing thing as well, for me.
Us: Great point. I know you were a big fan coming into the game. You even knew a lot of names of the challenges and had these amazing tidbits of knowledge. Do you study? How do you remember all this?
MO: I just have a repository of information. I don’t know everything. I sometimes make mistakes. But I do have a repository of information just because I love facts and patterns.
Us: Love that. Who are some of your favorite past players?
MO: I loved Gabby. I loved Gabby Pascuzzi from [season] 37. I felt the way that she played was being open with her emotions, but she wasn’t playing an emotional game. I really respected that. I loved Laura Ashley Beck from season 39. She’s just someone who’s just so bubbly. And that was the first time when I saw a Black woman on reality TV that I could really, really relate to. I love Christian Hubicki. He’s such a cool person. Who else? I love Cirie Fields. I love Vecepia. The first time she orchestrated that alliance flip. That was amazing. I gotta give accolades to the queen there. I could just go through a whole list. Rob Cesternino, such a funny confessionalist. Such a great strategist. Omar Zaheer now!
Us: Have you spoken to Vecepia? Have you ever met her?
MO: I haven’t. I haven’t come in contact with her, but I know she did a podcast recently about it being her 20-year anniversary. So I need to wrangle her down.
Us: Are you interested in playing Survivor again?
MO: I think that right now, where I am in my life, I don’t have anything new to give to Survivor. And I don’t want Survivor to be tied down to a stage in my life. So unless there’s something big coming on, I don’t think that I’ll be returning to Survivor for a while. But it would be very hard to say no.