Maryanne Oketch ended her Survivor journey the exact same way she started it — with a massive grin plastered all over her face. The 24-year-old seminary student from Ontario wore her heart on her sleeve all season long — and that ebullience and excitement reached max capacity when she was named the winner of Survivor 42 on Wednesday's season finale.
Maryanne was rewarded by the jury in a 7-1-0 vote over Mike Turner and Romeo Escobar after surprising the jury by whipping out the only true secret idol in the game — one she did not even need to use to get to the end. That bit of theater, combined with her big move to oust master manipulator Omar Zaheer at the final six, was enough to give Maryanne a comfortable victory over her fellow finalists.
It was a stunning turnaround for a contestant who was viewed earlier in the season as a nuisance and an afterthought by her tribemates, but Maryanne showed that her affable goofball side masked a savvy and strategic gamer who was able to set up a chess-board worth of moves to clear a path to the end. And once at the end, she sealed the deal with an impressive final Tribal Council performance.
But while Maryanne was often beaming on the show, when she spoke with EW just moments after the finale aired, she explained why she was 'an emotional wreck crying every day' after returning home. Fret not, however! The story — like Maryanne's journey on screen — has a happy ending, culminating in the show helping her land a new boyfriend. No, not Zach! (Also make sure to check out our full episode recap as well finale interviews with Mike, Romeo, Jonathan and Lindsay.)
Robert Voets/CBS Maryanne Oketch on 'Survivor 42'
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's get to the most important question first: How many toenails are you missing right now?
MARYANNE OKETCH: I actually have all of my toenails. In fact, I'm very shocked. Usually I've lost like one or two by this time of year, but this calendar year they're really just keeping together.
How were you feeling about your chances when you walked into that final Tribal Council?
Going into the final Tribal Council, I felt as if I probably was gonna win. I felt like since it was Mike at the end and not Jonathan that would be harder competition, but I really felt as if I would be able to go and speak and articulate the way that I won. I then wavered a little bit at Tribal because people kept on just talking to Mike, and I was just basically dead in the water. But then when they started talking to me, I started giving answers and was able to articulate my game. And the jury seemed that they were vibing with it. I really felt as if then I kind of won.
So you could sense the momentum swinging your way during that final Tribal?
Yes, I really could feel the momentum swinging. I feel as if the clincher was when I whipped out that hidden immunity idol and then people were like, "Oh my gosh! All the pieces are coming together. This makes sense. She's been thinking this whole time." And I had tangible evidence that I was.
Did any of the votes surprise you?
I was actually surprised I got Rocksroy's vote. I am not a physical person. I was actually kind of embarrassed knowing that my parents were just seeing me fail at every single immunity challenge. So getting Rocksroy's, who's like the king of physicality, I was very shocked and very happy because I might not be physical in the challenges, but I really feel as if I put in the work at camp life
Had Mike not given you his idol at the final 5, would you have used your own or would you have still saved it for that final Tribal?
I think I would've in the moment, but my thought going into Tribal was that I would basically be like, "Mike isn't a man of his word. He's a liar. He promised me this, but it's fine because I always have a plan B and I'm always prepared." I would've done like a huge big thing.
When I was thinking about playing the idol for Lindsay, actually I had this huge big speech. We're talking like Natalie Anderson: "Did you vote for who I told you to vote for?" Just to really solidify because I'm a big fan of dramatic moments.
Robert Voets/CBS Maryanne Oketch on 'Survivor 42'
So why didn't you go for the dramatic moment, just because you were worried about beating her?
Yeah, so I was really excited to do the dramatic moment, but when I was thinking about it, Lindsay was someone who was very lucky. And luck's not a bad thing. At Tori's tribal, like she was lucky enough that the Shot in the Dark failed. So that kept her safe. Another thing as well was the Do or Die? She was lucky again. So she was safe.
So my fear was that me playing the idol, it wouldn't be me showing that I have autonomy. It would be that Lindsay keeps on getting lucky and it would go and be credited to her social game that she managed to convince someone she didn't even know had an idol to play it for her. So that was my fear about why I actually didn't play the idol on her.
Well let's play Survivor What if? What if you do decide to save Lindsay and she is sitting there next to you in the final 3. Who wins?
Ooh,I feel if it'd be rougher for me to win, because Lindsay…. I feel out of everyone that played the game, she had the most all-around game. She was good strategically, good socially, and like also good physically. So I really think it would be a toss-up. It could have been her. It could have been me. I try not to think about the what ifs. I've spiraled before because of the what ifs. I'm trying not to spiral again. [Laughs]
What was it like waiting for just the right opening from the jury to take out the idol and surprise them with that move?
I was really just waiting for a good question because look, of course I wanted to be like, "I have an idol!" But even with an idol, even at final Tribal, you have one shot to let someone know, and you have all the power. So I was really just waiting for a moment when it would come. It didn't come in the first stages. I felt this would come when Jeff was giving us the time to talk about our strategic avenue.
But then I kind of had the sense that final Tribal was wrapping up when we were asked about our big moves, and I was like, "Okay, let me just lay it all out there my game plan from final six onwards, and explain how the idol goes and puts that key into what my game was."
Because on the island, I really didn't talk a lot of strategy with a lot of people, because in the beginning of the game I talked strategy. Then five minutes later, it came back to me what I said to someone. I was really cerebral, especially in the end of the game. So being able to go and verbalize about the idol and verbalize that it's not just the idol that I was talking about. I was always thinking, and this is what I was thinking — and the moment was there.
You were just so emotionally big all season. That's why I loved watching you play. And I was surprised because you actually seemed very subdued at that After Show. I remember Erika last season saying her head was spinning and couldn't even process everything. What it was like for you?
I wasn't existing on the plane. There was pizza being shoved in my face, people were talking, and I just realized that I won, and honestly, coming to the game, I didn't think I was gonna win. So this was just a surreal thing. I wasn't in the moment. It was just screaming in my head, Jeff was talking, people were talking. Like, I couldn't tell you.
You talked about your Survivor experience hopefully being able to act as a healing agent for a rift in your family. Has it been able to do that yet?
With my family, we were able to go and watch the finale together and that was something which was super great, because my whole family was going and celebrating. But in any situations, whether it be familial, whether it be relationships, whether it be any situations that you're in, when there's a lot of complex things, just one speech won't go and fix everything. But it can start getting the ball moving.
Robert Voets/CBS Maryanne Oketch on 'Survivor 42'
What's it been like knowing you won Survivor and then having to sit on it for 11 months?
At first it was hard because I'm like, "I just wanna tell everyone how I did! This is amazing." But the thing that I'm really actually thankful for is because I had to sit on it for 11 months. I really had time to go and reflect. Like, when I came back from Survivor, I was an emotional wreck crying every day, just sleeping on the floor, just a mess having that time to reintegrate into regular life, and then also to see what's next? Like, I finished this dream. This dream's now done. What do I figure out in my life? And figuring out that there's more in life than just Survivor was very helpful. And I'm so happy that I had that 11 months to think about it because I don't think I'd be in the same mental state that I am now if I had to only like five months from being crowned to actually people knowing that I'm crowned.
What's something that happened out there during the season that you wish we could have seen that never made it to air?
Oh my goodness. There's so much that doesn't air. But honestly, I think the thing that I wish was showed more was mine and Tori's relationship. Tori was my rock when we came to the fake merge because basically me, Tori, Chanelle, and Romeo — we were surprised no one would talk to us. No one would speak with us. And being mentally and socially ostracized from the group was so bad. But having Tori, we would laugh all day.
We would always be together. Literally, the only time we would separate would be when we slept, because she slept in the shelter and I slept next to the fire. I had so much fun with Tori. She's like my island bestie, my soul sister. And that relationship, she was the one I think who pegged me as being more in my head than I actually showed other people. I love Tori.
Are you going to use your prize money to pay for your marriage to Zach?
[Laughs] So Zach is a very sweet person. Um, we are just friends, but coincidentally, because that aired with Zach, that actually led into me meeting my boyfriend because he reached out. So I guess I have to thank Zach about that. It's a new relationship, so I think it's a little too far ahead to thinking about that so no, the winnings will not be paying for any wedding.
So someone reached out to you after that episode aired and you're now dating that person?
After the episode aired, there was someone who reached out to me. He reached out before kind of, but nothing happened. And after I confessed my love for skinny white guys, he reached out again. He was more personable, so we got to chatting and then, you know, we basically started talking and we never stopped and he actually was here for the finale party. So he got to experience that with me.
Now that you've won, would you come back and play and do this whole thing over again?
I think that Survivor is something that's so addicting. You always wanna play it. But I think right now for me, I don't want Survivor to just be something cool, like a high in my life right now that I always look back onto because there's so much. I'm 24, I'm super young, and there are so many more highs that you can find in life.
So right now in the same stage of life that I'm in, I don't think it's wise for me to go back and play again. But you know, five years, 10 years when there's enough all-winners and Jeff kind of rings his phone. I'll be like, "Jeff, yes. I'll go to Fiji! Please, like put me in."
Well, you know, you weren't just my winner pick for this season. You were my winner pick for every season that's ever gonna happen. So now you need to come back!
I'll have you know, my mom, she would read me your articles every single week. My mom is your biggest fan. She's like, "There's this person who loves you. He just raves about you and is like, 'Leave Maryanne alone!'" So you have big fans in the Oketch household, and I loved all the shout-outs. I was just like, "Yeah, Dalton knows me. He loves me! I'm the best!"
Finally, have you finished Survivor: Tocantins yet?
I have finished watching the last six episodes with my mom. We started watching with my mom. I wasn't gonna just go ditch her and watch the last six without her. And so, yes. So sorry, Steven Fishbach, for not watching it. It's funny. Maybe if I watched it, I would've been better in Simmotion and not dropped at two balls, but you know, hindsight's 2020.
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