REVIEW: ‘Survivor’ season 42 stands out with unique cast


Courtesy CBS

Staff writer Ananya Pandit writes that “Survivor” season 42 has a unique and entertaining cast.

Ananya Pandit, Staff Writer

Imagine being stranded on a deserted island alongside 17 strangers with nothing but the clothes on your back and a million dollars at stake. This is the premise of “Survivor”: the greatest social experiment of all time, which came out with an amazing 42nd season this spring. 

If you are unfamiliar with the show, ordinary people from across the country are sent to a tropical island to compete for $1,000,000. As individuals and tribes, they compete in challenges and use their social skills, wits and physical abilities to become the sole survivor. Every three days they are sent to tribal council, during which the tribe votes out a player. Of course, there is much more to the game, from blindsides to immunity idols, but the most rewarding part of every season is watching the dynamics between the players and how they grow throughout the 39 days. 

Season 42, which aired from March 9 to May 25 on CBS and streamed on Paramount+, split the players into three tribes of six: Ika, Taku and Vati. As part of the new ‘era’ of “Survivor”, the game was shortened to 26 days due to COVID-19 restrictions, resulting in a much faster-paced, intense game. To make up for this loss of time many new advantages and twists were introduced, along with fewer necessities (food, comfort items) provided. However, at some point, it felt as though every player had some sort of advantage, which defeats the purpose, and time spent on instructions takes away from learning more about the players and their relationships.

Among many of the interesting people cast for this season, university student Maryanne Oketch and her infectious smile can make even the most stoic viewer laugh. A budding bromance between nerdy 31-year-old Omar Zaheer and buff Jonathan Young is endearing, while awkward 37-year-old pageant coach Romeo Escobar’s background story will make you want to give him a hug.

Season 42 found a great balance between time spent on strategy and time spent on more personal moments, which allowed for the contestants’ diverse personalities to shine. However, while some of the new strategic additions to the game this season should continue to be used in the future, others should be scrapped. 

Ananya Pandit

What was probably the most hyped-up twist of the new era ultimately fell flat. One player who is sent to exile island by a random rock draw is given the decision to either smash an hourglass and reverse the results of the previous immunity challenge, making the winners the losers and vice versa, or leave it alone and keep the status quo. However, the results are extremely predictable because of one extra element. If they smash it, they join the new winners and are safe from tribal council, and if they leave it alone, they become a loser and are left vulnerable. I think everyone watching would make the same decision: smash it. If a tribe wins immunity, they deserve that immunity. No one should have the power to change such a fundamental aspect of the game.

While there were many other twists added to the game, the main one that should be continued in future seasons is the “do or die” twist. The players are told beforehand that if they participate in the immunity challenge, the first one to lose will be forced to play a game of chance that has a two in three chance of being eliminated from the game. During tribal council they will be asked to choose between three boxes; choose the right one and they are safe, choose one of the other two and they are automatically eliminated. 

What makes this twist so fun to watch is that after a box is chosen, Probst reveals one that was not picked. If that one contains the skull (meaning they would have been eliminated had they chosen it), they are given the opportunity to switch to the remaining box. This paradox is known as the Monty Hall problem. Do you stick to your original pick or switch?  There are a lot of statistics and math behind this, but the general idea is that if the player switches to the other box, they will win two-thirds of the time. The suspense and stress that this situation creates make great TV, and it is fun to play along. 

Coming out of a season with mostly dull characters and a winner that left viewers confused as to how they won due to a lack of screen time, season 42 was amazingly cast. In an era where the personalities and players’ stories can easily get lost in the game’s complexity, the diverse and unique characters of the season outshone the many advantages. Some moments made me laugh, sad, and sit on the edge of my couch.

The only thing missing from this season was a villain to root against, something the most iconic seasons of “Survivor” have. Players like Oketch, Zaheer and the 58-year-old New Jersey firefighter Mike Turner made me struggle to pick a favorite. But even without a ‘bad guy’, the season was extremely enjoyable and holds promise for future seasons. 

Season 42 is probably not the best season to start with as a new “Survivor” fan, but it’s perfect for someone who already understands the basics of the game. It is also not a season for someone who puts the TV on for background noise, as so much can happen in a matter of minutes that changes the trajectory of the game.  But for someone like me, who loves to sit down every week and analyze the strategic moves and dynamics between the players, it is an amazing season.