‘Survivor’ Winner Jeremy Collins on How Racial Dynamics Affect the Game

Jeremy Collins

CBS Jeremy Collins in "Survivor: Winners at War" (2020).

At its core, “Survivor” is a social game. This is why most minority players will tell you that racial relations that exist in society will still be inexorably tied to the game.

Though race has been discussed before in “Survivor,” it wasn’t until season 41 that several players really brought the topic to the forefront of the conversation. Although the season 42 players had not yet seen the season, similar topics were finally brought up in last night’s episode as black players Drea Wheeler and Maryanne Oketch were floored upon seeing that Rocksroy Bailey was unexpectedly voted out in the Tribal Council directly before theirs, meaning that two black players had been eliminated back-to-back.

Jeremy Collins, one of only four black winners the show has seen, recently gave his take on what Maryanne and Drea had to say, and spoke about how race played a role in his own seasons.

Jeremy Was Highly Impressed by Maryanne’s Performance at Tribal

On Wednesday’s episode of The Pod Has Spoken, a “Survivor”-themed podcast hosted by four-time player Tyson Apostol, Jeremy took the opportunity to discuss the significance of what he witnessed in that night’s Tribal Council, which he described as “such a powerful moment.”

Jeremy praised Maryanne, who was 23 during shooting, for how she handled the whole situation. “Maryanne did such a great job expressing herself on the severity of how minorities play this game,” Jeremy said. “Just socially, everything’s different.”

“I’m a huge fan of Maryanne,” Jeremy went on. “Like, right from the first episode…the way she was able to articulate everything, I dig her, I think she’s doing alright.” He later said that had he been in her and Drea’s situation, coming into Tribal and seeing that Rocksroy had been eliminated, “I know that I wouldn’t be as good as Maryanne [was].”

When it came to the other participants in that group’s Tribal Council, he said that Drea’s performance that night was also “beautiful.” “And I liked Lindsay,” he added, referring to Lindsay Dolashewich, who expressed her sympathy with Drea and Maryanne’s sentiments. “Lindsay jumped right in and she realized what was going on, and it was a great moment.”

When it came to 28-year-old Alabaman Jonathan Young, who vocally expressed his discomfort and frustration at what he perceived as being labeled a racist, Jeremy said, “It’s like, ‘No, slow down! Have some empathy about my feelings. It’s not about you right now – think about what I’m going through.” However, Jeremy called it “a great moment” as Jonathan’s emotions simmered and he began to understand the women’s point of view. “You can see Jonathan was coming a little bit but then they were able to, like, figure things out and talk it out,” Jeremy said.

He later added that Maryanne’s performance at Tribal happened to be his favorite moment of episode.

How Race Affected Jeremy’s Seasons

Although race was not discussed much on-screen in Jeremy’s three seasons, he said that it still couldn’t help but be a factor. In the podcast, he told a story of how, when he went to pick up some pizza in Pennsylvania for one of his daughter’s sports tournaments recently, he began to wonder – and worry – whether those in the store might not “like people that look like me.”

Although the trip to the pizza place ended up being fine, he began to wonder, “How come everybody else doesn’t feel the way I feel?” He compared this to “Survivor,” saying that people of color must think “how other [players] are gonna look at you going forward, and how you can play this game.”

In his winning season, for instance, – season 31, “Cambodia” – other players tended to think that he and Tasha Fox, another black player, were a tight two, even though she and Spencer Bledsoe, who is white, were actually much closer. Furthermore, although he and Natalie Anderson, who is South Asian, were close, they were not each other’s top allies as everyone thought (though it was unclear as to which season he was referring to). He explained:

Me and her can go back and forth. I was close with Nat, but Nat has other relationships with other people that were even tighter than mine, you know what I mean? So it’s just so weird, that dynamic when minorities are playing with each other and then they start seeing each other go out.

He added that on his first season, in which his wife Val and Natalie’s twin sister Nadiya – the only minority pairs on the season – were the first two to be eliminated, Jeremy said it was pretty jarring to see. “You’re like, ‘Wait a second, what’s going on over here?’ And that never sits well.” Despite assurances from the other contestants that their back-to-back eliminations had nothing to do with race, he said that it nonetheless “always sits in the back of your mind.”

Of course, Natalie did end up winning that season, and Jeremy went on to win his following season – unanimously. Naturally, both winners are still well-loved within the “Survivor” sphere, and are understandably often seen as some of the best players to ever play.

“Survivor 42” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on CBS. The three-hour finale airs Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

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