First Black ‘Survivor’ Winner on Race Conversations: ‘When Can We Get Past That?’

Vecepia Towery/Survivor 42 Tribal Council

Getty/CBS "Survivor: Marquesas" winner Vecepia Towery/"Survivor 42" contestants at Tribal Council in episode 9.

Wednesday night saw the first black female to win “Survivor” since Vecepia Towery, 20 years ago almost to the day, who won “Survivor: Marquesas” back in May 2002.

As a result, many fans are interested to hear Vecepia’s thoughts on season 42 winner Maryanne Oketch, as well as the unprecedented conversations about race and subconscious biases which have taken place the last few seasons. And in light of the season finale, Vecepia did not hold back. Here’s what you need to know:


Vecepia Thinks Maryanne Is a ‘Brilliant’ Player

On Tuesday, the day before the season finale, Vecepia sat down with Rob Cesternino to discuss the final 5 of “Survivor 42,” praising 23-year-old Maryanne in particular for the strength she displayed as a strategist, especially in light of her game-changing blindside of Omar Zaheer.

“It was phenomenal,” Vecepia said of Maryanne’s performance in episode 12. “And the way she strategically played it … I love the way that she came forthright and really kind of put this whole notion in the castmates’ minds that, ‘Hey, you know I’ve got some items in my back pocket that if you don’t go with me I’m not gonna use them!’ And it was incredible the way she did it.”

Vecepia added that another thing she “loved” about Maryanne was the “evolution” she displayed as a player during the game. “At the beginning they spotlighted her as just this quirky, wirey black woman that all you see is people’s eyes rolling in the back of their heads every time she talked,” Vecepia said. “And not only was she entertaining, but she was intelligent in her quirkiness, and that’s what I loved about it.” Nearing the season’s end, however, Vecepia described Maryanne as “coming back up strong again.”

“For Maryanne’s game,” Vecepia went on, “you pretty much knew her from the beginning, and you didn’t lose sight of her.”

Vecepia also emphasized her hope of seeing the first black female to win since herself nearly 20 years ago, saying that she was “praying” for a Maryanne victory. “To see this young lady with a possibility of actually winning it,” she said, “I will guarantee you, if she [turns] out to be the winner, she’s going to get her accolades. She’s a brilliant player, and they’ve given her the showcase, they really really have.”

“She’s going to get the accolades that were due [to] me that I never got,” Vecepia said of Maryanne’s historic to-be win. “And I will stand on the sidelines with my pom poms and cheer her on.”


Vecepia Is Mixed on Racial Conversations: ‘Why Does It Have to Continue to Be a Narrative?’

Vecepia Towery

GettyVecepia Towery at the “Survivor: Marquesas” reunion show in 2002.

In the same interview, Vecepia also took some time to speak about the somewhat controversial racial conversations which took place earlier this season – most notably in episode 9, when black contestants Maryanne and Drea Wheeler refused to vote for each other after learning that another black contestant, Rocksroy Bailey, became the second black person voted out just a few minutes earlier.

It turns out, unlike other black contestants who have praised the discussion of these kinds of dynamics, Vecepia is a bit more mixed in her opinions. While saying that she would have reacted the “exact same” way to the situation as Maryanne and Drea did, she also longs for a point in “Survivor” where these dynamics will no longer have to be a factor.

“You know, we always get to this point where we’re saying nobody knows what’s going through our mind, and that’s not the way we think,” Vecepia said of her fellow black players, “and I think after a while those conversations are going to become null and void to people, because they’re going to get tired of hearing it.”

She added that, while these conversations were still “necessary” and “important,” she still wondered “when can we get past that and actually just play? You know, why does that have to be part of the narrative all the time?”

When asked by Cesternino whether she meant that she wanted the edit to stop showing these conversations, or if she wanted to get to a point where the players no longer needed to have the conversations, Vecepia replied, “It’s both.” She elaborated:

Why does it have to continue to be a narrative for ‘Survivor’ when it gets there, and then why do we as black people and understanding that this is part of our life, but also understanding that we’ve heard it a lot…but when can we get to the point where we’re just like, ‘I’m just playing this game.’ And [it] doesn’t necessarily have to become part of our narrative that we have to bring it into the picture.

Vecepia’s thoughts may reflect widely upon much of the “Survivor” audience, though of course it remains to be seen whether these conversations will continue to be prevalent in future seasons. Unfortunately for many fans of the old-school players, however, it seems as though Vecepia’s time on “Survivor” has reached an end, though the old-school winner will surely not hold back when it comes to having her voice heard.

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