There is now even more mystery surrounding Survivor 42’s Ponderosa, the name for the resort where the jury spends its time while not attending Tribal Council.
While Hai has posted photos of the jurors having fun together, and Chanelle said that “Every second at Ponderosa was a gift” and “a really beautiful time,” we didn’t get to see that. And it also wasn’t every juror’s experience.
CBS started turning life at Ponderosa into a web series that premiered in 2008, but there was no Survivor 42 Ponderosa web series. CBS publicists did not respond to questions I sent them about its absence.
However, the Survivor players did their usual post-season interviews, including lengthy conversations with Survivor alum Rob Cesternino on his podcast, which is known as RHAP. That includes a nearly six-hour interview with winner Maryanne Oketch.
Rob Cesternino’s interview with Survivor 41 juror Omar Zaheer was more than three hours long, and included, toward the end, a discussion of Omar’s experience at Ponderosa.
In the current YouTube version on his interview with Omar, Rob says, at the 3:00 mark, “You’ve talked about how that you were not received especially well at Ponderosa.” He asks a question about how Omar would have done with the jury.
“I’ll give you the context of everything that happened at Ponderosa,” Omar says, explaining that, “based on my reception when I left the game, it would have been an uphill battle to win.”
While Omar says that he left the game feeling good about his experience, despite being blindsided and voted out, things changed quickly. “Then it was very difficult to get to Ponderosa and have not a good reception,” Omar says.
That’s when the RHAP interview video quickly cuts. You can see the cut at 3:30:24 on the YouTube video.
Everything else Omar said about what happened at Ponderosa was edited out of the RHAP interview.
Omar’s experience at Ponderosa
I’ve seen screenshots of conversation from RHAP’s private patron-only Facebook group, which offers some clues.
In one Facebook group thread, an RHAP patron asked why the YouTube video was private, and two people suggested CBS was to blame.
Rob replied: “it’s temporarily private while an edit processes on YouTube. It was strongly suggested that we should cut the ponderosa talk by parties that were not on the podcast.”
People “not on the podcast” means that it was neither Rob nor Omar who wanted the conversation cut. So who are those “parties”? What does “strongly suggested” actually mean?
That decision has led to criticism elsewhere. For example, YouTuber Survivor Spencer said in a video about this that “Rob has no backbone and doesn’t want any sort of conflict happening at his channel, and that’s why he never has an opinion on anything, so no one’s ever even slightly offended by anything.”
Someone in the RHAP Facebook group replied to Rob and suggested that editing the video “feels like a bit of ‘a cave,’ no?” Rob replied, “respectfully, this is a complicated situation that goes beyond someone having hurt feelings.”
I reached out to Rob, offering to talk off the record, in the event that there was, say, someone’s safety involved. He told me he had “no comment.”
While the RHAP video has been edited, Omar’s thoughtful discussion of his experience has been preserved thanks to a lovely Redditor, who transcribed that part of the conversation before the edit was made.
I say it’s “thoughtful” because Omar starts with this meta-conversation:
I thought a lot about: do I talk about this? Do I not talk about this? A lot of effort and conscious thought went into that over the last year or so. What do I say, do I say anything at all? But I think it is important to talk about it because it was a very important part of the experience, and it’s something I hope other people don’t necessarily face.
What he faced, Omar says, was this:
…to get to Ponderosa and have that experience opened up with, You are a malicious, evil person who I have no respect for, that systematically eliminated people of color in favor of Jonathan and Lindsay. And we have no respect for you. And you’re so lucky you didn’t make it to the end because we would have embarrassed you in front of everybody at the Final Tribal Council. It cuts very deep, I would say, because I didn’t expect it. Especially as a very underrepresented person of color, to have that heat come at me for something that I didn’t feel was fair, was very traumatizing.
Omar said he took this criticism seriously and personally:
My first reaction when you get information like that is to believe people. If people are telling you this, you want to acknowledge and validate their feelings. And so if they feel this intensely about me, there must be something that I did or I must be a bad person or whatever it may be. For a long time, even leaving the game–I wondered–I thought it was a mistake to go on the show. I thought it was a mistake to play the game.
He goes on to say “all of the anger that was directed towards me was very much spun by one person,” Drea, who he said “created all of these lies about me that were very personal.” Omar gives detailed examples, from claiming he “would pretend to pray” to changing the timeline on their conversation about the Knowledge is Power advantage.
Toward the end of the conversation, Omar expresses empathy: “You may have a situation like this where someone on the surface doesn’t have a reason to lie, but maybe they have internal reasons that they are doing that for. And I also want to say that I’m not a victim. I’m good.”
Omar mentions having good relationships with all the other jurors, and specifically calls out Tori, “a very kind, empathetic, passionate person” who “was really the person that was like, You don’t deserve this. You shouldn’t be treated this way. They’re wrong. You are good and don’t let this affect you.” (It’s interesting that Tori got a quasi-villain edit.)
Omar says that, since the show ended, he’s tried to connect with Drea, but “I’ve gotten no response.” But he also said, “I’ve healed with a lot of people in a really great way and I’ll cherish those friendships forever.”
Update: As to the veracity of Omar’s story, and speaking to one of those friendships, a screenshot of an Instagram DM was posted to Reddit that appears to be from Tori, and says, in part, “If you listened to his deep dive, he was telling the truth about what happened.”