Warning: This post contains spoilers from Wednesday’s episode of Survivor.
Unless you’re wearing that highly coveted necklace, absolutely no one is immune from a truly epic Survivor blindside.
Not even Omar Zaheer — who many viewers had thought had this season in the bag — could prevent his fellow tribemates from recognizing his threat status and acting accordingly. Thanks to Maryanne’s persistence, overall orchestration and extra vote advantage, Omar was floored to find himself next on the chopping block, having lost the trust of some key allies and mistakenly losing sight of his very capable “little sister” in the game. (Read a full recap here.)
Below, Omar talks to TVLine about his relationships with Lindsay and Maryanne, and why the beastly Jonathan turned against him. Plus, he tells all about the idol nullifier he found early on that was ultimately left on the cutting room floor.
TVLINE | You played a fantastic game, Omar, but why am I talking to you right now?
OMAR ZAHEER | You’re talking to me because my house of cards came tumbling down in a matter of hours and I didn’t even know it was happening! The catalyst was Jonathan realizing Lindsay and I were closer than he and I at that point, and the reason for that was Jonathan and I found a hidden immunity idol nullifier very early in the game. We promised each other we wouldn’t tell Maryanne and Lindsay, and as Knowledge Is Power came out, we had to strategize around it. So I talked to Lindsay about the nullifier and then he confronted her like, “Do you know about the nullifier?” and she said yes. I saw him take her aside, I knew it was a problem, and I think my own anxiety in real life manifested in the game of like, “I’m not going to talk about that conversation and just hope it’s OK.” I should’ve cross-checked that information, and we would’ve known that Jonathan wasn’t trusting us anymore.
That really was the [first] domino because then Jonathan went to Mike and said, “He has a nullifier that he’s planning to use on you,” and then Mike also turned on me, because he, Lindsay and I had a Final 3 alliance that I feel he was pretty locked into until he found out that information. Then Maryanne saw the play that I made with Drea, and that was her cue to make a move on me. It was like a little lynch mob all coming for me with their pitchforks at the same time, and I didn’t know until I answered the door and got stabbed in the belly.
TVLINE | Whoa! How did they leave the nullifier out of the edit?!
I think it’s because it never got used, but it was the ring and I was Gollum. I was obsessed with making that Final 5 play on Mike work, and I should’ve just been more flexible. When Drea told me about her advantage, I was like, “Oh, shoot. She’s going to take my move away,” because she’s taking his idol that I’m going to nullify, and it’s so early for me to be using the nullifier in a big move because then people will see what’s going on. So if I can keep the idol and whoever in the game, whether it’s Drea or Mike, then I know where it is moving forward and I can use it on them. And it was too much! I should’ve just gone with the flow, and let Drea take the idol and nullified her out of the game. That’s what I should’ve done in hindsight. You live and you learn!
TVLINE | What does it say about this new era of Survivor, when there are so many advantages in the game and they’re just like, “Eh! We’re not going to show this one, whatever!”?
[Laughs] I think it’s wild! I think this might be the first advantage that I’m aware of that they haven’t shown. I know Parvati found an idol in Micronesia [Fans vs. Favorites], but she didn’t bring it back with her from Exile Island. So this might be the first one that was actually in the game that they didn’t show. Maybe they should re-evaluate the number of advantages, I guess? But I will say that in the game, the advantages did not feel overwhelming, for me anyway. Maybe it’s because I knew what all of them were so I could strategize around them. But it took five minutes of your day, and the rest of it seemed like normal Survivor to me. But on television, it’s obviously much more important, so it comes across as more heavy-handed than maybe it felt in the moment.
TVLINE | Back to your blindside, did you ever think Maryanne had that in her?
I did think Maryanne had that in her early on, and I think I lost sight of that because we got very close, and I wanted her to succeed almost as much as me, in a weird way, because she’s like my little sister. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence, and I think that played into the game because I didn’t see my game as amazing in the moment. I thought people didn’t know what I was doing. I needed something big like the nullifier to show them that I do know what’s going on. So at that point, I didn’t think that Maryanne would ever see me as a bigger threat than Mike or Jonathan, and that was a mistake because she did. I knew that if she thought I was a big threat, that she was capable of doing it, but I think I lost sight of her as the game went on for emotional, personal and strategic reasons, and my own insecurities. It was the perfect storm for a blindside.
TVLINE | Lindsay had an expiring idol! Why didn’t she play it on you, and how hard did you try to convince her?
We had a conversation that you saw part of on the beach, where I said like, “It’s your last chance to use it. Maybe you should give it to me, and I’ll just play it.” But she said there was a line in the [rules] that said it was non-transferrable, so she couldn’t give it to me but could play it on me as an idol. I think for her, the concern was that if she was to do such an open demonstration of loyalty towards me, then people would see us as too tight, and we had been trying to hide how tight we were for quite a while. My whole game was not to be super pushy, so I felt like I would lose trust with her if I was like, “No, you need to do it for me,” especially if I didn’t think that I was in that much danger. In hindsight, it was obviously dumb for both of us. We should’ve played it. It’s the last chance to play it. Why not? Coming off of a big move, I should’ve been more aware that the heat was on me. If you make one big move, you have to keep following it otherwise you’ll be gone.
TVLINE | Were people really that unaware of how close you two were?
I think that we had hid our relationship quite well, up until I told her about the nullifier and Jonathan cross-checked our story and was like, “Oh, there’s a problem here.” I told him I wouldn’t tell her, and I slipped up and told her because she was my best strategic ally in the sense of: We would talk through every scenario, and it was socially acceptable for us to be together because we were not under the microscope. Trying to talk through all of the scenarios with her, I wanted her to know that information so we could make the best decision as a pair. I just didn’t anticipate Jonathan catching on to that, and he did a really good job picking up that we were closer than we were letting on, and that set off a chain reaction.
TVLINE | What do you see as your defining moment or best move you made in the game?
I feel like the best move in the game for me was by far voting out Lydia. Maryanne was dead on arrival at that vote because she was left out of the alliance of eight. Once Tori won immunity, all eyes were on Maryanne and I decided at that challenge, “It has to be Lydia, that’s the only option.” Then, I spent the rest of the afternoon figuring out how to do that.
It was kind of a three-step plan. The first thing [I said was], “I’m OK with Maryanne going. We’re not that tight. But if she plays an idol, then Lydia should go because she’s already plotting against the eight,” which was mostly true, I would say. Mike and Hai jumped on that idea, but we were still voting out Maryanne. Then I went to the outsiders and said, “Let’s vote out Jonathan,” because I knew Hai wanted to protect Jonathan. So when all of the outsiders were voting Jonathan, I could go back to them and say, “Oh, we have a problem. If Maryanne plays her idol, Jonathan’s going, not Lydia. So do we just flip them all to Lydia, and make Maryanne paranoid enough to play her idol?” But what they didn’t know was that I also told Maryanne that “pineapple pizza” is what you’ll hear at Tribal Council if you need to play your idol. If you don’t hear that, you’re good. So that was kind of how that flip happened. It really gave Taku a stranglehold on the game.
TVLINE | Why did you decide that Drea had to go, and how did your plan of securing Mike’s idol come about?
Drea had hinted a day before that she had something that could deal with Mike’s idol, but she wouldn’t tell me what it was, so I didn’t push it. It was very clear after the challenge that Drea was going home. When she did tell me [about her Knowledge Is Power advantage], it actually made me want to keep her, so I wanted to actually vote out Mike, let her take the idol, and I wanted her to keep the idol so I could nullify her out of the game. But she told me she was just going to take it and play it.
So in talking all the scenarios through, I decided with Jonathan to vote out Mike, but when I talked to Lindsay — she, Mike and I formed a Final 3 — she was like, “If we vote out Mike, he’ll be really bitter” because we formed that at the reward and we were with family, so it was an emotional moment. Plus, Lindsay had a lot of trust in Mike because they were both from Jersey. I made the decision with Lindsay that Drea was probably better to take out of the game, and we could take Mike’s idol and save him. At that point, I was like, “OK, if Mike thinks we’re so loyal to him that we took his idol, saved it and gave it back to him, he wouldn’t see the nullifier coming,” but it was too fancy. Really, Jonathan undid that whole house of cards, but what can you do?
TVLINE | There’s been a lot of talk about whether Drea should have been allowed to say what she did on her way out of the game, since it painted a big target on you. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s something that’s worth evaluating in the whole grand scheme of the game. I would say that for me, when I made that move on her, I knew that it was a possibility. For me, it didn’t feel out of bounds or unfair. It seemed like it was part of the game and something that I expected. After it happened, I was actually relieved it wasn’t worse! A lot of the people there already knew that she told me [about the Knowledge Is Power], because I told them. The only people that didn’t know were Romeo and Maryanne, and I felt like I could explain it to Maryanne. Romeo was used to being left out of information, so I don’t think it really affected him that much.
But I think it’s something worth evaluating moving forward, but when I did what I did, I knew it was a possibility, and I have to take responsibility for that. I don’t think it actually had that much to do with why I left, because Jonathan and Mike had already, for independent reasons, turned on me. It maybe alerted Maryanne to what was going on a little bit, and she was obliviously a key cog in why I went because she executed the plan perfectly, but I think it could have happened without that as well, so I don’t know!
TVLINE | Now that you’ve watched the episodes and have seen what other players have done and said, what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
Everybody talks to some extent after, so most of the things you kind of know about, but the biggest thing that surprised me that I really, truly didn’t know about was that Tori had caught Drea with red paint on her arm. I had no idea that happened! That was fun and I was like, “Wow, Tori is really astute as an observer.” She’s probably one of the most underrated players of the whole season. They made her look like a brat, but she’s actually the warmest, most caring, kind, wonderful, “hire you in a second as my therapist” person I’ve ever met.