by Jan-Hendrik Botha
On day 22, during episode 12, Meryl walked away with individual immunity and the accompanying reward. Not only was this episode broadcast on Women’s Day, but it was filmed on a very special Survivor SA anniversary for Meryl.
As a Survivor fan, and a returning player, it was a dream come true when Nico placed the immunity necklace around her neck, but the day had much more significance for Meryl than met the eye.
After winning, an emotional Meryl told Nico: “[Today] was my last day in the game in my previous season and not just that. On this day, eight years ago, I gave birth to my son. I can’t be with my family today, but I’m so proud that I carried them all with me today.”
For the reward, Meryl received Chinese takeout and was given the option to choose three members of Salan to join her. She chose Phil, Dino, and Steffi as they couldn’t eat at the previous reward challenge.
After arriving at the reward, Meryl was faced with yet another decision: enjoy Chinese takeout with her three fellow castaways or take blankets back to camp for the rest of her tribe.
It was a “no-brainer” for her, and she chose the blankets. “I’m hella hungry, but I know there’s food back at camp. I’m a momma bear, and I am very much for the collective, always,” she said.
Recently, we checked in with her to find out why she was so emotional after winning the challenge and why this particular day in the game was so special for her. Here’s what she had to say:
Since Survivor SA: Island of Secrets, how has your perspective of the game changed?
Before entering Survivor SA, I was a massive fan. I’ve possibly watched all the seasons, Australian Survivor and American Survivor included.
I always thought I would do good in the game because I’m good with people. I enjoy people dynamics and figuring out what makes them tick and how to get through to them. That’s what I do in my work, and when I serve in the church.
I didn’t know if I could trust my instincts during my season. And that is something that I learned. My instincts about people and my feelings about people, even though I can’t always define them, are always on the money. My read on people or my instincts about them is always correct.
What made day 22 so important for you?
It was day 22 within the game, and that was the day that I was voted out during Survivor SA: Island of Secrets. Therefore, this was a day that I feared because the second time you get to play, you want to redeem yourself somehow.
Before heading into the game again, I counted the days and realised that day 22 of Survivor SA: Island of Secrets was also my son’s birthday. Therefore, on day 22 of Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts, I just knew something special and radical would happen, and I woke up with that expectation.
Why is your son’s birthday taking place during the game of Survivor so significant?
When you come to play Survivor for the second time, there’s a reckoning. You return to rewrite your wrongs. I returned to rewrite my Survivor experience because I knew I had much more to give.
There are little signs everywhere if we pay close attention. And my husband can attest that when I left the island in season seven, in my heart, I knew that I would play again because there were things I needed to redeem for myself. I believe in purpose and destiny and that things are written for you. Therefore, I knew that my son’s birthday falling on day 22 was a sign that something spectacular was going to happen – and something did happen. Something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
How did you feel on this important day?
My son Ethan was born on 7 February 1994. I missed his birthday the first time during Survivor SA: Island of Secrets. It was the most amazing birth experience, and he is quite an independent boy.
Before I left for Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts, we had a fake birthday party for Ethan. We asked him what he wanted, and that afternoon, we spent the day doing what he wanted to do so that he would feel celebrated. It was such a good day.
I also know that being on the island, you need to be completely present – and you have to cut off the part that wants to draw you back home because if you’re not fully present in the game, the game will get you.
It was tough to miss Ethan’s birthday, but because of what happened in the game on this day during my season, it was my Survivor armageddon day, my Survivor birthday – also Ethan’s birthday.
That day was possibly one of the biggest moments in the game for me. A lot of things came together. I felt my family with me. I felt myself within my own being – not Meryl, the mommy, Meryl, the pilates instructor, Meryl, the singer, or Meryl, the entertainer. I felt that I had redeemed something for myself.
It was such a full-circle moment, and, looking back, I am completely fulfilled by my Survivor experience.
Images: Charlie Sperring and Peter Russell
Did you miss Meryl's victory this week? Then tune in for the omnibus of Survivor SA, Saturdays from 15:30 to 19:30. Episodes are also available on DStv catch up. Join the conversation on the Survivor SA Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram using the hashtag #SurvivorSA. Remember to watch Survivor SA: Return of the Outcasts, every Monday to Thursday at 18:00.