Ontario Pentecostal takes reality TV win in stride
If you watched the latest season of Survivor, you saw a contestant and her unusual job title – Maryanne Oketch, Seminary Student. And you saw her in every episode, because she won the whole thing.
The job title was unusual but real. During filming Oketch was enrolled in the master of theological studies in Pentecostal studies program at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. She received her degree in May 2022 and let her Twitter followers know (spot the distinctive roof and walls of the university’s chapel in the picture above).
“I really loved my time at Tyndale,” she says. “My biblical knowledge really strengthened, where I now feel more comfortable with talking about theological issues and discussions and seeing that biblical aspect.”
She isn’t the first seminary student to appear on the long-running reality TV competition, but she is the first to win, and is also the second Black woman and second consecutive Canadian to win the U.S.-produced show. According to Show Buzz Daily, Survivor’s 42nd season averaged 5.4 million American viewers, with 5.11 million Americans tuned in to the finale that saw Oketch crowned the latest winner. The American version of the show has been running since May 2000.
That’s some tremendous exposure for the Tyndale grad, who says her time in the spotlight was an opportunity to express her belief that “the way that you act and the way that you treat others really is a very big marker of how you show your faith.” She highlights the moment she made a prayer mat for Muslim participant Omar as a gospel-inspired response to another person’s spiritual needs.
Oketch has since returned to daily life after Survivor and seminary, currently serving as the children’s ministry coordinator for her Pentecostal church east of Toronto. “It’s great,” she says about going from Survivor champion to children's pastor. The time between the competition and its television exposure was about 11 months, which Oketch calls a “year of normalcy.”
She says that during that time, she transitioned from the all-consuming mindset of “Survivor’s my life,’ ” to a more relative perspective of “Survivor’s something that I did. You’re not gonna have the high of Survivor forever.” She then turned her attention to the future, asking herself, “What are you gonna do to move yourself forward?”
She says she’s ready to start answering that question. “I’ve never had a five-year plan, so I think now’s a good time to start it.” She hopes to combine her undergraduate studies in life sciences and her biblical grounding at Tyndale in a faith-based public health communications role. But she trusts that this will come in time.
“My favourite scripture has to be ‘For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, it’s plans for good and not to harm you plans to give you future and a hope,’” she says, paraphrasing Jeremiah 29:11. “I feel like that one has really driven with me in life. If you’re having a high moment or a low moment, you know that it’s all according to God’s will.”
Matthew Neugebauer is a summer intern at Faith Today.