The current season of “Survivor” has seen a number of breakout stars, among them 25-year-old therapist Tori Stanley Meehan. Tori is a young and precocious superfan from the Southern U.S., and has quickly emerged as one of “Survivor 42’s” most dynamic contestants, with many fans labeling her as the season’s biggest villain.
As of now, it seems as though Tori, along with Chanelle Howard, seem to be the majority of the new merged tribe’s #1 targets, though both were able to dodge elimination last episode after becoming immune (with Tori winning the season’s first individual immunity challenge).
Although Tori may be in the minority as of now, any fan of “Survivor” knows that the game is liable to change at any moment, especially in the show’s “New Era.” And considering Tori’s diehard commitment to the game and outlasting all the rest, nothing we see in the next few episodes should come as a surprise.
Here’s everything you need to know about the “Survivor 42” star:
Tori Is a Therapist Who Specializes in Eating Disorders
Tori, who was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma but now lives in the neighboring town of Rogers, Arkansas, has alternatively described herself as a “therapist” and a “certified life coach,” specializing in eating disorders for women. On her website, she states that she holds a bachelor’s degree in “Christian Care-giving and Counseling,” with a minor in Psychology.
She went on to receive a master’s degree in Professional Counseling, and is currently going through the process of obtaining a PhD in Counseling Psychology. According to Credible Mind, a professional platform for people to network with academicians and scientists for their mental health struggles, she obtained her degrees at Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa.
In May 2018, around the time she finished her undergraduate degree, Tori made a post on Instagram in which she revealed she graduated Summa Cum Laude (the highest honors given), and was awarded the Senior Paper Award for her research on treatment for bulimia nervosa (commonly known as bulimia), an eating disorder largely caused by stress and anxiety.
On her website, she also states that she is “on a mission” to make therapy “practical, relatable, and cool.” Those interested can book appointments for therapy with Tori, though you must be a resident of Arkansas. Though her main focus is on eating disorders, she also provides therapy for other issues, such as trauma, post-break up therapy, depression, and spirituality/religion, among others.
When it came to “Survivor,” Tori believes she can use her skills as a therapist to help her advance in the game. “As a therapist, I’m literally trained in the art of trust,” she said in her pre-season interview with Parade. “So it really is a skill that I’ve been learning for over six years.”
She went on to say that when she first meets a client, they are complete strangers, just like her fellow contestants on “Survivor.” Tori, however, says she is “supposed to use my skills to be able to get them to trust me quickly and deeply enough to disclose their deepest darkest secrets with me … That’s what I do as a therapist, creating a safe space for people to be themselves, be authentic, and talk about real things. So I’m totally going to bring that into the game. That’s my social strategy.”
It appears as though these skills to connect with strangers may have paid off already, given how she has dodged two pre-merge Ika Tribal Councils where she was all but certain to leave until she turned the tables on her former allies; first Zach Wurtenberger in episode 1, then Swati Goel in episode 4. Now, given her current status in the new merged tribe, it appears as though she is in a similar position. She may be target #1, but it remains to be seen whether her social and interpersonal skills will take her another step forward in the game yet again.
Tori Is a Lifelong Fan Who Has Applied for the Show Multiple Times
Tori has been quite vocal about the fact that she is a lifelong superfan of “Survivor,” and going on the show has fulfilled a longtime dream of hers. In her Parade interview, she said that, while “Jesus is number one” in her family, “Survivor” and Jeff Probst are “a very close second.” Her entire family (including four siblings), she added, have a habit of binge watching an entire “Survivor” season on Christmas day, which has become a kind of tradition.
As shown above, Tori has auditioned for “Survivor” at least five times, starting when she was 18-years-old, then the minimum age required to send in an audition tape. She would then audition again when she was 19, twice when she was 21, and once more when she was 23 (which was likely the video which landed her on the show). Most tapes would begin with, “Hello again, CBS!” and in her final audition tape, she declared, “I am not going to stop until you friggin’ put me on this show!”
In one of her pre-season interviews with EW, Tori also revealed a heartwarming story in which she, at the age of 11, ran into “Survivor” legend Jonathan Penner at an airport. At the time, she explained, Penner was one of her favorite players, and he actually let her take a picture with him, a picture which she took with her to the island. “He was so nice,” she said. “I actually have that picture with me here just to remind me of, like, the full circle moment.”
Tori added how she hopes to be an inspiration to children watching the show now, the same way Penner and other Survivors were to her growing up. “The fact that I’m here and I can be that inspiration, or that role model, for other little kids,” Tori said, “is so meaningful. And I’m so stoked to be here.”
Tori’s Survivor Idol Is Kim Spradlin
Although Tori may be a big Jonathan fan, she has often referenced her number one favorite player as another lady of the South: Kim Spradlin-Wolfe, winner of season 24, “One World.”
When asked in her CBS bio which past contestant she intended to play the game most like, Kim responded, “100% Kim Spradlin.” Tori explained how she wished to emulate Kim’s eclectic skills which made her such a formidable force in the game:
Not only was she a beast in challenges, but her social game was so strong. She developed genuine relationships with the other players, and almost everyone considered her a trustworthy ally, even if she didn’t feel the same way about them.
She also said of Kim in Parade, “Her tribemates viewed her as a leader, and her alliance members followed her lead. She didn’t go into the game trying to be super manipulative and deceptive. I felt like she tried to be as authentic as she could in a game like ‘Survivor’.”
When it comes to her game, Tori seems to be playing a relatively different one from Kim. Kim was well-renowned for using her charm and social skills to befriend nearly every member of her tribe, only to blindside them. Tori, on the other hand, has alienated nearly every member of both her tribes (Ika and the newly merged tribe) due to her acerbic attitude and duplicitous strategy, leading to her becoming the number one target by virtually every contestant left.
Kim herself seems to agree that Tori’s gameplay does not much mirror her own, saying in a March 2022 interview that Tori gave her “a little bit of a backstabbey vibe,” though added that that could be entirely because of the edit. “It feels a little bit like she’s overtly like, ‘I’m gonna do this,’ and ‘I’m gonna do that’!” Kim said. “I never felt like I was doing that, I don’t think. I was just trying to not get voted out.”
Interestingly, Tori also declared in a pre-game interview that she intended to break a record held by Kim (as well as three other women): that of the number of individual immunities won by a woman, which currently stands at four. “We’re about to have the first woman to ever win five individual immunity challenges in one season,” Tori told EW before filming began. “It’s going to happen … A woman’s gonna do it, so why not me? Why can’t that be me?”
Tori was indeed able to dodge elimination at least once, by winning immunity in episode 7, leading the rest of the newly-merged tribe to scramble for a new target (which eventually led to the elimination of Lydia Meredith). Whether or not Tori will actually be able to break the female individual immunity record and win five remains to be seen, though it will prove to be a lofty goal to accomplish. If she doesn’t, she may be in trouble down the line.
Her Faith Is Very Important to Her
Tori has made her Christian faith no secret. On her Instagram page, the description of which reads, “JESUS IS MY EVERYTHING,” Tori often relates advice she delivers as part of her career to religious scripture. In one April post, for instance, while encouraging her followers that it is “okay to say no,” she writes, “Did you know the Bible addresses boundaries too?!” She proceeded to quote a passage from Matthew 5:37, which reads: “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
Upon her engagement to her now-husband, real estate agent Zachary Stanley, Tori wrote on Instagram that she was “overwhelmed with love, support, excitement, and God’s goodness.” She added that their relationship was a “huge testament of God’s promises, orchestration, divine plan, and faithfulness.”
In her bio, when asked who her personal hero was, she took the opportunity to express the importance of her faith. “It would be so cheesy to say ‘Jesus’,” she responded, “but I did want to use this question to explain the importance of my faith. I am a fully devoted follower of Christ, and my life motto is to “love God and love people.” I recognize that there is a higher calling on my life than simply living for myself.”
She added that her faith will give her an advantage in the game, “because I can rely on God when I am weak and ask Him for guidance.”
In addition, the university which she attended, Oral Roberts, is well known for being a private evangelical university, and was founded in 1963 by none other than Oral Roberts himself, a well-known evangelical televangelist who died in 2009.
Tori Has Gone Through Her Own Mental Health Struggles
The fact that Tori’s specialization as a therapist is eating disorders stemming from stress is unsurprising, considering the severe depressive episodes and mental health struggles she has undergone herself. Just recently – shortly before the premiere of her season – Tori posted a series of video diary entries she made to herself from 2019, when she was 22, which she described as “the rawest thing I’ve ever shared on social media.” She added that, though it was uncomfortable, she still felt like she was “supposed” to share it, in part because she believed it could help other people.
In a March 2019 video diary, Tori spoke about how she was determined to push through her depression, in part because she had faith that God would had better plans for her.
“I know God loves me, and so he’s not going to leave me here,” she said in the video diary. “He is going to heal me … and I am going to be able to use this to tell people about Him and His goodness … I’m just, I’m at a point right now where it’s hard. But I still know that God is good and that He loves me and He has a good plan for me and I’m going to get past this.”
Indeed, three years later, Tori seemed to be at the happiest point of her life, for a number of reasons. For one, she finally fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on “Survivor,” and for another, she got married to her husband Zachary, who she has described on multiple occasions as “the man of my prayers,” later that year.
“I can’t even think, I’m so happy!” she said in a February 2022 video diary. “They just announced the ‘Survivor’ cast. Praise God, praise God, praise God! Oh my gosh, dreams really do come true. I’m so excited.”
“Survivor 42” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific on CBS. The three-hour finale airs Wednesday, May 25, 2022.
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