‘Biggest dream’ comes true for Newmarket veterinarian taking his skills to Survivor

Omar Zaheer, who has watched every season of the popular reality show, is getting his own chance to join the competition on the island

A veterinarian may be the perfect career for competing on Survivor if you ask Newmarket animal doctor Omar Zaheer.

The lifelong fan of the long-running competition show — which sees individuals stranded on an island and facing off in tough challenges to be the lone survivor and win $1 million — is one of the contestants in the upcoming season launching March 9.

“I watched every season live since season one and multiple times. It’s been a huge part of my life and it’s so exciting to be part of the family and play the game,” Zaheer told NewmarketToday.

The 31-year-old has been working at the 404 Veterinary Emergency and Referral Hospital on Harry Walker Parkway for just two months but said he loves it.

“I loved animals ever since I was a kid from the first time I saw a blue jay in the backyard,” Zaheer said.

He would watch the National Geographic channel and take out library books on animals, eventually choosing to specialize in avian and exotic animal veterinary study in university. He said the skills he has learned through his work are helpful on the show.

“I think that being a veterinarian might even be the perfect job for Survivor because you have to be able to meet every different type of person that walks through the door in very emotional states,” Zaheer said. “Being able to talk with all different people in very emotional states from every walk of life is definitely the best training for Survivor.”

The rest of his training for show was tricky with the pandemic, however.

“I would have sporadic moments when the gyms would open and I would go practice swimming but those were sporadic because of the lockdowns and so I tried to do home workouts,” he said.

On top of the physical elements, he re-watched past seasons of the show, listened to podcasts on social strategy and tried to take it easy saying he “didn’t want to overthink it.”

While he tried to keep his cool for the sake of training, Zaheer said being chosen for the show was a dream come true. This was just his second time applying and he was thrilled when he found out he had been successful.

“When I found out I was chosen for Survivor 42, I was ecstatic. It was a high that I don’t think can be replicated,” he said. “It’s a culmination of one of the biggest dreams I’ve ever had and to be accepted and welcomed to the world of Survivor, a world which meant so much to me for 20+ years, was just a very surreal and emotional and happy moment .”

For Zaheer, this is also an opportunity to represent both the Indian and Muslim communities.

“Growing up there were very few Indian or Muslim characters on TV. There was Apu from The Simpsons and then you would see Muslims portrayed as either terrorists or oppressed by their parents or they were completely delving into the western world, kind of losing who they were in the process of it. So I never really saw that I felt anybody represented me or my family and it also leads to this feeling of maybe you don’t really belong in the public eye or maybe you don’t belong on the show that’s supposed to represent the population or community,” he said.

“So being able to take that step onto the show and have them embrace and accept me and now hopefully give kids that are watching now some form of identifying with somebody they see on TV and feel like they belong, I think that experience will be really valuable.”

Zaheer also joins a small number of Canadians who have competed on Survivor, as the show was just recently opened up to them. Erika Casupanan was the first Canadian to win in season 41. Now two other Canadians, Maryanne Oketech of Ajax and Drea Wheeler who lives in Montreal are also competing on season 42.

The show premieres on March 9 and fans can watch on Global or CBS. While Zaheer couldn’t share any spoilers, he hopes locals will tune in to cheer him on.

“I hope that people are excited to see me on Survivor and if a client’s a fan, I’d be happy to chat about what I can. I hope the community is excited because it is rare to get something so big from smaller communities on a national and international level,” he said. “I’d love to see a parrot come in imitating me from the show.”