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RHAP Blogger Roundtable – Survivor: Caramoan Fans!

The moment that CBS released the Survivor: Caramoan cast list, the RHAP Survivor blogger team invaded Rob C.’s apartment and refused to leave until we had discussed the Fans, the Favorites, and all of the open questions we had about the 26th season of Survivor.

What follows is a transcript of what our five bloggers – Andy Baker, Sarah Freeman, Glenn Holford, Mike Trudeau and Josh Wigler – had to say about:

THE FANS

Caramoan Fans Logo

Let’s cut right to the chase: Do the Fans stand a chance? The blogging team is divided on the answer to this question – which makes for some lively debate! Let’s start the conversation with a beauty pageant winner whose name offers some…

HOPE DRISKILL

hopedriskilli

 Josh: Miss Missouri has at least one thing going for her: ferocious earrings. Beyond that, I don’t have much hope for Hope in this game. “I think I am a competitive person; that might not come across at first because I’m kind of laid back,” she says of herself in her pre-game interview with CBS. For me, “laid back” translates to “boring.” Sometimes, you can just tell by looking at a contestant whether or not they have the killer instinct required to win — and when I look at her, I don’t see it. I don’t see a person willing to slit throats and stab backs. She could go far in the game by being a quiet, reliable ally … but judging the book purely by its cover, I don’t see a power-player in the making here.

Mike: Is there hope for Hope? Well, some beauty queens have done well in the past (Danni and Amanda) but most have been really, really bad (“Cookie” and Katie just last season). Somehow, seeing her list Brenda and Andrea (along with, you guessed it, Parvati…) as her favorite Survivors, I see a trap lurking for Hope. If she gushes over the two returning players, then her tribe won’t take a chance on keeping her around; they’ll boot her before she has a chance to become Hopelessly star-struck and attaches herself to those two like Cindy did with StepheMe. Get the cameras ready early for those bikini shots, guys, because we won’t be seeing her parading for long.

Sarah: I don’t want to beat the hope puns into the ground, but I am more optimistic for Hope than you two.  Unlike the beauty queens from last season, Hope came across to me as very level-headed, self-aware and sharp.  Of course, everything she said was pretty generic, but I think that there’s a lot of potential to this girl.  Potential that just might get cut short.  If the girls band together as I expect, I could see Hope taking on the overt leading role, which will be a problem if a rival alliance wants to cut the head off the snake.

I expect Hope will start out strong, but a tribal swap is practically inevitable, and she’s going to be in big danger in that event.  If she makes the merge, I don’t see her having the savvy to navigate through the end-game, but I think she’ll be good at rallying numbers to her alliance.  A smart player could take advantage of that.  Either way, I do think she’s going to be a key factor in the season.

Andy: You know who Hope reminds me of? Alexis Jones from Survivor: Micronesia (aka Fans vs. Favorites I). Granted, we only have a couple of minutes of interview footage to go on at this point, but Hope is attractive, charming, and confident… just like Alexis. I have little doubt that Hope is going to be invited into an alliance (probably by fellow pretty person Reynold), and equally confident that she will be safely insulated within that alliance (she’ll avoid being at the top or the bottom). Unless things go haywire after the tribe swap, I see Hope making the merge without breaking much of a sweat.

After the post-merge alpha male eliminations, though, I see Hope’s magic carpet ride coming to an abrupt end; like Alexis, Hope will be identified as a jury threat by the Favorites controlling the endgame, and she’ll be sent home before she can ruin the best laid plans of mice and Meehans.

Glenn: I don’t think that Hope fits the typical Pageant Girl archetype. She’s kind of an outsider in the pageant world, and doesn’t seem to be bringing many of their usual weaknesses into the game. She certainly seems more humble than a Katie or an Angie, and I think that’s important. Her social game seems strong, and her physical game seems likely to be at least average. This seems like a girl who makes the merge.

Hope’s problem is, she lacks strategic acumen. She’s not a gamer, and she needs to attach herself to one if she’s going to make it to the endgame. I think she seriously needs to consider courting Julia or Michael. Will she?

REYNOLD TOEPFER

reynoldtoepferiJosh: He’s worldly. He’s adventurous. He’s playful. And he talks. Really. Really. Really. Sloooowly. Reynold describes himself as socially adaptable, and he declares in his pre-season interview that he wants to play the game with a smile on his face. But I am not at all convinced that the right lights are on upstairs. He seems an obvious asset for physical challenges early on, and he’ll be well-liked enough around camp. But that’s not enough to win on its own. Like Hope, Reynold strikes me as someone who isn’t ready to bite into throats to win the game. Even when he’s talking about the inevitability of having to lie or compromise himself, he says he’ll do it — but he looks extremely unprepared to make good on that word. I look at Reynold, and I see a sucker-in-the-making: someone who is going to make a foolish enough move to put him in the same company as fellow Caramoan contestants Erik Reichenbach and Brandon Hantz.

Mike: On the one hand, Reynold seems to have everything going for him: Young but not too young, physically fit and used to living outdoors. He should be the natural but, on Survivor, the naturals often become insufferably arrogant. That’s what I get from him, especially when he lists Tom Brady as his inspiration in life, and Colby, Parvati (even guys have the disease now?!) and Todd as his inspirations for Survivor. I see him taking the lead on Gota and then being cut down by the Favorites as soon as they have the chance.

Sarah: After watching his video, Reynold registered really high on my ‘charismometer’.  The last person I found that compelling in a pre-season interview was Kim Spradlin–and we all remember how that turned out.  Of course, Mike and Josh seem strangely immune to Reynold’s charm, so this might all be down to the Bradley Cooper look he’s got going on.  If that’s the case though, I can name at least five other people on his tribe who will be susceptible to that charisma, possibly more….

On paper, Reynold still looks pretty good.  He plays rugby so he’s both tough and used to getting his arse handed to him, travelled, worked in sales and knows the value of honesty in persuasion–I particularly liked the way he freely admitted he was a recruit in his Xfinity interview.  His strategy of wanting to enjoy the game while making people feel good about themselves is sound (and speaks to his Australian experience).   He feels like he’s a little older than he is, which places him well as a bridge between the generations in his tribe.  He can flirt with the girls, be the Ozzy to Eddie’s Erik, but I also see him gelling with older guys Michael and Matt.

I’ll agree with Mike that he’s probably got an ego, but I think he’s a heck of a lot smarter than Josh is giving him credit for… maybe I’m just being suckered in by those pretty blue eyes, but I’d definitely put him as a contender to take it all.  I’m curious to know what Glenn and Andy’s take on him is.

Andy: Man crush, man crush, man crush! I’m with you on Reynold, Sarah: this guy is handsome, charming, and bright. I fully expect him to make the merge and be one of the last Fans standing (although the true endgame will be controlled by the Favorites).

That said, I have a bone to pick with Reynold: If there’s one tribe that should have ZERO recruits, it’s Gota. This season is about Fans, not recruits! You’re telling me that Probst, Burnett, and SEG can’t find enough Fans worth casting out of the thousands of applications submitted every year? C’MON! How the hell do they define Fan, anyway? Someone who’s watched a couple of seasons? Someone who could pick Boston Rob out of a line-up? Someone who owns a TV? It’s a $%&* travesty.

And so I find myself in an odd place: I like Reynold, but I refuse to root for him — because he represents everything I can’t stand about the Survivor casting process.

Glenn: Yeah, Reynold is GREAT. He’s probably in the best position on Gota on Day 1. All the girls are going to love him, and all the guys are going to want to keep him around, too. He reminds me a little bit of Aras meets Malcolm Freberg.

Being likable is a huge advantage on Survivor. It’s as good as being strategic, and sometimes it can be better. When you tack on that Reynold is almost certainly a strong physical competitor, I’m seeing a deep run. If I had to pick a Favorite to win the game, it’s him.

MICHAEL SNOW

michaelsnowGlenn: Michael reminds me of Richard Hatch, perhaps more so than any other castaway ever has. He’s from the world of corporate consulting, and speaks with the careful well-chosen kind of vocabulary and affect that betray a powerful intellect underneath. I picked up on a quite a few key words that sound like they could have come from the mouth of Hatch. I’m thinking specifically of phrases like “I envisioned myself playing this game” and “I have a nice, well-rounded strategy to win this game.” ??Michael is a person who is accustomed to building concepts into intellectual constructs, and then concretely implementing that vision. That was corporate-speak for, he gets things done, professionally and, I think, in Survivor as well. I’m very excited to see him play.

Perhaps, in another tribe, Michael would be my pick to win the game. But, given the overwhelming youth of his fellow tribemates, I suspect that he will struggle to build rapport. It seems possible that dim-bulbs like Allie may find his intellect intimidating. He could find himself drowning in young blondes, and not in a good way.

Josh:?I like the Hatch comparison. I see some Brian Heidik in there as well. And, yes, some Damon Lindelof, too. All of this is good in my book. It’s early days, obviously, but there looks to be a shortage of Survivor smarts in the Caramoan cast… and Michael looks to have it in spades. He could end up being a serious challenge threat and great at the social game, assuming there are people out there willing to align and work with him. Sherri is a good bet for a potential ally. Not for nothing, though, Michael is among the game’s older players. He’ll have to prove his worth with the cool kid crowd, and not at the expense of tipping his ability to really understand the way the game is played. That possible problem aside, I’ll say this: of all the fans, Michael’s the one I would put money on.

Mike: I can’t make a comparison to Hatch this quickly. I’ll have to wait until it translates on the island in his interactions with others, but for now I see nothing promising for Michael. For starters, he enters the game with two strikes against him: First, he is the oldest guy on a tribe that is quite young, and nothing in the history of the game has divided people more than age; and second, he says, “I don’t like ‘crazy.’ If you can’t think rationally, stay away from me.” If he makes it to a swap, will he even give himself a chance to form alliances with the crazy train that is the Favorites’ tribe? It’s interesting that he notes Cirie and Rob as his favorite players, but I doubt he will have a chance to put the lessons to good use. I wouldn’t put money on Michael. Then again, I wouldn’t put money on Matt, Reynold, Hope, Shamar, Eddie, Julia…

Sarah: I will join the crowd in liking Michael, but being concerned about his age.  At forty-four, he’s not only the oldest person on his tribe, but he’s got a good two decades on half of them.  If I’m right in thinking that the 20-25 crowd are going to form an alliance, they’re not going to approach Michael to join them.  I was glad to see his interview with Gordon Holmes where he said he’d been working with a 23-30 year old age range over the past few years–that might help him bridge the gap–but chances are he’s going to start the game as a bottom feeder.

If he survives until the likely tribal swap, his position should improve, but he’s still going to have an uphill battle and will need every one of the Survivor qualities that we’ve ascribed to him.  Either he goes in all guns blazing and breaks up the young girls on the first day, or he’s got to find his moment later in the game, upset the original alliances and pull together another one with himself in charge.   As much as I liked him from the pre-season material, I’m not feeling confident that he can pull this off–particularly, since I think that if he does make it through the merge, he’s going to be too well-liked to be taken to the end.  Still, I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong.

Andy: There’s only so much information one can glean about a castaway from a bio with heavily-scripted answers and a short solo interview. With Michael, I liked what I saw, but I had the same reservations as the rest of you: he’s different in ways that will stand out (he’s old, he’s gay, he’s analytical). But over the last few days, I’ve watched the TV Guide Preview and Probst’s Cast Assessment, and the footage I’ve seen makes me much more bullish on Michael.

For me, one of the more fascinating parts of social psychology is non-verbal communication; we’re hard-wired to swiftly absorb a staggering amount of information from the complex web of interpersonal connections which bind together a community. Walk into a crowded room, and within moments your mind is shaping stories about all of the individuals and their myriad relationships, a narrative which continues to evolve, second by second, as you absorb an infinite number of cues and tells.

So what does this have to do with Michael? The tribe footage we’ve seen of him so far shows two things: 1) During the first water challenge, it looks like the younger Fans are warming up to Michael, and 2) Michael is almost always seen with Sherri, and the comfortable body language between them reminds me of the conspiratorial connections between Kim & Chelsea and Malcolm & Denise. The former assures me that Michael won’t be the early target of an age-based alliance, and the latter means that during the first three days, Michael is already making the moves needed to secure his place within the tribe and the game. Mark my words, the Fans are going to be pairing up into power couples, and how these Fan tandems (Fandems?) unite into alliances and sub-alliances will determine which Fans make the merge. I’m guessing that the bond between Michael and Sherri – already tight in the early going – will get them at least that far.

SHERRI BIETHMAN

sherribiethmanGlenn: Is it just me, or does Sherri look exactly like Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side? That’s no fair, Sherri. People love that movie. You’re gonna make us cry.

I don’t know what it is about Sherri, but I like her. I think it’s her determination. Unlike the young women, who seem to be underestimating the difficulty of playing Survivor, Sherri is prepared and comes in with realistic expectations. I think she may even avoid the Older Woman Day Four Meltdown that has plagued so many players of her ilk. She’s also reasonably attractive, but not threateningly so. Reasonably intelligent, but not threateningly so. Reasonably charming, but not threateningly so. Reasonably athletic, but not threateningly so. She’s a classic middle-of-the-road castaway, and I think that’s a fabulous profile for a deep run. I’d buy her stock.

Josh:?Anyone who names their child after Colby Donaldson is A-OK in my book. I’m very excited to see Sherri play. She’s a super-fan, and there aren’t too many others who can say the same this season — weird, considering the season’s called “Fans vs. Favorites.” (That’s neither here nor there for now.) Sherri’s got the build and determination to do well physically and mentally in the game. But, like Michael, she’s one of the old-timers — a point that even she has admitted some concern over in pre-game interviews. If she can get over any ageism issues out there on the island, I see her doing quite well.

Mike: My first impression of Sherri wasn’t good. Not another one of those lame fans that lists Parvati as the player they want to emulate! I’d like it if, for once, the interviewer would point out that Parvati gets voted out first twice if Fairplay doesn’t quit and if Randy wasn’t so lame. Anyway, Sherri thinks she is a flirt but, at 41, she has quite a challenge competing against the girls in her tribe. She isn’t in Espada.

Then I took a second look and I now give Sherri a good shot at lasting. She should avoid an early elimination because there seems to be very weak girls and very weird guys on her tribe. She is fit and, since she will probably remain an outsider in Gota’s main alliance, she could connect with the Favorites simply out of necessity.

Swaps were disastrous for Margaret, Amy, Tracy, Monica, Yve and Jill, but were real lifelines for outsiders like Teresa, Holly and Jane. On which side will Sherri be?  The editing could give us an early hint: Except for Amy, those who were eliminated after a swap didn’t get a big story line and we knew little about their alliances in their original tribes, while the ones who lasted long into the game had been clearly established as likable outsiders. Look for that to determine how Sherri will fare in the game, especially after a swap. Considering how many viewers liked seeing Tracy and Monica on Survivor, she could become a fan favorite herself. She could even make it to the end with a shot at the win, like Holly.

If Sherri manages to get in an alliance with some Fans and some Favorites then she has the profile of most winners in a season with returning players. Danni, Sandra, Sophie, and Denise were all determined women who weren’t too young but certainly not old. If we add Amber and Parvati, the other women who won in returning players season, we see that all these women, besides Sandra, were strong in challenges and quite sociable. Sherri looks sufficiently strong and sociable, so that leads me to consider her as my pre-season pick.

Sarah: I’m much more lukewarm on Sherri, but that’s mostly because I can’t really get a good read on her… and maybe because I have the opposite opinion to Josh on Colby Donaldson (this is what happens when you watch Heroes vs Villains before Australia.)  For me, even though she’s got life experience and has been a fan for so long, she lacks originality.  She wants to prove that you can do it at any age, which seems to be the stock mission for the older woman these days (and older players than her have done well already).  Otherwise, all the usual tropes get trotted out and… I’m just not getting anything.

I do think she’ll be able to bridge the gap between herself and her younger tribemates, but like Michael, she’s going to start the game as an outsider looking in, and I don’t see her having the resources to change that.  My guess would be that she’ll never be the biggest threat, but eventually, the dominant alliance will get round to voting her off.  However, since everybody else is so positive about her, I’ll have to try and figure out what it is I’m missing come the premiere.

Andy: Perhaps this says something about my personal biases, but the first thing I notice about Sherri is the evidence of plastic surgery; no, she’s not trying to fill out a bikini top (and thank goodness for that; by Day 15, implants are obvious, distracting, and disturbing), but her lips and forehead suggest that Sherri is more than passingly familiar with collagen and Botox. What does that have to do with anything, you ask? Because it speaks directly to an oft-overlooked element of Survivor: Insecurity.

Insecure people, psychologists tell us, are far more inclined to get plastic surgery; those who go under the knife or pay for various cosmetic injections crave external validation and acceptance, and will go to great lengths to get it. Oddly enough, I have a feeling these qualities can serve certain types of Survivor players well: Under-the-Radar social players whose insecurity impels them to seek connection with the people around them are ready-made pawns for the alphas among them. Indeed, as insecure players look to leaders to help them deal with the stress of the instability inherent in the ever-changing tribal dynamics of the game, they become loyal, predictable goats.

Perhaps I’m wrong about Sherri, and she’s an empowered entrepreneur who is comfortable in her own skin, but I’m guessing that she’s going to follow the prototypical path of the insecure castaway: She’ll align with a strong strategic player early (I’m betting on Michael, because the age similarity will be comforting to her), and, when the Fans vs. Favorites part of the game comes to the fore – after a tribe swap and/or at the merge – she will flip over to the Favorites, who will exploit her insecurity by offering her what so many players desperately want: acceptance. Sherri’s going to go deep, but it will be at the expense of her fellow Fans; she may well outlast everyone else on Gota, but it will be as an endgame goat.

EDWARD “EDDIE” FOX

edwardfoxMike: Since he is a firefighter, I believe Eddie when he says that he’s in shape and will be good in challenges. I have to wonder if he really understood Boston Rob’s game when he says that he wants to play like him because “… he made friends with all the right people.”  That’s certainly not how I would describe Rob’s game!

This is a fan that could go far, with the only red flag being his age. 23 is young to compete against returning players.

Sarah:  After watching Eddie’s CBS video, the overwhelming impression I got was that of a job interview.  He wasn’t exactly arrogant–certainly not compared to last season’s guys!–but he was being very careful to sell himself, and my interpretation was that he was psyching himself up for the game.  I’d not be totally surprised if he was also giving himself pep-talks into mirrors.

So what I’m taking away from this is that Eddie’s a nice guy (not a Tarantino reference) who hasn’t really been in over his head before.  And that means he’s going to struggle out there.  Fortunately for Eddie, he’s got a lot going for him on paper, seeing as he’s young, fit and good-looking: he’ll be useful in challenges, and he should mesh well with the young crowd on Gota.  If he doesn’t fall into a showmance, he’ll probably end up as Reynold’s wingman.  He should make the merge, but he probably won’t be the number one target in his alliance even then.  The question is, at that point, will he have grown comfortable enough within the game to make his own way to the end, or will he stick with the safety of second fiddle?  I’m thinking the latter.

Andy: Unless Eddie gets hurt or keeps putting out the campfire in a misguided attempt to keep his vocational skills sharp, there’s zero chance he’s leaving early; Gota’s going to need his athleticism to compete with Erik, Malcolm, and Brandon. Eddie also comes across as an easy-going guy, someone who will mesh well with the excessively young female contingent on his tribe (the only woman on Gota over the age of 25 is Sherri, which gives the young women — and then men they opt to team up with — an early advantage). He’s going to make it to the tribe swap with ease.

That said, Eddie is not a modern incarnation of Tom Westman, the most notable firefighter in Survivor history. Eddie, by virtue of his age, is a follower, not a leader; Tom was in his early 40s and used to giving orders when he dominated Palau; Eddie, on the other hand, is someone who will likely, as Sarah points out, embrace the role of second fiddle.

In a normal season, fun-loving second fiddles often have a chance to play those fiddles deep into the game, but a Fan vs. Favorites set-up is anything but normal. Eddie will likely be identified as a potential threat immediately after the tribe swap, and should he be kept around as a challenge asset, he’ll join players like Erik and Malcolm in the post-merge high-priority target squad. Eddie may not be going home early, but he’s not going to be sticking around late, either.

Glenn: Eddie has a lot of upside as a castaway. He’s certainly a challenge asset who’s destined for the merge. But in a lot of ways he reminds me of Brendon from Tocantins–a fun-loving athletic guy who’s mostly interested in the fun and adventure of the game. That’s a great profile for an Amazing Race contestant, but a Survivor winner has to be a deft strategist and a ruthless opponent. I don’t think Eddie has it in him to navigate the minefield post-merge.

That might be okay if he were an under-the-radar non-threat. But he’s not. He’s a huge post-merge target, and someone is going to take advantage of his naive nature to dropkick him to Ponderosa. Sorry, Eddie. You seem like a fun guy. Just not a Survivor winner.

Josh: Hard to disagree with most of the sentiments above. I’ll add this: I really like Eddie. He strikes me as funny, if a little bit oblivious — Boston Rob meets Fabio, almost. The firefighter’s strength in challenges will present itself early on, and as others have said, that should be enough to get him to the merge or very close. Does he have the skills to make big post-merge moves? I certainly hope so, but I’m not confident. First impressions mean a lot in this game, though, and if nothing else, Eddie’s made a good first impression with me.

JULIA LANDAUER

julialandaueriMike: Speaking of being too young, Julia is 21. If that isn’t enough, she dares say: “As a racecar driver I’m the center of my team, so it’s my job to lead and motivate everyone to be their best.” I hope she’s aiming for cheerleader instead of tribal leader because, otherwise, she’ll be sent to the junkyard pretty quickly. Maybe, after the first few episodes, we will be asking Julia who?

Sarah: Julia’s age also sends red flags up for me, but I was pleasantly surprised by how she came across in her video.  It’s also worth bearing in mind that it takes a fair amount of strength and stamina to be a racing driver, which is why there aren’t many women winning championships.  For that alone, I’ll be more optimistic than Mike, because I think Gota will need Julia for the challenges.  Meanwhile, as one of four girls in their early to mid-twenties, she should have no problem finding her social niche on the island, and with her racing background, she’s probably going to know how to hang out with guys as well.

However, she’s still 21, and with all her successes, she’s probably got an ego, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was rubbing people the wrong way by day 30.  But I do think she’ll get that far–she might not have the social skills to navigate the game by herself, but I bet she’ll be able to work with people who do.  For or better or worse, I think we’re looking at an endgame factor.

Andy: I’ve got two things to add to this conversation, one a significant positive, the other a crippling negative.

1) The positive: She’s a Stanford student, which means, as we say here in New England, that she’s wikked smahht. How the heck Julia can balance her undergraduate course-load with being a race car driver, I have no idea, but if she’s legitimately doing both (and doing them well), then the strategic complexity of Survivor shouldn’t pose much of a problem for her. (The downside of this for Julia? Cochran is going to find her frontal lobes to be incredibly sexy.)

2) The negative: She’s got the flat affect of a sociopath. Now, I’m not saying she’s as un-empathetic as Brian Heidik, but her voice, her eyes, her body language, all of it screams, “I see you as a pawn, not as a person.” Unless I’m totally wrong — a distinct possibility, given Sarah’s positive read — Julia’s going to leave her tribe mates cold. She may stick around in the short term, but eventually, Julia’s lack of connection is going to catch up with her, and Probst will be snuffing her torch before the merge.

Glenn: I don’t agree that Julia is a pre-merge boot. Watching her video, I was powerfully reminded of one Sophie Clarke, winner of South Pacific. Now, granted, I’m always biased toward the strategic player archetype, but I really do think that Julia’s plan to hide her strategic mind and play up her youth is a winning combination.

We can presume she’ll be decent enough in challenges to keep her neck off the chopping block, and it seems that her analytic mind will always be whirring away. Far from being a pre-merge boot, I think she’s a power player. If she can get in good with a strong social player, like Eddie or Hope, I really think she could win the game.

Who might stand in her way? I don’t see her meshing with Allie. I think that could be a serious clash of personalities, and that’s bad for Julia. Allie’s an attack dog. If Julia pisses her off, she’s gone.

Josh: I get the Sophie vibe from Julia too, Glenn. She strikes me as a very smart player, someone who has given a lot of thought not just to how you compete in the game, but win. Her racing background is very interesting to me; can’t wait to see how that competitive edge comes out on the island. I haven’t had a lot of love for the Fans, but Julia strikes me as one of the few who could bring home the bacon. Also, Andy hit on this next point briefly, so I’m going to pick up the ball and run with it. Prediction time: if Cochran and Julia are at the merge, they’re going to team up. It’ll be the closest thing to a Cochran showmance as we’ll ever see on Survivor.

SHAMAR THOMAS

shemarthomasAndy: The first thing one notices about Shamar – either on the CBS web site or in his infamous “1 Marine, 30 Cops” video – is that he’s a HUGE dude. Given that Shamar served in the military, and that his version of advocacy and activism (at least according to that YouTube clip) amounts to bellowing at cops in riot gear, what I didn’t expect to discover when I watched his “Meet Shamar” video is just how NICE he seems. He laughs. He smiles. He doesn’t yell, not even once.

Being a huge and nice dude has served players well in the past, most notably Rupert and, to a lesser degree, James (although their multiple appearances have shown us that they’re not as nice as their original edits would have us believe). With those guys in mind, for a few moments I thought maybe, just maybe, Shamar might be able to make a run in this game. But then I started adding up all the negatives: He thinks it’s strategically savvy to have the members of his own tribe tired, hungry, and miserable, which is unwise under the best of circumstances and Survivor suicide when up against a tribe of returning players; and he wants to sabotage his own camp, the same sort of mindset that Pete Yurkowski brought into last season (and how did that work out?). Clearly, Shamar is going into the game with the worst possible plans under the circumstances; sure, he could adapt once he realizes what he’s up against, but so few players are able to adjust on the fly that I wouldn’t bet on it.

Speaking of things I wouldn’t bet on, I also wouldn’t wager on Shamar keeping his cool once the stress of the game kicks in. As an individual, he’s ready to face the elements, thanks to his Marine Corps background, but what happens when the excessively young sorority girl contingent starts to whine? Or when some of the men think they have a better idea how to run the tribe? Here’s what I see happening: the women are going to start pairing off with the men (Eddie and Allie? Hope and Reynold? Michael and Sherri?), and they’ll soon get tired of Shamar, his stress, and his screaming, and they’re going to want to vote him off.

Which brings me back to Shamar and his size. The saving grace for massive alpha males in the early part of the game is their value in challenges… but I think the producers have left Shamar high and dry on that count. If there were going to be power-based challenges, the Favorites would have a Rupert or James-style player, but they don’t… and I’m guessing that means that the Fans won’t need Shamar. Once the members of Gota figure that out, Shamar is going home, which is a shame, because when he smiles and laughs, I get the feeling that he could be a pretty cool castaway.

Glenn: I think that big guys often naturally expect to be viewed as leaders, and I think Shamar will struggle with this. It’s not that he’s a control-freak, or even actively seeking power–I think he’s just used to people doing what he says. That’s not going to work on Survivor.  If he’s smart, he’ll make a conscious effort to be sure to come across as laid-back. Everybody loves a big, friendly guy who goes with the flow. That’s who Shamar needs to be. Then he can rely on his challenge contributions to get him to the merge.??Or can he? For all of his impressive strength, I actually don’t see him being a strong utility competitor in challenges. It seems likely to me that his speed and his stamina are going to be below average, and I don’t see him having a keen mind for puzzles. In other words, he’s a Specialist. I just don’t think Gota will be needing his specialty. Shamar could be an early boot.

Josh: If there’s some bite to Shamar’s bark about wanting his fellow castaways to be miserable, hungry and exhausted — if he truly means on acting on what could easily be a throwaway joke — then he’s a pre-merge boot, end of story. There are no obvious male weaklings among the Fans, so his strength isn’t nearly as much of an asset as it would be on almost any other season; certainly not enough to keep him around if he has a crap attitude. Shamar’s best bet is to play nice, use his background to make camp-life easier, and make some strong, early alliances. Any kind of Hantz-ish behavior, and the dude’s toast.

Mike: We seem to agree on Shamar because what I noticed first was his comment:

My motivation for being on the show is to bring awareness to economical/social injustices and to bring honor and respect back to my community while inspiring the forgotten.”

To me, that is either the most arrogant statement ever or the most clueless. The guy obviously doesn’t know this game and its objective. You’d think that a military man would be able to concentrate on the job at hand but, then again, you look at the messes the army creates at times and you understand the confusion. His best hope would be to run across someone like Chris who knew how to manipulate an army Sergeant, but Shamar seems much too entrenched in his own convictions to understand that this isn’t his show. Sarge knew his strength was in building a team, but he was humble enough to see that he needed Chris to tell him how to proceed with the votes. I feel Shamar will be more like: “It’s my way or the highway,” so he’ll be hitting the road as soon as his muscles aren’t needed.

Sarah:?I may as well make it unanimous.  Shamar seems like a great guy, but I can’t see him lasting long in Survivor, unless, as Josh says, his proposed strategy is a joke.  I was impressed by Shamar’s Occupy Wall Street video (if Rob ever has the nerve to do an RC / Abi debate on the podcast, Shamar would be my recommendation for moderator), but the thing that struck me about that was how long it went on for.  How long he kept berating the police officers, even though they had backed off.  Shamar’s going to need to keep that side of him locked down, and I don’t think he can.

Right now, I think his best bet would be a showmance with one of the young girls, so he has somebody arguing to keep him around.  Otherwise, he’s going to end up being that challenge asset that gets sacrificed early, just to get rid of him.

MATT BISCHOFF

mattbischoffAndy: Like it or not, conformity plays a key role in Survivor. In the real world, I find the social forces involved in conformity to be incredibly damaging; unsurprising to hear from me, perhaps, given that I’m a former high school and current middle school teacher. The petty power games of adolescent tyrants are the bane of my very existence, so even hearing the word ‘conformity’ triggers an immediate, and palpably negative, emotional response in me.??Oddly enough, then, I don’t mind conformity as it manifests in Survivor, probably because what the game demands and rewards is so often substantive and positive: contributions to the welfare of the group, willingness to work hard, intellectual acumen and social intelligence. It is rare that a player who wants only to tear apart his tribe – in other words, a bully – has a chance to win the game, even if someone like this can occasionally china-shop his way to the endgame.

Now, Matt isn’t Russell, and that’s a good thing. He has more than a passing resemblance to Zane, however, and that’s a bad thing. This isn’t about tattoos (although they’re a piece of the puzzle); the comparison is more than skin deep. Non-verbal communication (like body art) starts the collective conversation before a word is spoken; once the campfire chatter and shelter stories commence, they all begin to weave the spider-web of social connection. Zane had no common ground with the members of Matsing; I have a feeling that the same will go for Matt and Gota.??Over the first three days, every one of the Fans is going to be judging each other, and seeking out the comfort which accompanies familiarity and similarity. Gota’s a pretty homogenous tribe, which means Matt is going to have a lot of work to do as he attempts to convince the others he belongs. And that’s where it’s all going to fall apart.

Matt’s contributions to camp conversation are going to be the killer B’s: beards, his band, and his beloved BMX. Julia might listen to him for about five minutes before saying, “Yeah, bikes are nice and all, but race cars are faster” – and that’s five minutes longer than anyone else will give him.??Okay, that’s not fair; the truth is, the other members of the tribe will likely leave the door open for Matt because he’s a nice, happy, engaging guy. The moment he falters in a challenge, though, he’s gone. And I have a feeling that he’s going to falter early (in part because he said he had to kick a lot of habits before heading to the Philippines). Conformity – the most powerful force in the Survivor universe – will claim another victim: Matt will be gone before the merge.

Glenn: If Matt wants to be an original, unique guy, more power to him. Personally, I think he looks like Gimli the dwarf. And I don’t think anybody’s going to be particularly keen to align with him, because he’s intentionally setting himself apart with his appearance.??When you deliberately present yourself as different, you’re cutting off your own legs in Survivor. Matt seems like a nice guy, but I think he’ll be the first boot of the season.

Josh: I see a little Gimli in there. I see more Opie from “Sons of Anarchy.” Either way, I don’t see a winner. Matt sticks out like a sore thumb, which can serve you in this game — look at Rupert, for instance — but just as often, it can drag you all the way down to Ponderosa hell. I want to see Matt do well; he comes across as very likable and he definitely looks the part of a badass. But whether or not he has the best beard in the game, he’ll need to have the best brain to beat his competitors. I hope I’m proven wrong, but I don’t see him lasting more than a few dates with Jeff.

Mike: I do remember a tattooed castaway that made her way in the viewers’ heart and could have gone a long way despite sticking out: Palau’s Angie. To me however, it’s not the tattoos alone because when I look at Matt, I can’t help but think of Ralph. Ralph…or a ZZ Top reject! Ralph didn’t do too well in Survivor and I doubt Matt will even do as well.

Gota is a young, good-looking tribe so he’ll really need a superb social game to fit in. He could use his own life experience to become a substitute dad to some of the younger members of the tribe, but their initial reaction will be to treat him like the weird uncle that you hope doesn’t visit too often. It’s tough to recover from a bad first impression, especially in a game where everyone is looking for an excuse not to be the first one voted out. Peter Harkey sounded weird and that was enough to send him packing. Gota’s first vote will be between Matt and one of the young blondes.

Sarah: I won’t write off Matt wholesale.  Bikers tend to have the right kind of athletic build for Survivor, strong but agile–and I could see a number of people being interested in hearing his BMX stories for an evening or two.  I could see somebody like Erik getting on well with Matt.  Unfortunately for Matt, Erik’s on the wrong tribe, and as Andy said, none of the Fans stand out as somebody who will get on with a tattooed, biking, beard-enthusiast.  But that’s always a hard thing to make a call on.  I’m not optimistic about Matt, but I will say, I wouldn’t be hugely surprised if he did hook into a good alliance and get deep into the game (kind of like Phillip and Brandon, their first time around).

That said, my prediction is that he’ll be the first off his tribe.  As Mike suggested, his best hope is for one of the young girls to go instead, and it’s possible he might try to rally the male/older contingent of the tribe against the collective threat of the young women.  I’m not convinced he could pull that kind of move off though, so he’d better hope that any potential friends have a head for strategy.

 ALEXANDRA “ALLIE” POHEVITZ

alexandrapohevitziSarah: In her video on the CBS site, Allie explains that she’s been working since she was 14 but–in the same breath–insists that she’s had a good upbringing.  This brings up the immediate (and unfortunate) red flag that young people from poorer backgrounds often struggle to mesh socially in Survivor.  Your typical Survivor tribe is half-filled with twenty-somethings whose parents supported them up to (and sometimes beyond) college, and lead well-intentioned but hedonistic lives.  Those who have not been able to take their education or home for granted can resent the attitude of their peers and can’t bridge the gap between themselves and the older generation.  Sometimes these players go far (such as Dreamz) but you can’t really say Survivor works out well for them.

On the other hand, Allie is a bartender/nanny (which is possibly the best job combination Survivor‘s had).  She must be used to socializing with hedonistic young people and with families who take their finances for granted.  Meanwhile, her Xfinity interview with Gordon Holmes proves that she’s got a sharp mind for this game.  She might mix well socially with the cluster of other young girls on her tribe after all, and failing that, somebody like Reynold might match up with her on a strategizing level (a la Malcolm and Denise last season).

When it comes down to it, Allie’s a scrapper who says she’ll do whatever it takes, but she won’t kiss ass.  In that, she might get on well with Shamar–or she might have a mid-camp showdown with him.  She gives us the cheerful assurance that she will be instigating trouble behind the scenes and not putting herself out like an idiot but that’s a lot easier to say than to do.  She doesn’t seem to have any obvious physical strengths and admits she’s never been roughing it, which all adds up to a great excuse for an early boot.  Unusually, her youth might end up helping her here–weaker, argumentative older women are less tolerated than the young ones, and she’s got a ready-made alliance should the young girls (and Eddie) decide to band together.  However, I’ve a suspicion that Allie will go out early, and that I’ll regret she didn’t stay long enough for a likely return.

Andy: At this point in the evolution of Survivor, there are familiar narrative arcs for just about every character type. For the TCBY — thin, cute, blonde, young — we have a few stories to choose from: She goes out early because she’s a physical and/or mental liability (last season’s Angie)… she sticks around as a loyal goat (One World’s Kat)… or she ends up on the wrong side of the numbers at the tribe swap and is viewed as an easy elimination. Given that I don’t see Allie leaving first, and I can’t envision her as a factor in the endgame, I’ll take door number three.

Forgetting for the moment her Reese Witherspoon chin (admittedly, that’s next to impossible to do), Allie reminds me of one of my favorite Favorites, Malcolm: sure, they’re both bartenders, but it’s more in their attitude and approach to the game. They’re in it for the money and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to earn a spot in the final three (I know these are bland pre-game platitudes, but the difference here is that I believe these two). Could Allie team up with the right Fan? Sure. Could she survive the tribe swap with her alliance intact, and establish relationships with some of the Favorites? Absolutely. Could she then navigate the post-merge game against a seasoned group of returning players? I doubt it — the road is long, treacherous, and littered with land mines, and only the strongest and smartest newbies stand even the slightest chance against a tribe of Favorites. And that, I’m sorry to say, isn’t Allie. She might make the jury… but I doubt it.

Glenn: I’m going to expose a personal bias of mine. I don’t like to see dumb people play Survivor. For me, the intellectual side of the game is the most compelling, carries the most nuance, and requires deliberate action to successfully navigate. And while Allie isn’t exactly dumb, I don’t believe she’ll be playing deliberately.

Consider her statement, “I’m not willing to give up myself to please others all the time.” That’s a reasonable approach to life, but I don’t see it as a winning approach in Survivor. If you’re coming into the game with pre-drawn lines you’re unwilling to cross, I think you’re playing badly. If you value your ego more than the prize, you will not win it. Remember Brenda Lowe, who was too proud to scramble?

But even a bigger red flag for me, was what she said next: “I’m not going to be violent towards people, but if you come after me I will go back at you.” ??What does this mean? It means Allie is not skilled at diffusing conflict. When conflict arises for her, as it does at some point for everyone, she’s going to escalate. She won’t be strategic or diplomatic, and she’ll get herself voted out. Not a horse I’d bet on.

Josh: I think there’s a little craziness in Allie. And unlike some fans of the game, I like a little crazy in my Survivor. I accept that not everyone on the island has the skill set required to win, so I like having some loud personalities around, if only for entertainment value. I hope that’s where Allie shines. She could fizzle out bright and fast, or she could go out with a slow, epic burn. I’m hoping for the latter, but wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the former. No matter the speed, Allie goes out in flames, and it should make for quality television.

Mike: Of the four young women on Gota, I give the most chances to Allie.  Why? Because she is one of the few smart enough to say that she needs to know everyone before forming a solid plan. That’s what everyone should be doing but so many start playing too hard too fast. Also, I am intrigued reading that she liked Jenna’s game and describing it quite nicely. Maybe we do have a real fan here, someone that could use their knowledge of the game to their advantage. She describes herself as “Hilarious, cunning and observant.” To me, those are the three qualities I want most in a player. Especially the hilarious part.

After writing this, I saw that Allie had a promo all to herself. I may have missed some promos but all the others that I have seen featured the crazy train that is Bikal. These promos starred Phillip, Brandon and especially Cochran, but we know that those are the characters that are supposed to draw us into the season. Why should we be told about Allie? I’d say that Allie not only makes the merge but will be someone to watch.

LAURA ALEXANDER

lauraalexanderSarah: Of all the young girls on this tribe, Laura is probably the most generic.  She says that she’s tough because she came from a small town and went out into the world.  She sees politics every day because she works in DC.  She’s travelled in ten different countries, so she’s got more life-experience than most people her age have.  All of this could well be true depending on the details, (where exactly does she work?  How many of those ten countries weren’t in the Western World?) but I’m thinking that the sum of her experiences doesn’t add up to the total she’s reached.  I’m certain she hasn’t got the social skills that she thinks she has.

Still, as the most generic blonde out there, she’ll likely fall into partnership with somebody stronger and reach the merge comfortably (unless a run of challenge losses sees the tribe culling the weak).  She’ll either be this season’s Purple Kelly or she’ll stick around long enough to actually make her mark.  I just don’t see her winning or, indeed, being anything other than a pawn in this game.

Andy: If only to give Sarah and me something to debate about this season, I need to disagree with her about some of these castaways… but I’m not going to start with Laura. I think Sarah has her pegged: she’s a pawn who, only with a lot of luck (always in short supply when returning players are around), will reach the other side of the board and become a queen. That said, I don’t think she’s quite as generic as you do, Sarah; if I had to pick which one of the newbie blondes will go further, Laura gets my vote.

My reason? Weakness. To explain: Someone like Allie believes she’s a triple threat – socially, strategically, and physically adept. Players like that come in with blinders on; they assume they’re assets rather than doing all they can to secure themselves a spot. But Laura is aware that she’s a challenge liability, and will be working overtime to establish relationships in the early going, shielding herself from scrutiny with the armor of an alliance. Channeling her inner-Pet Shop Boys, Laura is going to approach a guy like Eddie with a “I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money” deal, and he’s going to take it. And that will buy her the time she needs to at least make it to the tribe swap… and possibly the merge.

Every time I try to envision an endgame scenario for one of the Fans, I slam up against a wall when we hit the merge: At that point in the game, the advantage the Favorites have from the outset, which is itself formidable, grows exponentially. The stress involved in every post-merge decision rises with the stakes, and simply having experienced Survivor once before goes from a strategic edge to an incalculable advantage (it really is staggeringly unfair). If Laura is fortunate enough to be invited to the post-merge party, it will be as an incidental attendee rather than as a distinguished guest, and she’ll be on the outside of the velvet rope looking in when several of the Favorites, with a FanGoat or two in tow, enter into the endgame.

Glenn: I like Laura. I think she’d be my pick to align with, because she brings something excellent to the table: she’s 100% predictable.

She’s also mind-numbingly dull, which can be an asset in an ally. She’s certainly not someone I would worry about running around behind my back charming the pants off my enemies. I could tuck her under my wing and make a break for the endzone.

But there’s no way Laura can get there on her own. Her game is in many ways out of her hands. Will someone come along and strap her on their back? If so, she’s a deep game threat. If not, she’s gone early and entirely forgotten. ??

Josh: I get a good vibe from Laura … good, but not great. I think in a normal season of Survivor — a season without returning players — I could see her doing quite well with an alliance along the lines of what Andy’s talking about. But like Andy, I agree, the merge is her end of the line, if she even gets that far. There are too many significant threats out there, players like Malcolm who will almost certainly still be in the game at that point, for her to go much further than top six or seven. Laura has good intentions and I respect her worldview and her outlook towards the game. She’s just outgunned this time out.

Mike: Another Parvati-wannabe! Do I need to add anything? Well she shows some originality by adding Brenda and Jenna, but I want to point out she was 13 when Amazon aired (sorry Rob!) so I wonder what she understood in Jenna’s “strategy”?  Even if she did get it, Gota isn’t Jaburu, and the challenges will probably be much more physical than in a Women versus Men season. I seriously doubt that Laura will have what it takes to survive the first few Councils. She seems like a smart girl and since not everyone can be voted out first, then maybe Laura does have a chance, a small chance.  She promises to work hard around camp, so her early edit should tell us a lot about her chances: Will we see her work or will we see her relaxing in the ocean? You know she will do both, but which scene will be shown?

Finally, I’d like to comment on Andy’s point about the anticipated disaster for the Fans at the merge: The Micronesian returning players were somewhat better than these bozos, especially with Cirie being the brains behind the operation, yet, I will remind you of the F6 score: 3 Fans vs. 3 Favorites. I think the Fans have a shot, a real shot, at doing well this season.

Andy Baker

Andy Baker is a Survivor SuperFan who blogs about reality television, teaches English, studies psychology, and prepares tirelessly for his eventual appearance on Survivor. More From Andy Baker »


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