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RHAP Roundtable: Survivor Caramoan Favorites!

 

survivor_favorites

 

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 – returning scribes Andy Baker, Sarah Freeman, and Glenn Holford, and brilliant newcomers Mike Trudeau and Josh Wigler – had to say about:

THE FAVORITES

Much has been said about the curious composition of the Bikal tribe ever since the cast list leaked… and our bloggers, always an opinionated bunch, are no different. We’ll begin with someone who was a Fan the first time around and now finds himself a Favorite…

ERIK

ERIKAndy: To prep for Survivor: Caramoan, I’ve been re-watching the original “Fans vs. Favorites,” and it’s been refreshing to be reminded just how strong a player Erik was in his first go-around. In Micronesia, Erik’s the Fan with the most working knowledge and overall perspective about the game; seven episodes in, he’s proven to be as reliable a narrator as none other than Jonathan Penner (who departed far earlier in Micronesia than I remembered; funny how selective and revisionists our memories can be). He was also a post-merge challenge beast, winning three individual immunities; had he not given up the necklace at F5, Erik could easily have Fabio-ed his way all the way to the finale.

It’s unfortunate that all we really remember about Erik is that the fearsome foursome of Cirie, Parvati, Amanda, and Natalie (three hall-of-famers and one of this season’s snubs) convinced him to give up individual immunity, because he was a much stronger player than the cruel Cliffs Notes summation would lead us to believe. Which is to say that I’m bullish on Erik’s chances this season: On a tribe that will be full to overflowing with certifiable insanity (hello, Phillip and Brandon) and duplicitous antagonism (hi there, Corinne and Brenda), Erik — unless the last five years have been horribly unkind — will be, earnest, sincere, and loyal, and thus will stand out as a desirable alliance-mate to the more levelheaded long-range thinkers in the bunch (I’m looking at you, Malcolm and Cochran). Do I think Erik is going to win? No. But I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t make the merge, where he’ll likely be eliminated the first time he doesn’t win individual immunity. My hope, more than anything — given how likable he was the first time around — is that when this season ends, Erik will have redeemed his Survivor reputation and we’ll remember him as a solid all-around player.

Glenn: I really like Erik’s chances this year. He might be in the second or third best position on Day 1. He’s very likeable, disarmingly self-deprecating, and powerfully athletic. He’s a good player, but no one thinks of him as one. Aside for Dawn, I think Erik will have the easiest time forging alliances in this group. I could see Malcolm, Cochran, Andrea, and Brenda courting him.

He’s an honest vote, a trustworthy ally, and fun to be around at camp. He’ll contribute during challenges. What’s not to like?

I’ve always thought Erik was better than he’s been given credit for. His infamous “dumb move” actually made sense. It was a calculated move geared toward improving his chances to win the game. It bit him in the ass, but it was still an interesting move, and in a parallel universe somewhere, maybe it paid off big.

Josh: I’m very happy to cosign Andy and Glenn’s assessment of Erik. If you cut the immunity hand-off out of his story, you’ll see one of the most genuine, enthusiastic, likable and physically capable competitors to ever hit the Survivor beach. I strongly believe that Erik isn’t the idiot that he’s typically labeled as; he fell victim to one of the most brilliantly executed heists in the history of the game. You probably would’ve, too. There’s much more to the erstwhile ice cream scooper than his fantastically entertaining downfall, and one assumes that a few years of salt getting into that particular wound has left him with a desire to prove there’s a better, more level-headed player lurking within that shaggy-haired noggin of his. Erik, as Glenn said, is easily one of the most desirable allies on the Favorites tribe. Barring unforeseen disaster, he’ll make the merge… and if he makes the merge, I see him as a very serious candidate to win the whole game.

Mike: I’m not as high on Erik as you guys. In THIS group, he isn’t that bad but well before his idiotic decision, we knew that Erik was a Dumb Player: In Airai, he chose to empower Joel in his quest to destroy Mikey instead of trying to repair the tribe’s fracture. In challenges, he threw sand all over the Favorites during their very first encounter and later he flipped Amanda on her “friggin’ head.” That would have been reason enough for the Favorites to seek revenge, but then Erik stopped trying to compete against Ozzy and started acting like his puppy. It led to one of Cirie’s marvelous confessionals: “Erik and Ozzy are like ‘The Lion King.’ The father, when he was teaching the cub and you can just see, like, stars. Whenever he says Ozzy’s name, like stardust comes out of his mouth. It’s like ‘Aaahzzy!’ I think that if Ozzy were to propose marriage to Erik right now; done deal!”

Erik’s obedience earned him a reprieve and he wound up being the Fan with the best shot at winning. We soon saw that James was right, though, that there was indeed something wrong with that kid when he gave up the immunity necklace.

The first time, Erik’s goal was simply to beat Ozzy in challenges and he seemed happy just to have met Probst. He wasn’t ready to play Survivor at all. Now, being a former fan himself, Erik has a natural connection to the other tribe. Will he be smart enough to use it? We should know early on if he is still edited as the Dumb Player or not.

Sarah: I expected to be going against the tide with my fondness and high hopes for Erik, and I’m delighted to find that I’m actually with the majority.  I agree with what everybody else said about him being a better player than his reputation implies.  Nevertheless, Mike has a good point too that, for all Erik’s Survivor knowledge, he was hardly playing a great game up until that fatal immunity giveaway.  If he had kept his necklace and Fabio’ed his way to a win, most of us would have resented him for it. (I’ve always felt that part of Erik’s risk-taking was because he didn’t want to win that way.)

The point I want to stress is that it was four and a half years between Erik’s seasons going by filming dates.  He’s bound to have lost some of his infamous naiveté, and being the most senior of the returnees, he shouldn’t be star-struck this time (perhaps not even by Probst).   Erik was well-liked in his original season, a fierce challenge-competitor (Mike forgot to mention how he attempted to drown Yau-Man) and of course, hugely knowledgeable about the game.  If he’s kept all those qualities and added some wisdom of experience to them, he could theoretically be the player to beat.

That’s why I wanted to pick Erik for the win when the cast was first announced, but I admit to being underwhelmed by the pre-season info on him.  One of the things that sent up a red flag came straight from his bio: “Reason for Being on SURVIVOR:  To show everyone that I am really not dumb.”  It might just be a joke, but I wasn’t getting a great vibe from his video either.  Either his heart isn’t really in it, or he’s going to be that rare returnee who comes back to play a less aggressive game, in which case he might find himself supporting somebody else’s million dollar play.

BRANDON HANTZ

 

BRANDONAndy:  If anyone deserves to be vilified as the immunity necklace idiot, it’s Brandon, not Erik. There is but one reason that Brandon got as far as he did in South Pacific: He was part of a first-day five-person alliance. Without Sophie, Albert, and particularly Coach keeping him in line, there’s no way Brandon avoids a game-ending, probably pre-merge, implosion (much like Willie Hantz in this past summer’s Big Brother); when his alliance finally needed the Brandon train to fly off the tracks, all it took was a little push, and the next thing you know, Brandon was handing his immunity necklace to Albert and, a few moments later, his torch was being snuffed out by Probst. To be blunt and brutal about it, Brandon — whose Facebook posts and Twitter feed reveal him to be the Hantz most in need of a therapist — is the human embodiment of emotional instability.

Truth be told, I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible for CBS and Mark Burnett to send Brandon back out there; if Erik’s narrative arc is a redemptive one, Brandon’s is exploitative: He’s part of the Caramoan cast not because he’s good at the game, and not because he’s a particularly likable character, but because the odds are astronomically high that he’s going to have a meltdown on national television. If Brandon couldn’t handle the overt sexuality of Mikayla “Delilah” Wingle, how do you think he’ll cope with the tantalizing triumvirate of Brenda, Andrea, and Corinne? And if he struggled with the stress of camp life and the pressure of the game when he was heavily insulated by the power position of his alliance, how on earth is he going to remain level-headed with The Specialist doing all he can to upset the delicate balance of tribal harmony?

The easy and unavoidable answer is that he can’t and he won’t; despite having a built-in same-season alliance with Cochran and Dawn, Brandon is going home early, and it’s going to be ugly.

Glenn: Man, I really did not want to see Brandon Hantz again. Do we really have to go through this a second time? It’s so exhausting to watch him. I find myself feeling emotionally drained by trying to understand this guy’s actions, thoughts, and motives. He’s just a drag. Yuck.

I’m with Rob C on this one: if you’re really going to bring back a Hantz, and this is actually probably an appropriate season to do so, just give us Russell. He’s going to play his exact same game the exact same way he always does, and he’ll get his ass voted out early, and we’ll all have gotten our Hantz fix. Then we can move on to the rest of the show.

Brandon Hantz is screwed this season. No one will work with him. Brenda might sense his weakness and know she can control him, but he likely won’t work with her. He’ll be too busy calling her a Jezebel and clutching his crucifix. No one else is going to approach him. Cochran doesn’t want him. Dawn won’t need him. None of the girls will feel comfortable being alone around him. He just really, really sucks, guys.

Josh: I feel for Brandon Hantz. I really do. He’s clearly a tormented soul… and a game show like Survivor probably isn’t the best place for a guy like that to heal. Whatever madness is already swimming around in Brandon’s head and heart is only likely to intensify in the coming weeks of Survivor. That might prove for entertaining television, but it’ll make camp-life for his fellow Favorites an absolute nightmare. On a tribe filled with wild and crazy kids, Brandon is very likely the wildest and craziest of the lot. He won’t blend in. There won’t be anywhere for him to hide. He’s one of the strongest on his tribe, physically, but that won’t get him further than a few dates with Jeff before his torch gets snuffed. There’s no doubt about it: Brandon’s days are numbered already. I’ll be stunned if he makes the merge.

Mike: When will CBS get over its morbid fascination for the Hantz clan?  Brandon already received somewhat of a redemption arc in the South Pacific, going from TalibHantz to the loyal kid who gave up his game because of his friendship with Albert. What more do we need to see? Absolutely nothing.

If he is as loyal as before, he could be a good ally because you always want to align with the dumb ones. I wouldn’t risk it, though, because it could all have been an act like that whole reunion scene with RussHell disowning him from the family.

Sarah: I really really hope that everybody else is right and that I am as wrong about Brandon as I was with Zane last season.  My own view is that people will remember Brandon as the crazy kid who could be talked into giving up an immunity necklace and decide to make him their pawn, forgetting that he’s a loose cannon (and that taking the immunity necklace cost Albert the game just as surely as refusing it would have).  And we can’t forget that as crazy as he was, Brandon was liked by a lot of his cast.  As I recall, there was a consensus among the South Pacific cast that Brandon would have won had he got to the end.  I can see him getting in a dominant alliance with the other young guys on his tribe, and going deep into the game again.

Will Brandon play any differently this time? Surprisingly, in his pre-season interview with Xfinity, Gordon Holmes feels he’s changed a lot in less than twelve months, and Brandon is certainly keen to play a more aggressive, duplicitous game this time around.  I’m still thinking that it’s not enough time to learn how to keep his emotions in check.  He might not be worried about doing the ‘right’ thing this time around, but he’s going to have paranoid breakdowns or something…  Perhaps Dawn can give him some mothering, but chances are, when he takes his game down, he’ll take somebody with him.

MALCOLM

MALCOLMGlenn: Pretty-boy Malcolm Freberg and the always-snarky Corinne Kaplan go into this season as wild cards. While the rest of the cast will be at least cursorily familiar with one another, it’s unlikely anyone will remember much about Corinne, and no one will have heard of Malcolm. They are this season’s outliers.

I don’t see this as a good season for Malcolm. I don’t think anyone has forgotten how Russell Hantz was able to slash and burn his way through Heroes Vs. Villains, aided by the fact that no one knew his game. People are going to notice that Malcolm is a new face, and they’re going to want him gone. With such a physically strong Favorites Tribe, Malcolm’s challenge value—his best asset to keep himself safe till the merge—will likely be perceived as lower.

On the other hand, Malcolm goes into Caramoan only two weeks after leaving Survivor: Philippines—which means he’ll still be hardened and used to the elements. He’ll likely make an easier transition in the early days than some of the other castaways. It’s uncertain how big or small of an advantage that can be for him, but if he is able to cement himself in a leadership position in the early moments, he’ll have an easier time forging alliances that can keep him safe. For a guy like Malcolm, that alliance-forging ability is going to depend on the women on his tribe. Malcolm needs another Denise.

But who could be his new Denise? Brenda is too dominant. Corinne is too sassy. Francesca, perhaps? That’s an option, but I don’t think we know enough about her. I think she’ll be perceived as an outsider. That’s potentially a risky choice. How about Dawn Meehan or Andrea Boehlke? Bingo.

Malcolm will gravitate toward Dawn and/or Andrea. If he’s smart, he’ll pick Dawn. Dawn is completely trustworthy and would likely provide Malcolm with the close-knit open alliance he’ll be looking for. He needs to tuck her under his wing as quickly as he possibly can. But, I suspect everyone on the tribe will be courting Dawn for exactly the same reason. He may end up needing Andrea.

Andrea is a pretty decent second-string quarterback for Malcolm to align with. The two of them are roughly the same age, and live similar kinds of lifestyles. It’s likely that they’ll share a physical attraction, and both have similar senses of humor. It seems likely that these two will share a natural rapport. But it’s an arrangement fraught with peril.

Malcolm and Andrea seem like a showmance waiting to happen. We know that Andrea has gone looking for love on the island before, and that she likes tall, athletic, blonde men with long hair. We also know that Malcolm appreciates cuddling with buxom blondes in the shelter. I smell trouble brewing here.

If Malcolm gets too close to Andrea, he’s gone. No one will tolerate that. He needs to avoid even the appearance of a relationship budding. Don’t play with fire, Freberg.

Josh: When it comes to Malcolm, I mostly agree with you, Glenn. I don’t feel overly optimistic about his chances here.

To start, I tend to think players competing on back-to-back seasons is bad for business. (Sure, it worked out for Amanda, Russell and Rupert once upon a time… if you consider second, third and fourth place “working out.” I don’t.) I think there’s a lot of value in getting off that stinkin’ island, going home, housing some beers and pizza, really thinking about what you’ve done, for at least a few months, before going back to that stinkin’ island. Malcolm is an excellent Survivor player, no doubt about it, but he hasn’t had any time to cool off. By nature, he’s already confident bordering on overconfident. After the ego-high of playing such a good game the first go-around and immediately getting invited back as a Favorite, Malcolm is at risk of breaking into full-blown arrogance mode. Beyond that, while Malcolm has clear value for his tribe early on — he’s physically and mentally tougher than just about anybody else on the Favorites — once the merge hits, he’ll be public enemy number one on all sides. He needs a strong, loyal alliance and an immunity run to make it all the way to the end. That’s not even thinking about the X-Factor he brings to the table as an unknown quantity.

Looking at all of that, I just don’t think it’s going to come together for Malcolm so soon after the last time. Luckily, even if he loses, it’s not the end of the world; he’s got at least one more season of Survivor in him before all’s said and done.

Mike: Malcolm was the best player in the Philippines and he is far ahead of any guys in this tribe so I think he’ll easily navigate his way to the merge. The lack of downtime should hit him after a few weeks but his social game should keep him out of trouble.

Seeing how Malcolm needed to align with both Denise and Lisa, we can predict that he’ll gravitate towards Dawn who could become the Mom of that tribe. I don’t see Andrea risking her game again on a showmance though! They could align but there shouldn’t be any cuddling. These “Favorites” don’t know that Malcolm can make fire so it should give him some instant value.

Malcolm’s presence here raises the question of leadership on the Favorites’ tribe. Malcolm wisely deflected that role in Matsing: “Day 1, we got the fire. Russell made it, which worked out well because he wants to be the leader so bad! A target went off my back because I am not a threat to him.”

Who will step up this time? It almost has to be Phillip!! If Malcolm props him up like he did with Swan then he could have a good alliance.

Sarah: I’ll follow the crowd here in doubting Malcolm’s chances in this game.  As has been said, back-to-back returning players tend to go deep (Amanda and Russell being notable as two-time finalists), but Bikal is a tribe heavy on fans as well as favorites, and I expect most of them will bear in mind JT’s catastrophic misjudgment of Russell’s unknown quantity–if nothing else, Erik should remember how he lost his Dumbest Move in Survivor History Crown!  I’ll also second Malcolm’s overconfidence being his downfall.  Most of the favorites are known for their egregious mistakes, and I would not be surprised if Malcolm shares Mike’s opinion that he’s the best player of them all (I don’t exactly disagree with that, but I’d be more inclined to debate it–as Andy will no doubt attest!).

I’ll strike out from the mob over the Denise issue.  Denise and Malcolm’s alliance was something of a lightning strike in that they were a perfect fit for each other, and that’s not something that he can rediscover just by seeking out another older woman.  As you’ll hear when I offer my opinion on Dawn, I don’t think Malcolm will go near her after his experience with Lisa.  I think it more likely that he’d be looking for an Angie-type, but nobody really fits the bill there (maybe Andrea, but she’s not going to want to be somebody’s pawn this time around).  My guess is that we’ll see a return of the bro-factor, with Malcolm seeking out like-minded guys who he can both strategize and joke around with, confident he can outwit them.  I’m still rooting for the uber-fan alliance between him, Erik and Cochran, but Brandon could fit the bill too.  My main hope is that Malcolm will learn his lesson from Abi-Maria and not mess with Phillip.

Back to agreeing with everybody else: he’ll probably make the merge, but I expect he’ll find himself cut pretty soon after that, outwitted by the guys he underestimated.

Andy: Last season, I went with my heart over my head when I allowed myself to believe that Skupin would win — even as the editing evidence at the end of the season should have convinced me otherwise (to be clear, I still think Skoop would have been a deserving winner; his edit, however, didn’t justify that conclusion). I’m not going to make the same mistake twice – even though I’m sorely tempted to when I think about Malcolm’s chances this season.

Here’s the thing: I FEEL that Malcolm is a remarkable Survivor player, and I FEEL he was the best all-around threat in Survivor: Philippines; had it not been for his immunity challenge misfortune (Achilles had his vulnerable heel; Malcolm, his shaky hands), he’d own his own bar rather than working at one. Looking at the full Caramoan cast list, I also FEEL that Malcolm should dominate both the Favorites and the Fans this season.

But I THINK he’s screwed. And it’s all Russell Hantz’s fault.

Had Malcolm returned after Rupert and Amanda played their back-to-back seasons, I’d bet my RHAP paycheck that Malcolm would make a deep run this time around. But the last guy to enter an All-Star season as an unknown blazed a path to the Final Tribal Council in large part because no one knew how he played the game. Malcolm won’t strike anyone as another Hantz — he’s too likable a guy for that — but a savvy veteran like Cochran simply won’t want to leave anything up to chance. Indeed, I think Cochran will want a physical player in an early alliance (to compensate for his own shortcomings), and he’ll end up with a choice: Erik or Malcolm. Unfortunately for Malcolm, Erik is the easy choice.

There is some good news for Malcolm, however: Given how strong the Fans appear on paper — and how dysfunctional the Favorites will be — I don’t see Malcolm going home early. And I hold out hope that he can forge some reliable relationships with some Fans after the tribe swap (although that’s a FEELING, and we simply can’t trust those). In the end, I find myself agreeing with Sarah here: Malcolm has a reasonable shot at making the merge, but will be gunned down right around the same time as Lisa attempted to get him blindsided last season (F8 or thereabouts).

Oh, and I also agree with Josh,: While I FEEL Malcolm is a great at this game, and I THINK his Caramoan game is screwed, I KNOW he’ll get to play again.

CORINNE

CORINNEGlenn: Corinne comes into this season probably almost as unknown as Malcolm. Who the hell remembers Gabon? Cochran will.

Cochran’s superfan status is going to work to his advantage in this tribe. He’s going to know Corinne immediately, and that’s bad for her. She didn’t come out of Gabon smelling like a rose. She needs people to have forgotten some of her antics. Cochran will remember, and I suspect he’ll want her gone.

I don’t see Corinne fitting in to this tribe very well. Who’s going to work with her? Brenda will view her as a threat and probably be catty towards her. Andrea will not appreciate her barbed-tongue sense of humor. Brandon Hantz, maybe? Yikes, who wants to work with that guy. Philip Sheppard? No freakin’ way.

I think that Corinne will really get Philip Sheppard fired up. She is going to rub him the wrong way, HARD. In fact, I think that’s what I’m looking forward to seeing the most—Corinne and Philip’s inevitable explosive fight. I bet it happens the first day. There’s no way those two work together.

So who’s left for her? Malcolm, Erik and Dawn. All solid choices from her perspective. Her problem is, she’s not the best choice from any of their perspectives. No one needs Corinne. From where I’m standing, it’s hard to see how she’ll be able to last very long.

Unless… Francesca? Now that could work. Corinne needs Francesca, and Francesca needs anyone. It’s uncertain whether their personalities would clash, but if they’re smart, they’ll try to make it work. She’s got to get herself at least a foothold on the numbers.

Unfortunately for Corinne, and for Francesca, that still feels like a weak alliance to me. I can’t explain why, it’s just an intangible feeling I get. I don’t see this working out well.

Josh: Maybe this is cheating, but Dalton Ross’ interview with Cochran revealed that he’s actually eager to work with Corinne. And I can see why: like many others on the Favorites tribe, Corinne says what’s on her mind, for better or worse. That’s usually not the greatest trait for a potential Survivor winner. But in this case, she’s surrounded by so many volatile personalities that her blunt manner might actually be refreshing… because, nasty as Corinne can get, she’s got brains, and brains are a valuable commodity on the Favorites tribe. I imagine that her smarts will go a long way with folks like Malcolm, Dawn, Brenda and, yes, Cochran.

On the other hand, she’s got a brain: a strike against her if you want to get rid of threats. Her prickly personality pales in comparison to the likes of Brandon and the Specialist, too, so she’s not the first-place goat on her tribe, either. I guess Corinne’s a hard one to peg down for me… I think she could go far, but I wouldn’t be astonished to see her cut loose before the merge, either.

Mike: I’m with Josh on this one just because of the way Corinne got into the Onions’ alliance:

The scene showed Marcus and Charlie talking by the lake:

Charlie: “I can’t stress enough how safe I feel because I have you… Someone is gonna back me up.”

Marcus responded: “Every day it’s gonna get stronger, I see it sort of like layers, you know? Like, you’re in my inner circle. I’d like to have people like Jacquie close to that.”

Marcus (solo): “I have this inner circle bond with Charlie. I look at it sort of like layers of an onion. Charlie’s the guy that’s in the innermost layer and then we are adding people as we go along.”

After Marcus told Charlie that Jacquie was a really cool girl, Charlie added: “And I think Corinne. I actually really like her.”

Marcus (solo) “At this point, it’s looking like the large onion alliance, as I like to call it, is going to be myself, Charlie, Jacquie and Corinne. It’s what we are shooting for. Jacquie’s an awesome girl and I think she’s also very intelligent and I think Corinne is probably the smartest woman around. I’m gonna talk to Corinne and get a vibe from her because no one has made an official pitch at this point.”

Corinne was able to impress Marcus and Charlie enough to earn inclusion so she could do the same here.

I feel Corinne “owes” us one because of her very first confessional: “I’m gonna be a total bitch and I’m gonna get rid of who I need to get rid of and I’m gonna hurt people’s feelings and I’m gonna laugh when people cry and I’m gonna own it.”

That would have been quite interesting to see but instead Corinne was the one that got the boot.

That being said, Gabon has a bad track record with Sugar and Randy being the first two boots on HvV so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Corinne going out first. She is alone from Gabon and that season is far removed from most of the others. She probably didn’t attend the same parties, and that counts in seasons like this.

Sarah: I read the same interview Josh did, and between that and Mike’s reminder of how she wound up in the Onion alliance, I think Corinne’s going to land on her feet.  She’s a player best known for her image rather than her gameplay, but while that doesn’t make her unique on this tribe, her snarkiness makes her likeable but not an obvious threat. (Well, quasi-likeable, I can’t say I was a huge fan of Corinne her first time out, but then I didn’t really like anybody on Gabon.)

Like Glenn, I don’t really see where Corinne will fit in, but she’s enough of a neutral-type to flow anywhere, following Sandra’s gameplay model perhaps.  And while brains are threatening, early on, most players feel reassured by having somebody to scheme with.  If Malcolm is going to seek out another Denise, Corinne wouldn’t be a bad start, even if she’s only teetering on the edge of Older Woman status (in Survivor terms).  The traditional winner for All-Stars seasons is a female player who you wouldn’t expect.  If I were picking a winner from that template, I’d go for Corinne.

Andy: Corinne is the right casting for the wrong reasons.

To explain: As Rob C. has pointed out, in any Survivor season heavy on returnees, the producers are looking to check off a lot of boxes: they need gender balance, racial diversity, and age variance… and they need to make sure they enlist a mix of strategists, challenge dominators, and memorable characters. One oft-neglected facet of assembling an exceptional cast — and a key contributor to how much we enjoy a season — is having great narrators. If you want to provide reliable entertainment episode after episode, you need a lot of different voices shaping the story.

With that in mind, I get the sense that Corinne is being cast for one reason: To be a bitch.

Interestingly enough, this cast is going to have a lot of brilliant narrators: Malcolm, Erik, Phillip, Cochran, and were all confessional superstars on their original seasons (for vastly different reasons, of course, ranging from eloquence and earnestness to insight and insanity), and the women are no slouches either (only Andrea strikes me as boring, and yet she was disarmingly articulate — not just a pretty face).

Here’s the thing: Corinne’s game in Gabon wasn’t all that interesting. Her attitude during confessionals, however, was entertaining as hell. She spoke her mind, and just about everything on her mind was sarcastic, insulting, and rude. And that’s why she’s on this season: to shred her fellow Favorites (I’m sure we’re all eager to hear what she has to say about Phillip and Brandon) and rip apart the Fans (her cast assessment during her early confessionals will be infinitely more interesting and amusing than the bland analysis Probst will offer up in the TV Guide Survivor: Caramoan preview).

And despite this artificial and shallow reasoning behind Corinne’s selection as a Favorite, I LOVE the pick. She’s smart. She’s aggressive. And she’s loyal. Unless I’m horribly mistaken, Corinne is going to be a key cog in an early alliance, and assuming she can navigate the tribe swap, she’ll make the merge in a great position for a deep run. If anyone is this season’s Parvati, I would bet on Corinne: she can flirt, she can scheme, and she can hold an alliance together. I have a feeling that her game will ultimately be decided at one of the key post-merge Daaaaaaanger Zones (F9 or F7), when she will attempt to wrest control of the game from another sub-alliance. If she wins that battle, she wins the game; if she loses, she joins the jury, and gives us some brilliant (and bitter) confessionals along the way.

PHILLIP

PHILLIPJosh: I don’t think there are enough words in the English language to adequately express how much I love this man. Phillip is the exact kind of eccentric I love to see on Survivor: completely clueless socially, absolutely hilarious in confessionals, and a total barn-burner at camp and tribal council. Unless he’s really grown and learned from his first experience – and based on pre-game interviews, there’s no real reason to believe he has – then Phillip has no shot at the title.

But how about his chances for the finals? Phillip is one of the game’s best second- or third-place players: he’s the impossible-to-deal-with, grating goat that you take to the end because you know you can beat him. Under normal circumstances, you want Shep with you at the end. But these are not normal circumstances on Caramoan: the Favorites tribe has the equally nuts Brandon Hantz, which negates The Specialist’s “specialty” to a degree. In other words, I don’t think Phillip can ride on craziness alone this season. He’ll need to pull some new tricks out of those purple trunks if he’s going to stand a chance at making it to the end. Perhaps an unlikely alliance with Francesca would serve him well? Crazier things have happened!

 

Mike: He was quite a piece of work. I certainly don’t share Josh’s enthusiasm at seeing him play again, but he was good for some laughs. Between talking to his dead ancestor, his trouble with names and CBS putting his former job in question (!) we were never sure if Phillip was completely there… or if he was with or against Rob. He started out targeting Rob: “I like to think we are two male lions that are checking each other out…” so Phillip could have, should have, been voted out first, but then we wouldn’t have heard this marvelous description of Stealth-R-Us: “I am known as the Specialist. My principal responsibilities: Infiltrate and supplant inceptions in the Zapatera tribe. We have here Boston Rob: The Mentalist. He develops strategies for challenges and to develop strategic alliances that are impervious. Where is Grant? He is The Destroyer of Aspirations, better known as The Assassin. Principal responsibilities: Go out and compete, destroying any competitor. And I forgot to mention the Three Degrees who are highly effective, formidable, agile and have supreme abilities to focus their mind like they did today.”

In the end, Phillip never came up with the argument to destroy Rob and win over the jury’s vote but that wasn’t surprising.

Phillip needs to improve his physical, mental and social game and stop parading in his fuchsia underwear. While the first promos indicate that he is in much better physical shape, we see that he hasn’t changed underwear…

Sarah: I am a bit ‘eh’ on Phillip playing again (my husband, on the other hand, is ecstatic), but if you’re going to bring a wildcard back, you might as well make it an entertaining one.  Like Mike, I’m not impressed that the pink underwear is making a return appearance, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was enforced on him, along with Francessqua.  Why CBS can’t trust their players to make their own mark without such crutches, I’ll never know.

As a wildcard, I’m not going to speculate too much on Phillip.  He’s Coach-lite: smarter than we give him credit for, but with such a poor social game that it doesn’t matter.  He could go out early if his tribe finds him annoying, or perhaps some misguided soul will decide he can be their pawn and he’ll forge through to the end again.  I will say that he is not winning this game; I’m also pretty sure that he’s going to screw things up for at least one person who we’d expect to get further.

Andy: The story of The Specialist will come down to one thing that’s there and one thing that isn’t.

What’s there: The fuchsia underwear. I’m less concerned with how they look (hideous, of course) than what they represent: Phillip will be playing the role of The Specialist to the hilt this season. Now, I’m sure CBS asked him to wear the tighty not-whities — just as Cochran will be contractually obligated to don a sweater vest in the Caramoan heat — but I am equally certain that Phillip WANTS to wear them. He’s coming into his second season as a “BIG CHARACTER,” and is going to augment his innate insanity and inclination to manufacture conflict with a desire to be more everything: more annoying, more argumentative, more antagonistic. To Phillip, this means he’ll be more memorable; to his tribemates, however, this means he’ll be more of a target.

Which leads me to what’s missing: Boston Rob. The only reason Phillip came in second in Redemption Island was because Boston Rob convinced the other players to keep The Specialist around. It really is the most convincing proof that Rob is one of the best players the game has ever seen: Can you picture anyone else being able to drag such a disruptive force all the way to final tribal council? Abi-Maria was a delicate wallflower compared to Phillip, and she was punted at F5, even thought everyone knew it was smarter to exploit her as a goat. Even more impressive than controlling the rest of the tribe, however, was Boston Rob’s ability to harness the chaotic impulses of The Specialist; Phillip needed to be guided as much as controlled, and Rob, to his credit, was a diplomat as much as he was a dictator.

Looking at the Favorites tribe, can you see anyone capable of playing the Boston Rob role with Phillip this time around? There’s no way he’ll listen to a woman, so it falls to the men — but is there even the slightest chance he’ll listen to any of them? The only castaway who possesses the charisma to pull it off is Malcolm, but I just can’t see Phillip following orders from someone he does not idolize (as he did Boston Rob). Indeed — and here’s a horrifying thought — I bet Phillip thinks HE’S THE NEW BOSTON ROB. He’s going to believe that he should run his tribe because he got further in the game and he learned at the feet of the master. He will look around at his fellow Favorites and see no one to follow and assume that this means he should lead.

Good God. It’s going to be a footrace who implodes first, Brandon or Phillip, isn’t it? My guess is that The Specialist won’t be around for the endgame, but that he’ll put his stamp on the pre-merge episodes… and his departure will likely be special indeed.

Glenn: The real open question about Phillip Sheppard in Caramoan is this: are we getting the lion, or the gorilla?

Just kidding, it doesn’t matter. The Specialist has no chance of being strategically successful in this game, and I think you all did a great job covering why. So if I’m gazing into my crystal ball at the foggy future of Survivor, the question I really want answered is: WHO WILL PHILLIP FIGHT WITH FIRST?!

Gosh, it’s hard to say. There are so many serious contenders. But if I had to roll the dice and pick somebody…In this corner, weighing in at One Hundred Mumblemumble Pounds, the heavyweight favorite: Francesca!

Francesca couldn’t even tolerate Phillip for three days last time! Is she going to be able to put up with this new amped-up version? We already know he’s going to be running around showing off like a sugar-high two-year-old. I hope Francesca has worked on some meditation techniques. Lord, give me the strength…

On the other hand, Corinne is a long-odds upstart that betters are falling in love with. Vegas loves a Cinderella story. Personally, I’m hoping it’s her.

Phillip better hope it isn’t. Corinne’s venomous verbal barbs will damage his position in the game, and could probably do permanent psychological damage to his fragile ego. Remember how contentious things got between Phillip and Ashley Underwood? Yeah, well Corinne is much smarter, much sassier, and has far less reason to exercise patience. You might even call her The Destroyer of Delusions, Better Known As The Asshole Assassin. If he can’t figure out some way to get on her good side, The Specialist is walking into a minefield here.  I’m predicting he suffers some Fourth Degree burns.

FRANCESCA

FRANJosh: For the life of me, I cannot understand what she’s doing on this cast list. Francesca struck me as a perfectly nice, very funny, intelligent player who got a raw deal her first time out — but on her first time out, she was the first one out. I don’t see how a first-boot can possibly wear the title of “Favorite” when she played for just a handful of days. Just another weird blip on what’s already a pretty weird cast list, I suppose.

So, accepting that I have zero power over the casting choices made on Survivor, let’s ask the question: how will Francesca do on her second shot at the million? It’s very hard to predict, since we know so little about her gameplay style. Traditionally, though, unknown quantities do well in seasons with returning players: Rupert placed fourth on All-Stars, Amanda was second on Micronesia, and Russell landed third on Heroes vs Villains. Will Francesca, a complete wildcard in my eyes, follow that trend? We’ll find out soon.

Mike: The only reason I can think for casting her is to see if Phillip will still call her Franceskwaw. I’m hoping for Fransaskatchewan myself. We knew she was in trouble as soon as she opened her mouth and commented on the returning players: “Two of the most famous trouble-makers in the history of Survivor.” The inability to stay quiet is often the mark of a dumb player. Redemption Island enabled her to get sympathy from the viewers but I want to see if she has learned to talk less and listen more. Casting her opens the door to a real humiliation: Being booted first twice!!!! I’d do it just to call her the Anti-Sandra.

 

Sarah: I am actually really pleased to see Francesca back, though mostly in hope that it opens the door to other pre-jury boots, like Tracy from Micronesia or Jill from Nicaragua to name just two (actually, what I’d really like to see is a season or tribe of pre-jury boots).  I liked Francesca well enough on her initial go round, though I think Kristina made more of an impact on me, but I felt that she could have been very interesting if she hadn’t made that initial mis-step–or had the misfortune of being an independent thinker on Boston Rob’s tribe.

Coincidentally, Redemption Island has Frances’ closest precedent, in the form of Matt Elrod, and there we have a cautionary tale.  Matt was voted out second and returned to the game determined to play more aggressively (as most returners do, Francesca included).  However, he was now up against far more experienced players and, lacking their finesse, was doomed.  I think Francesca has better resources than Matt did, and there seems no reason for her to be the first one voted off from her tribe of misfits (unless the other players share Mike’s wishes!), but I expect that she’s going to tip her own hand.  I’m also sure she’ll never see her blindside coming.

Andy: I really hope you’re right, Sarah, and that Francesca’s inclusion means that Mark Burnett is now more open to pre-merge boots as returning players. But I really think that Fransaskatchewan (absolutely brilliant, Mike) is there for one reason and one reason only: To piss off Phillip. CBS is overtly hedging their bets: In the unlikely but alarming event that Phillip decided to play a more rational game this time, Francesca is the failsafe. Word on the street is that going into the game, Phillip and Francesca hate one another; the fireworks feel inevitable, don’t they?

In fact, I find it highly likely that in his early, ill-advised power grab, Phillip will target Francesca, believing — not wrongly — that Francesca will want to even the score. Once she’s targeted, Francesca will fight back, and the next thing you know, it’s going to be Redemption Island all over again: Phillip will attempt to get her gone, and could quite possibly turn Francesca into, as Mike put it, the anti-Sandra. (Which makes me wonder if that will shut the door on pre-jury returnees for good.) Even if Francesca manages to balance the scales and outlast Phillip, by the time the dust has settled, she’ll be on the outside looking in at all of the alliances that were formed during the Battle of the Fuchsia Underwear Bulge. It won’t take much for Francesca to improve on her previous performance, but sadly, it won’t be by much.

Glenn: For my money, Francesca is only interesting by proxy. That is to say, I’m far more interested to see how other players react to Francesca, than I am in Francesca herself. I guess she’s kind of funny, but it’s in kind of a creepy nerd way. What I mean by that is, if Francesca were a man instead of a woman, he’d never be cast on Survivor. He’d be off somewhere taking the Magic: The Gathering Tournament Circuit by storm.

I’m bearish on Francesca. I see her as another pre-merge boot. Ho hum.

ANDREA

ANDREAMike:  Being a farm girl helped her become the fans’ favorite of the 3 Degrees. She had a down to earth personality and a knowledge of the game that was a welcomed contrast to most of the other rookies in Ometepe. However, her whole season was summed up in this confessional: “I talked to Rob and he assured me that I’m still part of their five even though I’m probably in a very sticky position. Right now, strategically, it’s smart to stay with them and make sure they don’t think that I’m scheming but I just don’t believe them. So, I need some way I can mix things up because, deep down, I am still really pissed about what they did…”

She never was able to mix things up so, instead, Andrea decided to play the same game as the other two girls: Impress Rob and hope to become the second “Amber,” the one that would beat him in front of the jury.  Rob had his goats all lined up, though. Her physical and social games were fairly good so I will be looking for an improved mental game from Andrea. She trusted people too much so she will need to play more aggressively.

Sarah: I agree with Mike that she was much smarter than her fellows on Ometepe, which is why she was voted out first (and, reportedly, the only Ometepe who Rob did not tell about his idol post-merge).  While Andrea also stands to play the Parvati game (or perhaps more of the Natalie White game, with her sweetness and light style), I think she’ll benefit from the sheep-association that Ometepe have and the fact that Brenda has the bigger reputation for it.  Besides which, she’s one of the New York group of Survivors who were meeting up regularly prior to Caramoan, so she should be on good terms with Cochran and Francesca at least.

The other thing about Andrea is that in a season of second-time players, she’s the only one who’s been voted out twice.  It could make her a target (there are four other players who burned their buffs on Redemption Island), but I’d be curious to see if that extra experience has any influence on her game.  She knows what it’s like to be blindsided, and what it’s like to see the torch-snuffing coming and be powerless to prevent it.

Andy: There’s always one member of every tribe who eludes me when I attempt to pin her/him down like a butterfly in one of those barbaric entomological classification displays. Eventually I realize that this is for a reason: the castaway — in this case, Andrea — didn’t give us enough the first time around to really know who she is as a Survivor player. Mike and Sarah are right — Andrea has a decent head on her shoulders — and Probst himself has said that he had a mental note to invite her back because he felt she had more game than we saw thanks to Boston Rob’s tyrannical rule. To me, though, she always seemed pretty and bland and blandly pretty; like many a revisionist Survivor player, she talks a good game, but I don’t have a lot of faith that she can play one.

That said, Andrea’s not going to frighten anyone, either. If she falls into the right alliance (I don’t see her assembling one of her own), she could easily navigate her way to the merge. When she makes it clear that she’s not willing to be anyone’s goat, however — like most of the Favorites, she’ll refuse to leave the game way she did in her first season — she’ll end up targeted as both an unpredictable wild card and a  jury threat (there’s also the potential that she’ll be seen as a loyal vote by an alliance member who lets her end up on the jury). To be fair, Andrea seems like a nice, interesting, and insightful person, but I just don’t see her as someone aggressive enough to earn the title of Sole Survivor; while I’d like to believe that Sarah is right, and that Andrea is savvier than your usual returning player given her history with Redemption Island (great observation, Sarah), I see her as a post-merge victim of her own passivity.

Glenn: I love me some Andrea. My heart goes all aflutter at just the thought of her. She’s so delightful. I love her sense of humor, and her playful outlook on life. In the words of Beyonce, I’d put a ring on it.

But she’s not a great Survivor player. She has a reasonable grasp of the game intellectually, but she doesn’t execute. She’s not the quarterback I want out on the field when I’m trying to convert a third down. She’s going to lose control of the game, and watch it slowly unravel away from her. She’s really not made for the game.

That being said, she’ll get pretty far. She’s certainly a jury member. But she’ll get there by relying too much on her likeable nature, and sooner or later she’ll get burned by a more brutal strategist. Probably at the same point in the game she was burned last time.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, watching Malcolm put the moves on her is going to break my heart. I’ll have to keep a box of tissues at the ready.

Josh: I’ll echo what most everyone said above: I like Andrea, but I don’t think she’s necessarily a great Survivor player. In my recent Redemption Island re-watch, I wasn’t terribly impressed by her game, and didn’t see a lot to convince me that there’s a better player lurking inside. (Unlike my reaction to Erik while re-watching Micronesia, for example.) There’s no Boston Rob to affix herself to this time around, so unless she finds a replacement (Malcolm?), she’ll need a new strategy. I don’t see her winning the game, but she could get far on likability alone.

BRENDA

BRENDAMike:  It didn’t take long for Brenda to make an impression in Nicaragua: She immediately told us that she was single and would flirt and then she went on to win the first challenge: The quest for the Medallion of Power. While her physical and mental abilities were adequate it was, surprisingly, her social game that was weak, that was too passive. She found it funny, even saying: “I have people on my side without doing anything.” While that was true at first (Chase told her that she had a target on her back and he eventually saved her – Sash brought her into his minority alliance) it became a liability when she couldn’t do anything to bring people back to her side. She was so secretive that people didn’t trust her.

To improve her game, Brenda needs to make bonds with others instead of waiting for them to come to her. She needs a proactive social game, to be more open with the others.

Sarah: I’m going to disagree on Brenda’s social game being passive.  Brenda and Sash were a formidable duo early on in Nicaragua, working together to make a tight alliance.  Sash had the knowledge base for the game, but Brenda had the genuine charm needed to win players over.  When the tribal swap came, it was Brenda who befriended Jane and kept Kelly B (previously estranged by Na’Onka) feeling secure; not only did interlopers Marty and Jill not get a chance to speak to her alone, they never even realized she was an outsider!

I’ve always seen Brenda as the natural successor to Parvati, with the potential to be far better at the game (let’s face it, in terms of gameplay, first-time Brenda kicks first-time Parvati’s ass).  Unfortunately for Brenda, Parvati’s game got rumbled around the same time Erik gave away his immunity necklace.  I’ve always believed that’s why Brenda got voted out last time, and even if she’s taking a completely different approach this time, she’ll need a lot of smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that she’s a charming, attractive woman.  Honestly, I doubt the others will even let her as far as the jury.

Andy: There is a totally understandable temptation to search the Favorites tribe for this season’s Parvati — Returnee-heavy seasons are usually shaped by, as Rob C. calls it, big game hunting, which means that the winners of seasons like this one tend to emerge from the “Surprising Inclusion Club” — and the two logical candidates for this narrative arc are Brenda and Andrea. But “temptation” is precisely the reason why it’s not going to happen this time around.

The reason Parvati got to the endgame in the original Fans vs. Favorites was her sex appeal and social game (and even then, she was targeted early and often, and benefitted heavily from Fairplay’s quit and Penner’s medevac). Players like James, Ozzy, and Erik were all ensnared in her black widow web (Amanda helped with Ozzy, of course), which paved her way to the Final 2. But where, I ask, are the temptation targets for Brenda and Andrea? Erik learned the hard way not to trust female returning players; Malcolm won’t make the same mistake twice, either (Angie could have been his downfall had his tribe not so desperately needed him); Cochran won’t fall for it (he’s not so delusional as to believe that the overtures would be genuine); The Specialist will see through Operation Attraction and denounce them as double-agents; and Brandon will be too busy bellowing “Delilah” and “Jezebel” every time they’re within 50 feet of him.

Without the flirtation factor, then, what is Brenda left with? She’s certainly bright, and undoubtedly game-savvy, but whenever I see her on screen, I am reminded of a snippet of horrible poetry that has inexplicably stuck in my head: “When searching for the truth in lies,/It’s found within her smile and eyes.” When she talks, I simply don’t trust her, and it’s because her smiles feel calculated, and they never quite reach the edges of her eyes (where the lines tell the story). And if you can’t trust someone — particularly on a tribe full of returning players, most of whom have already swallowed the bitter pill of betrayal — they simply have to go. Which is to say, I agree with Sarah — I doubt Brenda makes the merge.

Glenn: Man, Brenda is not my cup of tea. Not as a person, and definitely not as a player. She’s too obvious.

Here’s the thing. Brenda has a viciously sharp strategic mind. Maybe even the sharpest mind out there. But who’s going to trust her? She’s like a viper. Nobody will tread too close.

Brenda needs to trap someone naive. She needs to build an alliance around a dopey loyal guy who’ll follow the carrot she dangles in front of him. Who would that be, in this cast?

Well, Erik would be the obvious choice. But I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I’m assuming Erik has learned his lesson. He’s not going to fall for that again. Now what?

Phillip Sheppard? Phillip can be manipulated, and he will be. But Phillip craves affirmation from strong men. He’s not that interested in Brenda’s approval. I don’t see him responding to her, and I definitely don’t see him letting her control him. That’s not his style. Won’t work. Since we all agree Cochran will shack up with Dawn, the field is narrowing.

So, that leaves Brandon Hantz. Brenda needs Brandon. There’s only one problem: Brenda can’t get Brandon. He won’t let her near him. He’s pathologically fearful of attractive women. She’s screwed. And she’ll be gone.

Josh: I’m re-watching Nicaragua now, so my thoughts on Brenda aren’t as fresh as I’d like them to be. But I remember my first impression of her very well: she’s smart, sexy and sure of herself, and she combines all of that very effectively in the game of Survivor. But as the others have noted above, those obvious strengths could spell Brenda’s doom unless she’s able to show off other sides of her game. Brenda needs to find a way to appear trustworthy. How she can pull that off given her reputation? That’s a question I’m not sure how to answer just yet.

DAWN

DAWNSarah: I’m a huge fan of Dawn who came out of her first season with a reputation for being the nicest person alive and one of the physically strongest women ever to play.  In other words, she’s the perfect ally provided you cut her before the end (because, you know, the ‘nice’ thing).  The only person who should have a problem with her is Malcolm who is probably still feeling the burn from the last ‘church lady’ he played with.

What made Dawn unique among her Savaii tribe was that she was the only person Cochran warned about his flip.  While she advised him against it, she did not tip the rest of Savaii off, though afterwards she wished she’d given him her immunity necklace.  It’s the opposite regret to Brandon and Erik, but like everybody else, she’s motivated to play a bolder game this time around.

It will be interesting to see if Dawn is willing to align with Cochran again after he burned her once (personally, I hope so), but the real question is if she has it in her to play through the endgame cull of nice people.  I recall last time she was inclined to be a bit sniffy of Jim’s assertions that she would never have made it to final three, but although she’s said in her preseason video that she is bracing herself to backstab people she’s close to, she’s not offering any theories on how she’ll avoid being backstabbed herself.  We’re still in the dark about Dawn’s strategic chops: she could be endgame Lisa Whelchel… or she could be midgame Lisa Whelchel.  Let’s hope it’s the former.

Andy: If like me you’re a baseball fan and frequent the Baseball Reference web site (which is where I discovered this past season that Jeff Kent made over $86 million during his career), you’ve heard of Similarity Scores: Based on player stats, we’re given a list of major leaguers who had careers the most alike. I agree with you, Sarah, that Dawn’s Similarity Score with Lisa Welchel is relatively high: they’re both socially and strategically aware middle-aged mothers. Note that I said “aware”; during South Pacific, Dawn, like Lisa, knew where she stood in her tribe and understood how to play the game of Survivor… but despite wanting to make game-changing moves and having opportunities to do so, neither Dawn nor Lisa put their strategic stamps on their seasons. Where Dawn distances herself from Lisa, however, is in her challenge prowess: Dawn may be the nicest person on the planet earth, but this violet will shrink from NOTHING. While this in isolation may not seem all that important, context is everything; physical prowess is going to be especially important to the Favorites, given that there doesn’t appear to be a single challenge liability among the female members of the Fans tribe.

The more I think about it, is there any way Dawn doesn’t make the merge? Despite being burned by Lisa, Malcolm — who will align with one or more women, because his skill set makes this a natural fit — will look at his other alliance options and realize that Dawn is his best bet: Brenda can’t be trusted; Andrea represents the same sort of pulchritudinous pitfall as Angie “Cookie Monster” Layton; Corinne, as loyal as she may be, is a strong-willed wild card; and there’s no way that Malcolm hitches his wagon to a first boot like Francesca. (Perhaps I should have put that bit of analytical exposition into my take on Malcolm, but it’s applicable here, I promise!) I think Malcolm will try to align with Dawn, and she’ll probably string him along, but her heart will belong to another: Cochran.

Let me say this now and forever hold my peace: I HATE built-in day-one alliances. They are the scourge of every All-Star/Returnee-heavy season: relationships forged during a shared 39-day odyssey, and then reinforced during charity events and social gatherings (such as the Wine & Cheese events attended by the New York Survivor contingent), inevitably give Favorites even more of an advantage than they already have thanks to experience. In a game defined by stress and pressure, Dawn and Cochran would be fools not to recognize and exploit the comforting and conspiratorial cocoon which their South Pacific experience provides them — and neither Dawn nor Cochran are fools.

To make a long story a little less long, Dawn and Cochran are going to be this season’s power couple — I see them making a long-term alliance with Erik, flirting with Malcolm yet never fully trusting him given his status as “The Great Unknown,” and taking advantage of Brandon until he implodes. When the inevitable tribe swap occurs, Dawn will be seen as useful, and when the merge takes place, she’ll be seen as unthreatening, and the next thing you know, there will be five people left, and Dawn will be one of them. In the end, I see Dawn and Lisa having almost identical Similarity Scores — if she avoids being backstabbed late (as Sarah points out is a real and present danger for someone so relentlessly sweet as Dawn), but has not yet made any power moves of her own, she’ll be poised to come in second and win fan favorite.

Glenn: If I could be anyone this season, I’d be Dawn. And not just so I could raid her bread cupboard. If I were a betting man, I’d say she’s got the best shot on Day 1 to make it to the Finals. Actually, I am a betting man, but it’s too cold to shave my head.

Dawn had the perfect first season for a comeback player. She got an angelic edit, proved herself in challenges, and was booted early enough that she’s not on anybody’s radar to make a deep run. Everyone will want her as an ally. She’ll have the pick of the litter, like LeBron James at a Miami nightclub.

So who does Dawn want to align with? Cochran and Brandon are previously established relationships. Andrea’s wide baby-blue eyes betray trustworthiness. Malcolm is good with mom-types. Any of those seem like obvious choices. But, at the end of the day, I think I agree with the consensus. Cochran and Dawn are going to run in slow motion toward one another down the beach, and join in Survivor matrimony. That’s bad news for everyone else out there.

Josh: I really like Dawn. She’s smart, she’s tough, she wears her heart on her sleeve, but she also knows how to keep a secret — even if sometimes those lips stay sealed when it’s not in her best interest.

Like the other players, I imagine Dawn has learned a thing or two about a thing or two since she last played the game. If she comes into Caramoan with open eyes and a sharpened killer instinct, she stands to do incredibly well. Dawn has built-in relationships (Cochran and Brandon) on her tribe, and is the type who naturally gets along with just about anybody. She won’t be the weakest member of her tribe, either, so that’ll save her skin in the pre-merge season. (A switch, on the other hand, could spell her demise.)

Yeah. I like Dawn’s odds a lot. She’s definitely one to watch this season.

Mike: Except for their social game, I’m not totally on board with the Dawn/Lisa comparison. Dawn was much stronger than Lisa but she clearly didn’t know how to play the game which was Lisa’s strong point even if she hesitated quite a few times. Anyway, both pale in comparison to the original Survivor Mom, Tina.

Dawn’s story had a rough start: “I had a really tough day 1 and day 2 but I came back strong and I think I can contribute.” Indeed, Dawn showed that she was a strong woman and her social game was clearly above average. We can certainly question her strategic acumen, though, especially when she didn’t say anything about Cochran’s plans.

Will she be more successful this time? It’s a good possibility because her main problem was Savaii’s composition: It had too many alpha males. As Dawn said: “It seems like the tribe is forming bonds but, coming here, I had these hopes that we would really be organized…When I don’t see the shelter up by day one, it worries me…I have 6 kids, I’m used to being in charge…We should have a leader and Ozzy is a little like Bob Marley. I’m a planner and I’m not sure Bob Marley is.”

Dawn had more of a leader’s mentality than a follower’s and the Favorites’ tribe could offer her a chance to bloom because there is no automatic male leader. However, she could clash with Corinne or Brenda who are two head strong women…or Phillip who could clash with anyone for any reason! Brandon, Cochran, Erik and Malcolm give her a good start at an alliance.

COCHRAN

COCHRANSarah: Out of all the Favorites’ pre-season videos, Cochran stood out to me because he was taking it so seriously… in a good way.  Most of the cast trotted out the usual tropes that they have unfinished business and they’re here to win, but Cochran was much more analytical about it—much more realistic too.  He might lack some of the fire that the other contestants displayed, but he’s always lacked that kind of showmanship.  In Cochran’s case, I think calmer is better.

Last time, he ran smack into the brick wall dividing theory from practice, so I’m expecting that he’ll have more confidence just from prior experience.  He’s a challenge liability, but he’s not viewed as a strategic threat, and history shows that all-star tribes tend to target the latter rather than the former.   Cochran’s problem is that Caramoan was filmed within twelve months of South Pacific, so he’s unlikely to have made huge strides in his social skills.   I expect he’ll do well, but I suspect his paranoia will end up getting the better of him again.  Even so, I’m totally rooting for an über-fan alliance between him, Erik and Malcolm.

Andy: When Cochran was contemplating his inevitable return to Survivor, I’m sure he was legitimately worried about besmirching his reputation as a “Season-Defining Character” with the ignominy and scorn reserved for a first boot, given that he — as he amusingly and disingenuously admits in the interview Sarah mentions — “brings nothing to the table.” Once he took a look around at the other Favorites, however, I’m sure he did an awkward little Harvard-educated lawyer dance, for if ever there was a tribe tailor-made for someone like Cochran to exploit, it’s this one.

Make no mistake: Cochran’s comment about bringing nothing to the table is, in fact, disingenuous. He’s smart as hell, and — despite turning on his alliance and sealing the fate of his entire former tribe (which I still think was a defensible move under the circumstances) — he’s someone who can think his way through the game. He knows he has a built-in alliance — Dawn and, to a much lesser and far more volatile extent, Brandon — and he’s got any number of willing potential pawns: Malcolm, a fellow Ivy-leaguer and Survivor superfan who will be searching for an alliance; Erik, a guileless challenge beast who is seeking redemption (no doubt Cochran will convince Erik that this is what he’s searching for, too); and Corinne, a loyal strategist who will enjoy using Cochran as a verbal punching bag (never suspecting that the punching bag will punch back). Add in the abundance of obvious targets — Phillip, who will be even more annoying the second time around (if that’s even possible); Brenda, an aggressively untrustworthy antagonist; and even Malcolm as the post-Hantz “We Can’t Trust Him” back-to-backer — and you’ve got a blueprint for Cochran to at the very least make the merge.

Assuming he avoids being targeted for his challenge liability (especially true after a tribe swap), Cochran is going to dial the “I’m completely nonthreatening” amp up to eleven. And you know what? It’s going to work. It’s rare when you can be a returning player and be underestimated, but that’s precisely what’s going to happen with Cochran. He and Dawn are going to hold hands, duck-and-cover when the bullets fly, and skip their way to the Final 7. At that point, anything can happen — Probst himself has said this season is completely unpredictable — but if Cochran and Dawn can both make the merge, they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with during the endgame. Which is, to be honest, really hard for me to get my head around — but the tribe dynamics make it both possible and plausible. If it comes to pass, Cochran better send Burnett and Probst a really nice fruit basket, because they gave him a tribe full of exploitable opportunity.

Glenn: I’m a little ambivalent about John Cochran this season. And I’m not even totally sure why. I enjoyed him on South Pacific, where he was perhaps the only bright spot in what was a painful season for me. He’s extremely intelligent, and only takes calculated risks. It seems likely he’ll have the strongest alliance locked down on Day 1. His sense of humor will make him a welcome presence around camp. What’s not to like?

Cochran’s biggest challenge this season will be the same as it was in South Pacific. He’ll be a huge liability in challenges. Without Ozzy gunning for him, though, it seems possible that he’ll be able to scrape by until the merge, right?

Maybe. But there’s not a lot of physical weakness on the Favorites tribe. Francesca’s unproven, and Phillip won’t be winning any awards, but is either of them worse than John Cochran?

I predict that Brenda will want him gone. My emotions would have told me that Corinne would want him gone, but apparently that isn’t the case. How will Francesca and Phillip feel about him?

I guess there’s not much of a coalition building against Cochran. Maybe he’s safer than I initially surmised. I just hope he steps it up a little in the challenges. Don’t give the tribe a reason to burn you, buddy!

Josh: On a personal level, I want to like Cochran’s chances a lot more than I do. It’s hard to hate on the Survivor geek who actually got to play Survivor — but like so many of us would be if we actually got to the beach, he just wasn’t very good his first time around. ??That said, Cochran is nothing if not a student of the game, and an immensely self-critical one at that. I imagine he spent a lot of the time between his last days of South Pacific and the lead-up to Caramoan reflecting and analyzing his own performance the first time out, thinking about what he could have done differently, better or not at all. On the social and strategic side of things, I really think we’re going to see a sharper player in Cochran this season. ??It’s the challenges that have me worried. Nothing is going to make Cochran an immunity threat all of a sudden — which could serve him in the end-game, but it makes him an easy target right out the gate. His current perception as a sneak doesn’t help his case much, either. If Cochran proves a liability to the Favorites early on, he’ll get the Yau-Man 2.0 treatment.

Mike: In So Pathetic, Cochran had three stories, which is pretty rare. It showed how much the editors liked him even if many viewers couldn’t stand his whining.

1) Cochran was completely out of his element: “Ozzy’s suggestion was to just have fun in the ocean. The only option was to get out there in our underwear and I was really opposed to doing this. I have this really pale skin…I wasn’t crazy about the idea of going in the water; it’s only going to make me more like the pathetic twerp that I am with my clothes on.”

2) He couldn’t fit in with his tribe and we heard that they didn’t treat him fairly: “I will have to turn on the cool, mellow Cochran instead of the antsy, paranoid nerd kid that I have been for the last few days… I already have this reputation as the nervous, neurotic scrambler.”

3) Cochran knew the game: “I am the most Survivor savvy player to ever play the game. I’ve never missed an episode…” That story didn’t work out because he was charmed by Coach and he forgot a key lesson: You can’t be the only one to flip on a whole tribe. It’s better to have someone to share the blame because jurors don’t give much credit! Cochran should never have flipped without Dawn. That was his mistake.

Since there shouldn’t be a problem with the elements the second time around and he should be able to fit in with this group (I certainly agree with Andy on this) then Cochran can be very dangerous: With an alliance, Cochran suddenly becomes…Todd!  If he can make it work (and I doubt he’d make a stupid mistake like Yau Man in Micronesia), if he can form that alliance, then he could go far indeed.

*****

So there you have it, the RHAP Blogger take on the Bikal tribe! We’ll have more Survivor: Caramoan coverage in the weeks ahead – hope you’ll check it out. In the meantime, leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to respond…

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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