The following is a guest post from Rob Has a Website Contributor, Andy Baker
Oh, how I adore autumn: Here in New England, the leaves are changing color, there’s wood-smoke on the air, and Survivor is on my garishly large television screen every Wednesday night. And I’m positively giddy about the upcoming season: I’m a fan of the three-tribe structure, I can’t wait for the return of deep water challenges, and I think the triumvirate of returning players will add to, rather than detract from, the tribal dynamics (the same can’t be said for players like Coach, Ozzy, Russell or Boston Rob). The early rumors – started by Probst himself – insist that Survivor: Philippines is a throwback, old-school season, and if that’s true, and not just marketing hype, I can’t wait for September 19th to arrive.
Speaking of rumors, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I utterly abhor Survivor spoilers. I truly don’t understand why anyone would want to know the end of a compelling narrative before allowing it to unfold; it’s like watching The Sixth Sense and knowing that the Bruce Willis character… ah, but I won’t ruin that movie for you, just as I beg of you not to spoil Survivor for me. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that the speculation contained in my predictions is based on Survivor history, group dynamics, and social psychology rather than any leaked information.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three tribes of Survivor: Philippines…
A quick explanation of my approach: I’m going to write about each of the tribes by strength, weakest to strongest, and offer opinions about each player in the order in which I think they’ll finish the game.
And so we shall begin with Kalabaw, a tribe which, with all apologies to Jonathan Penner, is the worst of the three – and by a wide margin.
What a mess this tribe is going to be: power struggles, opposing philosophies, clashing personalities, and a whole lotta dead weight.
So much of early-game success in Survivor is based, for good or ill, on fate/luck/happenstance. On the first day, a castaway encounters the shape of the game – men vs. women or gender mixed; two big tribes or three smaller ones; if and how returning players are involved – as well as the dynamics of the tribe.
For players like Dana, everything needs to break right for her to have a chance. She’s an outsider by nature – the tattoos, the short, spiky dyed hair, the non-mainstream piercings, all are marginalizing forms of non-verbal communication – and outsiders, as a rule, don’t fare well on Survivor. If she has the right mix of players on her tribe, Dana might have time to gain some social traction, but instead, stuck with castaways who are likely to judge her (in particular, Mr. MVP Jeff Kent), she’s going to be targeted before she has a chance to connect with anyone.
The true harbinger of death for Dana’s game, however, is something seemingly innocuous that she mentioned in passing during an interview: Dana has no experience with open-water swimming. One way players can ingratiate themselves to their tribes, if they aren’t alliance-seeking extroverts, is to be a challenge contributor; this is especially true in this season’s three-tribe format, which mandates that physical weakness must be ruthlessly rooted out (there’s no place to hide in a six-person tribe). In Samoa, where dangerous currents and riptides made deep water challenges impossible, Dana might have been able to outperform Dawson and Katie in the early challenges, but if the pre-season teasers are any indication, the Philippines castaways are going to spend a lot of time swimming and diving, which is bad news for Dana.
Final Prediction: Dana is an outsider who will be slow to make connections with her tribemates and who will also be a deep water challenge liability. She’s gone pre-merge.
Rumor has it that Jeff has been trying to get on Survivor ever since his baseball career ended after the 2008 season. That makes sense, given that he’s reportedly an accomplished outdoorsman (camping, hunting, fishing), and, like most retired athletes, he’s probably looking for a way to test himself, compete, and show everyone, including himself, that he still has it.
The problem with Jeff Kent, though, is that the “it” from his playing days was a reputation as a clubhouse cancer; he didn’t get along with his teammates, he rubbed just about everyone the wrong way, and he famously got into a fistfight with Barry Bonds in the dugout. From the sounds of it, Kent hasn’t changed much: In his Survivor pre-season interviews, he admits that he’s hard-headed, that he hates “lazy and stupid” people, and that he can’t stand people who talk too much.
Which is to say that Kent is going to be surrounded by a bunch of people he can’t stand. Dawson will talk too much, Carter falls into the “I sound stupid” category, and Katie’s pageant-girl self-importance will likely drive him nuts. Throw in Kent’s well-documented conservative political bent (including openly supporting legislation banning gay marriage), and he’ll alienate himself from both Penner (a thoughtful liberal, if his Facebook page is any indication) and Dana (a lesbian in a seven year relationship). I think that’s everyone, isn’t it? As social psychology will tell you, if you’re in a microsociety and you can’t stand anyone, it’s reasonable to assume that none of them can stand you.
Given that physical strength will be at a premium this season, Kent will have some time with which to work, but I doubt he’ll use it wisely; he doesn’t come across as an alliance builder, does he? At some point, he’s going to be seen as more trouble than he’s worth, and when that happens, Kent will become an expendable commodity (sort of like when all those teams traded him throughout his career; eventually, everyone gets sick of having this guy around). Throw in the fact that he’ll be recognized (if Gary Hogeboom, the marginal Cowboy QB on Survivor: Guatemala couldn’t hide, there’s no way that a former National League MVP with a distinctive mustaches will be able to), and I can’t see Kent making the jury.
Final Prediction: Kent might make it to the first merge, when three tribes become two. But there’s no way he survives to the second.
And here we arrive at our first enigma, one of two pageant contestants this season, Miss Delaware, herself, Katie “I want to be a State Trooper” Hanson. I’ll begin by focusing on the positive: From the brief “camp life” shots we’ve been given in previews, I get the sense that she’s a lot tougher than she comes across during interviews; it appears as if she’s holding her own within the tribe (admittedly, this is a quick read of momentary body language – but then, sometimes, that’s all we need). She’s also planning on playing a UTR game (Under The Radar), which, despite being a strategy that annoys the heck out of people who want to watch dynamic gameplay, may be an effective approach, particularly as she’s on a tribe that’s likely to have some power struggles and fireworks.
Katie also appears to be the strongest woman in her tribe, physically, which will make her an asset, at least in the short term. But toughness only gets you so far in this game; Katie needs people to work with, and, for some reason, I see her making a grave error and gravitating toward Jeff instead of Penner. So many early alliances are dependent upon who wants to work with us (as opposed to who we want to work with), and I have a feeling that Jeff is going to look around, not like any of his options, and try to team up with Katie. Cooperation borne of necessity is the name of the game in a six-person tribe, and Katie will join forces with Jeff, only to realize too late that she should have reached out to Penner (who, as a returning player, will probably get to pick and choose with whom he works, thanks to the gravitas of experience). By the time Katie tries to change course, Penner will already be working with Dawson, and Katie will be adrift when three tribes become two.
Final Prediction: Katie makes it to the first merge, but will be an easy boot in her new tribe and will fall short of the second merge. (That said, I can see her floating her way to the jury, which really isn’t THAT hard since 12 out of the 18 castaways will be either on the jury or in the final three.)
While generalizing about reality show casting is never wise (the players always end up being far more complex than their ostensible “roles” on the show), there are certain Survivor tropes which have been established over the course of 24 seasons. The Mactor… the Crazy Old Guy… the Devious Schemer. One castaway character type we see every season, and which will be filled by Carter Williams this season: the Challenge Dominator. To be mildly disgusting for a moment, it’s as if DNA from Ozzy, Fabio, and Erik Reichenbach were thrown into a centrifuge, then used to fertilize an egg; the end result is Carter, a physically formidable, but strategically limited, castaway.
To be fair, Carter seems like a nice fellow, genial and good natured. That said, he’s living proof that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing; he earnestly believes that he’s going to be a strategic player, even though the extent of his “plan” is to just take it day by day. Yes, a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability is necessary to navigate to the endgame, and some players have used the “just get to tomorrow” strategy to great effect, but I think it’s pretty obvious, even after only a couple of interviews, that Carter is no Sandra. The wattage just isn’t there.
While there may be a whole ton of tools out in the shed that are sharper than he, Carter does possess a skill set that will virtually guarantee a post-merge spot: he’s going to be a physical asset to his tribe, he isn’t going to piss anyone off, and, if I had to guess, he’s incredibly gullible. Penner is going to latch onto this kid, make him part of his early alliance, use him as a “meat shield” (a lovely term, that), and then let him go at the immediately post-merge individual immunity threat graveyard.
Final Prediction: Ozzy had Redemption Island, Fabio had blind luck, and Erik had a mental error for the ages. Carter will have none of these things… he’ll just have a nice, solid run and become a part of the jury.
If there’s one thing “outwit-oriented” players desperately crave on Survivor, it’s someone to talk to. Without a sounding board, castaways who want and need to plot and strategize are left to worry and second-guess all of their moves. Sure, they doubt themselves anyway, but that process is far more constructive and effective when a second mind – one that both knows the game and understands it – is involved. Every Othello needs his Iago.
Penner (the Moor of Venice in this flawed comparison) will get a read on his tribemates and quickly realize that fellow strategists are in short supply. Dana? Please. Jeff? Doubtful. Carter? Hahahahahaha! Katie? Possibly … but I’m betting on Dawson. She’s more mature than Katie, she’s a talker, and unless my read is off, she’s also a schemer – and that’s just the kind of person Penner will be looking for.
There’s one big “IF” here, however: Dawson can go deep into the game IF she keeps her “One World Alicia-ness” under wraps. It’s easy, under physical and emotional duress, for one’s sense of humor to turn black and harsh and cruel; if Dawson morphs into a Mean Girl, she won’t last long (in large part because Penner won’t put up with it).
Assuming Dawson isn’t the first player eliminated, I’d assume she will make it through the first merge in a reasonably solid position. There may not be a lot of Kalabaws left at that point (although I think they’ll merge into two tribes before any of the three original tribes loses three castaways), but she and Penner will work their way into a solid alliance and sit back while other weaker and less-connected players get picked off. Once the second merge happens, though, Dawson will likely be in a lot of trouble. After the individual immunity threats are taken out, strong tandems from minority alliances will be targeted, which means she and Penner will be scrambling to make it through to the endgame. But at that point, Penner won’t want to talk strategy; he’ll be too busy sacrificing her in order to get himself three more days.
Final Prediction: Dawson makes the second merge and the jury, but falls short of the final three.
I am eagerly anticipating Penner’s first confessional on Wednesday night. I’m guessing it will go something like this: “What the hell? Seriously? THIS is my tribe? Is this what I get for giving Probst s*** when I was on before? DAMN IT ALL! [takes a deep breath] Okay, I can work with this.”
See, that’s the best thing about Penner: He adjusts. He’s mentally and strategically nimble. Where others see obstacles, he sees opportunities. You know all those times we watch Survivor and we scream at the players to just do something already? To reject what they have come to accept as their inevitable eliminations and shake things up? (Christina Cha, Kat Edorsson, Alicia Rosa, I’m looking at you. Yeah, you.) You don’t say these sorts of things when Penner’s around; he’s not only one step ahead of you, he’s already making the subtle social shifts which make the big moves possible. Penner is the very opposite of complacent.
Without rehashing what I’ve already written, I think Penner is going to team up with Dawson solely because there’s no one else on his tribe who understands the game – call it “Dawson by Default.” Once Penner gets to the two-tribe merge, he’s got a distinct advantage over both newbies and returning players alike: while they’re trying to cultivate loyalty, Penner will embrace utility and exigency, taking his and Dawson’s votes where they’re needed. That will get him to the second merge, and, at that point, his fate will be determined by who else is left; with the endgame in sight, will they still want and need Penner? That’s the danger of being a power broker in Survivor; eventually, the other castaways can see the numbers game for themselves and no longer need you to turn the tide for them. And that’s the fate I think awaits Penner in the waning days of this season: a dominant post-merge alliance sees him as a threat and decides, wisely, to take him out before he can convince the floaters and fringe players to flip the game (and, in the process, earn himself a million dollars).
Final Prediction: I think the world of Penner as a player, and I would love to see him make his case at the final tribal council. Sadly, though, I fear he will fall short of the final three, finishing in roughly 7th to 9th place and earning a spot on the jury.
This is a top-heavy team (and I don’t mean Angie’s implants): the trio of Matsing castaways who actually possess Survivor skills are exponentially better than the triumvirate of suck at the bottom of their tribe. On the one hand, this means they, like Kalabaw, are likely to lose early challenges; on the other hand, they won’t have a hard time deciding who to vote out. Let’s take a look at this hot mess, shall we?
My first attempt to articulate Angie’s Survivor fate: She’s going to be eliminated early, and that’s going to be AWESOME!
Okay, so it isn’t nice to mock how someone speaks. Sorry.
Attempt #2: Angie’s chances to win the game are about as real as her breasts.
Now that’s just mean. Apologies.
Attempt #3: Let’s put this in beauty pageant terms that Angie will understand: She’s going to be 17th Runner-Up.
Is there a chance Angie might possibly go deep in the game like her One World counterpart, Kat Edorsson? Sure. But remember, Kat’s alliance almost turned on her early in the game because she was, for the most part, whiny, petulant, and annoying.
Looking on the bright side, at least we’ll finally find out how Retail Management Barbie would do on Survivor.
Let’s just move on.
I’ll admit that, after watching his interview videos (on the CBS and Entertainment Weekly web sites), I had high hopes for Zane: he’s funny, confident, and street-smart. More than anything, though, he’s DISTINCTIVE. And not in that “I’m a big character but not much of a player” way that makes so many outlier casting choices so depressing (they chew up screen time while not really contributing much to the ebb and flow of the game).
My opinion changed, however, as soon as I saw footage of Zane out on the island: he was getting his BUTT KICKED by the elements. They couldn’t have been more than a day or two into the season, and Zane was already hunched over, shuffling slowly in the shallow ocean surf, his face registering an alarming amount of discomfort and dismay; his body language was positively screaming, “What the hell did I get myself into?!”
No doubt many of the other castaways were suffering, too, but, despite the tattoos, Zane looks softer than most of the other players. I don’t think he’s going to quit, but I do think Zane will send out non-verbal signals that he won’t fight his fate if his tribe wants to vote him out. I really hope I’m wrong, because there’s an upbeat energy to Zane that his tribe, and the show, could benefit from when the going gets rough. Unfortunately, though, I don’t think Zane will be around long enough for the other players to find this out.
Final Prediction: Pre-merge boot.
Roxanne “Roxy” Morris
Trying to predict how Roxy will do this season makes my brain cramp; she resists categorization because she’s a study in contradictions. She’s soft-spoken and kind-hearted, but she’s in the Army Reserves (which means she survived Boot Camp, right?). She’s a seminary student who wants to be a chaplain, yet she can’t help but swoon over a 250-pound douche on another tribe. She says she’s got a big personality, but she comes across as a wallflower. So who’s the real Roxy?
At the risk of being redundant, we can identify the real Roxy the same way that we got at the truth of Zane: the proof is in the production. Every shot we get of Roxy shows her retreating inside of herself as a way to cope with the brutal conditions (looks like they got a lot of rain early); worse still, she’s almost always alone. At a time when social creatures turn to one another for support – dealing with storms is a communal event – Roxy is off on her own rather than huddled with her tribemates. Needless to say, this doesn’t bode well for her alliance opportunities and long-term prospects.
Depending on how isolated Roxy becomes, she could be the first boot out of the tribe (which Angie would think is AWESOME!), she could be the second (although I think Zane is suffering more than Roxy in the footage we’ve seen), or she could float her way to the first merge, and then be an easy boot. Survivor, as we’ve been told over and over again, is a social game… which means it’s a game you can’t play alone.
Final Prediction: Pre-Merge Boot
Sometimes all I need to hear is one comment by a castaway and suddenly his or her fate immediately becomes clear. That’s precisely what happened with Russell: I was bullish on his return to the game until he told an interviewer that he has no intentions of leading his tribe this time around. Instead, Russell plans to identify someone else as the leader and “… throw him under the bus.” With that one statement, I would argue, Russell has taken himself out of title contention.
Here’s the thing: The Matsing tribe is going to WANT Russell to be the leader. It’s simply the nature of how newbies relate to returning players, particularly one who is best known for being the guy who, if not for his dehydration, would have kept us from ever knowing or caring about any member of the Hantz family. When Russell rejects the leadership role, the entire social dynamic of the tribe will shift; the end result will be that opportunistic and strategically savvy players like Malcolm and Denise will hold this against Russell and make it far easier for them to send him packing as soon as they don’t need him anymore.
All that said, Russell is safe until the first merge; he’s too much of an asset, in challenges and around camp, to vote him out early. But given that Matsing will likely be down numbers when three tribes become two, Russell will be extremely vulnerable at that point – especially since players like Malcolm and Denise won’t see him as an indispensible ally. It’s a steep price to pay for not embracing the leader role, but in the end, Russell’s demise will be his own fault; by refusing to be who everyone wants and needs him to be, he lost the game before it even started.
Final Prediction: Makes the first merge but doesn’t make the second.
If there’s one thing that good Survivor strategists know, it’s that you can’t play alone. Whether you surround yourself with co-conspirators, acolytes, or sheep, to make it to the end, you need a lot of help getting there. More important than understanding this reality, though, is utilizing it well; you have to choose your partners wisely, or your game is doomed.
This is especially true, I feel, in this three-tribe dynamic; in recent seasons, five-person alliances have dominated the game, but in Survivor: Philippines, I think the magic number will be two. Tandems – which will most likely be strong and strategic sub-alliances – are, first and foremost, a formidable early-game voting force: two tandems team up, and you’ve got a voting majority in a six-person tribe. They’re also adaptable as the game changes: tandems are more likely to survive the first tribe swap, and as new alliances are formed, a tandem is far more attractive than single floaters as power blocks coalesce.
So why do I say all of this? Because I think Malcolm – who is a fellow Dartmouth grad – understands this facet of the game and will be seeking a partner, someone he can trust (and control). He might have planned on teaming up with a couple of younger players, but, if so, he would have tossed that idea aside as soon as he got a glimpse of his options; there’s no way he’d want to work with Angie, Roxy, or Zane (one word excuses: ditz, loner, crazy). I also have a feeling he won’t want to work with Russell; Malcolm wants to play his own game, establish his own Survivor legacy, so the last thing he will want to do is play second fiddle to a returning player.
That leaves Denise – and in many ways, she’s the perfect choice. She’s strong, smart, and savvy, and the relationship won’t be rent asunder by alpha squabbles (she’ll defer to him, but she’ll also have his respect) or clouded by attraction. The deeper they get into the game, the more powerful this couple will become; frankly, I’ll be shocked if they don’t make it to the second merge with relative ease. Thanks to the inevitable post-merge alpha hunt, Malcolm’s journey will likely be a bit briefer than Denise’s, but as with all successful couples, this Survivor marriage of strategic convenience will be a synergistic union that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Final Prediction: Malcolm makes the second merge but, at that point, is targeted as an individual immunity threat and sent to the jury.
Quick question: How many psychologists/therapists have been on Survivor? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any… and I find that to be rather surprising. Obviously, certain professions require the same skill sets as successful Survivor players; not a season goes by without a pharmaceutical rep or marketing executive making a decent run, or so it seems. But is there any better training for Survivor than being a psychotherapist? (Forget about the titillating “sex” part of her job description for the moment; her role is to bring people together.) People like Denise have to connect deeply with people, figure out what makes them tick, and then guide them to make important, life-altering decisions. Sound useful in a social competitive/cooperative game like Survivor?
Let’s add her understanding of, and training in, social psychology to the other weapons in Denise’s arsenal: She’s probably the strongest woman out there, and easily the third best physical player on her tribe; she’s got the perspective of someone with life experience without being so old that she’ll be written off by the younger players; and she’s got no illusions about how tough the game will be. She’s the complete package who, if she were on an overall stronger tribe, would have a far easier path to the endgame. Even with the cards she’s been dealt, though, I think she’s going to find a way to get to Day 39.
A big reason why: the charismatic (yet insufferably smug) Malcolm Freberg. In just about every shot of the Matsing campsite, Denise and Malcolm can be seen together; where Angie (AWESOME!) and Roxy are always seen alone, and what little work the cameras catch them doing is halfhearted at best, Denise and Malcolm are right in the thick of things, building the shelter and, not so coincidentally, their relationship. Thick as thieves, these two, and while there may be no honor among thieves, there is an understanding that they need to stick together – as long as the relationship is mutually beneficial. And it will be – more so for Denise than for Malcolm, because the history of mixed-gender Survivor tandems tells us that the women tend to last a little longer. If that holds true for Denise, then she may very well earn herself an opportunity to state her case at the final tribal council.
Final Prediction: Final three
Two things immediately jump out at me when I look at the three-tribe system: one, that there’s no place to hide (so physically weaker players, particularly women, will be targeted early), and two, that it’s far more likely that there will be an imbalance of power. When there are two tribes of nine players, having one more athletic castaway will rarely allow a team to dominate; in three tribes of six, however, if one of the tribes has four studs, and the other teams have only three, that’s a HUGE advantage.
And what if that privileged team also didn’t experience the same degree of drop-off after the superstars? What if that team had a strong “middle” without much dead weight at the back end? A recipe for victory, don’t you think?
Tandan is just such a tribe. Only one of them, Lisa, looks to be a challenge liability; the rest are either major assets (RC, Pete, probably Skupin) or hold-their-own types (Abi and Artis). Put the Tandan line-up next to the roster for Matsing and Kalabaw, and you might come to the same realization that I have: Tandan could run the table.
Remember, in the three-tribe format, the goal isn’t to WIN the immunity challenges (although there may be some rewards if they do); it’s to NOT LOSE. Only the tribe that comes in third has to go to tribal council. So if Tandan can come in first or second in each of the early challenges, they could end up never going to tribal council, and, once the first merge hits, they could have a majority alliance, even if they’re split up.
And that’s precisely what I think will happen. They may not win all of the challenges, but I think they’ve got a pretty decent shot of never coming in last. If they DO lose, however, I think we’ll be shocked by whom they choose to vote out. This is a tribe that will be defined, if not divided, by age: with three older players, two young ones, and one swing vote (Abi), RC and Pete will be in a lot of trouble, even if they’re major contributors around camp and during challenges.
But I get ahead of myself. Let’s take a look at Tandan and see if you agree with me.
Roberta “RC” Saint-Amour
Survivor Commandment #7: Every season, someone gets screwed. Whether it’s the set-up of the season to blame, or the composition of the tribes, or the nature of the twists, there’s at least one player who on paper seems like he or she is guaranteed a deep run in the game but who makes a shockingly early exit. In One World, it was Matt “The Rooster” Quinlan being an alpha male on a season that guaranteed an Alphacide; in Survivor: South Pacific, it was Mikayla Wingle being targeted because Brandon Hantz thought of every attractive woman as an embodiment of Delilah; in Survivor: Philippines, it will be RC Cola on the chopping block because she’s not a Christian over the age of 40.
Here’s the thing: RC possesses all the skills to be good at Survivor. She’s smart (she’s an investment banker), she’s fit (she swam the English Channel), and she’s a student of the game (she insists she’s never missed a season). Sure, she has some flaws – she admits that she’s headstrong, she believes that there’s never been a Survivor castaway like her before, and her laugh might be able to shatter glass – but in a another season or another tribe, RC would be a solid bet to at least make the merge.
But unfortunately for RC, she doesn’t get to play a random season – she’s in the Philippines, and she’s a member of the Tandan tribe. At first blush, this is a good thing: her tribe is strong, it’s well balanced, and it’s got a strong leader (Skupin is the only returnee who wants to lead his tribe, it seems). Look deeper, though, and you swiftly realize the nature and severity of her vulnerability: the older players (Skupin, Artis, and Lisa) are virtually guaranteed to form an alliance, and Abi would be a fool not to join them – which means if Tandan votes someone out, they’re going to send either RC or Pete packing. Assuming Pete can swim (mitigating RC’s advantage in that area), his brute strength will make him marginally more valuable to the tribe, which means RC would be the first to go.
The best chance that RC will have to stick around is to avoid tribal council until the first merge and then to find herself an alliance with a small group of castaways from Matsing or Kalabaw. I doubt, though, that any tribe will emerge from the early phase of the game totally intact (although if any tribe can do it, it’s Tandan), which means RC will be going home early, reinforcing for every Survivor viewer (and hopeful contestant) that the game can be incredibly cruel in so many different ways.
Final Prediction: Pre-Merge Boot
Peter “Pete” Yurkowski, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways: You’re a Mactor, and I can’t stand Mactors; your dossier makes you sound like an alcohol-swilling sexist and I can’t stand those either; and everything you say screams “egotistical tool” and, yep, you guessed it, I’m not fond of egotistical tools. Oh sure, you’re intelligent, but no, you’re not going to be able to hide it (which is apparently part of your scintillating strategy). The one thing you bring to the table is strength, which might buy you some time, but I hate to break it to you, buddy: No one wants to align with a douche, even a strong one.
But you know, it doesn’t matter what I think; it matters what your tribemates think. While it’s always dangerous to read too much into a minute (or less) of campsite footage, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the members of Tandan are in full agreement (and if any of the Survivor: Philippines castaways, particularly those who were in Tandan, are reading this, I bet they’re nodding their heads). Body language speaks volumes in small social settings, so let me translate what I saw: “We don’t like you, Pete. You’re annoying. You’re full of yourself. And as soon as we can cut you loose, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. Heck, maybe we should keep RC and send YOU home first.”
Could Pete make it to the first merge? Sure, if Tandan can win the early competitions. Will he make the second? Doubtful. At some point, he’s going to be the obvious boot: an individual immunity threat with no loyalties and a misguided sense of his own importance (which means he’ll make moves to serve his own ends rather than offer his float vote to a power player). And I know that this makes me a bad, horrible, terrible person, but when Jeff snuffs out Pete’s torch, I’ll whisper, “Good riddance, Mactor.”
Final Prediction: Pre-Jury Boot
By all rights, Lisa – who will forever be Blair to me – should be one of the first players to leave the game. Not only is she a recognizable celebrity (I’m guessing that her past comes out before Jeff Kent’s), but she’s also an older woman playing what has historically been a young person’s game. But Blair has, thanks to the Survivor gods (otherwise known as Probst and Burnett), found herself on the perfect tribe.
How perfect? Tandan’s leader, Mike Skupin, is a devout 50-year-old motivational speaker whose faith informs his public message, and in her post-sitcom life, Lisa, coincidentally enough, is a devout 49-year-old motivational speaker whose faith informs her public message. Do you think they might have some common ground? Do you think they might forge a friendship, which doubles as an alliance? Yeah, me too.
The advantages don’t end there: lest we forget, Lisa is also on the only tribe in which the older players outnumber the young. If the 40+ club members are wise – and isn’t that supposed to be one of the benefits of age, wisdom borne of experience? – they’ll team up with one another. And even if Lisa doesn’t gravitate to Artis the same way as she will to Mike, the job of a leader is to help bridge the gap, and that’s exactly what Skupin will do: he’ll bring an alliance together (both because it’s good for the tribe and because it’s good for his overall game).
As any Survivor player or pundit will tell you, luck is forever the 19th castaway, capricious and cruel to some, benevolent and kind to others. Clearly, at the start of this game, luck has aligned itself with Tandan, more specifically with the older players of the tribe, and most strongly and singularly with Blair. That said, luck does run out, and at some point the Elder Alliance (for that is what I shall call them unless they come up with their own name) is going to have to sacrifice one of its own. And something tells me that Blair will be sent to Ponderosa to join the jury some time after the second merge, quite possibly just before the final three, because everyone knows if you let her state her case at the final tribal council, Blair, as she did when she was on “The Facts of Life,” will get what she wants.
Final Prediction: Jury
An odd, but pertinent, question: Can someone be both inspiring and annoying? Because if so, Artis is that person. A Phillip Sheppard clone who REALLY doesn’t want you to compare him to the Redemption Island Runner-Up, Artis is a real-life Stage IV metastasized cancer ass-kicker; who better than this guy to provide some much-needed perspective in the game? And yet, he is quite clearly a BIG personality; just watching a few minutes of Artis’ interview footage can be exhausting. Something tells me that he’s going to be irritating his tribemates within the first few days – and it’s never good to have everyone around you wondering, “Can I really last another month with this guy?”
And yet, Artis seems like a pretty sharp guy, and he’s going to know a good thing when he sees it. If you were Artis, would you team up with young, self-involved players like Pete and RC? Or would you find a way to form an alliance with Mike and Blair, both of whom are your age and seem like trustworthy, understanding, and patient people? If ever there was a twosome who could forgive Artis his quirks and embrace his strengths, it’s Skoop and Lisa; on Matsing or Kalabaw, Artis is an early exit, but on Tandan, Artis is poised for a deep run.
In the early going, I’d wager Artis’ larger-than-life persona will get him in some trouble, as will his limited mobility; shots from the first challenge suggest that running is painful and laborious for him. Assuming that the team can carry him (they have more than enough collective strength to do so), Artis should be able to make his way to the first merge. At that point, the numbers game should work to his advantage, given how many Tandan castaways will still be around.
And then, like it or not, Artis will become Phillip Sheppard, someone who, thanks to force of personality and refusal to be ignored, will be a welcome addition to any and all final three scenarios. Power players like Malcolm and Penner will want to use Artis to serve their own ends, assuming that they can convince him to abandon his alliance. But another trait I think Artis shares with Phillip is loyalty; no matter what sort of tempting offer is made, I don’t think Artis will turn on Mike.
That said, I don’t think Artis will make the final three, and this belief comes from a hopeful place: I would like to think that many of the post-merge players have studied past seasons and will realize that unless they take out Artis, then one of the three seats at the Final Tribal Council is spoken for. Something tells me that in the late game scramble, Artis is going to be voted out by a few players who want the Sheppard option off the table. And really, who can blame them?
Final Prediction: A deep run, maybe as far as fifth place, and a spot on the jury.
When I think about my predictions and picks this season, there are two outliers which make me uneasy: Dawson, whom I’ve already discussed at length, and Abi, who could just as easily go out first as wind up in the final three. I could go on at length about how she’s your prototypical under-the-radar player, or I could gently ridicule her plan to be the morale-booster on her tribe, or I could share my bewilderment about how she’s going to do in challenges (is she fit or isn’t she?! I can’t figure it out!). But really, the length and quality of her Survivor journey is going to be determined by her answer to a question you’re not supposed to ask a lady: Abi, just how old are you?
I’m not talking about Abi’s age in a literal, chronological sense, although that’s important, too (she’s 32). I’m referring to how she sees herself: in her real life, does she connect with 20-somethings, or does she gravitate to people in their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s? And so, I ask: Is Abi’s soul old or young? Oddly enough, the fate of the entire Tandan tribe hangs in the balance.
Why, you ask, is Abi’s self-image so important? For one simple reason: Abi is the alliance-formation swing vote. On one side, you have the near-50-or-over trio (Mike, Lisa, and Artis), and on the other, you have RC and Pete. If Abi prefers youthful energy to the hard-won wisdom of age, then Tandan is going to be split down the middle; if it’s the other way around, though, Abi will be welcomed with open arms by the Elder Alliance. So which will it be?
Abi’s going to team up with Captain Skoop. Maybe it will be because Mike and Blair are so warm and welcoming; maybe it will be because RC and Pete are so clearly in this for themselves; or maybe it will be for the simplest of reasons: being in a majority of four is far safer than heading to tribal council wondering what the tie-breaker will be.
Once Abi has made her decision, the rest of her game will unfold without much input or effort from her; she’ll fly under the radar, stay true to her alliance, and the next thing she knows, she will have made it through to the second merge. As power players take each other out and her alliance inevitably turns on itself, Abi will stick close to Mike, who will protect her out of a sense of duty mixed with a shared understanding that she is a safe choice to bring to the final three. And that’s where Abi will end up, sitting in front of the jury at the Final Tribal Council – so long as she makes the right choice on day one.
Final Prediction: Final Three
Simply stated, Mike Skupin is going to win Survivor: Philippines.
Now, it is quite possible that I rank Mike this high because returning players almost always do well in their redemptive seasons. It is also reasonable to assume that I’m letting my judgment be clouded by Mike’s role in Survivor history. The Australian Outback made me fall in love with Survivor, and his medevac was, and forever shall remain, the franchise’s most compelling “What If?” But I’d like to think – and will insist to all who argue with my choice for Sole Survivor – that I’m picking Mike because he’s just really good at the game.
Let’s do a quick rundown of what he brings to the table, shall we? He’s going to embrace the role of leader, which will be all the more important in a six-person tribe; he’s got a relentless and infectious optimism to him; he’s in ridiculous shape for a 50 year-old; he’s not only watched every Survivor season, but he’s also learned from them; and, after 11 years and 22 seasons, you can tell that Mike is thrilled to have an opportunity to remind everyone, including himself, just how good he is at this game.
Add in all of the situational advantages – being on a tribe that’s not only the strongest, but also just so happens to be tailor-made for an Elder Alliance – and it’s easy to believe that Mike is in a great position to run the table. While he might need a few things to break his way after the first merge, and he might have to do some deft maneuvering after the second, Mike is someone who simply will not squander the opportunity he’s been given. He’ll find his way to the endgame, and once there, his appeal to the jury will, I hope, be one for the ages: “After Australia, people always asked me, ‘What if? What if you hadn’t fallen in the fire? What if you had gone into the merge up 6-4? What if… what if… what if?’ It’s a question with a million different answers, and it’s a question with no answer at all. Over the past 11 years, those two words have haunted me, followed me, fueled me, empowered me, and changed me. And yet, now, as I sit here asking for your vote, I realize that, at long last, I finally have my answer. What if? This moment – right here, right now – this is What If.”
Final Prediction: Sole Survivor
Looking back at my predictions, I realize I’ve committed a cardinal sin for a column such as this: I’ve got far too many players earmarked for early boots.
Part of the problem is not knowing when the two merges will happen. During the last three-tribe season, Survivor: All Stars, the first merge took place when 14 players remained, and I can see Survivor: Philippines possibly doing the same. The second All Stars merge happened with 9 castaways left, but that was a season with a final two and a seven member jury; assuming that S25 will have a final three with nine jurors, the second merge needs to happen at 12. But that would mean only two tribal councils between the first merge and the second, and that doesn’t seem like enough, does it?
Anyway, the end result of this confusion is that predictions are even more difficult and foolhardy than they usually are. Rather than simply ranking them from 18 to 1, then, I’ll group them:
Should Leave Early
First Merge Casualties
All remaining players are jury members
The Endgame Factors
Mike (Sole Survivor)
So there you have it, my exhaustive (and admittedly obsessive) pre-season analysis of Survivor: Philippines! Let me know what you think by commenting below, shoot me an email at Andrew [dot] Brooks [dot] Baker [at] gmail [dot] com or follow me on Twitter @GetOnSurvivor … and check out my weekly Baker’s Dozen column all season long!