At the end of last week’s episode, Jeff Probst announced a very different approach to Survivor casting. If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you know the details. Viewers can vote online every day until the reunion to shape the cast of next fall’s season from a group of returning players. Everyone in contention has only played once, and there are no winners. As RHAP bloggers and passionate fans, we have strong opinions about which players we want to see back on the beach. Right in the middle of the voting feels like the perfect time to make our pitch. Along with our specific picks, we also give some thoughts on the premise and the options on the whole. Bloggers Catherine Lucas, Dan Heaton, Michel Trudeau, Sarah Freeman, and Scott Gallagher are on the case.
What do you think of the Second Chances premise?
Catherine: My favourite thing about this season is that CBS have decided to let the fans choose the cast they want — and thank you CBS, for letting Aussies vote too! I love the way that the potential cast have gone out of their way to interact with the fans on social media, giving interviews and dropping into various fan forums. Watching all the pre-game politicking has been fascinating. I also love that in our first real all-stars season since Heroes vs Villains, we are going with the second chances theme. I don’t want to see people play for a fourth and fifth time. I like that we aren’t going to see any winners back. I want to see people who have unfinished business with the game. I feel really positive about Second Chances and can’t wait for it to start.
Dan: I’m intrigued by the idea since it could bring together such an odd group of players. Not since the first Survivor All-Stars has a group of returnees only played once, and the situation is much different here. Giving fans the chance to voice their opinion is great market research beyond the impact on the vote. Jeff Probst may think he knows who we love from the people “on the street”, but the results could be very different. If a guy like Brad Culpepper finishes last in the voting, it might send a message that we’re looking for a different type of cast. Of course, I may be too optimistic about other viewers agreeing with my impressions. If nothing else, it’s a fascinating time to follow Survivor.Old-school players like Varner have fans pulling for them.[/caption]
Michel: I don’t like seasons with returning players, but obviously my wishes don’t matter. There are a couple of things I like about this particular set-up, though. First, we might get to see some players from the first 12 seasons, players I didn’t think would ever come back. However, the viewers’ bias for the new seasons may take a lot of them out of the running. I’d enjoy seeing Kelly, Varner, Kimmi, and T-Bird a lot more than anyone from the last 10 seasons. Another thing that could be interesting is the way the results will be revealed at the reunion. There will be some fun reactions for sure, but let’s not forget this will also take some time away from this season’s reunion.
Sarah: I will reserve judgment on whether or not this a good idea for when we see the results! It’s a very limited pool to choose from, so I don’t feel like we are *really* getting to choose, but what fascinates me is the public nature of it. We get to know who is going out there at the same moment they do, we get to pick our favorites in advance… and we get to see a little pre-game maneuvering. It’s a whole new ballgame for the candidates as they have to adopt a public persona that will get them voted in but won’t come back to bite them on the island!
My main concern is that the vote favors vanilla contestants rather than the more polarizing players. You have to pick 10 players each time you vote, so practically speaking, everybody is going to pick their favorites, and then fill up the ballot with people who they don’t object to. This means players like Woo or Natalie may get a lot of votes, but those will be votes against other players, like Shane or Kass, rather than votes for them. Conversely, if you could choose up to 10 players, Woo and Natalie probably would be picked very infrequently, while Shane and Kass wouldn’t lose many votes at all. It will be an anticlimax if the season is weighed down with our “if there’s room” picks.
Scott: I am very excited for the second chance season. It’s nice to have somewhat proven players in the game. It’s also good for the show the more players there are that know how to play the game and will play the game. I feel like I’m talking about it like I’m in the movie The Game. I just like the idea of taking known personalities and putting them together, as it always seems to lead to good seasons. Plus with this format, you’re going to be bringing back people that are hungry to prove themselves, which is a trait you always want to see in a Survivor player. Like Siskel and Ebert, I give this idea two thumbs up. By the way, I really miss this show.
How strong (or weak) is the potential cast?
Scott: I like this potential cast. Granted, it’s really last few seasons heavy, but I don’t think that matters. For me, what matters is that all these players have played before and will be ready to play from day one. Half of them probably already have cut more shady deals than Tessio in The Godfather. I just really think with this format it doesn’t matter which combination of players gets chosen to play; it will be strong no matter what happens.
Sarah: My biggest wish is that there were more options from older seasons. I understand the recency bias, as well as the fact that players who have played recently are more likely to be in a position to play again. However, are we really expecting a different outcome for Joe? Has anything changed for Brad? With the older seasons, you are looking at people 10-15 years older than when they last played — especially for the ones who were young their first time around, they’re completely different now. With Borneo in particular, playing Survivor means something vastly different now than it did then. In a season of retreads, the old-school players might not necessarily be any better at the game, but there’s a lot of fun in seeing who they are now.
I would also like to have seen more diversity among the cast — I don’t mean race, though that’s always a plus — but types of player. We’ve got a lot of women who were in their twenties when they first played and are not exactly remembered for their gameplay. The men tend to be older and more aggressive strategically… but many of them are alpha-male blowhards, with relatively few in the bunch who can sit back and see the game outside of their own box, or appreciate the game on a different level. I’d like to see more variety, more players who are interesting in and of themselves as *people*… even more comic relief!
Michel: Every combination has the potential to be strong or weak. It will all depend on the tribal dynamics. What I like is that there are no jerks like Hantz or Colton. I’d like to see an Old School tribe with Kelly, Kimmi, T-Bird, Peih Gee, Monica, Shane, Terry, Varner, Savage, and Stephen going up against New School players like Ciera, Sabrina, Natalie, Tasha, Kelly Wentworth, Jeremy, Jim, Joe, Troyzan, and Vytas. Of course, this shows the bias towards the later seasons since my cut-off has to be season 20! There are quite a few in the first 15 seasons I’d like to see on the ballot in place of people we saw too recently, Sean and Gina from Marquesas for example. Or what about Ian? Even Greg Buis’ name was mentioned.
Dan: I love seeing the old-school players included and wish there was even more diversity. Seasons like Marquesas, the Amazon, Guatemala, and Palau have multiple worthy contenders. Just looking at those seasons, people like Neleh, John Carroll, Sean, Deena, Judd, and Ian would be great additions. Of course, it’s possible many weren’t interested. Even players that I’ve enjoyed from the past four seasons aren’t as exciting because they’re so recent. I’m sure that Spencer, Kass, and Shirin will provide good TV, but I’m more intrigued to watch contestants from different eras. It is refreshing to see people who don’t all fit a typical mold. It’s also an older group that we typically see on the show, especially with the men.
Catherine: I’ll get the negative out of the way first. I was disappointed not to have Greg Buis back, and I don’t understand why we needed so many representatives from the last three seasons. Having said that, I do really love the potential cast. There are plenty of people there that are superfans of the game, have agonized over their previous mistakes, and spent many sleepless nights theorizing what they could have done to change their fate in the game. And then there are just enough players who haven’t lived and breathed Survivor, who have no real grudges in the game, and who will provide entertaining moments. I don’t want a cast full of gamebots, I think we need a good mix of strategic and entertaining players, and I think with this cast, we will get both. Whoever makes the final cut, I think it will make for a great season.
Which five players in this group do you most want to see return?
Catherine: I love Kass; she’s one of my favourite survivors of all time. I love the unique way that she plays the game, I love her snarky confessionals, and I love her hashtags. I think even those who don’t love Kass as I do have to admit that she is never boring. Cagayan was such a wonderful season primarily because of the unpredictable gameplay, and Kass was the biggest part of that. There’s nobody on this list that I want to see play the game again more than Kass, and I’m allowing myself to believe that not only will she get on, but she will somehow stay around long enough to bring the chaos to season 31.
For a long time I have wanted to see Jeff Varner play again, and I’m hoping that this is his time. Watching Australia, I loved Jeff’s tribe, Kucha, and the night that Jeff was voted out, and it became clear that Kucha were not winning the game, was a sad night for my household. Varner, more than nearly anyone else on the list, deserves a chance at redemption. He’s probably in better shape to win the game than he ever has been — he’s older, wiser, less cocky, and less threatening now. He’s going to play a much stronger social game, and I think Jeff has a great shot of winning. Honestly, I think all the old school contestants deserve a shot, and I can’t wait to see how Jeff deals with the modern game.
I am a huge fan of Monica. Samoa was a season dominated by Russell Hantz, and nearly every other character got somehow lost in the edit. In the airtime that Monica got, we got to see a spunky little girl that fought and fought, and never gave up. I would be fascinated to see her return now, older, wiser, with much more life experience, away from the presence of Russell, and see how she does. I think she will return to the game with a hunger to make big moves, and although I don’t give her much of a chance to win the game, I think she’ll be incredibly entertaining to watch.
I am really interested to see T-Bird play the game again. She’s always been one of my favourites, and I remember cheering for her in Survivor: Africa. Listening to her RHAP interview, she is still physically in good shape and has kept up with the show. She’s non-threatening enough to get far in the game, and I don’t think anyone out there is going to remember how dangerous T-Bird can be. I can see people taking her far, without realizing that she can actually be an incredibly sneaky player. I am excited to see T-Bird the strategic player, but mostly I am excited to see the incredibly joyous character that she is. I think she’ll be a welcome addition to a cast that might end up taking the game incredibly seriously.
Another person that I want to see play — and I am surprised at how much I want to see this — is Max. I think Max is going to struggle to get the votes but would make a really interesting addition to the cast. Hopefully, he’s learnt from his experience on Worlds Apart, where he seemed to be playing for screen time, and this time he will be out there to win. He’s the Survivor professor, and we all had such high hopes for him going into season 30. I’d love to see Max given the chance to fulfill his potential. Also, he has said that if he makes the loved ones visit, he’ll bring Vince Sly. How can you not reward that with a vote?
Dan: I’m thrilled by the prospect of seeing contestants from Borneo, Australia, and Africa try Survivor again. I could easily put Kelly, T-Bird, or Jeff Varner (especially) in this spot, but I’m going to assume they make it given the nostalgia for those seasons. I’m concerned that some of my favorites from the middle seasons won’t get the same attention. His social game was limited, but I’m intrigued to see how Terry would perform with a second shot. He remains one of the great challenge players in Survivor history and deserves it. Terry is 10 years older and will need to find different ways to move forward, though I expect he’s still very fit. The question is whether he’ll improve the other sides of his game. Terry had the huge power of the idol and couldn’t use it to build allies to make the end.
In a different zone is Terry’s Panama cast mate Shane, who is certain to be great TV. Judging by his RHAP appearances (including his amazing new interview), he’s lost very little of the fiery persona that made him so much fun. Some players try to put on a show (i.e., Philip) and come off as phonies. Shane’s craziness feels genuine, and I didn’t appreciate just how great he when his season aired. I’m also fascinated by his moral code, which seems to go against his persona but is a real part of his game. I’d love to see Peih Gee return since we hear little about her game nowadays. She was a force in China yet isn’t as well-known because she didn’t return like James and Amanda. Peih Gee needs our support to push past the recency bias. Her interview with Rob reminded me of how smart and fun she is, and I’m hoping all the fan support will give her another chance. If she makes the cast, I believe she’ll be a real force.
In a similar vein to Peih Gee, Tasha impressed me because she was such a competitor. I’m mostly focusing on earlier seasons with my votes, but I’d have no problem watching Tasha again. Plus, she’s from my hometown of St. Louis! I have to support her for that reason. It was great to see Tasha be so different from the typical personality types we see on the show, and I believe she’ll do a better job in building alliances this time. Finally, I can’t help but be excited to see what Stephen will do with a second chance. I’ll admit that I’m biased due to his presence here on RHAP, but that isn’t the only reason. Stephen played a strong game in Tocantins, but J.T. was too well-liked by the jury. It would be a treat to see him on our screens playing again, and he deserves another chance.
Michel: My top five would be Shane, Kelly Wiglesworth, Kimmi, Varner and Stephen. Shane’s multiple personality disorder was extremely fun to watch. He’d be Casaya’s policeman one minute, its unruly teenager the next. His hilarious interactions with Courtney, Danielle and Cirie have never been matched in the series’ history. Yet, the guy knew how to play the game. Kelly formed the show’s first alliance with Hatch when he told her he was gay. She then made another alliance with Sue and together, they planned on getting rid of Hatch. Later, she even got close to some members of Tagi and wound up betraying her island mom, Sue. In other words, she was the first flipper!
Kimmi had some of the funniest moments dealing with her tribe and especially with Mike, the pig killer and Alicia, the finger waver. She was never showed playing the game, so it would be extremely interesting to hear her playing today. Varner was one of the most vocal dissidents in the ex-survivor community so his interactions with Jeff Probst could be interesting. He kept telling us that Mike was an idiot, and Survivor: Philippines proved him right! He was also famous for starting fights between other players and walking away from it. We’ve always wondered what would have happened if Kucha had gained the numbers after the merge, and Mike’s idiotic gameplay only gave us part of the answer. Seeing Varner in action could tell us more! Stephen is a smart player and a good narrator so it would be fun to watch him again.
Sarah: Peih Gee is easily the most memorable female player of China for me, and I have wanted her back if only to right the wrong of Amanda being brought back (twice!) over her. Both she and Jaime were dominant players in their own right, even if they were figuring out the game on the fly — and on the losing side of the numbers. A firecracker on a personality level, an aggressive player, and a brain, this is always, always the combination I want to see in a female player. I think she’s got a good chance of shining, and I’m excited to see what Peih Gee is like, almost 10 years later.
This is a bit of a cheap pick, what with his RHAP connection, but I rooted for Stephen all the way through Tocantins and it took me three days to get over the Final Tribal Council. He’s a smart guy who gives a good confessional, and he knows how to play hard. On top of that, there’s his Survivor story… the recruit turned student of the game turned Survivor pundit. Between his People blog and the Know-It-Alls podcast, Stephen has informed the game itself in recent years, and it’s a journey most of us have followed in real time. For him to come full circle and return to where it started, but this time putting his money where his mouth is… that would be fantastic.
If you followed my blog in Cagayan (or me on Twitter) this pick of Kass will come as no surprise. But like Peih Gee, Kass has all the qualities I like to see in a female player — if more for the screen time than the success they have brought her! I have no idea how Kass would fare on a new season, but if her destiny is to deliver a few supernatural-themed insults before her torch is snuffed in the premiere, I will be satisfied. (If she is setting figurative and/or literal fires every episode of the season, even better.)
These are the three that really stand out for me, it’s harder to pinpoint fourth and fifth. If it’s been more than 10 years since they last played Survivor, I want to see them back just for a “Who are they now?” contrast. I want the ill-fated Luzon’s to be reunited. I want that equally ill-fated day 1 White Collar alliance to be reunited.
Scott: The five that immediately jump to mind are Spencer, Kass, Carolyn, Max, and Vytas. Why those five? Well, I can’t quite explain it, but those five are the ones that stuck out the most to me. I chose Spencer because I think it will be cool to see how much he’s grown or changed since the first time he played. Maybe he will come back acting all douchey, with a son named “Cool”. I think Kass would be entertaining in any season at any time. I think she is incapable of not playing the game while being incredibly polarizing.
Carolyn being in a season with players that are just as cunning, cold, and strategic as her will be a great opportunity to see how she really stacks up. This season, it was basically Tyler and (depending on how you feel about) Max as players that really came to play a cerebral game. With Max, I just want to see if his complete flop this season was bad luck or is he just a player that lacks the ability to actually play the game. It’s clear that he has great knowledge of the game, but can he translate that into actually playing the game? I really can’t explain the Vytas pick, other than I enjoyed watching him play during his season and would like to see him have another crack at it.
Which three players would you prefer not to see again?
Scott: Nobody really comes to mind. I’m not trying to take the easy way out; I just don’t have strong feelings about any of them not returning. I think this cast is a “can’t miss” and am excited to see how it plays out!
Sarah: There are many people on this list who are obnoxious, but Troyzan is the one who stands out. Unlike some others, I can understand why he’s a contender to come back, but I would rather see the Vanillas get in. The others are Stephanie Valencia and Mikayla Wingle — really? There are, in fact, plenty of pre-merge people who I would like to see get another chance. Nicaragua’s Dr Jill heads that list; Stephanie and Mikayla do not feature. Stephanie is the traditional pretty brunette that Russell randomly allots as the best player of the season after him. Mikayla is the girl too hot for Brandon Hantz to share a beach with. I’d rather give a second chance to somebody with a game or at least an interesting line in confessionals.
Michel: Only 3? Keith, Woo and Kass would top that list. Keith and Woo are simply too dumb while Kass would have no chance at all. Like Candice in Blood vs. Water, no one would trust her so she’d probably be the first to go.
Dan: I agree with Sarah about her choices of several younger women that didn’t make a strong impression in their first appearances, but I’m sticking with the guys for these picks.
I’ll start with Troyzan, who’s mainly remembered for yelling “This is my island!” and standing up to Kim’s dominant alliance. He also was a sore loser who still refuses to acknowledge that he was beaten. Looking at the options in play, Troyzan falls short of the others. I also feel like Brad Culpepper’s story was played out during Blood vs. Water. He didn’t last too long but received a ton of screen time. He’s the type of alpha-male that Jeff Probst loves a lot more than the audience. My final pick to dismiss would be Vytas, who was interesting at times in his first appearance. Even so, I’m less intrigued (possibly after hearing him on the podcast) to see him again. There doesn’t seem to be as much there when separated from Aras, and his status as a fan favorite surprises me.
Catherine: Let’s be honest, nobody really wants to see Brad Culpepper play again. He looks to me like another typical alpha-male in a season that will potentially be stacked with them. Nothing that Brad did in his original season was makes him worthy of a spot on this list. He came out of the gate playing hard in Blood vs Water, but he was only ever going to be a shield for players like Hayden and Vytas to hide behind. He isn’t entertaining in confessional, he hasn’t shown any impressive strategy, and I don’t think we need to see him back.
I’m sorry because I know there are people out there who love her, but for me, Kelley Wentworth is on the list of players I don’t want to see play again. I understand that playing in a Blood vs Water season isn’t ideal, and her game could have been better if she’d have played as an individual. But by that logic, we should be voting for Brad Culpepper too. I’m not disputing that Kelley could be very good at the game of Survivor. In fact, if she makes it into the cast, she’ll probably be my winner pick. I just don’t think she can be an entertaining character, and that’s why I don’t need to see Kelley return.
I agonized over this last one, but the other player that I don’t want to see again is Vytas. And honestly, this is such a strong cast list that I won’t be too upset (or surprised) to see Vytas again. I think that everyone brings something unique to the table that will make season 31 wonderful. So this choice is a personal one, where I will say that Vytas has never been my favourite Baskauskas brother. I find him really off-putting and arrogant. He’s been preparing to come back to Survivor since the minute he was voted out. Every cast needs a good villain, but there are plenty of good villains in this casting pool. If I was casting season 31, I’d leave Vytas out.
Which potential returnees excite you? Who would send you running for the exits?