Survivor: Cambodia

Survivor Cambodia — The Bloggers Roundtable Preview

 

The new season of Survivor is just days away, and I can’t wait to see what happens. We’ve known the exact cast since way back in May at the Worlds Apart finale, so the anticipation just keeps growing. Having an entire cast of returning players for the first time since Heroes vs. Villains also feels like a refreshing change of pace. The fact that all 20 contestants have only played once helps the show to avoid returning-player fatigue this time.

The Rob Has a Podcast bloggers have done the research and are ready to put our cards on the table. We’ve analyzed all 20 players to find out who will gain control and win the title of Sole Survivor. This fine group of bloggers is: Dan Heaton (that’s me!), Sarah Freeman, Scott Gallagher, Michel Trudeau, and Catherine Lucas. Just like the cast, we’ve all returned to take our shot at greatness. The stakes are a bit lower for us than the players, however. Don’t forget to check out our predictions at the bottom of this article. Let’s get to it!

Joe Anglim

Joe Anglim, Worlds Apart Joe Anglim, Worlds Apart[/caption]

Dan: It’s easy to look at Joe and think he’s doomed because he was so prominent last season. That scenario could play out if others believe he’s too big a threat, but I’m not convinced. Shirin is the only other Worlds Apart player, which makes them seem less imposing than the Cagayan or San Juan Del Sur groups. His challenge skills could make Joe a valuable asset in the early days. The question is how much the others will value immunity wins during a returning-player season. Joe talks about wanting to play from the middle and bring less emotion. That may be very difficult; even Keith knows who he is.

Like he mentions in his video, Joe should align with other physical threats and sell himself as a shield. Athletic players like Jeremy, Tasha, and Savage would be good options. All three are straight shooters who might recognize the benefit of sticking together. Joe should try to place the target on a thinker like Stephen Fishbach or a volatile figure like Kass. He wants to float, but is it in Joe’s personality to hold back? A good model in the pre-merge game is Malcolm from the Caramoan, who played a quieter game up front. Of course, he benefited from others not seeing his season. Joe has a larger hurdle to overcome. I expect Joe to shine early but eventually face the music just like in his first effort.

Sarah: Of course, Joe wants to play down his challenge prowess — but his only hope is to sustain a minor injury and play that up, a la Tyson. As physically strong a cast as this is, nobody else has the kind of record and all round versatility that Joe has. (Woo has been beaten by all of the other Cagayan’s, Terry played ten years ago, Kelly fifteen.) He’s landed on a good tribe though, since Jeremy will want Joe as a physical shield for himself, while Tasha and Savage will be anxious for a strong tribe to avoid the scenario where they’re down in the numbers again. His only initial hurdle will be allowing one of those two to micromanage the challenges (something Joe liked to do himself back on Nagarote.)

Long-term though, he’s going to be in danger from about vote five onwards. Unless he’s got some seriously mind-blowing strategy tucked away, he will need an awful lot of immunities to reach the end.

Scott: Big Joe, like my other colleagues have stated and I too will state the obvious, is a big target coming back due to his physical prowess. Like my two compadres. I also think he needs to join forces with Andrew Savage. Maybe play the part of the young buck getting mentored by the grizzly veteran. Not that I think making that happen would be an easy thing; I just think that is Joe’s best chance at survival. Joe needs his team to win challenges early and avoid tribal counsel at all costs. If not Joe is too easy of a target for the others to turn on. My feeling is that Joe gets the boot early.

Michel: One of the few castaways that was able to make fire without flint, Joe is a good survivalist but that doesn’t mean he’s a good Survivor player. Some of the returning players already have him in their sights, so he’ll have as big a target on his back as he had in Worlds Apart. He had occasions to make alliances in his first season, but he wasn’t able to get it done outside of his original tribe. He had a good social game, but he didn’t seem to try hard enough to persuade the others. Maybe he never had a chance after that swap. The same should happen here: I think Joe will be safe in the original Bayon tribe, but that should last for only two cycles. The players are expecting a lot of tribal shuffling, so his strength will actually become a liability. It will be tough road for Joe to simply make it to the merge.

Catherine: Joe was my winner pick going into Worlds Apart. I chose him for a reason. I think Joe has all the prerequisites to win a season of Survivor. I just don’t think he can win this season of Survivor. Unfortunately for Joe, playing again immediately after his season airs is not going to work to his advantage at all. As everyone has pointed out, he is an obvious physical threat. He can’t try and play it down; nobody has forgotten his challenge performances. Mike winning season 30 simply by virtue of being a physical threat and winning challenges hasn’t helped Joe’s chances of winning Second Chances either.

The structure of this game won’t help Joe. I expect there to be many tribe swaps, and it will be loyalty that is valued over physical strength. There is no sensible argument for keeping Joe around until the merge, especially immediately after seeing Mike blitz his way to the million dollars. The biggest obstacle to Joe winning the game is his superstar status amongst the fans. These are returning players. They have egos. They don’t want to share the stage with Joe. This season is going to have a new fan favourite. Joe is going to be gone early.

Jeremy Collins

Jeremy Collins, San Juan Del Sur

Jeremy Collins, San Juan Del Sur

Dan: There are a lot of similarities in what Jeremy and Joe are facing right at the start. Both were removed once the individual game began and arrive as physical threats. In his strategy video, Jeremy talks about wanting to work with Joe and Terry. The former is part of his tribe, and forming the alliance makes sense for both of them. Jeremy has a better chance than Joe to survive because his season is a little further back. He isn’t the “new hotness” in the same way as Joe. There are two other San Juan Del Sur players, but neither had a strong bond with Jeremy. Kelley was part of his alliance before the swap but got little screen time. Jeremy openly squabbled with Keith at Tribal Council, so they won’t be considered a pair.

Jeremy talks about wanting to just play and not over think the strategy. It’s tough to say whether that’s a good idea. He did seem irritated during much of his season, and it should be exciting for him to compete without thinking about Val. Jeremy needs to find his way onto the right side of the numbers if he wants to go past the merge. He talks about wanting to remove people like Kass and Spencer, but there’s a danger in wiping out the strategic threats. Jeremy should focus on removing people that might fly under the radar. He cannot stand out as a leader or will face the same fate as his appearance. If the physical threats start dropping early, Jeremy could be in real trouble. His plan is sound, so it’s all about the execution.

Sarah: I have trouble getting excited about Jeremy’s return — he was such a wet blanket his first time around — but I have to think he’s in a good position. He’s strong, but he doesn’t hold any kind of challenge reputation. Although his tribe always performed well, he only won one individual immunity and that was a memory one rather than anything physical. He’s got Joe right there on his tribe to use as his shield along with other challenge-oriented alphas, Tasha and Savage. His only drawback is that there are two other San Juan Del Sur players, which may make people question his loyalties. Kelley in particular was allied with Jeremy, and he had no hand in her vote off.

But I don’t think it’s the physical game or the strategic game that Jeremy needs to be accounting for — it’s the social one. There’s a touch of condescension to Jeremy that appears when he talks about people who don’t play the way he does, the implication that his way is the way to play Survivor. Jeremy wasn’t unpopular last time, but he didn’t get deep enough into the game for us to get a feel for how he would do against the jury, and he did have a zero tolerance habit of burning bridges with his own allies: Keith was a prime example, but Jeremy was never the person rallying his own numbers… Natalie and Missy took care of that. If Jeremy wants a strong alliance to take him to the end, he’s going to need to make use of somebody who can keep that alliance together. The real juggling act will be getting to the end with that person and winning.

Scott: Jeremy talked a real big game before the start of his season last time he played and then went out and played the game like a fragile Lifetime movie spurned wife. He didn’t ever seem to be having a good time playing the game, and maybe we will see a different Jeremy. Without having the benefit of knowing if that is the case this time around, it’s tough to gauge how far Jeremy will go this time around. I think if Jeremy starts out acting like Eeyore again, he will turn everybody against him and will be gone early. I would like to see Jeremy with a more positive attitude. I’m not saying he needs to hit camp on day one and start a group Jazzercise bonding group like Richard Simmons, but let’s see some fun out of Jeremy this season. I’m stalling. I don’t know how to predict Jeremy’s season this year….So I guess I think he will end up smack in the middle somewhere…

Michel: The best advantage that Jeremy has entering his second chance season is that he showed a willingness to work with the women on his first tribe. The alliance he formed with Natalie, Missy, Kelly, and Julie should pay dividends here. He wants to work with strong men, but that shouldn’t turn the women against him. I see a strong alliance developing between him, Tasha, Joe, and Andrew and that could carry him nicely through the swaps where he could connect with some of the women from TKO. Like Joe, he could become an early target because this format doesn’t favor strong athletes. But Jeremy has more tools than the former Nagarote tribe member.  I think Jeremy will do better in his second chance because he has proven he can be trusted.

Catherine: Although Jeremy wasn’t one of my favourites from San Juan Del Sur, I am really excited to see him again. He’s self-aware enough to realize where he went wrong last time, and he is intelligent enough to correct those mistakes.

On season 29, Jeremy was the biggest threat out there. Although he quickly made a strong alliance with the women on his tribe, a combination of his physical strength, his natural inclination towards leadership and his inability to work with the men meant that when the merge came, there was nowhere for Jeremy to hide. He was target number one.

This season, he has gained weight so as not to be seen as a physical threat (although a quick glance at the press photo tells me that this may not be as successful as Jeremy hoped) and he plans to shield himself by aligning with other alphas. I love this plan. This strategy is perfect for him, and if he can implement it, it should take him far. Unfortunately, in an all-star game, big game hunting becomes a hobby. Threats don’t last. I don’t give Jeremy a chance to win.

Ciera Eastin

Ciera Eastin, Blood vs. Water

Ciera Eastin, Blood vs. Water

Dan: Ciera has a reputation as a cutthroat player who voted out her mom to move forward. I’m not sure her reputation is warranted, however. The vote against Laura didn’t affect the outcome, and Ciera has admitted in videos that both made the decision. She did take the chance and drew rocks but missed opportunities along the way. Having said all that, I think Ciera has a great opportunity to do well. There are so many players that will draw attention before her. Joe, Jeremy, and Tasha should all be targets in her tribe, and Stephen is on everyone’s radar.

The question with Ciera is whether she’ll try to prove her skills and gain control. There’s a danger in over compensating and hoping to showcase her talents. Ciera is smart but might believe the hype and try to match it. The better move is playing down her success in Blood vs. Water and forming solid bonds. Unlike Monica or Kelley, there is evidence that Ciera might be dangerous. If she comes across as shifty, the others won’t hesitate. I’m not that excited to have her back, but I expect Ciera to be around a while.

Sarah: I agree with Dan that Ciera has been over-rated, but she’s a scrappy player, which is always fun to watch — particularly since she says she’s determined to play hard from the outset this time around. That’s what rings alarm bells for me. Part of Ciera’s strategy is to emulate Tyson and find that one person she can be 100% solid with: her Gervase. Yet when the other players talk about Ciera, it’s to observe that if she was willing to write her mother’s name down, nobody can trust her 100%. If Ciera wants to change that perception, she needs to be under the radar in the first few days. If she comes in guns blazing, she might find she’s played herself right out of the game.

Scott: Wow. Ciera getting the “overrated” tag slapped on her on here is surprising. I like Ciera. I think since she isn’t an obvious target in a small pond surrounded by obvious targets that she has the ability to go far this season. I don’t think she can win the game, but I think she can be survive the initial stages of the game and survive the merge. I think since she probably won’t be targeted early on that she will have the benefit of observing who to align with for the long-term and with that can survive long enough to make some really big moves with the alliance she is a part of. I don’t see her being able to be a “Tyson” like she talks about, but I could see her playing the part of the meek harmless young women who emerges as a force….Maybe The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo type of thing?

Michel: Ciera received a nice edit during her first season, one that probably makes her slightly overrated by most fans. She wasn’t a target early on mostly because her mom, playing on the other tribe, wasn’t considered a threat. The men’s alliance in Tadhana targeted Rachel and Marissa first because they were connected to Tyson and Gervase. After the merge, she played a game that pleased Probst even if her “big moves” weren’t really to her advantage.

Because her big moves make her untrustworthy (I mean voting out your own mother means no one would trust her word in an alliance), I don’t think Ciera has much of a chance to last to the merge. Even a swap wouldn’t be helpful.

Catherine: Since we seem to be having the debate, I’ll weigh in: I don’t think Ciera is overrated. In fact, I think that people are so fixated on the fact that she voted out her own mother (which, as Dan has explained, had no impact on the result whatsoever), that they forget the other things that Ciera did. They forget that she was playing against returning players, and came one unlucky rock away from winning the game. They forget that despite her dismal challenge performances, she was never in any danger in her original tribe. They forget the ease with which she manipulated Katie Collins into admitting that she didn’t have an idol.

I see Ciera as a strong contender in this season. She won’t be an early target — there are far bigger threats in the game than her. I see Ciera as a very Sandra-like player. If she is allowed to make the merge, people will simply forget about her until it is too late. Like Sarah and Dan, I worry that she might try to live up to her reputation and make big moves simply for the sake of impressing the audience. But if she can resist that temptation, Ciera is going deep in this game. Perhaps even winning — although would it be cruel of me to hope that she goes out of the game on a rock draw?

Stephen Fishbach

Stephen Fishbach, Tocantins

Stephen Fishbach, Tocantins

Dan: It’s so hard to look objectively at Stephen’s chances. I’m rooting for him more than any other player, and that’s saying a lot. Stephen wants it so much, and I love his passion for the game. That excitement may be his undoing, however. Stephen won’t sneak up on anyone. All the players are aware of his knowledge through Survivor Know-It-Alls and his People blog. He’s the most obvious first target if others want to remove a strategic threat. I’m also concerned by the makeup of his tribe. Stephen might align with thinkers like Spencer, Vytas, and Peih-Gee, but they’re all on the other tribe. If Joe and Jeremy form an alliance of athletes, Stephen could be on the wrong side of the numbers.

So how does Stephen avoid the early danger? First of all, he needs to prove his value in challenges. This could nullify him being pegged as a weak link by more straightforward players. Another move is to form an alliance against obvious targets like Joe or Kass. Ciera would like to work with Stephen, so they should try to recruit Monica, Keith, or others to grab the majority. People are going to be wary of Stephen, so he needs to be extremely straightforward and likable. The last thing he can do is caught trying to find the idol during a challenge. If Stephen can destroy the preconceived notions and get a little luck, he could have a chance. The most dangerous part of the game is the first 3-6 days. I’m really hoping this prediction is wrong, but I think Stephen will make an early exit.

Sarah: Like Dan, I’m rooting for Stephen so much that I find myself being guarded in my hopes. Dammit, Fishbach, it took me three days to get over the last time you lost. I can’t put myself through that again!! (Disclaimer: It is possible that said experience was worse for Stephen than for me.)

What sets Stephen apart from all the other Bayon players who have been on a tribal challenge losing streak is that being in the minority didn’t hurt him. He’s not going to buckle under the strain of repeated losses, and he’ll probably benefit from a first vote instinct to keep the tribe strong. Although he most definitely is on the radar, I think he’s got that six-day buffer to build relationships and let his comparative lack of poise and confidence allay fears… on his first tribe. It’s come the returnee season tradition of a tribe swap that I worry for him, since that’s a great time to target perceived puppet masters.

Ultimately, Stephen is unique among the second chancers in that he has proven himself in adversity — the other two previous finalists reached the end thanks to a majority alliance (and their own immunity win). I have hopes that he’ll be able to duck and cover again, and I wouldn’t rule him out from being a second-time finalist or indeed a winner. I just wouldn’t want to put either my money or my hopes on it.

Scott: I don’t think Stephen is (ouch…I’m…being…shocked…by volts…from…Rob)…(robot tone): I like Stephen’s chances this year…He is a strong player, and I think he is going to go very far this season.

I actually think Stephen can make it far in the game, as I think he is great at reading the dynamics of the game and the players. I think he can hide for chunks of the game if need to be to stay safe. I think he can ride the possum strategy for as long as needed. For Stephen, it just all depends on how likable he is with the fellow tribe members. If he is likable, I could definitely see him making it past merge and deep in the later rounds. He needs to act like the mayor of the game, shaking hands and kissing babies and avoid looking like any type of a threat for as long as possible. I think this is doable because although he made it to second place his first time around, he isn’t perceived as a huge threat. I’m probably wrong, but I think he will be underestimated. I don’t think he wins this season, but I do think he makes it to jury.

Michel: I really like Stephen. I thought, like most, that he deserved some votes during Tocantins’ Final Tribal Council. With that said, our own “know-it-all” knows too much for his own good! Stephen is one of the alumni that have stayed the closest to the Survivor community. That could mean many opportunities to create pre-season alliances but I think that, overall, his connections will hurt his chances. Everyone knows that he is a good strategist and that he has a tremendous understanding of the game, so who will want to give him a chance to stay? It would only mean giving him time to outwit them. Much like Boston Rob feared Rob in the first All-Stars, these veterans won’t want to deal with Stephen. This shows the shortfall of a season with returning players. Survivor is a game best played by strangers.

Catherine: When it comes to Fish’s chances this season, I’m going to agree with Scott. I can’t see him being an early boot — not when there are so many big targets. The Cagayan four are going to be on everyone’s radar. It’s not going to be long until Kimmi is getting on everyone’s nerves. In the early game, it isn’t going to be difficult for Stephen to sit back and watch everyone implode. In Tocantins, everyone wanted to be in an alliance with Stephen. Of course, part of that can be attributed to the magical powers of JT, but I do think that Stephen’s social game is strong. I have faith in his ability to get into an alliance.

Once we get to the merge, things get harder. More than anyone else in the cast, I’d be worried about sitting next to Stephen in a Final Tribal Council. Firstly, because talking about strategy is something that he is now very comfortable doing, and secondly because he’s been there before. I don’t think he would let nerves get to him again. Ultimately, I don’t think Stephen can win. But I don’t think he’s an immediate target either. I expect him to make the jury.

Tasha Fox

Tasha Fox, Cagayan

Tasha Fox, Cagayan

Sarah: In Cagayan, Tasha played well from a poor position, and on the face of it, she should be a major threat her second time around. Her greatest weakness is that she’ll be desperate for a game when the numbers go her way for a change. I’d say Bayon will be making more visits to Tribal Council than Ta Keo — and I’d say that Tasha will be butting heads with Savage and Jeremy because of it. If she gets as stressed over setbacks as she did in her original season, those men aren’t going to take her criticisms lightly. There’s a very good chance that Tasha might be taking that pre-jury trip (adding insult to injury, with Kass as a travelling companion.)

On the other hand, if Bayon can hold its own against Ta Keo, Tasha’s social game should be strong. Being an athletic, unmarried older woman and a smart fan of the show lets her bridge a number of demographic divides — especially if Spencer goes early, breaking up the Cagayan bloc. The strategy she outlines in her interview with Josh Wigler seems a great fit for her. However, I just don’t think she’s got the savvy to know when her alliance will be ready to drop her, and she’s too big a threat to get to the end without that. I would be surprised if Tasha could improve on her previous finish.

Scott: I have to be honest; I wasn’t exactly riveted when Tasha got voted back for this season. I have to agree with Sarah, as I don’t think Tasha has the “savvy” or great “feel” for the game. I think Tasha gets locked into a certain feeling or plan in the game and struggles to adapt. To be fair though, you could make the argument that Tasha now knows the game and maybe can fix the issues that plagued her first go-round. I think if your #TeamTasha, what you have going for you is that she is not going to be perceived as a big target early in the game compared to some of the other players this season. Perception can be the reality, so maybe Tasha can fly under the radar, get herself aligned with the right people and make a run this season.

Personally, I think Tasha will be doomed if she gets obsessed on taking down her arch nemesis Kass. You can’t put all your Survivor eggs in one basket, and if she is only focused on taking out Kass she may leave herself open to many blind spots in the game. I guess we will see, but I don’t have a sense that Tasha has the chops to win the game.

Michel: She was very well represented during Cagayan: We had the picture of a strong-willed woman that kept on fighting even when things didn’t work out for her. What the editors partially hid was her constant need to strategize. We heard Tony alluding to it, saying something like: “Tasha always wants to talk about the vote so when she doesn’t, you know something is up.” Still, she is a likable person and I expect that the Bayon tribe will prefer working with her than Kass or the young women. I think things could work out very well for Tasha this time around, especially if she can connect with the women of TKO after a swap.

Catherine: Tasha is not one of my favourite Survivor players. I’m not sure what it is about her. My theory is that you can be either a Kass fan or a Tasha fan, and I am very much a Kass fan. On paper, Tasha would probably be a good pick to win season 31. She’s not so threatening that she’ll be targeted straight away, and yet she does have the reputation of a physical and strategic player. If she’s sitting at Final Tribal Council, it isn’t as a goat.

But while I can see the advantages that Tasha has in this game, I really feel that if she comes into Cambodia and plays the game that she intends to play, she cannot win. I am worried about her preference for playing an alpha game. There are so many here that will want the alpha role, and I think that will put a target on Tasha’s back. And then there’s the fact that there are four Cagayan returnees, and they are dangerous. Nobody wants to let all of them make the merge.

Ultimately, the worst thing for Tasha’s game is likely to be herself. She feels like she has something to prove. In all her interviews, she is talking about playing a nastier game. Nice Tasha is gone. She’s coming out to Cambodia ready and willing to get her hands dirty. Probably a little too willing. I predict that Tasha is going to overplay her way straight on to the pre-jury trip.

Dan: I’m a fan of both Tasha and Kass, so I hate to poke holes in Catherine’s theory. What interests me is whether they’ll actually target each other at the beginning. I have suspicions that all the talk about the rift and getting revenge is all for show. Could Tasha and Kass be working together behind the scenes? Of course, it seems like it would be difficult for Tasha to trust Kass even if they’ve made a behind-the-scenes deal.

Tasha may benefit from having the respect of players looking to align with threats like Jeremy, Joe, and Savage. Of all the women on Bayon, she’s most likely to become part of their group. The question is whether that group will have control of the tribe. I also share Catherine’s suspicion that Tasha will try to be more proactive and play with a chip on her shoulder. While that may keep her ahead of the curve, it could be Tasha’s undoing if she moves too quickly.

Kimmi Kappenberg

Kimmi Kappenberg, Australia

Kimmi Kappenberg, Australia

Sarah: Considering I didn’t vote for Kimmi to play this season, I’m really excited to see her in action. It’s not that I think she’s going to come out as a good player, but I expect her to create some good moments — if she can survive the early stages of the game. This is where Kass might end up being her saving grace. When Bayon decides they need to get rid of one of these over 40s women who aren’t very athletic and rub people the wrong way, they’ll take out the one with a track record of chaos first.

Kimmi still has to get over what seems likely to be a boys club at Bayon, but what she has going for her is her goat potential. She’s not got a track record of being smart or likeable, so somebody’s going to decide that they are dragging her to the end — and since she talks about wanting to get in an alliance this time, I would expect her to be loyal. I don’t expect she’ll be able to keep her mouth shut as she hopes, but as a viewer, you always want that one person who’s not afraid to tell the other players where they can stuff it. Can she win? Unlikely, but I would not be surprised if she’s getting lambasted by the jury in the final episode.

Scott: The only thing I remember with Kimmi is that one 20-second clip that we all have seen a million times with her arguing about killing a chicken. How did she get voted back in this game? Was there a 2000 Florida hanging-chad situation her where people meant to vote for someone else? What’s done is done though, and we have accept this result and heal as a nation. Kimmi will either be the first person voted out this season, or will play the part of the hostage/mannequin; the person that basically gets taking through the game to the end against their will so to speak. The person that really has no say in any decision and is basically forced to vote the way the person that is dragging her all the way wants. I agree with Sarah that I could see Kimmi getting brought to the finals and getting “lambasted” and dressed down by a bitter jury. Like I said earlier, I see Kimmi either in the finals with no chance to win or the very first person voted out…We shall see.

Michel: Kimmi was one of the marvelous characters of the Australian Outback. I expect that it will be as much fun to reconnect with Kimmi as it was to see Gervase a few seasons ago. Because of Mike’s accident and the tribe’s demise after the merge, we didn’t see much of the alliance talks in Kucha. We surmised that Varner and Alicia were close, that they could count on Nick while Mike had Elizabeth and Rodger on his side. That left Kimmi as the outsider, explaining her early exit but I suspect there were many discussions that weren’t shown. In particular, I suspect Varner pushed for her elimination to deprive Mike of numbers.

That being said, I expect that Kimmi will have learned a thing or two since then and that she will do very well in this format and this tribe. I don’t know if she can go as far as Gervase, but I think she will make a deep run mostly because of her good nature. People won’t be expecting a strategic player but I expect she’ll have a trick or two up her sleeve.

Catherine: It pains me a little to write this one. I have two favourite characters in season 31. Kimmi is one of them (Kass is the other). I was a huge Kucha fan when watching The Australian Outback, and to see Kimmi return is amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t think my favourites are making the merge.

Everything that makes Kimmi a wonderful character is also what makes her a liability in the game. She’s loud. She has no filter. She’s naïve. She has strong principles, almost allowing her vegetarianism to lose immunity for her tribe. She was an underdog in her first season, unable to form an alliance with anyone in her tribe.

For those who like big characters, the good news is that judging by her pregame interviews, Kimmi doesn’t seem to have changed. For those who enjoy strong strategic play, the bad news is that Kimmi probably hasn’t changed. She’s out of her depth here, and I think her tribe will probably be so annoyed by her that she will be voted out early.

Her best hope is to join up with the other old schoolers, and try to ride out the game with them. That might help her make the merge, and if people have managed to put up with her for that long, they’ll probably drag her all the way to final three. But I cannot see a situation where she wins the game.

Dan: I really like the energy that Kimmi brings to this season because she’s much different than the typical Survivor player. There’s little subtlety to her personality, and I expect her game will be very similar. For this reason, it’s hard to determine how Kimmi will do. She’s unlikely to go first due to larger threats within her tribe. So much depends on who she connects with at the start. If Kimmi finds solid allies, she may stick around for a while and have a chance to make an impact. I’m hoping she does well, and it wouldn’t surprise me.

Kass McQuillen

Kass McQuillen, Cagayan

Kass McQuillen, Cagayan

Sarah: Back when Cagayan was airing, I was probably Kass’s biggest fan among the RHAP contributors, so it’s no surprise that I’m excited to see her again… but I’m not holding out a lot of hope this time around. While returner seasons tend to be less worried about physical ability, she’s on a tribe with both Tasha and Andrew Savage who are going to want to be winning challenges (yes, Kass is a top-notch puzzle person, but they’ve got Stephen for that.) She’s also incurably antagonistic… she’s not volatile, but her brand of passive aggression drives people crazy. Besides, as returning seasons are known for their tribe swaps, you have to be able to rely on your allies, and Kass has got an uphill battle if she wants to be seen as reliable within four episodes.

The biggest nail in the coffin for me came from remarks from those who are not getting their second chance to play, (particularly Shane). It seems that Kass pre-gamed aggressively. Candice’s intense pre-gaming was a factor in her immediate boot on Blood vs Water. We have to imagine that Kass has made herself a very easy first boot.

Every returnee season, we get an obvious target outlasting all our predictions, and I would be delighted if this were the case for Kass. However, I’m prepared to bid Chaos Kass farewell in the premiere episode, and I’m feeling pretty confident that she’ll still provide several memorable moments and confessionals in the time she has.

Scott: Kass….the Kasster….Kass-o-rama…welcome back. If you can’t tell, I’m really excited to have Kass back in my life again. Obviously it’s going to be tough for her as she has a humongous target on her back. She has people on her team that she directly had killed off the last time she played the game. The odds are stacked against her completely. With all that said, I want to believe that Kass can overcome all of that…not because I’m her biggest fan, but because I enjoy what she can bring to the game. There is no denying that Kass is intellectually smart in the ways of Survivor.

Having her in the game brings more entertainment then not having her in the game. You don’t want your big villain to be taking out in the first two weeks of the season by inferior opposition. You want Kass to go out like a James Bond villain. Wouldn’t it be cool if it came down to Spencer and Kass and it turns into the ending of The Man with the Golden Gun? That clip is how I want Kass to go out…and plus in that scenario Probst could play the part of the “little person” butler (I heard Probst wears lifts in his shoes anyways).

I think Kass has to get through the first two-three episodes. If she can, I think she then makes a deep run this season. On the flip side again, I think she will be targeted from minute one, and unfortunately that might mean that Kass might get the Drew Barrymore treatment in Scream and be the big star who gets taking out first.

Michel: I disagree with many of the audience’s choices for second chances but never more so than with Kass’ selection. She has proven to be untrustworthy, so I expect she will receive the same treatment that Candice experienced in the first Blood versus Water. Personally, I’d be happy to see her leave first. While the editors did show some of her good moments, we mostly saw an immature woman that simply wanted to create chaos and that couldn’t stand seeing the attention going to Sarah at the merge. She flipped the game mostly to spite Tasha even if it left her with no chance to win it. Of course, with so many seasons featuring returning players, she probably didn’t care about wasting her first opportunity because she knew she’d be back. It’s not as if Survivor is “the chance of a lifetime” anymore.

Catherine: I am, always have been, and always will be a fan of Kass. And so, I have had to steel myself for the inevitable this season. She’s going to be first out.

Kass’ self-interest and willingness to switch alliances was what made Cagayan wonderful. It was Kass that gave us a Tony win. It was Kass (with some assistance from Tony) that made the game so beautifully unpredictable. There’s no doubt about it, Chaos Kass makes great TV.

But Chaos Kass also makes a terrible alliance partner, and nobody in Cambodia wants to play with her. Nobody wants to invest in an alliance with her, only for her to flip and destroy their game. Her reputation is too big to overcome.

Not to be all Probsty here, but Kass is the one player that truly has zero percent chance to win this game. In fact, I will be shocked (but thrilled) if she even makes it to the first tribe swap.

Dan: It’s so easy to mark Kass as the first player voted out of Second Chances. Everyone is saying they’ll target her and can’t trust her. Why do I get the feeling she’ll still be around for a while? One reason is what happened in Cagayan. After she flipped to the other side, it seemed like she was doomed. Even so, Kass stuck around and would have made the finals if Woo had made the right choice. I don’t expect Kass to make it that far again this time. She’s more likely to make waves and exit before the merge. I’m thrilled to have her back and hope the ride lasts longer than most of us expect.

Keith Nale

Keith Nale, San Juan Del Sur

Keith Nale, San Juan Del Sur

Sarah: Keith! What can I say about Keith? He’s delightful! Will he win? It’s possible… he plans to play mostly the same game he did last time, and honestly, Keith has not got the resources to play differently and expect a better outcome. As it is, in this game, he’s the non-scheming, steadfast ally who will take orders — those qualities are in short supply on a returning player season. A majority alliance need never worry about him, while in a minority, he’d be the last to be picked off.

With luck playing such a large element for Keith, I find it hard to believe that he’ll get as far as he did last time, and harder still that the jury would reward him over another finalist, but there is perhaps no other player who I’m as confident of making the merge. And as somebody who enjoys watching Keith’s self-deprecating bemusement on screen, I say that’s a great thing.

Scott: The feel good story continues; we get round two of Keith. I agree with Sarah that Keith really does not have a huge bag of Survivor tools. He can’t really play a different, nuanced game. What you see is what you get with Keith, which is okay, in fact it can be a good thing in Survivor. Keith isn’t going to be a target early on and I think more people are going to want to work with Keith instead of trying to take out Keith.

I think that is what separates Keith from the majority of the cast; most people are going to look around them and not trust anybody, but when they see Keith, they are seeing somebody that they want to work with. Do I think Keith is going to win the game? No, but I think Keith is going to make it to the final five and probably end up in 4th or 5th place. For somebody with not a lot of tools in their belt I think fourth or fifth place is very respectable, and I wish Keith a lot of luck. A vote for Keith is a vote for America.

Michel: Here’s another waste of space. Keith simply isn’t smart enough to play this game. I don’t need to say any more than that.

Catherine: Keith is going to make it far in this game. Not because he’s any good at it. Not because he’s learnt from last time and is coming in armed with brilliant strategy. He’s going to go far because in this cast, Keith is the ultimate pawn.

Seriously, who doesn’t want to align themselves with Keith? He’s loyal. He’s strong enough in challenges not to be a liability, but not strong enough to be a threat either. Most importantly, Keith isn’t someone to be afraid of. He isn’t going to be sneaking around, strategizing behind anyone’s back.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Keith sitting at Final Tribal Council. However, I don’t think he has any chance of winning. These are all stars. Unless the jury is incredibly bitter, I don’t think they’ll vote for someone with Keith’s reputation. They won’t want to lose to such a naive player. He may have come dangerously close to winning San Juan Del Sur, but on Second Chances, Keith’s a goat.

Dan: Unlike Michel, I really enjoy what Keith brings to the game (high five Sarah!). He may not be a master strategist, but Survivor fun doesn’t just come from brilliant moves. There’s something endearing about the way Keith approaches the game. He just hangs around and watches the game happen while being amazed at everything. Judging by his pre-game interviews, I don’t expect Keith to change his play. In fact, I think he’ll make the end while others fight it out around him. That may not be enough to get the votes in this group, but Keith will make an impact and reward the fans for bringing him back.

Monica Padilla

Monica Padilla, Samoa

Monica Padilla, Samoa

Scott: Truth be told, while watching Monica’s video I had to go back and look up who she was. She is smoking hot, but it’s never a good look if you have to tell us over and over again that you’re the “pretty girl” and that you’re going to “redefine” the game of Survivor. Monica shares that her strategy this year will be to link up and control the “quirky people” from seasons past like she is Marlon Brando in The Island of Dr. Moreau.

I think she is overestimating her natural leadership abilities a little bit here. You would like to see somebody that is a little more humble considering she didn’t exactly light the Survivor world on fire the last time she played. My guess is that she winds up somewhere between 7th and 11th place this season. She’s not an awful player by any means but I don’t view her as a serious threat to win the game.

Michel: I found it quite surprising to see that Monica was voted by the fans for this second chance considering she had a very small role in Samoa. I remember writing that she was no more than a deckhand after that season’s first episode but then so was Natalie! Monica was a jovial character and despite her small role she had a very consistent edit. She was identified as a Club Med vacationer along with Laura and the other players that Shambo didn’t like. Monica was almost always the alternate target in Galu. What the editors didn’t really show was that she had found a nice niche in Laura’s alliance and that this alliance formed the majority in Galu. To most viewers, it seemed obvious that Monica was the one saved when the double TC was cancelled, but the after show interviews told us that Shambo was on her way out that night. In Aiga, Monica’s role increased and she eventually became a feisty player, managing to get under Hantz’s skin a few times.

From all this, we can assume that Monica will once again try to get in the majority alliance without making too much waves but Bacon is much more likely to be dominated by the men than TKO. If Andrew, Joe and Jeremy get together as I expect, then there may be very little room for Monica to maneuver. These guys would be more likely to form an alliance with Tasha who is much more physical and Kimmi who could get in the main alliance just because she is part of Survivor’s lore. Monica is one of the few cute young women on this cast but the viewers will probably not get much time to enjoy her bikini shots… but she should outlast Kass!

Catherine: Monica is someone who should do well. She should be underestimated. She should be able to Amber her way to a win. But I don’t think she will. Listening to all of Monica’s interviews, both during her campaign and pregame, has me worried. One name comes up again and again. She keeps reminding us (and everyone playing in Cambodia with her) that she played with Russell Hantz. I’m concerned that Monica learned how to play Survivor from Russell, and is going to come out and play way too hard, too fast. The Russell Hantz game doesn’t work for Russell, and it’s not going to work for Monica either.

She’s looking to align with the kooky, quirky people, with the assumption that she will be able to manipulate them. Perhaps she wants to replicate Russell’s relationship with Shambo. I’m not sure how wise this strategy is. If the rest of the tribe wants to boot the crazy people, then the smart player will go along with the majority.

Ultimately, I think this cast will quickly wise up to how sneaky Monica is. She’s not going to be able to fly under the radar. She’ll be too visible, and as she is a huge challenge liability, I think she’ll be an early boot.

Dan: I’m probably most surprised to see Monica in this cast out of the entire group. That said, I think she’s in a really good position on Bayon. The key approach for Monica is being sure she’s on the right side of the numbers. I’m not sure challenge performance will make a difference this season. Players want this so much and started playing back in May. I’m not sure what to make of Monica’s skills in playing the game. She did fine in Samoa but didn’t stand out too much to me. Given the way I expect this season to go, I think Monica will be around until at least the merge. By that point, it will depend on the bonds she’s made up to that point. Monica should be under the radar but can’t do nothing; she needs to be ready to go when the game changes.

Sarah: As somebody who had high hopes for Monica in her original season, I was delighted to vote for her second chance and at the beginning of summer, I was leaning towards picking her as my winner. Yet now I’ve realized… she’s doomed. Despite Monica’s intention of forming the alliances people wouldn’t expect, she is going to play exactly the sort of game they expect: sweet and sneaky. Everybody knows that the winner of the returnee season is always the pretty girl who shouldn’t be there. Always. That’s why they haven’t let it happen for the past three of them (Fun fact: the majority of returnee seasons have not been won by a young woman, but we still think of them first when predicting a winner.)

No matter what she does, I can’t see Monica lasting far into the jury. I’m inclined to agree with Michel;s assessment of her tribe. If Kass is first out, I would fully expect Monica to be second.

Andrew Savage

Andrew Savage, Pearl Islands

Andrew Savage, Pearl Islands

Scott: I totally forget everything from this season. I just remember Savage looking like a day-time soap opera bad guy. Like the guy that knows you have a long-lost twin who has amnesia but he is keeping the secret from you. Savage is 51 years old now, so his heartthrob days are maybe behind him. I think Savage is pretty likable. The fact that he was voted back into the game by the fans has to speak to his popularity. I think Savage will still be a very competitive physical player in this game, but the question will be whether he can navigate the social aspects of this game in 2015. In the best-case scenario, he can make a deep run in this game. In the worst-case scenario, a bad-guy-Lance Armstrong-ish vibe will make him an early target. I think it will be the former and Andrew will make a deep run this season.

Michel: After being the main casualty of the Outcast twist, Savage certainly deserved this second chance. Many will say that it should have happened sooner, but Savage was a very polarizing figure in Morgan. Many viewed him as a villain even if he was simply trying to lead his tribe against the juggernaut that was called Drake. His approach with Skinny Ryan and Lill was judged hypocritical by many, but he was under very difficult conditions. Those two were obviously less adept in physical competitions than Osten and Darrah even if the latter pair grew disenchanted with being on the island. With the help of Burton’s idiotic plan, Savage managed to get his tribe to the merge with even numbers. That’s when his treatment of Lil came back to bite him.

What will he do with his second chance? I expect that he will once more go for an alliance that includes the most physical players and his plan should be facilitated by being teamed up with Jeremy, and Joe. Savage won’t have the burden of assuming leadership because those two used a very collegial approach to the game. Joe even shares his experience of being in a tribe that fell behind early.

Catherine: I re-watched Pearl Islands recently, and one of the biggest impressions that I was left with was that Andrew Savage is just not a good Survivor player. And he should be. He looks like he was built in a Survivor factory. He’s strong. He’s successful. He’s intelligent. He’s charismatic. But he’s still just not very good.

Perhaps his game has changed. Perhaps he won’t put himself in a leadership role, making himself such an obvious target at the merge. Perhaps he’ll be willing to work with anyone in the game, whether they are in his alliance or not. Perhaps.

The most intriguing thing to me is that he repeatedly brings up the possibility of the Outcast twist returning to the game for the first time since season seven. In fact, Savage seems to be actively playing with the assumption that it will, mentioning how careful he will be with the pre-jury vote outs. While it is good to be prepared for anything, I do think that he needs to be careful his paranoia here doesn’t get the better of him.

He does seem to have some obvious alliances here. He has worked with Shirin, and the two of them would make a great alliance. He and Terry seem quite similar, but ultimately, I think that they both bring quite similar things to the show — and although they may try to build an alliance, they are both such strong leaders that they will butt heads. In the battle of the alphas, I think Terry will come out on top, with Savage getting voted out at the merge.

Dan: Savage’s interview with Rob during the campaign was one of the most interesting. While many truly want to play again, it feels different for him. I get the impression that Savage has spent a lot of time wondering how different his life would be without the Outcasts twist. The question is how it will impact his game this time. I agree with Michel about where Savage will try to align. He should connect with the physical players. Will he be able to connect with the others? Savage preferred to lead from the front in Pearl Islands, but he’s much older. Can he set aside his ego and let others take charge? If he can, I can see a bright future for Savage. If not, he better hope that others want to work with him. I’m intrigued to see what will happen.

Sarah: Perhaps more than anybody else, Savage is desperate to put the ghosts of his past game behind him. It was hardly his fault that right at the start of Pearl Islands, Drake was given an insurmountable advantage in the form of Sandra’s ability to speak Spanish and set them up with everything they needed for survival — and everything Andrew’s Morgan tribe lacked. Yet it’s not like Andrew didn’t make his own share of mistakes…favoring strength over all else didn’t work out when it came to Osten, though at least I don’t expect any of Bayon to quit. Still, with his talk of integrity and aligning only with people he can trust, I am not convinced Andrew’s really capable of playing Survivor.

Even worse, other players are anticipating his strategy. When it comes to predicting the fates of Bayon, I’ve assumed many people will be the victims of Andrew’s strong alliance. He, Tasha, Jeremy and Joe are all such a good fit for each others’ strategies, they’re a really easy alliance. But they are only four; if the other six align with each other out of necessity, then Andrew will almost certainly be their target. On the other hand, with four, they can take out Kass as an easy first boot, and then they only need to get one person for their majority. Either Kimmi or Keith should be an easy enough add-on.

I’m inclined to think Andrew will be successful in the power struggle at Bayon. I think his true difficulty will be in keeping the morale up. There aren’t many people in that tribe with a track record of winning team challenges, but there are a lot of people who will butt heads over the best challenge strategy — and they’re all in that “easy” alliance of four. If history repeats itself, how will Andrew bear up under the pressure? If he can keep a cool head, and adapt, he could go far…. I’m not betting on it.

Vytas Baskauskas

Vytas Baskauskas, Blood vs. Water

Vytas Baskauskas, Blood vs. Water

Scott: Everybody’s favorite black-sheep brother returns for round two. I constantly go back and forth on Vytas. One moment, I’m down with him, ride to die with him and then in another moment he comes off as entitled and kind of whiny and it makes me root against him. I think we will see one of those two personalities emerge more this season. The question is which one?

I could totally see him showing up in all black with a tooth pick in his mouth with a Hans Gruber in Die Hard vibe and completely play the villain this season. I think Vytas as the villain is more entertaining anyways. I think with a cast of all veterans, the villains aren’t targeted as much then they would be in a season with newbies. I look for Vytas to be in the middle of the pack this year, nothing special.

Michel: In his first season, Vytas was a very good narrator, one that talked with a lot of confidence, showing that he felt he was a superior player. Another thing we learned from Vytas in Blood versus Water was that he was part of a pre-season alliance with his brother, Gervase, Tina, and her daughter. He relied too much on that alliance, but this fan favorite will likely want to have a working relation entering his second chance season. He didn’t hesitate to let Brad assume leadership of Tadhana and he was part of the ex-football player’s all-male alliance. With that in mind and considering that Aras was close to Terry, we can expect that Vytas will be Terry’s new Dan, helping the former fighter pilot assume the tribe’s leadership. That should alarm the women of the tribe and should enable them to flip the game on these two.

Catherine: I’m going to add a disclaimer here. I don’t enjoy watching Vytas. Sorry. He is actually the only player this season that I am actively rooting against. That being said, I think that it makes sense for the other players to vote Vytas out early. He has shown himself to be untrustworthy in the past, and he doesn’t have any particular value in the challenges. He won’t be able to use his reformed bad boy shtick to impress anyone on this cast. More importantly, he has connections on the cast. Vytas and Ciera are a dangerous pair, just waiting to happen, and both Terry wants to work with Vytas too. Socially, he’s a threat. And then there’s also the fact that in Dalton Ross’ video, his name was brought up several times as a candidate for first boot.

Of course, this could very well be wishful thinking on my part. Perhaps he’s the winner. But if I had to bet one way or another, I think Vytas is a strong candidate for a pre-merge boot.

Dan: It’s rare for me to like a player less after I hear them on the podcast, but that was the case with Vytas. He seemed fairly humble in his Survivor appearance but has been pretty arrogant ever since. This may be a case where a contestant believes the hype too much. I didn’t vote for him but am intrigued to see how Vytas does. He won’t sneak up on anyone and is considered dangerous by many players. Even so, I think that Vytas will find a way to do well. He’s certainly made pre-game alliances and isn’t the obvious first target.

Sarah: In EW’s little first target video, the name that was brought up the most frequently was far and away Kass. But trailing in a distant second place was Vytas. Kass was one of the people who named him, so he has no worries there, but the other three were his tribe mates Shirin, Peih Gee, and Spencer. Ta Keo is destined for a power struggle with their first vote, and while it’s hard to tell who will come out on top, Vytas stands to be a casualty.

In the event that he does survive it, he’ll run into trouble again when they swap tribes. Vytas did a really good job smooth-talking everybody in his original season (aided in part by his association with white sheep, Aras), but he can’t fool people again, and the truth is he’s too damned obvious. He makes some excellent, insightful points in his interviews, but he’s going to be in a lot of trouble if he’s looking on his tribe for pawns. Kelly Wiglesworth might seem easy pickings to him, but I’m thinking Kelly will only play along so far. I don’t think Vytas has a prayer.

Spencer Bledsoe

Spencer Bledsoe, Cagayan

Spencer Bledsoe, Cagayan

Scott: Boy Wonder returns. Spencer had a good run his first season and definitely deserves another shot this season. From what I’ve seen so far, the problem may be that he already has a big target on his back because the other players know he is a threat. With every season of Survivor, so much of it can depend on the luck of the draw or the luck of the team. Spencer needs to hit the island and get involved in a majority alliance from day one minute one. I think if he is able to get himself through the first 4-5 votes unscathed, that then he will emerge as one of the favorites to win this season. To summarize, I think Spencer is one of the first five to go or will be in the top three and have a real good chance to win this season.

Michel: This young man had a stellar edit in Cagayan, one of the few members of the Brains’ tribe that was shown to be smart. Despite a terrible start to the game, he never gave up and found himself in a great position after an advantageous swap and a well-timed merge. That’s when Kass threw it all away so we can expect that he will not trust her this time if an early swap brings them together. Another player that he should target will be Woo, not that he will see him as a threat but simply because he skated his way through their first confrontation.

Two things we know from Spencer is that he is a fan of the show and that he likes the strategic aspect of the game. Granted, some of the end game strategy in Cagayan was attributed to Spencer even if some of the ideas came from Tony (like the threat of a women’s alliance). But Spencer is a smart guy so he will likely have formed some alliances. He isn’t a very athletic guy so he is unlikely to bond with Terry. I expect to see him working with the women of his tribe just like he did in Luzon after Garrett showed that he was an idiot. An alliance with Kelley Wentworth seems destined to happen since both were betrayed by early allies. Like him, Peih-Gee lost many early tribal challenges so that should also contribute to their bond. They will want to take charge from the start this time.

Catherine: Spencer obviously comes into this game with a huge target on his back. Given such a heroic edit in Cagayan, his fan favourite status, his reputation as a formidable challenge competitor, and the fact that there are four returnees from his season, anyone looking to eliminate the big threats from the game should have Spencer at the top of their hit list.

In his interviews, he talks about trying to play up his super fan status, inflating the egos of the other players in the hope that they will want to keep him around. Unfortunately, I think Shirin has gone in with a very similar plan, and Shirin enters the game without any of the baggage that will hinder Spencer.

Spencer’s best hope is that some of the other players will want to use him as a shield in much the same way that Tony Vlachos did in season 28. He might get lucky and be kept around for that reason. That’s a dangerous strategy, especially with someone like Spencer, who has proven that he can win immunities. If he is allowed to get close to the final three, he’ll win.

I honestly hope that Spencer gets a third chance. Because it hasn’t been long enough since his season for people to forget what a character he was. He’s considered too dangerous, and should be an early boot, perhaps even first off.

Dan: It’s going to be intriguing to see if Spencer can outrun his fan favorite status and not get taken down like Rob Cesternino. The odds are stacked against him like Catherine mentions; having four Cagayan players makes him even more dangerous. Spencer needs strong allies, and he can’t fall into the Aras trap of trusting his pre-game alliances too much. People will be gunning for Spencer, especially a crafty guy like Jeff Varner.

The chance for Spencer might come if he’s able to really bond with fans like Shirin and Kelley. He also must distance himself from Woo and try to connect with old-school players like Terry and Kelly. Spencer has his work cut out for him, and a few early challenge wins may be crucial. I’m not as certain that he’ll be gone early. Spencer has shown an ability to dodge tough circumstances in the past. Whether those talents will be enough is the big question.

Sarah: My advice to Spencer fans is to take each episode as it comes and cherish every moment. I don’t see a single point in the game at which he won’t be a target. He’ll be assumed to be the ringleader if not the lynchpin of his alliance, so he’ll be the target in every power struggle. Every time his alliance secures the numbers, they will consider if now is the time to get rid of Spencer before he can go on an immunity run (it seems unlikely against this competition, but well… Cagayan speaks for itself.)

On the plus side, if he gets to the end, he’ll win hands down. But can he get to the end? The youngest player this season by a wide margin, I don’t think Spencer’s got the social game to get himself under the radar. Players like him, and respect him, but he’ll always be the young lad who’s both taking their screen time and is a major threat. It might be easier for Spencer to make a few enemies, but ultimately, I think Dan was on the money with the Rob Cesternino comparison. With a bit of luck, he’s going to have time to enjoy being in a majority alliance, but they’re never going to include him in their endgame plans.

Terry Dietz

Terry Dietz, Panama

Terry Dietz, Panama

Michel: In Panama, Terry was a huge character right from the start. In episode one, we saw him win the reward challenge for the older men’s tribe. He then took the map from Jiffy and quickly assumed leadership. He made sure that his tribe was well organized and he built a big fire on the beach, hoping it would be seen from the other islands in order to get an edge over his competitors. From day one, he was a doer, an active player that wanted to get the job done. His challenge and survivalist abilities rivaled the best we’ve ever seen. Austin even commented that the tribe was lost and couldn’t do a thing when their leader was on Exile Island.

His social game was extremely questionable, however. The editors didn’t help him though, starting in episode 4 where we heard Nick and Dan criticizing his decision to keep Sally over Ruth-Marie. After the merge, the scenes where he argued with Cirie and Aras rarely favored him in most of the viewers’ minds. Despite this, we have to note that he would have easily won the jury vote over both Danielle and Aras. Speaking of Aras, it will be interesting to see the dynamics between Terry and Vytas. A pre-game alliance is to be expected since there was a lot of respect between Aras and Terry after all was said and done.

Even if he is now well over 50, Terry is still in great shape and he will want to be the tribe’s leader. He doesn’t really have a male rival for that position in TKO. The women could give him problems, and his “Boys’ Club” mentality in Panama could come back to bite him. His early edit will give us an idea whether Terry will be a long-term player or not. If he is successful, he will be quite visible again and we may even see the game from his perspective. If he is an early casualty, then I expect some kind of “hero’s send off” where we will see him as a victim of circumstances, bitter rivals ganging up on him. If he isn’t featured a lot, then it will be very interesting to figure out the reason for that editing choice.

Catherine: I don’t know why, but I’m excited to see Terry again. It is probably just my love for Panama, but I was really excited to see Terry announced as part of the cast for season 31, and his pregame interviews, with his promises to play a different, less straightforward game, have piqued my interest even more.

It is difficult to judge Terry’s game in Panama. In addition to an incredible five individual immunity wins, Terry also had possession of an overpowered immunity idol. It was impossible for him to be blindsided, and Terry was safe until the final three. He never had to fight for his game, as he was never in any danger of being voted out. I’m always critical of his inability to play the social game, yet I am reminded that he never really had to — he was still only one immunity win away from the million dollars.

It is 18 seasons later now, and Terry is obviously older. He insists that he is still physically fit, but we’ll have to wait and see if he can uphold his reputation. The challenges are different now. Although Terry might be fast and strong, in modern Survivor you need different skills. Throwing things. Memory. Slide puzzles. Skills that Captain America might not have in his arsenal. I hope I’m wrong, but I expect that Terry will fall short again, and be voted out after the merge.

Dan: It’s impressive that Terry’s still well-known as a challenge beast 19 seasons after his first appearance. Despite being an older guy, others may still worry about those skills. Terry needs to downplay them and work to establish bonds right from the start. Like Savage, I get the sense that Terry wants this so much and has been thinking about his game for years. That could drive him to succeed or push Terry to get too cute right from the start. He isn’t the more likely first target on a tribe with Spencer and Abi-Maria. However, anything could happen when you consider pre-game alliances and bonds among different age groups.

I’m thrilled to see Terry get another chance to play Survivor. I was pulling for him in Panama and remain surprised by how much people attack his game. It was a very different era, and even Cirie wasn’t perfect strategically in her first effort in Panama. Terry does need to be careful not to show the arrogance of his first game. He has a big ego (heck, he flew jets!), so staying in the background is wise. Like Catherine, I expect Terry to make the merge and be a factor.

Sarah: Whatever his intentions, Terry does not have a reputation for being a strategist. Most of the players are going to look at Terry and think “figurehead.” They’ll want to set him up as the leader of their alliance while they do their maneuvering behind the scenes. While a power struggle could put Terry on the wrong side of the numbers, I think throughout the pre-merge, most players will be willing to welcome him on board, trusting that the oldest player out there will not be an immunity threat in the post-merge. (Personally, I wouldn’t count him out.)

What Terry’s got going against him is his military outlook. Last time, things got painful once it was down to him and the free-spirited Casaya six. If the others are happy to pander to his mental hierarchy, it won’t be a problem. If not, can Terry get over his biases and take on board the opinions of yogis, ninjas, jewellery makers, Survivor geeks and Abi-Maria without criticizing their lifestyles?

His flawed social game could benefit him if it becomes a reason not to vote him off before the finals — though only if he can keep the jury’s respect. Perhaps an immunity run would be the best solution after all. Terry could become the next Mike Holloway, but he could also be the next Mike Skupin.

Scott: It’s cool that I don’t remember Terry at all right? Right now I’m trying to kill time here because all the other writers did such a good job with their insight and here I am like a complete jerk not even remembering this guy. He’s a pilot, right? I’m wired to think that anybody who is a pilot has to be intelligent as well as well versed in giving updates about their surroundings, where we were going, the temperature, etc. I have no clue how to anticipate how this guy is going to perform this season. Does he have the look of someone that is going to win the game? Not particularly. Since I have no clue, I am going to play it safe and say he comes in eighth place….smack in the middle. That kind of analysis is what you pay for here, so you’re welcome.

Abi-Maria Gomes, Philippines

Abi-Maria Gomes, Philippines

Abi-Maria Gomes

Michel: When Philippines began, Abi-Maria immediately looked like she was heading the wrong way. Feisty and loud, Abi wasn’t a fan favorite and her feud with RC may very well have cost her alliance a chance to win the game. Being given a second chance, we will see if she has learned anything. If she did, then she will tone it down and that could be very telling: If she is still featured, then that will tell us she is a long-term player. A quieter Abi-Maria will likely be ignored if she doesn’t last very long. If she continues to irritate the others, it’s doubtful she will last as long as the first time because she never demonstrated any loyalty to her tribe.

Catherine: Love her or hate her, Abi-Maria undoubtedly makes for entertaining television, and so I am looking forward to seeing her wreak havoc in season 31. She’s one of the more outlandish villains we have seen in recent years, and she deserved a chance to return.

But as entertaining as she is, she doesn’t bring any strategic acumen to the game. Her game in the Philippines went from one chaotic mistake to the next. She had a strong alliance on a strong tribe. She made it to the merge without attending Tribal Council at all. And then her game started to unravel. She turned against her original ally RC. Skupin and Lisa, originally part of Abi’s tribe, turned against her. She found herself playing the game without allies, and instead of attempting to ingratiate herself with the other players, Abi resorted to calling them all morons and idiots.

Abi doesn’t have it in her to win Survivor. The best thing about Abi is that she is not in any way threatening, and perhaps a stronger player will take her along for the ride. Any potential allies should beware though — Abi is a strong woman, and she prefers to be in the driving seat. She’s not just going to be a loyal follower. She’ll play her own game.

Dan: It’s funny to think back about how much I felt bad for RC in the Philippines. It seemed like Abi was being mean and nasty to her fellow tribe member. After seeing a lot more from both, my feelings have changed a lot. I’m concerned that Abi will just try to be good TV, and that rarely works. Returning players have less patience for that approach. Of course, there’s always a chance others will want to keep her around. While part of me expects Abi to go early, I think she’s going to surprise the doubters. Others should watch out for her.

Sarah: Wouldn’t it be fantastic if Abi could live up to her pre-game talk and become this full on sassy mastermind? Not going to happen, but it’s going to be fun watching her try. Abi-Maria should have goat written all over her, and I think a lot of players will have their eye on her accordingly, but… they might find she’s more of a handful than they expected. If she could drive Denise crazy, she’s bound to butt heads with the more outspoken people on her tribe, like Terry and Peih Gee. Like in the Philippines, I think Abi will find her niche early on, but I have my suspicions that her allies will come to the conclusion that she’s too much of a loose cannon and cut her loose early. I don’t think she’s improving on her previous finish.

That said, I am totally behind the Woobi alliance. Throw in Shirin and Peih Gee, and make it Phoebe Woobi Oskooi — which at the very least should rate an appearance in a galaxy far, far away…

Scott: Let’s get this out of the way first, Abi has literally no chance to win this game. Her sole purpose to play the part of the most transparent villain possible. She should just say screw it and show up wearing a Charlize Theron mask from Monster and just freak everybody out. You can’t tell me that everybody would be so freaked out that they would never dare go against her. Short of that happening, I think Abi lacks any tact to play a winning brand of Survivor. I mean sure she can be entertaining to watch like a bull in a china shop, but it’s not like any of us would bet our houses on her winning the game.

She would need to dramatically change her style from last time, which I’m not sure she is capable of doing. Her chances hinge on her linking up with some people that want to roll with her in the game. I guess that’s not really out of the realm of possibility, I just don’t see her being able to play nice, which I think this time around will get old faster than it did the last time she played the game. My money is on her not making it to jury.

Woo Hwang

Woo, Cagayan

Woo Hwang, Cagayan

Michel: From the start of Cagayan, Woo wasn’t shown as a smart player. He had very little presence in the premiere, and all we learned from him was that he knew Cliff and that he was a fan of the basketball player. He then told us that his first mission failed and became the main theme of his season story. Later, he agreed to throw a challenge to get rid of the NBA player but then proceeded to do his best in that competition. Despite knowing that most members of his tribe were against Cliff, he was still caught completely off guard when they voted him out. Simply put, Woo was almost always out of the loop.

He is a player with good physical skills that won’t cause waves in his tribe, so he may very well have a good chance to stay a while. But it’s very unlikely that his second chance will get him as far as his first.  He isn’t a Survivor player; he is simply a happy camper. Since Woo completely wasted his first chance, I find it almost unbelievable that he was given a second one. But this isn’t a thread meant to complain about the fans’ picks. (If it was, then I would have so much more to say!)

Catherine: So, Woo is going to play Survivor again. And I’m sure he’ll have a fun time and perhaps give us a few amusing confessionals. Beyond that, I don’t see what else Woo has to offer.

He starts the game in a pretty great spot. He’s physically fit, but nobody is going to be looking at Woo as a threat to win the game. In fact, he’s demonstrated that he will be completely loyal to an alliance, and that loyalty is more important to him than the million dollars. In season 28, Woo showed that his preferred playing style is to take direction from a stronger male player (first Cliff Robinson and then Tony). I expect Woo to attempt a similar strategy, and the other members of Ta Keo should be desperate to fill that role.

Perhaps I am completely underestimating Woo, but I don’t think he is involved in any pre-game alliances. He didn’t campaign. He might say that he now regrets taking Tony to the end in season 28, but I think if he had the chance to go back, Woo would still do the honourable thing.

He’s a nice guy, fun to watch, but I don’t see a situation where these players are going to vote for Woo as the winner. Even if this time he is sitting next to Kass. As Rob Cesternino would say “you put what’s good for others before what’s good for you. Unfortunately, that makes you a really terrible Survivor player”.

Dan: I didn’t vote for Woo to return, but I’m not surprised that it happened. He wasn’t considered a threat by the other Cagayan players, and he proved them right by making a bad choice in the end. It’s crazy to think how close Woo was to winning, though. Some may have called him a “weasel”, but they nearly let him take the game. Woo doesn’t seem like a threat, but there are three other Cagayan players. An easy way for Spencer to prove he isn’t part of that group is to target Woo first. This scenario could make this a quick trip for Woo. The question is whether thinkers like Varner and Stephen will try to align with Woo as an easy number. This could make him a very important player, even if he’s mostly serving others’ ends.

Sarah: Right before I took my turn writing this, Inside Survivor revealed the backstory behind the Weasel Woo nickname. Putting Woo’s game into this context, his “honorable” move was probably a last stab at redemption — not to mention, he was as much a goat as Kass. For this game, however, it’s likely to be water under the bridge, so we should assume that Woo might, after all, be willing to go more cutthroat, but more importantly, that he can’t expect to be carried to the end.

As a shameless Woo voter, I am delighted to see that Woo has lost neither his enthusiasm nor his naiveté. Considering all the big schemers this season, there’s no reason to vote Woo out. Theoretically, he’s a challenge threat, but he only won two immunities, and the other three Cagayan players all beat him at different times. That leaves him as an asset in tribal challenges and cheerful company. He’ll be picked up by somebody as an extra vote, but I don’t see him winning. He’s not got the respect from his peers as a player and if he does play a more cut-throat game this time around, I doubt he’s got the savvy to do more than maneuver himself into a premature exit.

Scott: It’s been a brutal week or two for Woo has found himself in a massive smear campaign. “The Weasel” might be facing an uphill battle from the start this season as it appears most of the other players are on to him. I mean it’s not like he is playing with a bunch of nuns, so maybe this dirty laundry won’t mean anything, but it just seems like there is some bad karma headed Woo’s way this time around. I also think Woo lacks the cerebral game that separates the good from the great Survivor players. Woo to me seems like a pawn that great players use till they are no longer needed and then get rid of. Woo is like the Sham Wow for whoever is going to take him on as a partner in the game as he has tools you would want but he is limited as a player. I see Woo ending up somewhere between 7th and 11th this season.

Peih-Gee Law, China

Peih-Gee Law, China

Peih-Gee Law

Michel: She was an endearing character in one of my favorite seasons. From the start, we saw that she was in a failing tribe and that it would be a tough battle for her but she tried very hard to make it work. In time, she assumed the leadership of her tribe even if Crazy Dave wanted to be the one doing everything and that the three Christians (Sherea, Jaime and Erik) formed an important voting bloc. For someone that could have been the first player voted out, she certainly played proactively and almost flipped the game. Even when her attempts failed, she continued to fight and was the last Zhan Hu member standing. Peih-Gee deserves a second chance and it will be interesting to see how she uses it.

I am particularly interested in seeing how she interacts with Terry. This time, she isn’t confronted with a dumb leader but will certainly feel uneasy if he takes charge. I expect that the women of TKO, led by Peih-Gee and the two Kell(e)ys, will form the main alliance with Varner and Spencer (who also fought hard in a losing tribe) giving them numbers. If Peih-Gee is the winner, it should be an editor’s dream because she will certainly provide great comments.

Catherine: As Peih-Gee has correctly pointed out in her pregame interviews, she is in a very average spot this season — and that is exactly where she wants to be. At 37, she is close to the average age (which is 35) and as she is from season 15 (China), she doesn’t belong to either the ‘new school’ or the ‘old school’ groups. She doesn’t come in with a reputation as a challenge beast, but then again, she’s no slouch either, having won individual immunity twice in her original season. She’s also not coming in with a reputation for being overly strategic and cutthroat, despite being partially responsible for perhaps the most cutthroat move of China when she threw a challenge to vote out Aaron Reisberger.

Peih-Gee has everything on her side going into this game. She is set up to play under the radar, to float through until she needs to make a move. Unfortunately for her, this is just not the way that Peih-Gee plays. She’s an alpha, a leader who likes to be in control. She wasn’t able to control her temper in her original season, and ended up being unable to get the numbers on her side. Literally the only person that can destroy Peih-Gee’s game is herself. I hope she can see this, because if she can, she might be in an average position, but she will find that she is in the perfect position to win.

Dan: I don’t agree with Jeff Probst that Peih-Gee has 0% chance to win the game. In fact, I think she’s a potential surprise in the Takeo tribe. Her strength and confidence might be an asset for those who desperately need allies (i.e., Stephen). I’m thrilled to see Peih-Gee get the chance to play again. Strong women in their 30s aren’t the typical character types on Survivor. We have several great ones this season, and Peih-Gee may have the best chance to do well. I’m pulling for her and would place her on the short list of potential winners.

Sarah: Chalk me up as another person optimistic for Peih Gee,-for many of the reasons Catherine stated, but probably also for the same reason that Jeff thinks she can’t win. Yes, pre-game buzz from Jeff and the other players is dismal, but there are bigger fish to fry than Peih-Gee for a first vote, and going by China, as people get used to her, they start liking her more.

That’s the thing about Peih-Gee… she’s hot tempered, and although she said she’s going to try and rein that in a bit, I don’t think she can nor should. If I recall correctly, although China played up the rivalry between her and James, those two were also good friends with a lot of respect for each other. Most of China’s cast respected Peih-Gee, no matter how prickly they found her. She was smart, determined, and although she lost her cool under pressure, she never cracked.

As with Terry, this could go both ways for Peih-Gee. She could antagonise everybody and leave herself with no shot of winning…or she could be erroneously perceived as safe competition in the finals. Jeff’s been proven wrong before, and I’m hoping he will be again.

Scott: I don’t remember her; just skip my prediction for her as I honestly either completely blocked her out of mind or the eight years of boxing and constant punches to the head is starting to emerge as a problem. I have nothing to add here, other then I don’t see her as a Survivor winner. My first impression of her here makes me think she will be a part of the first-five-voted-out group, but then again I don’t remember her so probably don’t listen to me. In fact, let’s both pretend this never happened…..please.

Shirin Oskooi, Worlds Apart

Shirin Oskooi, Worlds Apart

Shirin Oskooi

Catherine: Shirin went into Worlds Apart as a giddy super fan; star-struck and over-excited. She managed to irritate nearly every single one of her tribemates — between gleefully strategizing with fellow Survivor fan and second-chance candidate Max Dawson, graphically describing monkey sex, and just being generally eccentric — but in doing so, she endeared herself to many viewers. To have an impact on Second Chances, Shirin is going to have to play a different social game. She’ll have to understand how she alienated her tribemates last season, and avoid the same mistakes. She’ll have to sit back, and let people come to her. She’ll have to keep her inner Survivor nerd in check, even though she is playing the game with people that she once idolized.

A tough ask. But she is playing with people that want to play with her. This cast, much more than the season 30 cast, aren’t going to mind Shirin’s fixation with Survivor. After all, the show has been an important part of their lives too. She seems to have been active in the pre-gaming stage and has built some trust amongst the cast. Nobody seems to view Shirin as a threat. There’s been no talk of targeting Shirin early. If she can fly under the radar pre-merge, I view Shirin as a threat to win the game.

Dan: I like Shirin and don’t mind having her back so quickly. Like Catherine says, Shirin needs to chill and just sit back in the early stages. No one is talking about her, and that’s great news. The last thing you want is to be the big fish that people want to topple. Just ask Richard Hatch or Rob Cesternino. The comparison I’d make with Shirin returning is Cochran in the Caramoan. He didn’t come off as a threat and watched as others battled for supremacy. Shirin needs a few strong allies and must stick with the numbers, but she’ll coast at the start. She could still annoy this group and needs to avoid getting embroiled in any petty conflicts with trouble makers like Abi-Maria or Jeff. I see good things for Shirin and believe she’ll do well.

Sarah: It’s tough to pin down Shirin’s odds in this game. Even toned down, I suspect Shirin’s high energy demeanor will exhaust her tribe mates on a daily basis…but she earned a fair amount of respect for who she is as a person in her season, without getting a reputation for being dangerous. I predict there will be a number of players who have Shirin pegged as somebody who could be a good ally and beatable at the end. We know Shirin’s smart — listen to any of her interviews, and you’ll find something insightful. She’s also got an emotional maturity to her: it’s easy to remember her choice not to forgive Will, but don’t forget her honest talk with Hali after Max’s boot, and how she proceeded to forge bonds with the same people who had told her she was annoying.

Of course, she could go on a social crusade early on, scorching earth rather than falling in line, and becoming an early boot. But we have to remember that the previous returnee season was won by a guy who was considered too abrasive, too whimsical to win over a jury. Shirin isn’t my favourite to win, but her unpredictability in the game is what makes her chances so good.

Scott: Let’s be honest…Will took things wayyyyyyyyy to far last season with Shirin. With that said, she is annoying. It’s tough to put your finger on it…Some people just have an annoying face and Shirin has that. Look am I proud of this opinion? No…but I’m just being honest. I feel like every time she speaks, the other players look at her like she’s Elaine Benes after watching her dance.

I just think no matter what she does or says, she will lack the respect of the other players to truly be a threat to win the game. I think she can tread water long enough to at least make it to the jury. Once you make it to that point in the game, all you need is a few things to go your way and bam you’re in the finals. She’s not going to win the game, but I could definitely see Shirin deep in the game.

Michel: For a player that didn’t have much impact on the game, Shirin certainly had a rich edit in Worlds Apart. At the start, she looked a lot like a dumb player, especially when she spent more time observing the monkeys mating instead of her tribe’s dynamics. She did connect nicely with Max but alienated all the others. Many said she was placed in the wrong tribe, thinking she should have been in the No Collar tribe from the start, but that neglects the fact that even the laid-back members of Nagarote didn’t connect with her at first. She would have been voted out next if the merger hadn’t momentarily saved her. That’s when her edit changed and her redemption arc endeared her to many fans.

Since she proved that she is loyal, Shirin shouldn’t be an immediate target if the Takeo tribe goes against Terry’s leadership. If not, then she would become an immediate target for Terry who should clearly remember the problems that his season’s super fan created for him.

Jeff Varner, Australia

Jeff Varner, Australia

Jeff Varner

Catherine: I’ve been watching all the pregame videos. There is one thing that I am absolutely certain about this season, and that is that Jeff Varner is going to make amazing television. Is he going to make an amazing Survivor player? I’m not sure.

The things that Jeff has in his favour are the very things that could lead to an early exit from the game. Firstly, he’s playing hard, and he’s been playing hard for months. He’s had to solidly campaign for fan votes, while at the same time setting himself up with several pregame alliances. At the moment, everyone at the TaKeo tribe thinks they are going to be working with him. Secondly, he is hungry for the money and will do whatever is necessary to get himself to the end.

Unfortunately, his desire to win the game and his relentless pre-gaming is completely transparent, both to the audience and the other players. Although I hope Jeff can fool them all, in all likelihood it won’t take this group long before they realize that Jeff isn’t someone to be trusted. Hopefully, we still see plenty of the snarky Jeff that we saw in Australian Outback, but now that Jeff is older, and hopefully wiser, he might play with some more humility. He’s definitely a player to watch.

Dan: I’m thrilled to have Jeff Varner back on Survivor. He’s such a great character and is putting so much effort into taking advantage of his second chance. I love his enthusiasm for the process and agree with Catherine that he’ll be amazing TV. There are a lot of warning signs about Jeff, however. He’s been open about pre-game alliances in his videos, and having those bonds could serve him well. It could also lead to a quick exit.

Others have talked about how much Jeff wants it, and he made that clear in the campaigning period. I desperately hope that my suspicions about the end result for Jeff are wrong. If he surpasses my expectations, we’re in for a real treat. However, I would not be shocked if Jeff is the first boot. He needs to hope that his legwork pays off and leads to real control from the start. Once the twists start happening, he could find himself in a good positon. I’m not convinced he’ll make it that far, however.

Sarah: I will agree with Dan that there’s a definite possibility that Jeff could be a first boot. I hope it won’t happen, if only because I’d love to see all the pre-jurors make it to the jury this time, but he’s definitely been playing hard. Shirin has tweeted that the now-infamous pre-game alliance video is misleading, so I don’t think we should necessarily fear Jeff’s tribe mates comparing notes, but even if his pre-gaming has gone un-noticed, the body-language book he’s been reading won’t have been. Finally, as he explained to Josh Wigler, his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease has not handled Cambodia’s climate well, and I doubt he’ll be able to keep that under wraps through the first challenge.

But Jeff’s reputation is the goofball more so than the schemer; there’s a tendency to assume that these old-school players can’t cut it in today’s fast-paced game and returnees are less likely to factor in challenge strength when voting. I think Ta Keo’s first vote will be all about a power struggle. Jeff should be shielded behind the bigger targets of Vytas or Spencer, and while I doubt his pre-chosen alliances will pan out as he hoped, I think he’s an appealing enough ally that he’ll have an entry into whichever side dominates.

In the end, my main concern (med-evac aside) is that Jeff’s taking this game a little too seriously. Unless he mellows out and starts having fun with it, the other players are going to reassess their first impressions and ramp up his target in the process.

Scott: I have to agree with everyone here. I think Jeff is going to enter the game like a bull being released towards a matador. He’s going to try to make to many big moves too early in the game, and it’s going to cost him his Survivor life. It will be entertaining, and I would always rather watch somebody play too hard as opposed to playing docile.

One of my favorite boxing fights of all-time is Hagler vs Hearns. Tommy Hearns knew he didn’t have the ability to go a full 12 rounds with Hagler, so from second one of Round 1 he went in swinging, throwing haymakers. Although he got knocked out, he went out swinging. I hope we get to see this out of Jeff. I don’t think he has the social ability to play the politics needed to win the game, so I hope instead he goes out swinging. Worst case scenario is his first haymaker he tries to throw in the game misses badly and he is the first to go. The best case scenario I would think for Jeff would be him making it to Jury.

Michel: Varner is definitely the player whose selection pleased me the most. If only Shane had been there with him, then we would have had two of the few former Survivors that have dared to bash the show. Most will remember Varner for his confessionals where he stood next to a tree and kept telling us that “Mike is an idiot”. I also remember that he started some fights between his team mates including the one that led to Alicia’s famous: “I will always wave my finger in your face.”  he ability to create conflicts between other players can be an interesting tool as long as it doesn’t come back to bite him in the butt.

I expect Varner to lead a charge against Terry, Vytas, and Spencer, and I’d like to see him succeed. He mentions that he wants to target Spencer first, but I’m not sure that should be his priority. Still, he should make it to the swap and probably even the merger. If that happens then we could be in for a treat: His reunion with Kimmi. He blamed her for telling Tina about the vote he received during their first Tribal Council, a revelation that eventually led to his elimination and the pagonging of Kucha. It doesn’t have quite as much history as the reunion between Jerri and Colby, but it should be good.

Kelley Wentworth

Kelley Wentworth, San Juan Del Sur

Kelley Wentworth, San Juan Del Sur

Catherine: Kelley is going to be interesting to watch. She’s the type of player that generally does well on returning player seasons; having been almost a non-entity in her original season, nobody is going to be gunning for Kelley. She doesn’t come into this with any baggage. She never betrayed an alliance, never told a lie, wasn’t a threat in the challenges, and wasn’t shown as a strategic threat either.

For these reasons, Kelley should be coming into this season with something to prove. She has to show why she deserved a second chance. She has to show the fans (and more importantly, herself) that she had the potential in her all along.

In her original season, she was voted out when a tribe swap put her on the wrong side of the numbers. This time, she’ll want to build strong relationships with everybody. I can see her playing a much stronger social game, and I have no doubt that it will take is her far. Just by playing an under the radar game, she’ll make top six or seven. I just don’t have a strong enough impression of Kelley to suggest that she could win.

Dan: Kelley is such a wild card. She was doomed by the tribe swap and being connected with her dad. Her quiet approach might have worked better if the numbers had fallen her way. Catherine talks about how Kelley wants to prove her value this time. I’m not sure that’s the right way to play, though. She’s much goofier than she seemed in San Juan Del Sur, so that should be fun to see. It’s hard to read if she’s a good player, though.

Conventional wisdom would say that Kelley will do well like Catherine says. I wonder if she might be too much of a mystery, though. Will others be nervous because she’s not such an open book? Kelley should look to bond with Shirin and Spencer over their fandom. They’re in a tribe of thinkers, and she doesn’t stand out as a threat. I expect that Kelley will be around a while, but how she does it will be interesting.

Sarah: After her quiet first season, Kelley has acknowledged in a few pre-season interviews that she had an uphill battle to get voted onto the season, and she’s perhaps a little too focused on not disappointing the fans who gave her the second chance. In the videos I’ve seen, she’s a little too intense, too enthusiastic. She’s a big fan of the show and very smart and has all the resources to do well, but she has to channel that into the game, not into becoming a more memorable character.

That said, she should do well enough, if only because there’s no reason to vote her off aside from the potential for a San Juan Del Sur power grouping. But at the same time, there’s no reason to keep her around either. As Catherine observed, Kelley’s the type of player that tends to do well on a returnee season… and I would be surprised if the other players aren’t well aware of that. By mid-jury at the latest, everybody will be looking under the radar for the sane, likeable players slipping through to the endgame. Kelley’s got better odds of beating the traditional kelly-edit than she has of making it to the final three.

Scott: How did Kelley get voted back into this game? I don’t think anybody playing the game would recognize her, like they’re going to think she is a production assistant or something. Her non-threat-ish status should actually benefit her immensely this season, as I don’t see her as being a target in the game unless she does something really dumb. I think there is some hype around Kelley like she is really smart and knows the game, but who the hell knows at this point? Maybe she is going to be like Francesca and just have the worst luck in Survivor history and be voted out first or second. I just have a hard time seeing a future with Kelley as a Survivor winner. Nothing against her; I just don’t see her winning.

Michel: Kelley was my pre-season pick for San Juan del Sur, and I still think she should do well here. She was almost invisible in the episodes before the swap, but we saw that she was part of the alliance that included Missy. Therefore, she was right to say that playing with her father hurt her game. It was the animosity between Dale and Baylor that broke her bond with Missy.

Playing on her own, she should thrive, especially if her tribe goes against the boys’ club. She is smart and athletic, so I can see her going far this time. Her early edit should be very revealing: In reality, she is a very minor character in this group of “fan favorites”, so she should be ignored. But if she isn’t ,then we will know she is a long-term player.

Kelly Wiglesworth

Kelly Wiglesworth, Borneo

Kelly Wiglesworth, Borneo

Catherine: The original rat, from way back in season one. Who’d have thought we’d ever be seeing her back on Survivor, 15 years later? There are two possibilities for what we’re about to see from Kelly. One is that she is telling everyone the truth — she doesn’t own a television set, hasn’t watched Survivor at all, and has no relationships whatsoever with anybody in the cast — and the other is that she is a cold-faced liar, much more adept at alliance making and strategizing than she lets on. Either possibility is going to be fun to watch. For Kelly, win or lose, I’m just so looking forward to seeing how she adapts to what is essentially a completely different game.

From Jeff Varner’s pregame alliance revelations, we know that Kelly is much more adept at modern Survivor than she is letting on. She has established strong connections with the cast, and nobody is looking to target Kelly. She is confident she can still be an asset in challenges, and so there should be no reason for Kelly to be voted off before the merge. In fact, like many of the women in this cast, Kelly Wiglesworth is a genuine threat to win season 31 — and what a great story that would make.

Dan: Kelly seems to be following the Danni Boatwright model of giving away so little. Her interview with Rob during the campaign was so awkward. I love the unknowns that Catherine identifies about Kelly. Is she playing us? It feels like she knows nothing about Survivor’s evolution and is coming in cold. Kelly becomes a lot more interesting if her strategy is an elaborate con on the other players and the audience. I’m inclined to think she really has no plan. This means she’ll be a wild card that others may not want to keep around. I’m intrigued to see what happens with Kelly, but I’m not ready to predict great things with our current info.

Sarah: Kelly has become one of the more fascinating enigmas in this run up to the season, for all the reasons Catherine stated. My own take on her is that she’s got a firm sense of privacy, and a good portion of her thoughts will always be kept back from both the players and the cameras, regardless of what the game requires of her. She’s also unyielding.

So to Catherine’s list, I’ll add a third possibility: Kelly’s been lying outright about her pre-gaming and her morality, but nobody should be relying on her allegiance either. I think a lot of people are going to underestimate Kelly, assume they can control her vote only for her to suddenly dig her heels in when they least expect it. Both Sue Hawk and Richard Hatch might be able to tell you a little something about that.

I don’t think Kelly’s got enough understanding of the game to maneuver herself to the end again, let alone win, but if Kass is an early boot, Kelly stands to inherit the chaos bringer mantle.

Scott: Considering it’s been 15 years since we’ve seen Kelly alive and moving, I have no idea what to expect. I could see her entering the game like Sean Connery in The Rock, being monitored by armed guards as she enters the game.

Is she traumatized from her last experience? Is she happy and well adjusted? It will be interesting to watch her either adapt or be so overwhelmed that the game has passed her by that she ends up being one of the first three people to go. I think a key for Kelly is her likability factor. If she comes off as likable, I could see her making it far in the game, being safe and reliable to her alliance mates. I think if she comes off bad or rubs people the wrong way, it will spell curtains for this veteran player. It could be bad…..like Rocky 4 bad….You don’t want her to be so past her prime that she gets her (Survivor) life pummeled like a past-his-prime-Apollo Creed against the new players (Drago).

I would like to see her do well in the game, though. I hope she plays hard.

Michel: Kelly is one of the few players whose selection pleased me. Of course, it will be impossible to compare her presentation this season to her original edit because Borneo was so different. Back then, character development was the editors’ main job instead of showing the searches for idols and preparing us for the big, often fake, blindside. The 16 Borneo players had more substance than most of the finalists these days! To get an indication that Kelly makes it far, I will be looking for confessionals that aren’t about her first experience and how things have changed since season one. If that is her only role, then we will know she doesn’t make it far.

Can Kelly make it to the end? It would surprise me because she came so close the first time. With Stephen and Woo, she is one of only three players to face the jury. None came as close to winning so maybe the others will say she already had her chance. I hope she can navigate her way to the end. While Hatch showed everyone how to play this game, she was smart enough to make connections with the other side and she even considered turning on her closest ally. Of course, Sue called her a rat for it but Kelly certainly spiced up the end game.

Who will be the Sole Survivor?

Dan: This feels more difficult than usual, which is saying a lot due to my poor track record of picking winners. I’m tempted to pick a strong, intelligent woman like Peih-Gee or Shirin to win the game. Both won’t be on the top list of targets but will influence the game. Even so, there’s something about the way that Terry has approached the game that makes me believe he’s going to do well. There’s a glint in his eye that he’s figured out how to play. If he’s able to avoid the early target and keep shields around him, Terry could take charge in the final stages and be the Sole Survivor.

Sarah: As we saw with Tyson and Sandra (and to an extent, Cochran), the art of getting to the end in a returnee season is to give other players a reason to think jurors won’t vote for you. Therefore, I shortlisted the players who are smart enough to earn respect for their games, but who are also outspoken enough to get into fights. That…. is a long shortlist, and it’s really going to come down to who has the numbers. But I’m going to go with the person who has a track record of creating arguments but not enemies: Peih Gee.

Scott: Tough call, and I think the last time I predicted the winner of Survivor correctly was Boston Rob vs. Russell Hantz. That really shouldn’t count because I would have picked Boston Rob against any other 15 people. With that said, my gut tells me Spencer is going to walk away with the championship belt this season. I think he comes into the game this season with a good plan, and it’s going to carry boy wonder to the tittle this time.

Catherine: I change my mind on this almost daily. Today, I’m going with Shirin. I think that she is the type of player that does well on all-star seasons. She’s not a threat and will be able to play a quiet game. But she’s not a goat either. She knows the game and is capable of making enough strong moves and arguing her case to a jury. I would also love to see the win go to someone who is such a fan of the game.

Michel: My pick is Peih-Gee.

Who will be the two runners up?

Dan: I nearly picked Peih-Gee to win the game, so I’m good including her for a close second place. The final choice will be more random, and I think Keith fits the bill to slide to the finish.

Sarah: Same sort of logic applies here as for the winner, and I think there will be enough shake-ups that we can’t assume the original tribes will predict the end game. Terry and Kimmi.

Scott: I think one of the runners up will be a complete patsy that gets taken to the finals solely to lose so with that in mind I will say Kimmi will play that part. I think the other runner up will be a more worthy player, and with that said I’m going to go with Andrew Savage. It would be cool to see Kelly Wig make another deep run, but I’m going to stick with Savage.

Catherine: I’m going to put Kelley in there. I don’t think anyone is going to be coming after Kelley. I also think Woo has a good chance of making it to the end.

Michel: My choices are Kelley Wentworth and Jeff Varner.

Who will make the merge (Pick 12)?

Dan: There are so many unknown factors in play this time, including the likelihood of multiple tribe swaps. I feel confident that at least half of these are right: Abi-Maria, Andrew, Ciera, Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, Peih-Gee, Shirin, Tasha, Terry, Vytas, Woo

Sarah: I have a hard time having faith in anybody to make the merge, but I’ll go for: Abi-Maria, Ciera, Jeff, Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, Kelly, Kimmi, Peih-Gee, Shirin, Terry, Woo

Scott: My top 12 is Andrew, Ciera, Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, Kelly, Kimmi, Peih-Gee, Stephen, Spencer, Terry, Vytas

Catherine: Andrew, Ciera, Jeff, Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, Kelly, Peih-Gee, Shirin, Stephen, Terry, Woo

Michel: Andrew, Jeff, Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, Kimmi, Monica, Peih-Gee, Shirin, Spencer, Tasha, Woo

Who will be the first one voted out of the game?

Dan: I really hope this doesn’t happen, but I’m going to predict that Bayon wins the first challenges and gives Kass a chance to gain a footing. This means that I’ll make the painful choice that Jeff Varner will be the first person to leave. I really hope it doesn’t happen.

Sarah: My shortlist is Vytas, Spencer, Savage, Stephen, and Kass… and I’m going with Kass.

Scott: I hope I’m wrong, but I’m going with Kass.

Catherine: My pick is Spencer.

Michel: Kelly Wiglesworth (I hope I’m wrong but…I’m afraid for her.)

Which player will have their reputation changed the most by their second appearance?

Dan: I’m all about making predictions that I don’t want to see happen. Because his reputation was so high from Cagayan, I feel like Spencer is most likely to be changed by this experience. His season is too recent, and a lot of the others want to knock him down a perch. While that could lead to an underdog edit, it also could force Spencer to play differently and become a lot more cutthroat this time.

Sarah: Tasha. If Bayon are the trainwreck I expect them to be, I think there’s a good shot Tasha could end up as either a villain or a fool, neither of which would be fair or remotely close to the underdog edit she had before.

Scott: Tough one to answer, because basically this question applies to the players that had an extreme presentation the last time they played. Really great players tend to have a good reputation already built in, so who do I think will change people’s perspective this time around? I would have to go with Kelly Wiglesworth. So much time has passed that most people only remember her from that one clip they always show of Sue calling her a “rat” and Kelly looking horrified. I think she has the ability to make the positive change in perception.

Catherine: I think Shirin will play a far better game than she did in season 30. I think playing again so soon after seeing all her mistakes on television will prove to be an advantage for her. I also think that Spencer is too much of a threat to stick around for long, and his reputation may take a bit of a beating.

Michel: Kimmi

In case you’re curious, these four players showed up on all our picks to make the merge: Jeremy, Keith, Kelley, and Peih-Gee. On the flip side, only these two players showed up on none of our ballots: Kass and Joe. That’s a lot of variety in who each blogger picked to make it, though. This season feels harder to predict than most, and the added twists could really change the game.

What do you think of our assessments? Who is your pick to win?

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