Survivor: Game Changers

Survivor: Game Changers — The Bloggers Roundtable Preview

It’s been a long haul, but we’re finally almost ready to dive into the new season of Survivor. This returning cast of Game Changers (or “game changers”) is ready to battle for the title of Sole Survivor. It’s an exciting time for Survivor fans, and some true favorites are back on our screens. So what will happen? That’s the big question as we prepare for the big premiere next Wednesday. The RHAP bloggers are back to try and answer this difficult question.

We’re here to discuss the 20 players and predict what will happen. Most of us will be wrong, but it will be a blast to find out how wrong we are. This fine group of Sarah Channon, Scott Gallagher, Dan Heaton (that’s me!), Christine Lariviere, Catherine Lucas, Michel Trudeau, and Christian Williams are here to help your Survivor pool (or hurt it!). Let’s get to it!

Andrea Boehlke

Dan: Andrea has an interesting position within this group because her last season wasn’t so recent. Caramoan isn’t as fresh on people’s minds as Kaôh R?ng and Cagayan. Andrea has a reputation as a schemer but has shown an ability to work with alliances in each of her two previous seasons. It will take some heavy lifting for Andrea to overcome the perception in the early going, but I don’t think it’s impossible. She’s quite good in the team challenges and should be able to connect with alpha males like Brad, Ozzy, and JT.

The presence of Survivor giants like Cirie, Sandra, and Tony should give Andrea a little breathing room. On the other hand, those players may push to target others that appear strategic to avoid the target. In that case, Andrea is in trouble from the start. I don’t believe she’ll be the first boot, but it’s still a tough road for Andrea. She’ll need to build strong bonds from the start (or even in the pre-game) to grab an edge. If nothing else, Andrea has a fighting chance.

Sarah: I more or less agree with what Dan said, and I like what Andrea has said in her pre-game material about working with everybody, instead of settling into the “us vs. them” mentality of when she played. We’re in the post-Vlachos era now! I’m also curious to see how she’ll work with Zeke — she played with him in the fan-run Survivor Brooklyn. It doesn’t mean they know each other well, but he’s distinctive enough she should recognize him. Ultimately though, it’s going to come down to how mellow she can stay. She knows she needs to tone down the paranoia, but pre-season interviews suggest other players are already keeping an eye on her as a potential Big Moves player. If Andrea has it in her to be a calming influence, I think she could fly under the radar and deep into the game.

Christian: Andrea is one of several players that should be able to spend a fair amount of time under the radar, as Dan said. This is a season where the veterans with the biggest reputations will either divide up into different camps and lean against each other, or they’re going to huddle up and try to pick off the less experienced players. Andrea, while known as a planner and a bit of a schemer, is known as a reliable player so she could easily be courted into either camp. All of this will go out of the window if she starts double- and triple-guessing too much. As Sarah said, a mellow Andrea can go far…a paranoid Andrea is basically a younger version of crazy Kass and won’t be long for the game.

Christine: Her paranoia is what I remember most about her, so I hope Andrea can play a more laid-back game. She should not be an immediate threat to anyone even if they are keeping an eye on her. I can see Andrea going far in the game. She’s an intelligent woman who knows how to use everything she has.

Scott: I’ve never been a big Andrea fan. The last time she played, she was presented as a little too entitled, and her hubris was her undoing. My view of her heading into this season is that she better not come into the game thinking she is some legend of the game, where people are going to come to her to want to form alliances and make moves, as I think she has more to prove to others then they need to prove to her.

Michel: Hubris, paranoia, schemer? I read those descriptions, and I wonder where it’s coming from. If anything, Andrea was not paranoid enough! She let Rob run things at will in her first season and then, in Caramoan, she trusted her alliance so much that she sat on her Immunity Idol. The best way to describe Andrea is to say she’s a naïve player. For the longest time, she thought she could go to the end with Boston Rob, and then she thought Cochran would choose her over Dawn. If she lets the game come to her, it will run over her once again. She has shown more loyalty than most of the other player share, and I think she’s been active on the Survivor circuit, so I think she could do well. I’ll give her a 5% chance of winning.

Catherine: I think that Andrea is poised to do really, really well here. Like Dan points out, Caramoan isn’t exactly top of mind for anybody on the cast. In fact, there are some out there who have never seen Andrea play Survivor. She’ll be able to fly under the radar, and that will put her in the position to win.

My question with Andrea is what kind of game play we are going to see from her. In her first season, Andrea lacked confidence and let Boston Rob steamroll over her (and the rest of the cast) on his way to the win. In Caramoan, she overcorrected and had so much confidence in herself that she went home with an idol in her pocket. If she can find the right balance here, she could be our winner.

Aubry Bracco

Dan: I was on the Aubry train during most of Kaôh R?ng, particularly the post-merge game. It was thrilling to watch Aubry find the game and take charge of her fate. Those conditions won’t exist for her this time, unfortunately. The Kaôh R?ng reunion aired shortly before this cast left for Fiji, so Aubry’s game is fresh in their minds. Some may want to work with her, but that may be a short list. Having four players from her season in this cast is also a problem for Aubry. Sandra called out this fact in her interview with Josh Wigler, and she wasn’t the only one.

The best thing for Aubry’s game would be losing Tai or Debbie in the first vote. She needs to distance herself from the perception that she’ll work with others from Kaôh R?ng. I’d love to say that I’m optimistic for Aubry’s chances, but I can’t sell it. I’m hoping to be wrong and would enjoy another deep run for Aubry. She’s fun to watch and a smart player. It just seems unlikely given all the factors against her this time.

Sarah: I adore Aubry for so many reasons…from the deadpan confessionals to flipping Tai. If Cirie can’t win this, Aubry would be my second choice…but I’m not setting my hopes too high for the all the reasons Dan said. Still, she has two things in her favor: she’s challenge-strong on a tribe with very weak players — and with Ozzy on the opposing team, Mana will need all the swimmers it can get. She’s also got a social game that’s proven in dealing with highly strung people: Debbie, Joe, Tai…that’s going to be handy with Tony and Troyzan on her team. As with Andrea, Aubry should go for a calming influence approach, and I think Aubry’s got a better skillset for that. Unfortunately, she’s coming in much higher on the radar to start with.

Christian: I like Aubry. I had a complete fan-boy freakout when she successfully flipped Tai and Scott was sent home. Aubry has very little chance of winning this game. While the players on her original season didn’t respect her strategic game, the returning players from this season are for more likely to do so, given what Dan pointed out regarding their departure. For some players, this is going to make her someone they want to work with; for other players this is going to make her someone they want to target. I agree with Sarah that keeping a low profile is going to be the key for Aubry to get deeper into the game, and I just don’t think that’s going to be possible for her.

Christine: I agree with Dan. Aubry needs to distance herself from Kaôh R?ng players including Caleb, but I do not think she will be given the chance unless a player like Varner or Ciera take Aubry under his or her wing to target Tony or Sandra early on. For me, she is a wild card.

Scott: While I don’t think Aubry can win the game, I do see Aubry being there late, when it comes down to the final 4-8 range. I think in a season full of obvious targets and threats, Aubry can hide within those different threats shadows. Aubry will live and die based on which path of one of those big threat players’ journeys she chooses to ride with this time. She has pretty good instincts socially, so I bet she chooses wisely and rides that wave deep into the game.

Michel: Despite a roller-coaster ride, things worked just about as well as could be for Aubry during Kaôh R?ng, but she still didn’t win.  How can she do it now? She’s one that could be described as a schemer, but she has a good social game and can contribute in challenges so she does have a small chance, say 5%.

Catherine: Like everyone else, I’d like to see Aubry do well. I’d at least like to see her get the chance to eat some coleslaw at the merge feast. I know that she’s got the odds stacked against her here, and it will be difficult to overcome the fact that, as one of the Kaoh Rong four, she’s going to have a target on her back. But we’ve seen that Aubry can use her social game to develop alliances. In Kaoh Rong, she got Tai to join her, even though it was against his best interests. She had Joe’s complete and undying loyalty all throughout the game.

Making it to the merge is going to be a challenge for Aubry. But I honestly think she’s up for the challenge. Can she win? I’m not sure. I don’t think that enough time has passed. She hasn’t had the time to reflect on her previous mistakes and rectify them.

Michaela Bradshaw

Sarah: I wasn’t as big a Michaela fan as most people last season, and I’m still thrilled to see her back. She’s candid, reasonably self-aware and intelligent, but isn’t afraid to own how she feels about…anything. As one of the two unknowns this season, she’s drawn plenty of pre-game comments from the other players, but it’s mostly been positive. People are interested in Michaela and liking what they’re seeing. As we know, back-to-back players have historically done well on Survivor, and it looks like Michaela will continue that trend.

Can she capitalize on it? After all, back-to-back players have yet to win. I don’t know, but she’s got a head start in that she’s correctly identified her problem, that she can be fooled by people she thinks she can trust. Your average returnee might look at this and go into a season announcing they are not going to be fooled this time. Michaela has determined she needs to work with people she can read; the ones she can’t figure out should be targeted. Easier said than done, but I really like that she’s accepted her own limitations and knows she can’t just flip a switch to fix it. I still doubt Michaela has the experience necessary to win, but I do think she’s in for a deeper run and a much more effective game.

Christian: I was generally impressed with Michaela’s play in the first season. It felt like she had a good understanding of the core parts of the game, even if she made a few bad choices. It’s true that no returning player has won the game but the key issue with Michaela, as Sarah identified, is that the thing that was her downfall in the game isn’t an immutable part of her core personality (as it was with say, Russell Hantz).

Michaela has identified what she did wrong and has a strategy in place to try to overcome that flaw, which is the best starting point. She will also have an advantage in that she will be playing with players that she has a great deal of information about, while their sample size to judge her on will be relatively small. Her last advantage, as will be mentioned several times in this article, is that many players in this game will have pre-set targets (Cirie, for example). In the grand scheme of alliances that comes into play, many veterans will likely see Michaela as a pawn that can be used… which is a position she can use to her advantage. Of the relative newcomers to the game, I give Michaela a strong chance to make the jury and possibly go all the way.

Christine: I am going to irritate quite a few Michaela fans, but I fail to see the distinction between her bad social game and Ozzy’s. Both are challenge beasts, both have bizarre strategic plans, and both act like babies when they lose (more specifically are outsmarted by their allies). Michaela is far more entertaining in talking heads, however.

As Christian said, if she can let others lead her and play from that vantage point, she could go far.

Scott: Like everybody above me has commented about already, Michaela is a beast in the competitions, but her lack of being able to manage her emotions when it comes to making decisions in the game is her Achilles Heel. I don’t think she can pull a 180 on that so soon. She is playing with some savvy players this season, and the question for Michaela is whether she can raise her social game higher than last season. She will be target early on.

Michel: I enjoyed watching Michaela last season, but I would have preferred waiting a few years before seeing her again. The funny thing is that could have helped her, giving her time to socialize outside the game, which is a vital part of seasons with returning players. See, Michaela can’t win for one simple reason: She hasn’t had that time to get to know the Survivor alumni so they will use her strength in challenges but won’t let her in the inner core of their alliance. She will probably make the merger because no one will feel threatened by her, but then she will have no one huddling around her to hear how she wants the rocks to fall.

Catherine: Michaela’s words at the reunion for Millennials vs Gen X revealed that she still thinks that she was voted out for being a threat. In other words, she can’t see the obvious flaws in her game. She can’t see that arguing with Figgy so publically might not have been the best idea. Or being delighted when Figgy was sent home. Or making it clear that she knew about Jay’s idol. Or any of the other myriad of things that Michaela should recognize as mistakes, but doesn’t seem to.

She hasn’t learnt from her mistakes, and so she is doomed to repeat them. She might make it slightly further this time, but she isn’t playing a winning game.

Dan: Catherine makes great points about Michaela and whether she can learn from her first game. Even so, I have a good feeling about her place in this cast. She’ll be a physical asset in the team game and won’t stand out as either a huge threat or a floater. All Michaela needs to do is let others run the show. Can she do it? I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt. Michaela is an unknown to this group, but she’ll gain their trust. If she make the merge, look out.

Brad Culpepper

Sarah: I can’t honestly say that I think Brad should have returned, but I find myself increasingly intrigued by his prospects, perhaps because he’s not taking himself too seriously. Not that I think he’s going to come out and suddenly be an amazing player, but I do think he’s going to give us some fun moments along the way — hopefully involving a lot of Brad Culpepper math.

His game plan is mostly solid…he wants to align with the people he won’t be expected to align with (such as the younger women) — and he wants to duck out of leadership. I’m curious as to how successful either of those will be many people on Survivor say they don’t want to be the leader, but aren’t able to settle to somebody else’s orders. Will he end up butting heads with Ozzy, JT, or Debbie? While he might want to align with those outside his demographic, can he really forge a strong relationship with Andrea, Tai, or Cirie? Still, pre-game interviews suggest more players are interested in using Brad than targeting him, so I think he’ll make the merge this time regardless, but I predict some turbulence for his game, despite his good intentions.

Christian: I honestly wouldn’t have picked Brad as a returning player. I think he’s brash and while that occasionally makes for good television, in the end he’s the type of player that really has little chance to win. On the other hand, I would have said the same thing about Tyson before he essentially ran the table on his season. I think Brad can scrape by and make it to the merge, but I can’t see him going much farther past that.

Christine: Unlike his wife, Brad did not show much potential in his first season, but he was brought on as a loved one and he came across as an overbearing husband. I suppose ordering Monica to throw the clue in the fire is a game-changing innovation? I’m stumped.

I am keeping an open mind regarding Brad. He can’t be worse than his first season, but I still see him as a pre-merge boot who will irritate some tribemates.

Scott: Brad came into Survivor last time thinking he would be the big swinging d**k at camp, and he got exposed for lacking the tools to build a strong Survivor foundation that carries one deep into the game. It would be really hard to imagine that Brad could change his spots so dramatically that he won’t implode exactly how he did the last time he played. I say Brad is one of the first five gone.

Michel: Brad was brought back for one reason: Create conflicts. They’ll endure him while it’s time to build the shelter and win a couple of challenges, and then he’ll become disposable. His chances of winning are Nil.

Catherine: I’m really enjoying Brad in his pre-game press. Hated him in Blood vs Water. Didn’t vote for him when he was up for Second Chances. Groaned when I saw his name on this cast list. But then I started reading his interviews. And I couldn’t help myself. I find myself thinking “Hey, this guy? He’s kind of alright!”

His game plan looks solid. I love that he wants to work with Debbie. In fact, he’s open to working with everyone. And he’s obviously done some pre-gaming, but not so much that he is locked into anything super solid. In a cast like this, who’s coming for Brad Culpepper? As long as he can keep his head down, and stays on everyone’s good side, then I think Brad is going far.

Dan: If I was going to target a sleeper in fantasy drafts, it would be Brad Culpepper. Fans don’t like him (for good reason), so he’ll slide into the bottom group. I don’t expect Brad to win, but I believe he’ll be around for a while. Like Kelley Wentworth and Jeremy, he’ll enjoy playing without his loved one. Brad’s pre-game attitude reveals a relaxed guy that can’t really believe he’s back on Survivor. I’m not thrilled to see him back, but he’s not Troyzan. Brad should adjust enough to stick around for longer than we expect. He’ll eventually try to take over, and smarter players will cut him. Even so, that scenario might not play out until the finale.

Sandra Diaz-Twine

Sarah: I’m delighted to see Sandra return and fascinated to see how the game will react to her. The only two-time winner, a player who’s never lost…fans are divided over her actual game abilities, but it almost doesn’t matter what she does this time around. If she gets to the end again, most of the jury will want to vote for her. Aubry and Malcolm have admitted as much already.

This also means that there is going to be no time in this game when Sandra isn’t a target, but (as Sandra well knows) her advantage is that she can be voted off at any time. It’s so easy to think you can get her next round. Whatever else you think of Sandra, she knows how to play into her weak image, particularly around older men with an ego. Could she fool somebody into taking her to the end as a goat this time around? (Brad’s open to the idea.) I’m thinking not, but dear lord, I hope she makes the jury. As amusing as the hat trick would be, Sandra on the jury bench is going to an endless source of gifs and memes and a gift to the fandom as a whole.

Christian: From a gameplay perspective I like Sandra, the two time winner of Survivor, though I probably don’t like her quite as much as a lot of other people do. In both cases Sandra’s win was more of a case of the jury voting against someone rather than voting for Sandra. Add in to that equation that neither time was Sandra’s appearance at final tribal council a function of her own gameplay, each time someone else brought her there. These are, in my book, knocks against her record…and I’m sure that she sobs into her big pile of money every time I write those words.

Gameplay aside, I find Sandra funny as hell and I love that she’s on this season. While she should be targeted early, her reputation as a non-threat may let her work deep into the game. Players always think they have time to vote off Sandra, because she’s not an immunity threat. Before long, that changes to them thinking that Sandra’s useful for what they’re doing since she’ll vote for whomever as long as it isn’t her… and then she’s sitting next to them and beating them at tribal. Mark my words: If Sandra makes the merge, these people are idiots, and she will deservedly win the whole thing.

Christine: If these people have a brain, they will target her early on before she can exploit the tribe dynamics. As a fan, that is not what I want to see, but as Sarah and Christian have stated, if she gets anywhere near the end, she could win again.

Scott: I’m with Christine, the players have to target her early. Sandra winning the game twice gives everybody there a built-in excuse to go after her right away. Sandra’s style is so known in the Survivor universe that it’s hard to fathom a way she can lay low and not appear to be a threat. If she can make it to the end to the final tribal, she would cement her legacy as the greatest of all-time.

Michel: While I’m glad that Sandra is there because, let’s face it, she’s one of the few that can make us laugh, I’m sure she was invited only because Probst desperately wants to finally snuff her torch. I have a feeling that this will please him tremendously. Five players list her as their intended first target, the most after Tony’s six, so we have a repeat of the original All-Stars’ focus on previous winners. Sandra simply has no chance at a three-peat.

Catherine: I’m a Sandra fan. I love her as a player and a character. And I’d love, love, love to be wrong about this, but I don’t think she’s pulling off the three-peat here. In both of her previous seasons, she won because she was the hero that stood up to the villain. She wasn’t taking any nonsense from Jonny Fairplay, and she wasn’t going to let Russell Hantz push her around.

There’s no Russell or Fairplay in this cast. There’s nobody that is reveling in their villainy and needing Sandra to put them in their place. This time, she’s the one that the rest of the cast can unite against — she’s won this game twice already! That in itself should be enough reason to vote her out immediately. She is terrible at the physical aspect of the game, and there is no reason to keep her around.

If this cast lets Sandra make it to the merge, then they deserve to lose to her.

Dan: I didn’t realize how much I loved Sandra until the second half of Heroes vs. Villains. The way that she messed with Russell without torpedoing her game was brilliant. I was hoping that Sandra would return with more winners and was excited when rumors had a whole tribe of them. Without that support, she stands out as the queen. Even players like Caleb that know nothing about Survivor realize she’s dangerous. Sandra is so good at minimizing herself to self-centered alphas that don’t see the danger. I’m fascinated to see if she can do it again. I don’t expect it to happen, but I can’t wait for Sandra to take another shot.

Ciera Eastin

Christian: I’m a firm believer that game theory relies on two, somewhat obvious factors, the vision to see what the right play is to make at any given time; and the will to actually pull the trigger on that move. We’ve seen plenty of players that have shown one or both of these skills; very few of them have both. Ciera is notable in my book for *almost* having both skills…but unfortunately for her the “almost” is what’s sent her home several times. Her decision to vote out her mother was almost the right decision, her choosing to draw rocks was almost the right time to flip on her alliance, and in Second Chances she was almost positioned to go far.

Honestly, as much as I like Ciera, I don’t think she has a chance to win this season. She’s a bit too outspoken, a bit too unwilling to take a back seat, and given that people have watched her vote out her mother and flip on alliances in the past…she’s going to have a hard time convincing people to trust her.

Christine: She voted her mother out and guess what? She’ll vote your mother out too! Ciera’s negative reputation precedes her, and she should be out pre-merge. I would not be surprised if she is the first boot on her tribe.

Scott: So Ciera is 0 for 2 in Survivor, but both times has been a pretty good social player. The good part if you are a Ciera fan is that you know that she doesn’t appear to be “textbook” threat, based on her stature or lack thereof. I still think of Ciera as a Gothic character developed from the mind of Tim Burton, dark and cold blooded. I think Ciera needs to show that she can adapt this season, cause the scouting report is out on her and it’s doubtful that her other tribemates will let her play mental games on them without them already having a little doubt in their heads about Ciera. I think Ciera once again falls off somewhere in the middle of the game.

Michel: While Jeff clearly has a hard-on for her, I don’t think Ciera played well at all. It’s one thing to change the game to please the fans, it is quite another to come up with a winning strategy. If she’s a first boot, I’d be happy. No one will trust her so her chances of winning are NIL.

Catherine: Like many people, I am suffering from a bit of Ciera fatigue. I liked her as the plucky underdog in Survivor: Blood vs Water. It was when she was rolling her eyes around in her head and talking “big moves” in Survivor: Cambodia that she lost me. And I don’t need to see Ciera 3.0 — at least not so soon. We all know that she is a challenge liability in the tribal portion of the game, and hopefully this time, she’ll be voted out early. I agree with Christine, Scott, and Michel — Ciera has zero chance to win this game.

Dan: I hate to agree with the consensus, but it’s hard to argue with everyone’s logic. Ciera can play under the radar but believes too much in the “big moves” idea. As the game progresses, she’ll take the bait from Jeff and start begging everyone to play. I don’t think she’ll get that far, however. If players don’t target big guns like Tony, Sandra, and Cirie, they’ll likely go after someone like Ciera. She’ll need to make strong bonds and not fall into the trap again. However, I’m not convinced she can play any differently.

Sarah: Looks like we’re unanimous on this one! I think it’s just too soon for me to be interested in Ciera again. Give her an eight season lay-off, like Malcolm and Andrea, and I’d probably be curious to see what she does with her third time. As it is…Eh. Big moves. We know.

Cirie Fields

Christian: Cirie is, without a doubt, one of my favorite Survivor players of all time. Back in the days of Reality News Online, we ranked her as the 8th best Survivor player ever, and she was one of only two non-winners who cracked the top ten (the other being Russell Hantz…who ranked 9th). I would argue that ranking was actually too low and that, with all respect to Rob C, Cirie is the best Survivor player to have never won the game.

Cirie got up from her couch and, in her first attempt at the game, showed that she got it immediately. She wasn’t outdoorsy, she wasn’t a physical threat, but she was a master at the strategic and social game. She was able to engineer complicated multi-layer voting schemes that put her alliance in control of the game, and I think she had a good chance to win if she’d gotten in front of the jury. In her second try at the game, she was part of two of the most infamous blindsides ever, that of Erik and Ozzy. If that season had come down to a final three, I’m certain that she would have won. I am, for one, psyched to see her back.

The problem is that Cirie can’t win. On Heroes vs Villains, she was voted out fourth because she was too big of a strategic threat. There’s every chance that she won’t make it even that far this season. Which is disappointing, because not only is she a great player…but she’s good television.

Christine: I think people are going to target Cirie eventually because she is a great player; however, she should survive up until the swap. I am happy to see her back and want her to go far, but I have my doubts with J.T., Sandra, and Ozzy playing.

Scott: Cirie has a masters’ degree in the Survivor social game, so you can’t underestimate her chances. She has knocked on the winner’s door before, just not able to go through it. I think Cirie will once again slide under the radar early. From there, she will start to set up her web to snare the unexpected in the game…UNLESS everybody realizes right away like day one or two that she is too dangerous to keep around and they decide to take her out early. I see a feast or famine journey for this season.

Michel: Cirie has stated it often: If she trusts you, you can trust her. In Panama, she trusted three people: Bruce, Aras and Danielle. She never betrayed any of them. In Micronesia, she trusted Parvati and Amanda and she was loyal to them. The same can be said in HvV where she was loyal to her alliance. Cirie is also somewhat of a regular in Survivor get-togethers, which means she has a web of connections by now, so I have no doubt she will be well prepared for this game.  I really like Cirie and I think she’s a great character, but that doesn’t prevent me from seeing Cirie’s main flaw on Survivor: She can’t win those final challenges so she isn’t really a threat to win it all if you don’t give it to her. I’d use Cirie’s connections and then get everyone to vote her out at F5 or F4. Since she was part of the “Reunion 7”, I give Cirie a 5% chance of being Sole Survivor.

Catherine: If these players are smart, then Cirie will be the first boot. She’s more threatening than anyone else out there, and that includes the former winners. Her social game is unparalleled, and she needs to go before she can get her footing in the game. Because once she finds an alliance, then Cirie is dangerous. Are these people just going to let Cirie stick around? Do any of them want to be the next Erik Reichenbach? Does Ozzy really want to be made a fool of again? With so much to overcome, I’ll be surprised if Cirie makes the merge.

And yet, in a game with so many threatening players, perhaps Cirie can find a place to hide. She’s the most skilled player out there, so it would be foolish to completely write her off. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, after so much time as the best to never win, she finally pocketed the million?

Dan: Has enough time passed for Cirie to avoid the axe right at the start? It’s been 14 seasons since she last played, but the legend of Cirie remains strong. She’s also on the opposite tribe from Tony and Sandra, which makes her an obvious first boot in her group. I believe that Cirie has the social game to escape the first Tribal Council, but players aren’t going to forget about her. Cirie will need to do more than just charm the others to survive. She may need to find an idol or other device to gain a foothold. Like Sandra, I do think that Cirie has a shot if she can get through the first 10 days or so. I’m just not convinced that it will happen.

Sarah: Cirie’s my favorite player of all time, so as much as I want to be optimistic, I’m trying not to get my hopes up and just be grateful for every episode she gets to giggle through. What she does have working in her favor is the same unicorn factor that helps Tony. By rights, she should never have anybody wanting to take her to the end, but Aras (and maybe Danielle) was prepared to, Parvati and Amanda fully intended to. In Heroes vs Villains it took an idol to get her out pre-merge, and while Ozzy wouldn’t mind some payback for Micronesia, JT is hoping to work with her this time. She’s also probably the only player this season who’s in significantly better shape than the first time she played, and Cirie 4.0 is actually wanting to perform in the challenges.

So…yes. I’m prepared for her to be the first boot, and I’d still appreciate that we got the chance to see her again. But I can also believe that Cirie still has more to add to her legend…

Hali Ford

Christian: The question on this kind of season is always about the qualifications of the players to be there. You will always have a solid core of people where there’s no doubt they belong, and then you’ll get players like Hali who some might consider to be on the bubble of qualification. We know on her season she tried to flip the numbers, but we also know that she was ultimately unsuccessful in doing so.

It’s easy to look at a player like Hali and discount them. She had only middling success on her first season, and her popularity is due (in part) to something other than her gameplay.

The thing is: that could also have been said about Boston Rob and Parvati. So, I’m not ruling out a dark horse chance that something good happens for her here.

Christine: So far, word on the street from Malcolm is that Hali draws in the sand and seems far away. I like weirdos so I am pulling for her eclectic personality to triumph over the strategy and challenge bots. Survivor needs more quirky winners.

Scott: Honestly, I don’t remember literally a single thing about Hali…Like not one thing. I have nothing to add because you could sell me on Hali just being cast as an extra — like someone they show in a travel video with instrumental Hawaiian music being played in the background. I guess I’m really not being fair here, but truly I don’t remember a single thing about Hali’s game.

Michel: I want to thank production for giving us some eye candy. Hali is nice decoration, but as far as game changers is concerned, I don’t see it. The funniest thing is that this cast may have doubts concerning Hali’s loyalty because of her vote against Vince! I don’t think she’s part of the Survivor “brotherhood”, so I don’t know if she’ll fit in well. Hali has no chance of winning this game.

Catherine: Hali is one of the token pretty girls this season. By her own admission, she’s not a game changer. But she is a sweet and friendly woman, who is fun and non-threatening. Also, Probst seems really high on her.

I think people are going to want to take Hali along for the ride. She seems like she would be easily manipulated. I don’t think that Hali is going to turn out to be some sort of Survivor mastermind. But that doesn’t mean that she has no chance of winning. Michele Fitzgerald showed us that if you can get to the end, and have people feel good about voting for you, you deserve the win. I think Hali has a good chance.

Dan: If we ignore the silly “Game Changers” title, I’m okay with a return from Hali. I’m hoping that we see more of Hali’s charm from the secret scenes of Worlds Apart in the actual show this time. I suspect that she’ll be around for a while; there are a lot of targets out there. Hali is likable and shouldn’t annoy her tribemates, and she’ll find solid allies. I’m not ready to make her my winner pick, but I think we’ll see Hali at the merge. If players execute the “meat shield” strategy, Hali could be collateral damage.

Catherine mentions Michelle as an example of Hali’s possible fate, and that raises an interesting question. The Kaôh R?ng finale was just a few weeks before this season aired, so it will be fresh in the others’ minds. A likable player like Hali might seem more threatening because of that fact, especially after the merge. I’m seeing a finish in the 8-10 range for Hali.

Sarah: Like Christine, I like quirky people, so if we’re getting a Kelley Wentworth breakout from a previously obscure player, I hope it’s Hali. I like what she’s saying about her old game, not even trying to pretend she “deserves” to be a game changer, but I think she may be overselling her own abilities to herself. Just follow your own rules, Hali Ford, and you’ll do OK.

Malcolm Freberg

Christine: In Malcolm’s case, I understand why he was chosen as a game changer. On his first season, he was a classic underdog who fought hard. In Caramoan, he forced members of an alliance to turn on each other at Tribal Council by declaring his idols and how his alliance was voting. It made for fun television, and although it did not result in a win for him, it showed yet another way to combat getting picked off. Having said this, I am probably in the minority of viewers who are not excited to have Malcolm back nor am I vehemently opposed.

Malcolm is definitely likable and I think he will have more allies than adversaries, but Andrea, Varner, and Ciera do not seem thrilled to work with him. If he gets into a rooster alliance, he might be safe.

Scott: Hasn’t Malcolm played Survivor like 17 times already give or take? Not that I’m anti-Malcolm or anything. I just feel like we have seen this movie before. With all that said, I think Malcolm is obviously going to be a target, and depending on the boldness of the cast to get a proven dominate player out of the game, Malcolm could be in trouble. Malcolm though, has gone up against his reputation before and still made a run in the game, so he definitely can’t be counted out. I feel like Malcolm is either going to be one of the first five voted out or one of the last five. No in-between for Malcolm.(Fast forward to early April when we are literally square in the middle of the game and Malcolm is voted out).

Michel: While Malcolm hasn’t shown that he is a trustworthy player, Mana is going to need his challenge skills. His good nature should also get him inside an alliance, but at some point it likely will collapse around him. Still, he is resilient so I think he’ll make it far. I put his chances of winning at 10%.

Catherine: I would love to see Malcolm win the game — he’s one of my all-time favorites. Unfortunately, I think that his game on Survivor: Caramoan was just too flashy. He’s known as someone who can find idols and isn’t afraid to make big moves. He’ll flip on an alliance and has the charisma to rally people around him. He’s a threat, and in a game with multiple tribe swaps, his challenge strength won’t be valued. His best chance at going deep will be to align himself with similar players and leave as many meat shields in the game as possible.

I’d love to see Malcolm take this out — but I don’t feel good about his chances.

Dan: I like seeing Malcolm back in this cast, and he made an impact in both of his appearances. He’s older now and could play even better, but he’s also exposed as a threat. The legend of Malcolm hasn’t subsided much since Caramoan despite the time gap. I’m still optimistic that he’ll do okay, however. Malcolm is strong in challenges and tends to do okay with alpha males. Guys like Caleb and Troyzan should find ways to connect with him. Malcolm also knows the game and has said that he’d like to work with Aubry.

There are many roads for Malcolm to survive for a while. If he makes the merge, he better have numbers (and possibly an idol). Malcolm will have nowhere to hide at that point. Because of that situation, Malcolm should consider aligning with Tony and Sandra. He’ll need players that seem even more formidable alongside him to slide through. I think we’ll see Malcolm for a while, but it will take a lot to get him in the finals.

Sarah: I started at RHAP with Philippines and Caramoan, and — contrarian to a fault — I spent a lot of that period arguing the case against Malcolm being Survivor’s new hotness. Yet eight seasons (almost five years!) later, I find I have a soft spot for him. Ahh, nostalgia. Still, I do think the rest of the bloggers are overestimating his target now that his novelty value has worn off. Who’s worrying about Malcolm’s idol shenanigans with Tony on this cast? Or his charm with JT and Cirie? Or his (frankly overrated) challenge prowess with Ozzy? If we’re looking for a Jeremy this season, Malcolm’s a prime candidate: there will be plenty of other people that need to go before the end, but Malcolm is more than amiable enough to charm a jury. He’s definitely going deep and a frontrunner to go all the way…

Christian: It’s easy to see why Malcolm was recruited for this season. As Christine laid out, he had the kind of underdog story that fans liked on his first season, and in Caramoan he aggressively exploded Phillip’s game at Tribal Council by ostentatiously playing idol’s and declaring where his votes were going. All of us agree that Malcolm should be seen as a threat; the question is to what degree? It is possible that people will view him as less of a physical threat than Ozzy, less of a gameplay threat than Tony or Aubry, less of a social threat than JT or Cirie, as Sarah pointed out. The flipside of that coin is people could see him as having the total package of those skills and being their clear first threat.

I think the ease with which Malcolm makes social bonds, combined with his physical strength, is going to let him go deep in this game. As long as he can get people to view him as a secondary threat, they’ll keep him around to stand against the challenge monsters and other idol finders. His ability to make fast friendships will serve him well when inevitable tribe shake-ups happen, and that should position him to make a run to the end. Which is all a long way of saving I agree with Scott; he’s either going home very early, or very late.

Sarah Lacina

Christine: Sarah is a game changer. Her lack of decisiveness coupled with her inability to listen to her tribemates’ concerns certainly changed her game and that of Tony. She was chosen as a leader early on but had reservations about her alliance after hearing Tony’s “top five, baby!” outcry and realizing she was excluded.

I was hoping Sarah would lay out her strategy and analyze her past performance, and I anticipate she will in her full interviews. So far, all I’ve seen is her admission that she will keep Tony as an ally because others will target him. Let’s hope she has allies that want to keep her in the game and that her entire game does not revolve around Tony.

I predict she will make the merge or even go far because her vanilla personality will not be perceived as a threat. She is very good at challenges — so on a tribe with JT, Culpepper, and Ozzy — she should be okay pre-swap.

Scott: I’m trying to not go back to get a refresher on Sarah; I’m writing this solely on what my brain remembers about her, which is not good. I remember Sarah imploding kind of out of nowhere. Like she was doing well, and then all of a sudden the wheels came off as she was charged with being paranoid and sentenced to the Survivor death penalty. Maybe my memory is wrong, or I’m not remembering right how dramatic her implosion was?

It seems to me that people like Sarah who implode the first time around come back the second time really determined not to have the same fate, which causes them to be really hyper vigilant about everything socially happening back at camp, which then rubs everyone else in the game the wrong way, which leads to an early exit for said player. We will see if Sarah can avoid that fate this time around.

Michel: I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Sarah’s game imploded as much as Kass killed it. Similarly, she wasn’t indecisive when it came time to target Cliff and as far as listening to her tribe mate’s concerns, again, she was dealing with Kass. Maybe she should have realized that Kass was really a needy five-year-old, but I don’t hold it against her. For the most part, Sarah played a loyal game, so that should serve her well here. She is quite capable in challenges and she is level headed in camp, so I expect her to go far. I give her a 5% chance of winning.

Catherine: I have no idea how Sarah is going to play this game. In her pre-game press, she’s impressed me. She comes across as someone who is willing to play a cutthroat game, while also being self-aware enough to know how she is coming across to the other players. Nobody is looking at Sarah as a threat. They all think that Tony betrayed her in Cagayan, but as Sarah herself pointed out in pre-game interviews, Sarah was pushing to vote Tony out first. She’s not as loyal and trustworthy as her reputation would suggest.

But then, having re-watched Sarah’s boot episode recently, I think that Sarah is one of those people who looks good on paper, but her skills just don’t translate to being a good Survivor player. She says that she has the ability to read people, but her experience on Cagayan suggests otherwise. I don’t see Sarah winning.

Dan: In the early parts of Cagayan, I was impressed by Sarah’s challenge skills and understanding of the game. On the other hand, it’s not like she was on Luzon. When the game became tougher, she made all the wrong choices. What concerns me about Sarah is her approach to the pre-game interviews this season. There’s a serious chip on her shoulder, and it may create problems. She isn’t on the same tribe as Tony, so that’s a relief. If they do come together, he’s going to be nervous around her. I also don’t get strong vibes from Sarah going into this game. She has too much to prove, and I don’t believe she’ll reach the merge.

Sarah: I have a hard time disagreeing with anybody above. Sarah’s such a dark horse for me, because she might genuinely be very different from the first time we saw her. When she got blindsided, she took shots at Kass’ parenting abilities; now she’s telling Josh Wigler: “If you want to call me a bad mom when I get home? Go f— yourself.”

She’s coming in nervously aggressive, to the point that everybody in Ponderosa is wary of her, but it’s very possible she’ll relax and hit her stride when she hits the beach. Or she might implode in the first three days. Or she might be that strong player who has enough flaws that everybody makes a false assumption they can beat her at the end. I think we’ll have a better idea of Sarah’s fate after one episode, but for now, I’m rooting for her out of name-solidarity if nothing else.

Christian: Sarah seems, to me, to be the kind of player primed to have a second season where everything clicks. She was done in on her first season mostly because of the fact that Kass is a crazy person, and she wasn’t quite close enough to the center of her alliance to successfully get the target moved towards Tony. So she’s seen the game played correctly, and she has information to know what she did wrong I order to make adjustments and go farther. But as Scott, Dan and Sarah all pointed out, if she comes into the game at top speed it’s going to serve her in poor stead with her fellow competitors and might result in an early trip home.

All things considered, I think this is going to be a near-miss for Sarah. She shouldn’t be at the top of anyone’s radar, but I think post-merge she’s going to put herself at the top by trying to play too hard too fast… and that’s going to send her home.

Ozzy Lusth

Christine: I am unabashed in my love for Ozzy! Sure, he is a loner and will never perform at the Globe Theatre, but he plays his heart out and he can explain string theory…sort of.

Ozzy’s downfall among hardcore fans is that he is perceived as arrogant, yet most of his cast mates want to work with him. I feel he will go pretty far once more, and he seems to realize his social game needs work. I think, like Terry Dietz, he’ll tone it down. He gained weight before the game started for this purpose.

Scott: I think like Malcolm, but to an even more extreme example, Ozzy is either going to be feast or famine this year. Ozzy is a relic from a Survivor era so forgone that it’s hard to imagine him in this game this time around. I’m sure Ozzy knows like Christine says, that he needs to tone it down to give himself the best chance at making it deep in the game. So the question becomes: can he do that?

I think he really needs to lay low early on and hope that other returning players try to break out of the game sprinting instead of pacing themselves. If Ozzy can sit back and let other players make social mistakes, put targets on their own backs, Ozzy could have a chance. As we know, as long as it’s not a puzzle, Ozzy can win any challenge they throw out there, unless father time has caught up to him, but I think Ozzy still has some fight in him. We will see, though this one is hard to predict.

Michel: When he is competing in challenges, Ozzy is something to watch, but when he is trying to play the game, Oscar is a moron. As sick as I am of seeing him, I have to realize that this is his 4th go-around, and production owes him still. Maybe even more than Cirie who was robbed by the Micronesian F2, Oscar was deprived of any chance of getting rid of Yul when that abominable Final 3 twist was revealed. Like Boston Rob during Redemption Island, South Pacific was designed to repay Oscar, but Sophie intervened. (Hey! sometimes you think you’ve fixed your car but it still refuses to go.) This could be his time. Besides, Oscar was part of the Reunion 7, and not only was he introduced last, he completely dominated that stage. I have a bad feeling, so I give Oscar 35% chances of winning this game.

Catherine: I’m just going to say it unashamedly. I really like Ozzy. I think he is one of the strongest contenders to win this season. I think that the advantage of experience cannot be overstated. He’s played more days than anyone else out there. I also think that there is a tendency among the super fans to emphasize the weaknesses in his game. Ozzy isn’t only a challenge monster. He was one vote away from winning Survivor: Cook Islands and one puzzle away from winning Survivor: South Pacific. Ozzy couldn’t have been that close to winning the game twice if his social game truly was as terrible as people say it is.

I’m just going to come out and say this. I think Ozzy can play a really dominant game —socially and strategically. I think he has a great chance to win.

Dan: I admired Ozzy during his first appearance in Cook Islands, but he drove me nuts in his next two appearances. Particularly in South Pacific, there was a sense of entitlement about his status that didn’t make me a fan. The Redemption Island twist also gave him a huge edge that nearly won him the game. With all of that said, I can see a path for Ozzy to win this game. I’m not as bullish as Michel and willing to give him a 35% chance, but it’s about 10% for me. If Ozzy can let others lead and overplay, he has a chance to do well. My reservations come from Ozzy’s past arrogance; can he really play a smarter game? Help me out, Sarah!

Sarah: I’ve got your back, Dan! Ozzy’s played enough times to pick up the rudiments of Survivor gameplay — he’s sharper than Rupert — but he’s not really got the chops to compete with the big guns there, so he needs to team up with one of them. But ever since Yul, Ozzy’s (understandably) wanted to be the ring leader of his alliance, and he gets easily frustrated when the game goes against him. His social game is being overrated by his past near-misses. Remember half of his jury votes came from players who had never been on a tribe with him and liked that he would use the money for his education. As for South Pacific, it’s easy not to make enemies when you’re on Redemption Island. Harder if you have to actually play the game.

Of course, it’s been a while. Maybe Ozzy’s mellowed since South Pacific, and he’s certainly never been a universally despised player. But he’s still talking about wanting to go up against the “best” (read: “physically strongest”) at the end, so I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with enthusiasm for Ozzy 4.0.

Christian: I have a dark secret. I don’t really like Ozzy. I loved the comeback, post-mutiny, on his original season, and I find his physical abilities to be impressive as hell. The problem, as we start his 4th season, is that he still doesn’t seem to understand that Survivor is not just about muscles and being strong…and that seems like such a conscious decision that I’ve lost respect for him each season. Players like Cirie, Varner or Aubry are never going to be challenge beasts; they can enter the game with a higher fitness level but they’re always going to trail behind the JTs, Ozzys, Calebs, and Malcolms. A player that is physically gifted can, and should, work on their social and strategic game in the interim. Doing so won’t turn them into a full-blown Machiavelli, butt it would add a valuable tool to their tool chest.

Ozzy hasn’t really done that, which I find so terribly disappointing that it’s come to flavor my view of him in this game. Unless we see a different Ozzy than we’ve seen before, I see this as another short season for the challenge beast.

Caleb Reynolds

Scott: Caleb returns after….Christ I can’t remember last week, let alone what happened to Caleb last time he played. I vaguely remember him collapsing under the hot sun. With that said, Caleb will always hold a place near and dear to my heart, being that he is a Big Brother alum, since that is where I got my start on here. I don’t think Caleb is capable of winning Survivor, though. He just lacks the innate Survivor instincts of being able to read the game within the game. Caleb always seems like he is well-liked though, so I can see Caleb being in the middle of the game in good standing with everybody. But after that, I don’t see a lot of potential for Caleb to take this home.

Michel: What move did Caleb do to earn the title “Game Changer”? Jiffy’s attempt at justifying his selection is really pathetic. According to him, Caleb was willing to die to win but actually Caleb risked his life for, wait for it… salt and pepper shakers. What a player! On the other hand, he is a hard worker, a strong competitor and loyal in a way that is completely detrimental to his own game. That means he will be used early on, especially when we consider that Mana looks overmatched physically, but at some point no one will need him anymore. Caleb’s chances of winning: Nil.

Catherine: Ugh, Caleb. That’s about all I have to say. Not a fan, never will be, and will be actively rooting against his success in this game.

He’s got no chance to win this at all. Best case scenario for Caleb would be getting dragged to the end and perhaps lucking his way into $100,000. I’m hoping that he’s out early, but that’s just wishful thinking. He’s a physically strong player, who will help your tribe. He’s also going to choose an alliance early and remain loyal to it. These players are crazy if they are voting out Caleb, and letting other players like Tony or Sandra stick around.

Dan: I didn’t have much of a reaction to Caleb in Kaôh R?ng, but he’s bugged me during the pre-season. Caleb seems intent on being a big character and wants to be a villain. That rarely works out well for anyone. He’s really proud of himself, and it’s not a good look for Caleb. It’s possible that Caleb is just talking to get attention, but I’m not convinced. Regardless, he’s at the bottom of my list in terms of players that interest me this season.

Sarah: I’m glad Caleb has one fan in Scott, because I’m joining the others in their disappointment he’s here. Not only does Caleb bring little to the table in terms of interest, but his presence actively hurts the bigger characters from Kaôh Rong who I do want to see go far. If Mana decide they need to break up the Kaôh R?ng four, it’s going to be Aubry they target, not the blindly loyal Caleb. As it is, Caleb’s a lock for mid-jury at least and is a strong candidate for a losing finalist.

Christian: I did not like Caleb on Big Brother, I found him creepy and misogynistic. On Survivor, I was surprised to find him kind of amusing and was vaguely disappointed when he was evaced. Despite the fact that beast mode cowboy is a challenge…err…beast, he has to be considered a lightweight based on his previous play. A smart returning player should try to hitch their wagon to Caleb, let everyone else think Caleb is the leader, and then put him out to pasture when the time comes.

Christine: Now I feel bad for Caleb and feel compelled to say something nice. It’s hard considering he’s a young Culpepper. FUBMC might become a trending hashtag.

Troyzan Robertson

Scott: When I saw Troyzan was being brought back to play Survivor, I can’t say I was exactly happy about it. I hated his original season. I feel like that year, the producers were so determined to get a female to win, that they stacked the season with awful men players, and Troyzan was right in the middle of it. I mean the men in that season practically rolled over and played dead all season long and it was hard to watch. I don’t remember much about his game, other than he reminded me of the guy that lives in the side house of your home and does random carpenter work around town to pay the bills and occasionally has affairs with unhappily married woman. I don’t think Troyzan has a chance in hell at winning this season. I will need to see way more out of him early on to give him any chance at being there at the end of this season.

Michel: The guy has a problem: He thinks Survivor is HIS own personal adventure and his alone. Most kids grow out of the phase where they think the world revolves only around them but, apparently, Troyzan hasn’t reached that point yet. I enjoyed One World a lot and a big reason why was seeing Kim completely outwit this pretentious dumbass. Troyzan’s chances of winning: Nil.

Catherine: I’m conflicted about Troyzan. I love his enthusiasm for the game. I really, honestly felt bad for him when he wasn’t chosen for Second Chances. He’s a Survivor fan, and the game means the world to him. However, this seems to mean that Troy cares more about making a lasting impression than he does about winning the game. I think he will do well this season — but I cannot envision a scenario where he gets to the end and somehow the jury votes for him. I cannot believe that we will ever live in a world where Troyzan is a Survivor winner.

Rob has a theory that second-time players often try to emulate the game of the person who won their season. If Troyzan can play the game even half as well as Kim did, perhaps he can surprise us all.

Dan: I don’t really get the interest in seeing Troyzan play again, especially from Jeff. He’s a character but isn’t particularly good at Survivor. Instead of looking for cracks in Kim’s alliance, he made it easy for them to vote him out with his shenanigans. With all that said, I expect Troyzan to last for quite a while. He doesn’t fit into any of the categories of players that will be targeted (winners, strategists, challenge threats, Kaôh R?ng players). If Troyzan sits back and doesn’t try to prove that he’s a great player, he could go far. Catherine’s point about Troyzan trying to be like Kim is the key. He will coast to the merge if he doesn’t look to take charge.

Sarah: I can at least understand why Troyzan was brought back, because he’s a character, though not one I’m particularly excited to see again. I am not any more optimistic about Troyzan’s chances than the others (if he can play like Kim, Catherine’s certainly right that he will surprise us all!), so my biggest hope for Troyzan is that he’s the asshole who Sandra will be putting in his place for as long as he’s around.

Christian: The veteran casting that I hate the most has a name, and that name is Troyzan. He clearly comes back because he has a big personality and is willing to share his personal journey with the cameraman, his fellow contestants, the rocks, the trees, and the Internet. I think it’s possible that Troyzan tries to emulate Kim’s willing game…but I don’t think he’ll be able to do it. Troyzan’s stay in this game will depend on how long the factors that Dan pointed out weigh against his ability to set people’s teeth on edge.

Christine: Troyzan is just here to form another misfits alliance. This time around, the deck isn’t entirely stacked against him. My fellow bloggers are being harsh — the man had to form an alliance with Leif, Tarzan, Colton, and Jonas. Anyone having to fight his way up from that would hit a breaking point.

Well, Catherine, before November, I never anticipated the world we now live in. Troyzan for the win!

Zeke Smith

Scott: Zeke had a hell of game last season, and coming back already may hurt his chances, because his game is still fresh in the minds of the other players. It will be hard for Zeke to try and be the puppet master again, without it seeming really transparent. I do think Zeke has the natural ability to blend in and socialize well with others, which early on in Survivor is always key. He can carry his own weight in competitions as well, so I don’t see him being an early target, unless he overcooks things early and tries to force himself into a leader role. I think Zeke’s play early on should be to do very little and let things unfold in front of him.

Michel: The biggest question I have regarding Zeke is why Jeff didn’t mention his presence this season during the last reunion. He told us that Michaela would be there so why not Zeke? I’d say there are two possibilities: Either Zeke does very poorly or he does very well. His final words last season included a line about playing better next time. Of course, he had no way of knowing how he would do at the time but when it came time to edit his last words, production knew how he had done because, for them, S34 had already been filmed. I think they included that line because Zeke does, in fact, do well. Zeke’s chances of winning:  25%

Catherine: I’m worried about Zeke’s chances for longevity in this season. Nobody out there knows who he is, or what he did. Unlike Michaela, who comes across as an open book, Zeke is someone who can tend to seem outwardly manipulative. He looks like someone who is out there to scheme, blindside, and revel in the defeat of others. While he is no slouch in the challenges, he’s clearly no Ozzy or Malcolm. His tribe won’t need his strength and won’t trust his loyalty. I don’t think Zeke is making the merge.

Dan: I like Zeke and don’t mind seeing him again so soon. He brings a lot to the show and also knows the game. Sadly, I’m inclined to agree with Catherine about his chances. It wouldn’t shock me to see Zeke hang around, but the others won’t trust him at the start. He’ll need to prove that he’s a valuable ally but not go overboard trying to woo them. Zeke is a likable guy and can be genuine, so his survival will come down to the direction of the season. If the big fish start falling, Zeke could hang in the shadows. Zeke needs to make friends with Brad Culpepper, Sierra, and Sarah. That mismatched group could then target Cirie, JT, and Andrea as threats. It’s not the optimal situation for me as a viewer, but it could lead Zeke to great things.

Sarah: I really like Michel’s meta spin on why Zeke might do well — it gives me a little more optimism for his chances! Zeke’s strength is being able to find that common ground with most other players. He’s also starting on a tribe with Andrea, the one person who he’s met before while playing the fan-run Survivor Brooklyn. Zeke was a fairly low key player in that game, so Andrea should be pleased rather than concerned to see him.

In Millennials vs Gen X, Zeke struggled to deepen those early bonds into something that would last long term, but with more obvious threats around, he should be able to get under the radar. What concerns me is his assumption that this game is going to be fast and aggressive. If he does go home early, it will probably be due to overplaying his hand right out of the gate.

Christian: I’m going to second Sarah’s hope that Michel’s right in terms of Zeke and the meta game. From what we’ve seen of Zeke’s game, this season may actually be perfect for him. On Millennials vs Gen X, Zeke wasn’t always in the forefront. For a period of time (after the initial catastrophe at their first Tribal Council), Zeke stayed in the weeds and worked on alliances/friendships but waited for his spot. As a relatively unknown player, this season could make that a very profitable play for Zeke. I’m going to go out on a limb and pick him as my winner.

Christine: Zeke is versatile. Who would have expected a Chris-Zeke bond? Who would expect a Brad-Zeke bond? I agree with Catherine that Zeke needs to lay low. He did so his first time around and let Mari lead the way.

I can see Zeke going very far playing a similar game to his first.

Sierra Dawn Thomas

Michel: One could ask why she is on this cast because what move did she ever make? I appreciate the eye candy factor, and the Nuku tribe may consider that she’s the only woman they have to rival Michaela physically. Add the fact that she will be seen as a loyal player, so she could last a while, but the others won’t see her as a deserving returnee. That has played a role in every season of returning players except the very first one. Her chances of winning are nil.

Catherine: Sierra played a really good game in Worlds Apart. If it wasn’t for Mike’s improbable immunity streak, then Sierra probably wins that season. She played an under-the-radar game and coupled it with an inoffensive social game. That winning combination got her to a position where she could have beaten any of her allies, both physically and in a jury vote. If she plays the same way here, she could once again be in with a chance.

My worry for her is that she will be eager to prove herself. To “do something” this time. I’m worried that Sierra has been drinking the “big moves” Kool-Aid, and instead of laying low and being nice, which are her strengths, she is going to try and be some kind of strategic mastermind. I think that Sierra is going to be her own worst enemy here. I see her going out early.

Dan: It’s easy to wonder about Sierra’s inclusion in this season, but that’s really more of a casting question. She’s part of the game and will make an impact in some fashion. Catherine raises a great point that Sierra may have a chip on her shoulder about her spot. Will she let the game come to her and not overplay her hand. There are some heavy hitters in this cast, so why risk it? Sierra is a good athlete and a decent social player, so making strong bonds up front could serve her well. I don’t believe that Sierra will win, but she could match her first result.

Sarah: Like Cat, I’m disappointed to see Sierra declaring that “This time, I’m going to make big moves!” Partly because I think she’d be better off staying low key, and partly because it makes her feel like more of a retread than the 4th timers on the cast. She might get herself into trouble with the desire to prove herself this time, or she might repeat her feat of simply being very normal and well-liked in a game filled with loud personalities. So I could expect any result from Sierra, but my hope is that she can rekindle my interest once the season begins.

Christian: The problem with playing an under-the-radar game is that you run the risk of finding yourself on the outside looking in. Part of the reason things didn’t go her way on World’s Apart is that, with Mike’s immunity streak, she was on the outside of the conversations regarding who was going to go instead. She wasn’t really a game-changer in her season (despite opportunities) but the game changed around her and she found herself on the losing side of it. I’ve stated before that I’m against making “Big Moves” just for the sake of making them, and having Sierra declare that she’ll be looking to do so doesn’t impress me…after all, it discounts the possibility that she’ll be in a strong enough position that making those moves would make no sense.

I agree with Sarah that almost any result with Sierra is possible; she has social game, she’s strong physically, and she’s not a complete strategic dead zone. She could bring it all together in a Parvati-like resurgence, or she could flame out in week two.

Christine: What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. If you’re Sierra Dawn Thomas, you share a surname with a winner (or two), a middle name with the Caramoan runner up, and a first name with Tocantins’ sweetheart, not to mention the Queen’s initials. There’s a lot to her name! Let’s hope there’s something to her game.

Sierra had a pretty good social game, and she might go far. Given the playing field, she might have to make a big move to get ahead, Sarah. If she makes them for the sake of making them, then she rightfully deserves “fan favorite” as a title.

Scott: Wow, I really don’t remember her at all. I just remember thinking that the cast of that season was really bad overall. If you grade each season’s winner on a curve, Mike’s win that season would rank near or at the bottom in my opinion. I really don’t think the common, general Survivor fan is going to have a recollection about Sierra whatsoever. I think she has a nondescript middle of the game vote out written all over her.

JT Thomas Jr.

Michel: Will we see the smart Tocantins version or the dumb Heroes vs. Villains one?  Since Stephen won’t be there, I think we can expect the latter. JT’s challenge abilities should keep him from being voted out early, but he’s proven to be untrustworthy, so he’ll probably fall at the swap. Chances of winning: nil.

Catherine: Michel, you’re wondering whether we are going to see Tocantins JT, or Heroes vs Villains JT this season? Well, I think we might get a JT that is somewhere in the middle. Tocantins JT is an anomaly. I don’t think we will ever see another cast of newbies all willingly sacrifice their own games for someone else. And we definitely won’t see this cast of veterans do it. JT isn’t going to cakewalk his way to the million dollars this time.

But I do think that he has learnt from his mistakes, and we won’t be seeing him overplay the way he did in season 20. Besides, while Fishbach will be watching from home this time, there are plenty of players this season that are openly aiming to be JT’s new Stephen. They’ll remember his boneheaded idol play, and they will underestimate him. And for that reason, I think he absolutely can win this game.

Dan: A lot of people are underestimating JT, and his failure on Heroes vs. Villains is a main reason. It’s also been 14 seasons since he played and 16 since Tocantins. Few players likely remember how dominant he was during his victory. The question is how much this solid footing will benefit JT in the long run. Ozzy and Cirie are bigger targets on his tribe, and people aren’t taking JT that seriously. Will he show his hand too soon? I don’t believe JT can slide through to the end, but his situation intrigues me. He has the best chance of the three winners to go far, but I’m still unsure of how good JT can be with more experienced players.

Sarah: I’m not quite as down on JT as Michel, but I’m close. When I first heard he was back, I thought this was great timing for him, because there’s so much distance since he last played. The other players should remember the idol screw up and not the perfect game…and then the pre-game interviews came out. JT’s biggest regret is losing a challenge that was not designed for his body type. He’s thinking he can out-strategize Malcolm and beat Sandra in a final three! (Maybe he can, but this is something that needs to be tested rather than assumed!) Obviously, once he gets into the game and interacts with everybody fully, his assumptions will change. But Survivor’s come a long way since Heroes vs Villains, and I’m no longer sure JT is ready for it.

Christian: I’m probably the one person that doesn’t beat JT up about giving up the idol to Russell on HvV, given the information he had at the time he reached a logical conclusion and then went all-in based on what he thought he knew. We’ve seen worse decisions on Survivor, and given the perfection of his first season I’m willing to give him some reasonable doubt. However, that willingness to put a large part of your game on a single bet doesn’t work as well anymore.

With this cast of veterans, I don’t think JT has any chance of winning. People will be looking to either use him, in which case he’ll end up on the jury the first time he loses individual immunity, or they’re going to want to get him out because he’s a threat. The game has changed a lot since he last played, and to succeed now you have to have multiple different alliances, you have to be able to hedge your bets, and position yourself so that you can play in multiple blocs. None of that describes JT’s strengths.

Christine: I see Andrea as JT’s Stephen, and he could go far. The blunder in Heroes vs Villains could keep the target off of him as a winner. There are too many other players who will be seen as immediate threats.

Scott: Can anyone comment that JT looks like he has aged 40 years since we last saw him? Looking at a video of him was just jarring. With that said, JT is a quality Survivor player, it just comes down to whether he still has that fire and drive to win the game. Sometimes, these old-time players come back and just look sedated and are gone within the first three episodes. I hope that isn’t the case here. I would like to see JT get a little redemption from the last time he played Survivor, and I think he could do it.

Tai Trang

Michel: While his Survivor skills will be appreciated during the tribal portion, the players will see him as someone who can make the game go boom! Tai showed a propensity of finding idols, so he won’t be trusted. He was one of the “Reunion 7” so that makes me think he’ll see the merger but he shouldn’t last much longer. Chances of winning: nil.

Catherine: I honestly don’t think that Tai is ever going to have what it takes to win this game. I think you could bring him back 100 times, and although he would be banking plenty of that Sia money, he would never collect the million.

There are a lot of things working against Tai this season. He’s one of the Kaôh R?ng four, which will make him a target. He has a reputation for flipping on his allies, which will make him a target. Last time he played he was a little bit of a screen hog, and that may also make him a target. Tai seems like a lovely man, and perhaps he can use his amazing social game to win him some allies. It is possible that he could ride that alliance to the end, where he will have no chance of getting the jury’s votes. I think it is more likely that Tai finds himself hopelessly outgunned this season and will leave early.

Dan: Tai is a fun character, and I’m looking forward to seeing him on my screen again. Scot and Jason lost partially because they put faith in Tai. They looked at him as a pawn they could control. Tai is a wild card that will reveal plans at Tribal Council and dump water on the fire in the middle of the night. Players will be wary to align with him, and that will make it tough for Tai. He’s on the same tribe as Debbie, another wild card from the same season. I share Catherine’s belief that Tai won’t do well this season. It’s unclear how much the others will worry about him, however, so he may stick around for a little while.

Sarah: If we were going to get one person to make it to the finals a second time, my money would probably be on Tai, but I think Catherine and Dan’s predictions are closer to the mark. Based on pre-season material, many of Tai’s future tribemates want to work with him, but there’s also a lot of concerns over his wild card status, and it doesn’t sound like Tai’s planning on calming down. Add in the Kaôh R?ng four target, and my call is that once Tai and Caleb make it to the same tribe, Caleb’s allies will demand he prove his loyalty by voting Tai off. Sorry, Fiji chickens, but you’ll be losing your guardian pre-merge.

Christian: I like Tai, he was a part of interesting moments, and he makes for good TV. By all accounts, he’s a very nice person and everyone says very nice things about him. While Tai has a knack for finding idols, he’s also got a knack for flipping alliances. He’s not quite Chaos Kass, but he is unpredictable enough that players should want to show him the road, quickly.

Christine: Tai is so lovable, and the need to have a nice person around may work for him. Tai might be asked to show his loyalty and vote Caleb off somewhere down the road. Like his first season, a swap or an idol could save him.

Scott: I think is very hard to predict. It seemed like the last time he played, he zigged and zagged so many different times in the season, that at the start of the season it seemed like he was destined to be voted out early, then he seemed almost unbeatable and then he imploded a little and was gone. My gut tells me that he won’t make it as deep this season as he did the last time he played. I think Tai will do something foolish early and will be one of the first five gone.

Jeff Varner

Catherine: I can’t quite believe that Jeff Varner is playing the game again. It was a surprise to see him for a second time, but he played so terribly in season 31 that I didn’t think he would want to come back. He certainly made for entertaining television. But the Jeff Varner that we saw in Cambodia was just not good at Survivor. He was a physical liability, he made unnecessary and overly sneaky strategic moves, and he couldn’t keep his allies loyal. While I’m surprised to see him back, I’m glad that Cambodia wasn’t the end of Varner’s story.

Instead, we get Varner 3.0. And we hope that Varner 3.0 has spent some time in the gym over the past year. Hopefully Varner 3.0 hasn’t spent all his time building up pregame alliances that he plans to sell down the river at the first vote. Varner 3.0 had better have spent the past year making himself into a competent Survivor player. I’m rooting for him. I’ll be hoping that he at least makes the merge this time. And if he makes the merge, then he becomes a real threat to actually win the game. And that would be the most perfect ending to his Survivor story.

Dan: Jeff was my favorite part of the beginning of Second Chances, and I don’t believe he can play much differently. The guy just can’t help himself; he’s nervous and crazy in hilarious fashion. Coming back after a shorter time period, Jeff should have learned at least something from his quick exit in Cambodia. I’m hopeful that Jeff will relax and be a part of this until the end. I’m not entirely convinced it will happen, though. Still, he won’t stand out as a threat. In this cast, there are a lot of alphas to use as shields. Jeff could be a sneaky player this time.

Sarah: I am both more and less optimistic than you two. I think Jeff has taken the right lessons from Cambodia — all evidence suggests he has certainly improved physically, and he at least wants to play a calmer, more laid back game. The question we’re all asking is “Can he?”, and we’re probably all going to have different answers, but — and maybe this is wishful thinking — I’m hopeful that he can at least sit back long enough to make it to the jury finally. At that point, I don’t know if Jeff can really hold it together through the rocky post-merge waters of voting blocs and meat shields. Instead, I see him falling into the Ciera Eastin role: he’ll discover he’s lost his numbers and become the scrappy underdog imploring the others to make a big move that’s never in their best interests.

Christian: Sorry Sarah, my answer would be he can’t. I just don’t think we’re ever going to see a Jeff Varner that’s able to execute a calm and laid-back game of Survivor. But luckily for Jeff, he’s an entertaining guy, and when he’s not being crazy he makes the otherwise boring down time interesting. Coming into the game, people should know that they have to treat Jeff warily in terms of what they tell him, but they can’t at all see him as a strategic or game-play threat… which plays into his advantage. I always view returning seasons as upside-down cakes, the players who are considered the light-weights have an advantage going in because they’re not likely to be targeted at all. Jeff, even with his track record of capsizing alliances, is probably the lightest of the lightweights who have come back this season.

If he’s in better shape this season, there is actually a path that gets him to final tribal. Early game, he shouldn’t be a liability and can keep camp life fun; middle game, he won’t be a clear threat and can be recruited as a number when alliances shift with merges, etc; late game, he’s a goat who can win the odd immunity challenge. Unless we see some strange Alpha player alliance that gets, and stays, together, Jeff should be around for a while.

Christine: Varner is fun to watch, and like Christian, I do not think he will be perceived as a threat. He should squeak by for a while and steer away from flipping. Eventually, he will become bored and let chaos reign, which will result in his demise post-swap.

Scott: Jeff like everybody else has said is good for Survivor in that you know he won’t be boring. I agree that if he comes into the game in shape, he has the ability to make some things happen out there. I think Jeff for-whatever reason is one of those returning players that has a reputation that almost is too overblown, to the point that it almost completely submarines his whole game before it even starts. I think Jeff is fighting such an uphill battle that his chances to win this game are slim to none.

Michel: Varner had a shot during Second Chances, but a foot injury and an unlucky swap did him in. Unfortunately for him, everyone saw that he is much smarter than your average Survivor player. Who else votes someone from his own alliance just to shake up everyone else and get them to play?  That sort of deviousness will certainly get him in trouble. I don’t think Varner has a chance this time.

Tony Vlachos

Catherine: I think we all know that Tony is the biggest threat out there. It’s not just that he’s a former winner. It is the way he won. The dominant way that he played. The idols he found. The lies he told. The oaths he broke. The way that he blindsided nearly everyone in his alliance, and was able to repair the damage immediately. The way that he had a masterful control over the post-merge portion of the game.

Everyone on the cast has seen Cagayan. They know the way that Tony plays. And so, they would be crazy to keep him around, even for one vote. But this is Survivor, and crazy things happen. Jeremy showed everyone how to win in a returnee season — you use the meat shield strategy. Tony himself used this masterfully in his first season. And for some of the bigger threats out there, Tony would be the perfect meat shield to have around.

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part. But I think that there are plenty of people (Ozzy, Malcolm, Sandra, Cirie) that need a meat shield. I think Tony is going to be with us for a while.

Dan: My first season blogging for RHAP was Cagayan, and I spent much of that game writing about Tony’s mistakes. He regularly pinned himself in the corner and then battled has way out of trouble. Of course, a big factor was the presence of the Tyler Perry Idol. It’s easier to play erratically when you have a free pass (and another idol!). There are no second chances for Tony this time. He’s a prime target for everyone, and idol shenanigans can only go so far. Can Tony build alliances that stick together with veteran players? I’d love to see it happen and hope he doesn’t leave early. I don’t think he can win the game again, though.

Sarah: Oh, Tony! I still don’t fully understand how he won Cagayan, and I’m not convinced by his own explanation of his game theory, most of which still sounds like a terrible idea to me. I’m so curious to watch him play again so that I can judge how much he affected his own win and how much was brought about by the dynamics of Cagayan’s eclectic cast. Accordingly, my expectations aren’t too high for Tony — especially since I think it’s a lunatic idea for anybody else to team up with a player who is so proven to go off-plan. Yet for as long as he’s there, he will earn his screen time. His might not be the most efficient game of Survivor, but it’s certainly an entertaining one.

Christian: I wasn’t blogging during Tony’s season…so let me put this out there right now: I loathed Tony originally. Hated him. I thought his game play was erratic, his motivations transparent, and I’d labelled him as a Brian Heidik 2.0. However, over the course of the season that crazy bastard won me over. His game play is so over the top, so erratic, and so self-interested that there is no way it should have worked out… but it did. Tony uttered one of the least defensive defenses at Tribal Council, that just passed by unchallenged: “I’m not lying, I had reasons!

It goes without saying that Tony is one of the biggest threats: he’s a past winner (though he should never have made it to final tribal, Woo), he’s a physical threat, and he’s got a proven ability to manipulate other players. If I was one of the returning players I would think he was too dangerous to use as a meat shield because there’s too large of a chance that Tony would find a way to flip things around. Some players might underestimate his oversized personality, but if Tony makes the merge than this cast has made a very large mistake.

Christine: It is easy to point to flaws in his game, but Tony had to contend with Kass, Spencer, Trish, and Tasha. It did not all come down to a Tyler Perry Idol but also a solid alliance. Tony is the master of chaos and he should be able to maneuver his way into a majority alliance, unless as in All-Stars, winners are targeted first. Even then, Sandra may be target number one if players are wise. I hope to be singing Tony, Toni, Toné has done it again.

Scott: I really feel like Tony had no idea he was on Survivor until like day 33. It seemed like he thought his life was actually in danger and at some point he would have taking a machete to someone if he felt they were a credible threat. Then out of nowhere he won the game. Tony is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to win this season because he will have a target on his back from the first moment of the game. I do think though that Tony if given the opportunity can get to the end again. For me it just comes down to whether the other players early on decide to just bombard him and get him out of there. If Tony can survive the first three episodes, I look for him to make a deep run again.

Michel: Judging by his exit interviews after Cagayan, Tony thinks he’s a great player. He isn’t. He thinks his skills earned him the title of Sole Survivor. They didn’t. Luck and an overpowered idol did it all. From a pre-game poll, we have six people (Andrea, Hali, JT, Sierra, Tai, and Varner) all wanting to vote him out first so unless he finds another idol very quickly, Tony is dead meat. Tony was part of the Reunion 7 so I’ll be generous and give him a 5% chance of winning, but that’s mostly because I’ve just realized that I have an extra 5% and I simply can’t give it to the last player to round the corner!

Debbie Wanner

Catherine: There are two possible outcomes for Debbie. Either she is so unbearably irritating that her tribe unanimously vote her out early, or she is so unbearably irritating that her tribe unanimously decide that she is the perfect goat to take to the end, and she is therefore around for the long haul. Even Nicolestradamus has to admit that Debbie surely has a zero percent chance to win this game.

I think that Debbie is going to be an early boot. She might look like an enticing goat, but Debbie has shown that she isn’t willing to be someone’s loyal soldier. She likes to pull off the total blindside (insert dramatic music here), and she likes to have control. If anybody has the patience and the social finesse to handle Debbie all the way to the final three, then they deserve that money.

Dan: I agree with Catherine that Debbie’s erratic play will lead to her end. She’s a dangerous player that could make serious waves; underestimating her is not wise. Debbie is aggressive and won’t hesitate to go after others that get in her way. Debbie was a big character on Kaôh R?ng, which creates a trap for her. In their preview, Josh and Rob discussed whether Debbie would play up her manic behavior for the cameras this time. If she goes that route, she won’t last long.

Sarah: I’ll ditto the others on Debbie’s prospects, but — rather like Tony — I’m not so much interested in how Debbie does as what she does. I want to see her turtle alliance with Tai, to watch her go full cougar on Ozzy, to find out if Brad really knows how much he’s bitten off with his plan to align with her — while she embraces it all with her own brand of zest. For my money, Debbie’s one of the all-time best casting choices, and I will gladly accept every episode of her that we’re offered.

Christian: For all of my talk that the Alpha players will be targeted early, I think Debbie will end up being an exception. She’s too erratic, too hard to manage, and too likely to stir things up in a way that helps no one. I’ve said that some of the smaller fry could go deep in the game…but Debbie won’t take a back seat to anyone else’s story…so she’s likely to get herself voted off pre-merge.

Christine: The female Coach may reinvent herself as the female Phillip Sheppard. Any way you slice it, she’s toast. As everyone has pointed out, she is erratic and aggressive, but she is playing with three very big egos whom she will likely cozy up to. That alone should make this season enjoyable. She is a bright woman, but I do not think her analytical side will trump her eccentric nature. Pre-merge boot.

Scott: I don’t think Debbie has a chance in hell to win Survivor now or ever…that is all.

Michel: Like all the other players, we saw that Debbie is “cuckoo for cocoa puffs”, and judging by the reason she gives for targeting Andrea first (“This isn’t a Playboy shoot”), things haven’t improved since the last time. All the guys will want to get rid of her because she tried to rally a women’s alliance while the women wouldn’t want to cut their options by sticking their neck out for her. Bye Debbie.

It’s Predictions Time!

Once again, the bloggers will compete to see which of us knows the most about the Game Changers. Sarah won this contest last season by picking Adam to win, but there are more chances for points this time. This should give all of us a better chance to earn points this season. Let’s get to our picks!

Who will be the first boot on Mana? (5 pts)

Catherine: Sandra. Can I guess that these guys never lose?

Christian: Troyzan

Christine: Ciera

Dan: Sandra. I hate to say this and am choosing her to ensure it doesn’t happen. Please don’t let the queen get voted out at the start.

Michel: Ciera

Sarah: Ciera. Too many people thinking she’s sneaky and a good liar going into the season. I think she’d be an easy consensus boot.

Scott: Varner. I think he gets targeted.

Who will be the first boot on Nuku? (5 pts)

Scott: Andrea and her ego go first.

Sarah: Debbie. There are a few people who I could see putting a target on their backs on this tribe, but Debbie is the one that the tribe will find hardest to reason with.

Michel: Debbie

Dan: Sarah. I expect that she’ll enter the game with a huge chip on her shoulder based on her last exit, and that’s a bad sign.

Christine: Cirie

Christian: Debbie

Catherine: Zeke. He’s the unknown quantity here, and I think it works to his disadvantage.

Who will have the most confessionals? (1 pt for most in each episode, 10 pts for total confessionals in the season)

Catherine: Varner. He’s a screen hog, and I think he’ll eat up the confessionals as long as he’s out there.

Christian: Aubry

Christine: Zeke

Dan: Varner. This is a tricky question since you want to pick someone that will last a while. I’m going to hop aboard the Varner train given how good he is with the camera. If he makes it past the merge, who will catch him?

Michel: Ozzy

Sarah: Varner. He’s too good a narrator for the cameras to pass up, so I’m gambling he’ll go deep.

Scott: JT

Who will find and play an immunity idol? (5 pts for finding idol, 5 pts for successfully playing an idol)

Scott: Tai

Sarah: Michaela. Can knowing the geography give you an advantage in finding idols?

Michel: Ozzy

Dan: Malcolm. Tony is the obvious pick here, but I’m not convinced he’ll last long enough to find an idol. Malcolm is persistent and clever enough to play them correctly.

Christine: Tony

Christian: Andrea

Catherine: Tony. Got to go with Tony, right? This one’s a no brainer!

Who will receive an advantage? (5 pts)

Catherine: Malcolm.

Christian: Zeke

Christine: Ozzy

Dan: Andrea. There’s no real science to predicting this category, so I’ll pick Andrea since I expect her to be in the center of the action. I hope it’s better than the reward steal.

Michel: Tai

Sarah: Tony. Mostly because I passed him over as too obvious for the idol pick!

Scott: Tony

Who will win the most individual immunity challenges? (5 pts)

Scott: Malcolm

Sarah: Michaela. She got that MvGX reunion hype for something. Hedging my bets by picking her for both idols and challenges.

Michel: Ozzy

Dan: Michaela. I’m all in on Michaela, who never got the chance to shine in the post-merge game of her season. These players also don’t realize her potential, and guys like Ozzy and Malcolm will seem like bigger threats and get more attention.

Christine: Ozzy

Christian: Malcolm

Catherine: Michaela

Who will make the merge? (1 pt for each correct answer)

Catherine: Andrea, Aubry, Brad, Caleb, Debbie, Hali, JT, Malcolm, Michaela, Ozzy, Sarah, Troyzan, Varner

Christian: Andrea, Aubry, Brad, Ciera, Cirie, Hali, JT, Malcolm, Michaela, Sarah, Tony, Varner, Zeke

Christine: Andrea, Brad, Caleb, Hali, JT, Malcolm, Ozzy, Sierra, Tai, Tony, Troyzan, Zeke

Dan: Andrea, Aubry, Brad, Cirie, Hali, JT, Malcolm, Michaela, Ozzy, Sierra, Troyzan, Varner, Zeke

Michel: Andrea, Aubry, Caleb, Cirie, JT, Malcolm, Michaela, Ozzy, Sandra, Sarah, Sierra, Tony, Zeke

Sarah: Andrea, Aubry, Brad, Caleb, Cirie, Hali, Malcolm, Michaela, Ozzy, Sandra, Sarah, Sierra, Varner

Scott: Aubry, Caleb, Ciera, Cirie, Hali, JT, Malcolm, Ozzy, Sandra, Sarah, Tai, Tony, Zeke

Who will be the merge boot?

Scott: Caleb

Sarah: Sandra. Because I’m a contrarian.

Michel: JT

Dan: JT. I’d love to see the winners all stick around for a while, but I believe that Sandra and Tony will go early. That will leave JT, who will slide through but fall at the merge.

Christine: Malcolm

Christian: Tony

Catherine: Caleb

Who will be the two runners up? (10 pts)

Catherine: Brad, Debbie

Christian: Ciera, Aubry

Christine: Troyzan, Andrea

Dan: Varner, Sierra. The former will betray too many people, and the latter won’t get credit for staying out of trouble.

Michel: Andrea, Zeke

Sarah: Brad, Caleb. Not sure they’ll make it together, but they both seem like logical contenders.

Scott: Cirie, Sandra

Who will be the Sole Survivor? (15 pts)

Scott: JT

Sarah: Andrea. I swear, I’ve considered at least six names for my winner pick….there are so many people in those dark horse and middle ground tiers. But throughout the pre-season, I’ve found myself remembering just how much I like Andrea. She’s got that farm girl turned city socialite background that allows her to tap into different demographics and at just 23, she played a very dominant game in Caramoan. I’m hoping that with an extra four years of life experience, she’s grown into her potential.

Michel: Ozzy

Dan: Michaela. In an unpredictable season of returning players, an underdog will usually emerge to draw the jury’s attention. That person is a strong competitor and can put together a string of victories in the push to the end. The other finalists won’t recognize the danger until it’s too late. That prize will go to Michaela, who will learn from her past mistakes and grab the title.

Christine: JT

Christian: Michaela

Catherine: I want to pick nearly all of them! You know what, give me Ozzy. He’s on his fourth time playing, and that has to count for something. He’s not being mentioned as a huge threat. In fact, people seem to want to work with him. He is still in good shape and can easily win enough challenges to get himself to the end (unless there is a Sophie Clarke out here to slay the dragon), and he is likable enough to win the votes of a jury.

It’s great to see such a wide range of opinions from the group on this cast, and I can’t wait to see what happens. The bloggers will be here every week to talk about all the big moves and surprises from the season. You can follow all of our work on the RHAP blog throughout the game. We’re just a few days away, and I can’t wait.

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