Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers

Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers — The Bloggers Roundtable Preview

Following the constant twists and chaos of Game Changers, I’m excited to have a new-player season again. There are few things better on Survivor than meeting a fun group of characters for the first time. When the cast is set up well, the show doesn’t need crazy twists to make it work. That’s my hope for season 35, which is set to begin in just a few days.

The RHAP bloggers are back once again to make our bold predictions about what will happen this season. This smart gang of Sarah Channon, Dan Heaton (hello!), Catherine Lucas, Logan Saunders, and Christian Williams is ready to go! This is Logan’s first bloggers roundtable, while the rest of us are back to analyze the players once again. Let’s do this!


The Heroes

alanAlan Ball

Dan: It’s easy to rope Alan in with other former professional athletes like Brad Culpepper and Cliff Robinson, but it doesn’t help with assessing his chances. There’s little in common between the games of Robinson and a guy like Jeff Kent. It’s clear that Alan should do well in challenges. He’s only 31 and played in NFL games as recently as 2015. He’ll be a valuable asset for the Heroes and seems laid-back enough to make solid allies.

Alan won’t mention his NFL career, but he won’t sneak up on anyone. Even if the others buy his claim of being a trainer, Alan will stay on the radar. Ryan spots him as a likely professional athlete, and he isn’t the only one with that idea. The good news for Alan is the crowd of other players that have spent a lot of time in the gym. Will he set his ego aside and let others take the lead? Alan recognizes the danger, and that’s an important step. I think he’ll charm his tribemates and survive the early stages. Whether he can go further is the bigger question.

Sarah: What really intrigues me about Alan is how young he is. He’s over 30, which is in the older half of this cast, but in terms of former athletes…Alan could still play football professionally. He’s retired, married and settled down, so he can relate to the older people in the cast, but he’s not far removed from his 20s, and I’m sure he’s got a lot more in common with the younger people.

As Dan pointed out, Alan’s already on a lot of people’s radar, but he’s also very likeable. He’s laid back, smiling, and he uses a certain S-word the way the Smurfs use “Smurf”, which is ridiculously disarming. (Any drinking games for this season should require a shot every time Alan’s mouth gets blurred.) Like many other former athletes on the show, that demeanor might disappear if he finds himself on a losing team/alliance, but if not, his charm will take him far. Meat shields are in, as far as Survivor trends go, and if you’re going to hide behind somebody, hide behind the guy you like the most. I think Alan’s going to be around longer than we might typically expect a physical threat, but I’m not sure if this is the season where the meat shield wins.

Catherine: Alan is one of my favorites. Just listening to his interviews, he comes across as someone that would be really fun to be around. Someone that would make a really strong leader. Someone who is clearly in love with his wife. This guy has more in common with Brad Culpepper than just an NFL career. The question is: does he have more in common with Culpepper’s original game, or his second iteration?

I think that like Brad 2.0, Alan is going to do well here. Like Sarah mentions, the trend in Survivor recently has been to keep the meat shields around, and meat shields don’t get much better than Alan. He’s physically strong, incredibly likable, and I think that he’s someone that people will want to keep around. Unfortunately, I can’t see anyone wanting to sit at the end with Alan. His only path to the Final Three would be to go on an immunity run. With all of the fit, athletic people on this season, I don’t think that Alan will be able to dominate the individual challenges the way he would like. I think he will come close, but I don’t see Alan as the winner this season.

Christian: It’s difficult to stay under the radar as a former professional athlete. Certainly, you can police what you say, and if you’re an obscure enough player there’s a good chance that none of the other players will have seen you. But that won’t mean they won’t recognize Alan almost immediately as a physically fit guy that they’ll have to keep an eye on.

To Alan’s benefit, he’s the kind of guy an alpha male alliance forms around, even if he’s not the primary shot caller. To Alan’s detriment is that when the tribes shake up (which will presumably happen in week 3 or 4) he’ll become an immediate target for elimination. The biggest question is whether Alan will be able to adjust to the game as he goes along. Survivor is rarely a game where a single alliance can ride things all the way to the end, and as much as Alan is likeable, if that translates to inherent loyalty for his alliance mates, he’s going to run into rocky waters. Regretfully, I think he won’t make the jury phase.

Logan: The last name of a professional athlete is “ball”? What’s his middle name? Pigskin?

Pro athletes do not do too well at Survivor. Some of them will make a run to the middle of the merge and the rest don’t even make it to the halfway point of the game. Hopefully we don’t get a Marcus Pollard of The Amazing Race 19 and have a never-ending onslaught of football references. Alan’s football career is very fresh, and I am curious to see how much of the NFL frame of mind he has left behind in order to relate to his new “team”.

On every season of Survivor, people will always expect the pro athlete in the cast to excel at the individual challenges or the other guys who have a huge build. But let’s stop and think about this. How many times have they won individual immunity? That list is very small. Landscaper Gary Hogeboom won a balance challenge and a memory challenge in Guatemala. It wasn’t until Game Changers that Brad Culpepper won four individual challenges, and his body was physically compromised more than any former pro athlete on Survivor before him.

Alan seems like he will have a fun personality. However, much like Purple Rick from South Pacific, he does say he can’t stand liars. Alan will be a very predictable player in this game.

He won’t be the first out, but if a lot of players are fighting to stay alive pre-merge, Alan would be such an easy target to oust from the game because he won’t take the necessary steps to defend himself or deflect the target on his back.

Prediction: Contrary to my fellow round tablers, I see Alan being eliminated sooner than everyone else thinks. Pre-merge. I don’t think he is diabolical enough to survive.

P.S. A fun game to play will be to see if this season has enough tribe switches where Alan gets traded more than he was in his NFL career.

P.P.S. He will probably explode when he gets hungry. Those will be fun scenes.

benBen Driebergen

Dan: Ben looks like a trouble maker, and the other players see it. Memories of Russell Hantz still linger in their minds. The former U.S. Marine doesn’t have much in common with the little trickster, but he stands out in this group of models and body builders. Unlike Russell, Ben seems like a down-to-earth guy with the ability to get along with others. He won’t blend into the background, and that’s okay. Other players may want to bond with the wild card.

Ben describes himself as a mix of Russell, Boston Rob, and Joe Anglim, so perhaps I should take back what I said about humility. He’s received a pretty good draw with potential early targets like Katrina and Chrissy on his tribe. They may be concerned about being targeted at the start and could look to Ben as an ally. Even an LA firefighter like JP may seek out the Marine. The danger for Ben comes with playing too hard at the start. With athletes like Alan and JP on the Heroes, Ben could over play in trying to remove them. Ben is going to make waves, but I’m not certain he’ll be the last one standing.

Sarah: I don’t get the same wild card vibe that Dan does, but I’m not sure I’ve got the right read on Ben myself. I originally thought this would be the guy who would take the Heroes label to heart, be all about honor, integrity and physical strength, and otherwise drive me crazy. But through his video and podcast/text interviews, he really won me over as this larger than life but loveable and intelligent character who’s found stability after a crazy past. He’ll be able to hang with the loose cannons, but I think he’ll take a steadier approach to the game than stirring up trouble for the sake of it.

I also think that he’s more likely to align with Alan than to target him, and if so, these will be a duo to watch (though hopefully with more success than another ex-military/ex-athlete pair, Kaoh Rong’s Jason and Scot). Ben’s problem is that whoever he aligns with, he’s always going to be the bigger target. I don’t think he’s making it past mid-jury, and there’s a decent chance he’s not making it to the merge.

Catherine: I think Ben is going to do really well. He’s set up perfectly — not physically intimidating enough to be targeted as a threat, but also not one of the weaker members of the cast — he’s not going to be targeted as a liability either. Like many others in the cast, he’s a parent, and cares deeply about his family — and this could be something that bonds him to the rest of his tribe — he is going to be able to make those all important social bonds. More than that, nearly everyone has a positive impression of Ben.

People have recognized him as ex-military, and subsequently want to work with him. They are thinking that he will be blindly loyal, and easily manipulated. I can see where they get that impression, but I think it’s a dangerous assumption to make. I don’t think Ben is going to have any trouble getting himself into a good position in a majority alliance.

Mike calls Ben the biggest threat in the game. He isn’t going to underestimate Ben, but I think that there’s a good chance that everyone else does. I’m with Mike. I think Ben has a chance to win.

Christian: I lean towards Catherine’s interpretation of Ben’s potential fate in the game. In his interviews he’s personable, smart, and interesting, but there’s a little bit of arrogance under all of that. I don’t have a problem with that character trait, I think it takes a bit of arrogance and charisma to get people to do what you want in this game.

The question for Ben will be timing. Move too early, and you’ll find a reluctant tribe uninterested in keeping you around, move too late and everyone will have already formed bonds…he won’t have a way in. What I think Ben should focus on is cultivating good, but not close relationships with his tribe early and then turning that into an alliance when the tribes get shuffled. It’s easier to bring people in who are uncertain about their positioning, and nothing does that like the tribe shuffle. Those ties can also last a surprisingly long time in the game.

If he waits for the right moment to take his shot, Ben has every chance to enter the merge in control of the game. If he does, He’s my pick to win.

Logan: Look at the above opinions on how Ben is going to do in this game. Much like Ben’s personality, it is all over the place. Ben is a tough guy to read. I think he will be the biggest wildcard in this game. The guy has been through a lot in Iraq, and probably has a perspective on things that greatly differ from his tribemates.

Is “Military Ben” going to come out? Is “Be A Family Ben” going to come out? Is “Focus on the task at hand and win this game at all costs” Ben going to come out? I expect to be talking about Ben’s unorthodox style throughout the season. Alan will probably be much easier and much more relaxing for the other Heroes to read compared to a Ben.

Ben will be isolated on the Heroes tribe, and it will be up to the others around him to draw him into an alliance and control his game. Based on Ben’s self-evaluated comparisons to Rob, Russell, and Joe, I fully expect Ben to need a couple of weeks in the game before he fully grasps it. Right now his answers tell me his Survivor comprehension is at a minimal level. If Ben gets to the merge, I will be very intrigued to see what he starts to do on his own. However, if anybody is going to be first out on the Heroes for not fitting in, it’s going to be Ben.

Prediction: He goes pre-merge, but it will be for entertaining reasons.

chrissyChrissy Hofbeck

Dan: It’s easy to look at the early cast members as the obvious first boots, but I doubt that will happen with Chrissy. First of all, that trend isn’t as common in recent seasons with examples like So and Darnell. Players are inclined to over think the choice of the first one out. Also, Chrissy doesn’t resemble the type of person that leaves at the start. She’s a mom and has found great success in business, so navigating the social dynamics shouldn’t be difficult.

Chrissy plans to lie about her age, and it’s not a terrible idea. She’s also going to downplay her profession, so it may get tricky if others believe she isn’t trustworthy. Chrissy has already charmed a lot of other players, so she’s off to a great start. Many use “sweet” to describe her, so that should help for a while. The challenge may come if she betrays their trust. Being pinpointed as the nice mom is good for a time, but it’s dangerous for the long time. I expect Chrissy to make the merge, and from there a lot will depend if she’s forged the right bonds.

Sarah: Chrissy is a female Jeff Pitman, right down to working out the stats for winners over 40, and for that, she might just be my favorite. She’s smart, she’s charming, she’s so damned excited to be there… I don’t know how physically fit she’ll be, but her tribe is not lacking for muscle, and I don’t see her being an early target over wackier or pricklier players. She seems to have an excellent grasp of the game, and if we’re going to get a challenger for Denise’s record of Oldest Women to Win, she’ll need to be somebody like Chrissy.

Yet she’ll also need the right circumstances, and that’s why Chrissy won’t be my winner pick. At just 46, Chrissy and Katrina are the oldest players this season, with more than half the cast being under 30. Denise won in part by sitting next to two older finalists. Chrissy won’t have that option. Also, regardless of what she says her age is, just about everybody in the cast has pegged her as the Island Mom, and that’s never a good look for the final Tribal Council. (Yes, Malcolm referred to Denise as Jungle Mama and voted for her to win, but he would have won in a landslide had they gone to the end together.)

Barring a weird pre-merge where mostly young people are voted off and all the parents make it to the jury, Chrissy won’t win this season. (Prove me wrong, Survivor gods! I’m OK with that!) But she’s definitely a player to watch.

Catherine: I really, really like this woman. I just think she has a really good understanding of the game. I love that she is aware of the pitfalls of being an older woman on Survivor, and I completely agree with her decision to lie about her age. Unfortunately, I don’t think that shaving a few years off her age is going to stop the rest of the cast, who are an unusually young bunch, looking to Chrissy as somewhat of a mother figure.

Ask Dawn Meehan. Being seen as a mother figure, particularly when you intend on playing a particularly cutthroat game, is not a good thing. I think that Chrissy will make friends easily. But I also think that those friends are not going to be able to stomach being blindsided by their “island mom”. I’m not sure how Chrissy overcomes this perception. As Dan noted, the rest of the cast has already pigeonholed her to some extent.

If anyone is smart enough to play the role of the mother on Survivor, and actually win, it is Chrissy. I’ll be cheering for her.

Christian: I’m not a fan of lying about her age. It’s somewhat pointless, since any believable lie will still peg her as the oldest member of the tribe. All it can do is lead to her eventually outing herself, and making everyone think she’s a liar.

The Dawn Meehan trap is that you can’t actively make yourself the sweet mom and then play a cut-throat game, without people getting extremely bitter in the end. The problem for Chrissy is that she can’t control the perception other players have of her, and if they put her in that role. It’s hard to break out of it. Play up your deviousness? You’re a danger to be voted out. Play up any other aspect? You’re a weak link, to be voted out.

What she’ll need to do, actively, is resist getting pigeon-holed as the mom, and get them to see her as a capable, loyal, alliance mate. If she gets flagged as the mom, she’ll almost certainly see Jury…and be sitting on it.

Logan: This isn’t one of those makeup commercials where Chrissy is attached to a lie detector test where she is asked her age, and she smirks with the answer “27” as the needle on the lie detector doesn’t move. As my friend Cam says, I love how production couldn’t figure out who the sixth hero should be and decided to bill Chrissy as a “supermom”. Everyone else is an athlete, war veteran, lifeguard, firefighter, Olympian…and then a financial analyst. OK, let’s pick the person who started a career, stopped to raise a family, then returned to her career. Supermom it is!

Chrissy is like Rudy Boesch old when you consider the demographic cast for this season. Like, they brought her in from the same old folks home as Mel White. Unlike the Olympian or the fisherwoman, Chrissy is in an environment where she communicates regularly with “every day” people. Chrissy has people skills.

In fact, when you look at the backgrounds of many people in this cast, a bunch of them don’t exactly have typical people skills that the majority of the population would possess. We have a lot of people this season who are projected to be socially awkward. Chrissy isn’t. Chrissy is like a vial of Kass but if she swallowed an antidote of “knows what to do to be beloved by the casual audience”. I think we all expect Chrissy to do very well. There are no forks on the island, so she will not have any emotional outbursts.

I am curious to see if Chrissy will make moves that will be executed with treating everyone as raw data or if she knows how to send people properly to jury. Survivor tends to have a bias against “older” women at Final Tribal Council over the past seventeen years. Chrissy will have to work that much harder to please the jury and secure herself a rare victory for the 40+ crowd.

Prediction: Chrissy has day 39 written all over her, but isn’t it a bit early for me to pick a winner?

johnJohn “JP” Hilsabeck

Dan: There are quite a few diehard fans in this cast, but JP is definitely not one of them. If anyone was spotted in an LA bar by casting agents, he’s likely the guy. Firefighters have done very well on Survivor, including winners like Tom Westman and Jeremy Collins. Both of those guys had a pretty good understanding of the game, and I don’t see that with JP. He’s a straight arrow that likely won’t make waves, but his comments about the game are strangely vague.

JP speaks about Survivor like a person that knows the show, but only on a surface level. Whether that will hinder or benefit him depends on how this season progresses. He’s a strong guy that should stick with his allies, and maybe that will be good for a while. On the other hand, the Heroes have a diverse collection of players that might target this less knowledgeable dude. JP needs to make connections early and not focus too much on the survival aspects. If he’s not careful, a guy like Ben will target him as easy fodder at the start. This could go a lot of different ways, but I’m not convinced JP will make a deep run in the game.

Sarah: Meet Generic Male. JP is a firefighter because: Heroes Tribe. He looks like a photo fit and when he talks, it’s with all the philosophical depth of a Rupert Tweet.

JP seems like a nice guy and I have absolutely no prediction for how he’ll do. I won’t even say he’s safe in the early going, because Alan and Ben might decide that they’re fit enough to stand up to the young bucks of the other tribe without him. I can’t imagine him giving a blistering performance to the jury, but if he winds up at the end, they’re more likely to be pissed at the other players. So… yes. JP will be on this season of Survivor, and right now, that’s all I have to say.

Catherine: Yeah, JP is pretty boring. It’s getting to be a joke now — reading the generic answers that JP gives to just about every question. And the bad news for JP fans is that he believes that his personality is what gives him the edge. His bio says that with “my personality, I will be the final Survivor.” I’m sure JP is a perfectly nice guy. In fact, everything about him screams “perfectly nice guy”. But his sparkling personality is just not going to win him the million.

That’s not to say that he’ll do badly. I mean, why vote JP out? He’s going to help out in challenges, he’s never going to make a strategic move, and he’ll do as he’s told. The worst that could happen is that he’ll be cut at the end, simply because he hasn’t made any moves to annoy any of the jurors. But I think that in a cast that seem to be gamers, JP already looks like the perfect person to be sitting next to at the end. If I was out there, I’d want to have JP in the final three with me.

Christian: I know that casting Survivor is hard, and the producers have tried to get a diverse and dynamic group of players every season…but this is something of a miss. As others have said he fits the prototype of other successful Survivor players. Fit, Firefighter, endurance for days. But he talks about Survivor as if he just crammed for the final exam. That’s not very promising.

Maybe it’s all a long con and he’ll show that he’s got a better feel for the game, or is a savant at it. Barring that, he’s only going to go as far in this game as other members of his tribe allow him to.

Logan: Los Angeles. Six-pack. Short hair. Serious. Straight-forward answers. Firefighter. Compares himself to a contestant from the last full season he would have seen. I smell a recruit! He is the recruitiest recruit on this season. I wonder if he likes tacos or hangs out in shopping malls?

I don’t even know what to say about this guy. He probably won’t make any big waves to push everybody else to eliminate him sooner rather than later. I also don’t see him having enough Survivor savvy to pull off a blindside or dodge being targeted post-merge. In fact, I think I can settle on a very specific prediction for JP this season.

Prediction: Last pre-merge boot or first post-merge boot. Breaks the all-time record and outlasts the other two JPs who have played Survivor. Other Prediction: Future Janice Dickinson model or future contestant for Solitary revival.

P.S. You know Survivor has been on for a long time when we have our third contestant who is called J.P.

ashleyAshley Nolan

Sarah: Maybe it’s just a competitive gear kicking in, but Ashley’s pre-game material shows a need to be better than the others. She talks about the other players in terms of them not being able to cut it, in terms of her not being intimidated by them, and in terms of their weaknesses more often than their strengths. I’m not sure if her being the youngest on her tribe will temper or aggravate that mentality, especially since the other two women are literally 20 years older than she is. With nobody else in her demographic to compete against, she might be happy to defer to seniority (Ben’s one of the few players she had respect for pre-game)…or maybe she’ll feel more of a need to prove she can hold her own against the testosterone and life experience of her tribemates.

Even on a physical tribe, she should be an asset, and her youth will keep the Heroes from taking her too seriously as a threat, so I don’t think she’s in immediate danger, but she won’t be able to build a solid relationship with her current attitude. Despite the resting bitch face that’s worrying so much of her cast, she does come over as engaging enough in her video, so maybe I’m wrong and she’ll settle in very well. For now, I’m predicting that she’ll spend most of her game in the majority but out of the loop.

Catherine: My first season writing for RHAP was season 29, Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, where we were introduced to the legend that was Drew Christy. And every season since, there have been some people who have clearly been cast to fit the same archetype. You know, supremely self-confident. Nothing has ever gone wrong for them, and they can’t imagine anything bad ever happening. Someone who is the alpha, always wanting to be in control, but without the people skills to actually get anyone to follow them.

And this season, meet Ashley. Ashley’s claim to fame is being “just about as well rounded as any woman can be.” Ashley seems to have an incredible amount of confidence in herself, which I’m sure serves her well in her everyday life. In Survivor, having this much self-confidence…well, ask Drew Christy how well it serves you in this game. At Ponderosa, Ashley already has the reputation of being a diva. She doesn’t have people who are desperate to work with her. And although she is undeniably strong, which usually bodes well in the early portion of the game, I don’t think the Heroes tribe are necessarily going to need her strength. I see her going pre-merge.

Christian: The problem with being confident on Survivor is that self-reliance can only get you so far in the game. Yes, it’s theoretically possible that you can advance far enough in the game that your challenge prowess will get you through to the final Tribal Council, but we don’t have to look very far to see the competitors whose prowess sent them home. From Hunter’s early challenge boot to Terry coming up *just* short on his season…for every Fabio there are a half-dozen competitors who couldn’t quite get the timing right.

What makes it worse is when that self-confidence comes across as flat arrogance, even without the opportunity to speak to other players. It takes an astonishing talent to communicate arrogance strictly through non-verbal communication, but there’s Ashley with a whole lot of people not very interested in working very closely with her in the game. While her skills may work out for her in the short-term, making her potentially too useful to send out of the game early, she seems destined to be booted the second the tribes inevitably shuffle. Unless she ends up on a tribe with other outcasts, Ashley is most likely going to be gone long before jury.

Logan: Ashley is not going to do well in this game. In our culture, young independent women who boast about their abilities, accomplishments, and personality tend to be perceived as quite irritating. They are at the top of the list of Survivor contestants who my mother and my sister tend to dislike the most on Survivor. Given that we have two middle-aged moms on the Heroes tribe, Ashley is going to be a prime target.

Also, Ashley is being targeted just through non-verbal communication before the season begins. That ain’t good. “I am somebody who quit my job on a whim just to pursue something more exciting because I was bored.” I hope this is not a translation for how she will treat her alliances in the game. She could very much be like Flick from Aussie Survivor where she dumps a stable alliance simply out of boredom rather than taking the easy path to victory.

Furthermore, Ashley said she does not like to have men tell her to do anything. On a tribe with guys like Alan, Ben, and JP, she couldn’t be stuck with alph-ier guys who will probably do just that. Lastly, Ashley said she will not be afraid to yell at somebody if they suck in the challenges and will be pissed if somebody messes up. Can you imagine how a hungry Alan would react heading back to camp after a challenge as Ashley lays into him for his performance?

Ashley says she has charm, but I don’t think she realizes how she is coming off to her tribemates before the game has even begun. All of this combines into a single recipe.

Prediction: First one out. (tm Josh Wigler). Everything about Ashley has first boot written all over her. She reminds me a lot of Alecia and will need a combination of blunders, immunity wins, and a tribe shuffle to keep herself alive in the game. I think she will regret not telling producers how being a lifeguard is more of a hustler or a healer thing. She stands a better chance on both of those tribes.

Dan: Christian brings up the key aspect of Ashley’s personality that stood out during her interviews. Ashley is openly arrogant and isn’t hiding it during the pre-game. There’s nothing bad with having confidence in your abilities; most Survivor players expect to do well. The question is whether Ashley can hide that fact as well as the others. Her background as a lifeguard should make her comfortable in challenges and on the beach.

Catherine’s comparison to Drew Christy may be a stretch with Ashley, but I definitely see her point. It’s going to be quite a shock for Ashley when her tribemates don’t buy what she’s selling. Maybe she’ll surprise us and dial it back, but this isn’t just someone who’s over the top in confessionals. Luck will need to go Ashley’s way so she can find her footing socially. A bad start for the Heroes could mean bad news for Ashley; even three days without Tribal Council may be enough to change her expected fate.

katrinaKatrina Radke

Sarah: Katrina reminds me of nothing so much as a new age Sandy Burgin from Tocantins. Okay, so she is a little more accomplished than everybody’s favorite bus driver, but she’s goofy, loud, excited to play and apparently completely unconcerned about the potential social gulf between her and a bunch of coastal twenty-somethings.

Being open about her Olympic past might actually help Katrina. That’s the kind of thing that will get her tribemates to take her seriously and believe she has something to contribute, instead of just writing her off as the crazy older lady. (Assuming they believe her.) If she gets lucky, maybe there’ll always be somebody who her tribe needs to get rid of ahead of her, but I can’t for a moment see her winning. Actually, I don’t have hope for Katrina to do much better than Sandy did — odds are good she won’t last even that long — but oh, gosh, she’s going to be entertaining while she lasts.

Catherine: The Olympian in the tie-dye dress. She’s a unique character as she emphasizes in her bio, she’s obviously capable of being incredibly driven, but at the same time, there is something quite lackadaisical about her too. She’s a bit all over the place, and that’s going to make for some great television.

Like Sarah, I don’t have extremely high hopes for Katrina. She says in her bio that the former contestant she most resembles is Denise Stapley, but I don’t know about this. I think that for Katrina, the most important part of her own self-identity is in the fact that she is a mother. She mentions her children as her claim to fame, and on her video, she discusses her children before her Olympic career.

Unfortunately for Katrina, older women who try to fill the mother role on Survivor don’t fare well. I don’t think that Katrina can win the game — even if she can make it to the end, I think she’ll be faced with a jury that will simply refuse to see the merits of her strategy. I think the glass ceiling for Katrina is as a final three goat.

Christian: Other than the fact that her pet peeves include whiners (because that has never, ever, ended well for a Survivor contestant), Katrina has some intriguing characteristics. She’s a former athlete, but unless someone is a huge fan of women’s swimming they’re not likely to recognize her. She’s a mom, which I honestly think is a skillset that can be helpful on Survivor if applied judiciously. You can’t be the mom of the group, because even if the group doesn’t push back on it, mom has an expiration date. But dealing with conflicts, immaturities, and not losing your patience? These are good weapons to have in the bag. It’s also apparent that she’s not trying to model herself as the next Boston Rob or Russell Hantz.

For Katrina, she’s got a reasonable chance of finding a niche in someone else’s alliance, where she isn’t in the forefront initially but is able to advance her position by default as others are knocked out of the game. The problem for Katrina is that her tendency towards being a hermit, and morning yoga by herself, will give her opponents a lot of time to scheme and plot when she’s not around on the beach. She can make the merge, but she has all the hallmarks of a sacrificial boot when other targets are protected/already taken care of.

Logan: Katrina and Chrissy are the two oldest people in this game (*gasp!*) at the age of 46. You know what? I think producers are pushing for our first 40+ female winner in quite a while, and putting Katrina and Chrissy together on a tribe seems like a prime way to do it. I never thought I would see the day where the Olympic swimmer would be more socially awkward than a mathematician. But alas, here we are!

Katrina should be helpful enough around camp and in challenges pre-merge to be kept around, then be a big enough of a goofball post-merge that no one takes her seriously. Yes, she is a bit of a hermit, but this should deflect attention off of her as being a person who needs to be immediately taken out throughout the game. Hell, she is probably going to be an ideal person to be taken to the final three. She doesn’t come off as too much of a schemer, and is such a goofball that nobody thinks she can put up a serious case to win at a Final Tribal Council.

Hopefully her goofball antics are limited to things around camp and in challenges rather than any vital strategic or social interactions. If Katrina can contain herself a little bit, she is going to be making it far in this game.

Prediction: Final Three goat?

Dan: Swimming is my sport, so I’m inclined to root for an Olympic swimmer on Survivor. Katrina finished in fifth place in the 1988 Seoul Olympics in the 200 meter butterfly, and she was still in high school. She might fit the “goofy older woman” archetype in this cast, but Katrina is hardly that simple. Her struggles with a chronic disease took Katrina out of competitive swimming, but she battled back and even competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

I mention this information because it goes against the narrative of Katrina as the friendly mom figure. She could fall into that trap, but there’s a lot of history that could lead to a different narrative. Her positive outlook may be what her tribe needs as they deal with the difficulties of the environment. With all of that said, the opening stage is still dangerous for Katrina. Her past as a swimmer may blind me to the truth, but I have a weird feeling that Katrina will surprise us.


The Healers

jessicaJessica Johnston

Sarah: In a season where everybody wants to be the most average contestant, Jessica Johnston might be that person. She’s ditzy without being a weirdo. She’s smart without being a genius. She’s fit without being ripped. She’s a fan without the super. In fact, she’s totally unremarkable. She’s… nice.

There’s nothing about Jessica that screams Sole Survivor or Big Moves or Threat, so I fully expect to see Mom or Dad Johnston visiting Fiji in two months’ time. She might just Michele this thing, but more likely Jessica’s going to be supporting cast all season long. And that’s fine.

Catherine: Her pet peeve is can openers. And that was about as interesting as Jessica’s preseason press got. She seems nice —although I am sure that her bubbly, talkative personality is sure to get on some people’s nerves. She’s obviously gorgeous, and her appearance was already intimidating people in the pregame Ponderosa.

I do think that she gives off a vibe of innocence. She’s going to make a really good ally for someone, because she’s going to be fiercely loyal. For Jessica, I think her physicality, combined with her easy-going personality, will see her gain a place in the tribe’s majority alliance. She reminds me a lot of a younger Sunday Burquest, who also talked extensively about her religion in her pregame press, and who also played a super loyal game. In the end though, Sunday was voted out as a social threat, and I think the same thing will happen to Jessica. She’s easy to drag along for a while, but too nice to be sitting next to at the end. I see a late game blindside for Jessica.

Christian: When summing up Andrea’s history in the game, I’m not sure the first two traits I’d use are “likeable” and “able to entertain a crowd”. These things are certainly true, but her strategic play and her willingness to adapt (most of the time) are far better aspects of game play to try to emulate. I’m almost positive this identification comes because someone once told Jessica that she vaguely looks like Andrea in a certain light. I have nothing much to add here; Catherine’s right that loyalty can take you far, but almost never to a win.

Logan: Whoa, did Andrea Boehlke and Whitney Duncan have a child together? She stalks people at the gym. It’s kind of funny because people at the gym will now be stalking her Instagram and Twitter accounts while she is on Survivor. Jessica appears to be the weakest link on her tribe. The Healers seem to be a fairly mild-mannered tribe in contrast to the Hustlers. While I expect the Healers to do well in challenges, they are bound to lose one immunity and I presume will send Jessica packing.

Her main goal is to be likeable. That works well if you get to Final Tribal Council, but you really have to do other things in the first 38days to get you there. Jessica doesn’t seem to be very hungry for the title. There are a lot of competitive and strong people in this game, and I see Jessica fading away. She talks about relying on how she got her job as being the reason why she will do well at Survivor, but you need to have other traits to succeed in this game. Many more traits. This just ain’t enough. She just seems to be winging it for the most part.

Prediction: First person to be eliminated on Healers, otherwise a throwaway mid-merge boot.

Dan: Jessica seems really nice and strong, but also sort of bland like Sarah mentions. When looking at winner picks, it’s sometimes wise to look straight down the middle. I’m not ready to go that far; I’m not convinced that Jessica is ready for such a cutthroat game. Catherine’s prediction is quite wise and the most likely scenario for Jessica. She’s down to Earth, religious, and friendly; those are good skills to have. It just might not add up to a victory.

roarkRoark Luskin

Sarah: Maybe it’s just me, but Roark sounds exactly like Sophie Clarke. Intonation and everything. This is not a bad thing.

Also like Sophie, she’s a nerdy (and slightly acerbic) super fan of the show, complete with a determination to get the read on everybody at Ponderosa. This makes her vulnerable to the standard super fan pitfalls, such as forming a pet theory and sticking with it against the evidence. Or of forgetting that most of the cast isn’t following net-established Laws of Survivor and might just do something she finds counter-intuitive.

The question is how well she can play the social game — Sophie was always better at analyzing bonds than building them. As Roark is planning to play at a slow burn, she’s giving herself time to establish herself socially without giving anybody reason to vote her off. She should get her chance to impact the game, but I can’t see her engendering the trust or confidence to pull off a win. She’s more likely to smack into the wall between theory and practice.

Of course, I once said the same thing about Sophie Clarke.

Catherine: Firstly, Roark’s bio is wonderful. I wouldn’t be surprised if Corinne Kaplan wrote it for her, it is just so perfect. From naming Beyonce’s daughter as her inspiration, to giving her reason for being on Survivor as “clearly, there is something wrong with me”, Roark clearly has a hilarious sense of humor. Will it translate onto the television? I’m not sure.

Secondly, no Sarah, it isn’t just you. I’m still not convinced that this isn’t Sophie in disguise. Can Roark replicate Sophie’s game play? I think that it is a lot more difficult to play in a three tribe season. Roark won’t just be able to get herself in a tight majority alliance and work that alliance all the way to the end- the game is now much more complicated. Roark is going to need to make social connections, not just with a few people on her original tribe, but with a variety of people across the game. Alliances will change, and to win this game now, you have to have some sort of working relationship with as many people as possible.

I don’t think that Roark is going to be able to make those necessary social connections. I don’t see her as a potential winner.

Christian: The best reason I’ve ever read for being on Survivor: “Clearly there is something wrong with me.” Describing yourself as the love child of Sophie Clarke and Courtney Yates is a very close second. While she is in the game, Roark will be funny and entertaining, but the question we’re here to answer is how far will she get in the game?

Regretfully, I can’t see that being very far. Even if she’s really Sophie wearing a Roark mask, the degree of difficulty in a three-tribe season is vastly higher than a traditional one. Players have nowhere to hide within larger numbers, and when the tribes do compress they have to immediately pivot their strategies. Adapting to a changing game wasn’t Sophie’s strongest suit, and as much as I like intelligent, sarcastic, and focused Survivor players, they tend to run everyone else the wrong way.

Realistically, the best we can hope for is that Roark makes it to jury and we get to see her do her Eliza impersonation over the course of the mark to final tribal.

Logan: Roark’s biggest obstacle will be to slow down and calm herself in this game. Clearly, Roark is a huge super fan of this game. She has so much Survivor knowledge that after 34 seasons is bound to overwhelm a super fan playing Survivor 35 rather than Survivor 6 or 7. She is eager to share all of this knowledge with everyone.

She has by far the funniest answers of any Survivor bio this season, and possibly ever. Thankfully, I see her as having a charming personality and will fit in well with the Healers tribe. I want her to go far because I know it will be more important to her than most of the other players in this cast.

I know Roark will stand out after the merge and will be one of the biggest jury threats from day one. A big part of me is interested to see how well Roark holds up physically when it comes to the elements and the challenges because she is clearly an indoor cat.

Christian is right that the Healers tribe doesn’t exactly have any outlandish personalities that are bound to go home early which means Roark is the most likely candidate to be thrust into that role, but I don’t think Roark will tick off her tribemates as much as an Ashley or a Patrick will.

She should be one of the bigger stars of this season.

Prediction: Late merge boot, but doesn’t make Final Three.

Dan: It’s no surprise that Ryan wants to work with Roark; they’re the two biggest super fans in this cast from what I can gather. Her fandom should make Roark endearing to the RHAP community, but will it translate to success in the game? Her personality suits the TV show part of Survivor, and we should see plenty of fun confessionals. I’m sure that Roark has a complex strategy and won’t be overwhelmed by that side of the game. It’s the unknown parts of the experience that are harder to predict. So much depends on the trends of this season. The others have already spotted her fandom; how can Roark use it to her best advantage?

coleCole Medders

Catherine: My favorite thing from Cole’s bio was the way that he compared himself to Spencer Bledsoe. Because according to Cole, he, like Spencer, comes across as “a nerd or just a little awkward.” As the great Sandra Diaz Twine would say, “I don’t know about thaaat”. Josh Wigler described Cole as “one of the most physically imposing human beings I have ever encountered”. If Survivor was just about surviving, Cole, who is a wilderness therapy guide, would have this in the bag. He is built for the outdoors. He thrives on being physically uncomfortable. He’s got the survival skills to be useful around camp, and the obvious physical attributes to contribute to challenges.

But we all know that Survivor is about so much more. To win this game, you don’t want to be physically imposing. You don’t want to be amazing at everything. You want to be average. And average is something that Cole is simply not going to be able to be.

He should do okay — he has everyone on his tribe saying that they want to work with him, and I think that he comes across as the perfect meat shield for a more savvy (Savaii?) player to use. I think he’s making a deep run into the game. But I think that he has no chance of winning.

Christian: At some point this season Cole will lament players either in the game for the wrong reasons, or not contributing around camp. This is a prediction with the certainty of death, taxes, and the inevitable energy death of the universe. Someone who is as self-guiding as Cole is, as used to being a leader and guide, and generally self-reliant and self-sufficient will, at some point, no longer be able to deal with the lay-a-bouts at camp and will lose his temper.

Whether that will send him out of the game early or not, is anyone’s guess. Cole is, for want of a better term, Jeff Probst’s wet dream of a Survivor contestant. Big personality, seemingly humble, physical fitness for spades. Simply looking at his picture, I can hear Probst saying “Cole, making it look easy!” on the challenge course.

But as Catherine says being some combination of Spencer and Ozzy is also the same as walking around the tribe with a sign on your back… and your front… and your forehead… and the seat of your pants. Everyone may want to work with Cole, but not a single rational human being will want to take Cole to the end. What’s worse given his clear physical ability and what will almost certainly be challenge monster status, his fellow players may have to consider voting him out the first time he’s vulnerable if it’s anywhere near the merge. Unless they’re at a severe numbers disadvantage, Cole is just too much of a threat to go on a Fabio like run.

Logan: Cole seems mature for his age. He hates lazy people and those in our generation who avoid taking responsibility for their lives. I think Cole views himself as awkward since all of his hobbies are fairly isolating. Backpacking, mountaineering, and rock climbing are all activities where you don’t have to spend a huge amount of time with the same person over and over again. They are typically either solo interactions or people you encounter while “passing through”. Again, we get another celebrity inspiration who I have never heard of before in my life. Am I that out of touch in pop culture?

This Gentle Giant therapy guide is bound to go far as we all expect, but I cannot see him having the social skills to take his game up to that necessary social standard that keeps you in the loop and being able to get others to buy into aligning with you until the end. I expect him to be a mid-merge boot with a relatively big casual fan base weeping as he exits. And yes, I agree: Probst is going to love his journey on the show and his humble personality combined with brute strength.

Prediction: Mid-merge boot.

Dan: Can a player be too physically fit to succeed on Survivor? Cole may test that theory. I’m not referring to Cole’s challenge skills and share Catherine and Christian’s feelings that he’ll dominate. Cole also isn’t a gym rat and shouldn’t fall apart in the outdoors like some beefy guys. I love Christian’s explanation for how much Cole stands out here. There’s no way for a player like him to sneak up on anyone physically.

The good news for Cole is that people will likely underestimate him strategically. He’ll be a reliable number and challenge contributor in the early going. I don’t see Cole getting eliminated before a tribe swap. After that, he’ll need to move before the hammer comes down. If Cole waits for the merge to secure alliances that will stick, he has no chance.

Sarah: Let’s be honest, Cole shot up in my personal rankings the moment he mentioned LEGO as his luxury item. Unfortunately, even I can’t argue that building LEGO has enough transferable skills to compensate for the fact that Cole is already being called out for having toe muscles. He seems like a lovely guy with a lot of great camp life skills, so I don’t think he’ll have trouble making friends… but those friends will go into this knowing he’s not in their long-term game plans.

Basically, I’m in full agreement with everybody else. But for LEGO’s sake, I’ll cross my fingers for Cole’s immunity run.

joeJoe Mena

Catherine: I’ll get the Tony comparisons out of the way early. Because they are clearly there. Apart from the physical similarities, the two have similar jobs, both have strong accents… we’re all seeing it, and the rest of the cast are absolutely going to see it. Are they going to want to work with him? I’m not sure.

Like Tony, I think that Joe is out there to work. He’s high energy, and I think he’s going to put everything that he’s got into winning this game. He’s looking to work with people that he can manipulate- and I can see a few candidates for that role on the Healers tribe. To get to the end, Joe’s going to need some pretty good meat shields- and this is a cast full of them.

Honestly, I don’t know if Joe can win. If I was out there, and I saw Joe, I’d be afraid. I’d be looking to get him out sooner rather than later. He is absolutely a big threat, and an obvious one. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not feeling too optimistic that Joe can find a way to win this season.

Christian: Law enforcement professionals, be they cops, corrections, or probation tend to have an advantage when it comes to the deception part of the game. They have to have a public facing mask, non-offensive, that they can keep in place in some of the most stressful situations. Don’t escalate, don’t engage, stay calm. These are very good skills for a Survivor player, but so is the ability to act against type. Tony was a cold-blooded killer on his season, over the top and exuberant. Sarah kept the mask in place, and when it slipped there was a different mask underneath it, and what sold those lies is she wove just enough of her real feelings and emotions into it to win.

The question for me on the Healers tribe is Cole vs Joe. Cole and Joe seem different enough that they’d be unlikely allies (unless the standard, boring and doomed “All guys’ alliance!” forms). If they’re not in each other’s court, then they will clearly be high on each other’s target lists. So will Cole’s natural magnetism win out over Joe’s manipulation? In a world that had never seen Tony, I’d give an edge to Joe… but we’ve seen Tony at work and these players will have well. I think Joe’s gonna be doing some hard time in solitary at Ponderosa, preparing for a trip.

Logan: On one side you have Jessica & Brittany’s extremely short bio from TAR 28. Meanwhile you have Joe who provides some lengthy answers. I get the impression this guy will be talking a lot once he gets out there.

I don’t know why, but there is something about a probation officer from the Bronx that makes me think he will be a strong personality. Whether he can channel that to endear others or rub them the wrong way will become apparent very, very fast. I don’t see a Cole vs. Joe rivalry forming early on. Cole doesn’t appear to have a confrontational personality, and would likely be taken under Joe’s wing.

I agree that Joe is not going to win. This is a guy who seems to be very proud of his accomplishments, and all signs to him being so proud of any big move he makes in this game that he will start becoming oblivious to any counter-alliance forming against him. Or his overconfidence may rub people the wrong way to such an extreme that he will be the ideal candidate to be taken to day 39. Joe’s best asset is that he is clearly comfortable with communicating with people from ALL walks of life. It will also be his greatest liability.

Prediction: I guess what I am saying is that I am also in agreement that Joe is not winning this game.

Dan: Is a probation officer a healer? If Jeff Probst says so, who am I to argue with it? I hate to follow suit and bring up Tony, but the other players keep mentioning Tony when they discuss Joe. That’s not a good thing. It shouldn’t be a death sentence, though. Joe may need to work a little harder than most to bond with others. When they realize he isn’t crazy and shady, Joe should overcome that impression. Catherine mentions Joe as a huge threat, but is that obvious to the players? Will a guy in his 30s that isn’t strong compared to much of the cast stand out? If he doesn’t set off warning bells, Joe might slide by for a long time.

Sarah: I don’t like the Tony comparisons for Joe. There’s only one Tony, and at best, Joe is Tony-lite. Diet Tony. Not Tony Enough. Joe could be a great character and player in his own right, but he’s going to be overshadowed by Tony and Tony isn’t even on this season!

I see two major red flags for Joe’s game: One is that he referred to Desi as public enemy number one. He’s not the only Healer to recognize she’s a threat, but the others were talking about aligning with her while he’s talking about targeting her. Should he push for her as a first boot off their tribe, he’s going to remind everybody else even more of Tony, and I’m not sure which way the tribe will go: Joe would be easier to beat at the end, but Desi would be easier to work with for thirty days or so. The other red flag is that Joe’s only just learned how to swim, and probably has zero experience in the ocean. That could make him a huge challenge liability.

So yeah… I don’t see this being Joe’s game. If he lasts to a swap, and makes it onto a tribe with Ben, he could get into a strong enough alliance to do some damage, but he’s such an obvious target, I’ll be surprised if he makes it to the merge.

desireeDesiree Williams

Catherine: She’s a professor. And she’s gorgeous. And she’s bubbly. And she’s super engaging. Oh, and she claims to be terrified of being out in the elements. I really, really love this woman. I think that she is smart- but without appearing to be a threat, fit- but not so fit that people start to target her, and beautiful- but without being intimidating. She seems to be the whole package.

There were a few red flags in her bio though. She does seem fixated on using flirtation as a strategy — one of her three things she wished she had on the island was chapstick so that she could be attractive to the rest of the tribe. Although in the video she talked about not being too obvious or threatening with her flirtations, it still worries me that she is so adamant that she will use her looks as part of her gameplay. I don’t think she needs to- she has so much more to offer. And I also think that it demonstrates a lack of understanding of the game.

Desi might be able to win this thing. She’s one of my early favourites. But I want to see a bit more game knowledge from her before I get too excited.

Christian: One of the most endearing parts of Cirie’s journey is just how much she didn’t belong on that beach. She got up off of the couch and just went. I can’t help but wonder if Desi is what happens when the producers of Survivor go looking for a Cirie type player who can actually win challenges. Let’s touch on that part of it first. If Tom Westman had hidden reserves of ‘Dad Strength’, then Desi has not-so-hidden reserves of ‘Physical Therapist strength’. It is remarkably easy for female competitors to be underestimated on this show, and Desi’s idol Tasha is a great example of that. It took multiple strong challenge performances before people took notice.

The biggest questions facing Desi are whether she plays the game too fast, and how she holds up in the elements. The first is definitely an issue. As Catherine pointed out Desi used the word flirt about forty times in her interviews, and describes herself as someone that likes to take control of the situation. All of that could end up with her going too hard, too fast, and getting herself out of the game. The second issue is one we’ve seen break down any number of physically fit players. It takes a lot of energy, rest, and work to build up the level of physical fitness but it takes a very short time of crappy weather to reduce that finely tuned machine to a shaking pile of random parts.

Logan: Two of Desi’s three activities involve the indoors — participating in pageants and going to the gym. A gym body is not ideal for Survivor. As we have seen with previous gym rats on Survivor, that muscle mass gets depleted so quickly and some suffer from their body going into a state of shock. Although Desi is clearly a hard worker and very intelligent as she holds a highly intellectual job as well as competing at a highly competitive level of physical fitness, I can’t help but notice all of her references to living a comfortable lifestyle.

Yet she says her dream is to travel around the world in a backpack and showering only a few times a week. Maybe she wants a palette of chapsticks but is good with a lack of showering? And I agree with the others — if your primary strategy is to flirt, you’re going home so fast, and most of the middle-aged women on the couch are going to hate you so fast.

In fact, Desi may be the perfect person to be the villain of the season. She will be competitive, likely complain about the elements, and use her sex appeal enough to irritate everyone back home. That is an easy villain to project on paper.

Prediction: And with all villains, she will need to be dethroned eventually post-merge, or she can’t handle the elements and hits the Ponderosa gym early.

Dan: Desi is super strong, likable, and easy to root for up front. Those are all good qualities to make a strong run on Survivor. With Cole, Jessica, and Desi, the Healers will be very formidable in the early challenges. It’s interesting to note that Desi speaks openly about being recruited for the show. Most will try to sell their status as a fan even when it’s not there at all (e.g., JP). Will that different outlook benefit Desi among the players that have been applying for years? Desi’s bio includes a really long list of reasons why she’ll be the winner. She’s confident and has been successful, but I get the sense others are already making plans to take Desi out in the mid-game.

Sarah: Desi is from my neck of the woods. That might not be very impressive to those of you from LA or NYC, but to date, the only Survivors from the Hampton Roads area have been Rudy Boesch and Adam Gentry — and Desi’s already cleared that low Gentry-bar. Yeah, I think she’s moved to LA in the meantime, but I’m still claiming her as my home team. I’m pumped for Desi is what I’m saying.

Within the limits of my British pessimism, of course. She’s clearly a fantastically accomplished and savvy person, but everybody’s taken note of her pre-game. She’s hitting the beach on the radar and I’m not sure she knows it. Even if she and Joe don’t get into a face-off, come the tribe swap, she’s that obvious person “to take out while we have the chance.” She’s the obvious blowback vote for an idol. She’s the obvious person you don’t want to sit next to at the end.

I love Desi a lot, but she’s not got the long-term knowledge of the show to marry the fan-hyped rules with her own individuality, and I don’t think she can deal with this perpetual target. She’s got massive potential, and I’m afraid that we’ll see it be cut short heartbreakingly early. There have been comparisons to Mari Takahashi, and I think they’re apt.

mikeMike Zahalsky

Catherine: I love having super fans on the show. I love that Survivor is allowing people to live out their dream, and I think that Mike seems like a super nice guy. But I am really worried about his position in the game. By his own admission, Mike is not the fittest person on the cast. Not by a long shot. And in a ten person tribe, you can hide that. But in a six person tribe? In the three-tribe format, I think that tribe strength becomes essential. Vote out the wrong person, and you end up going the way of Matsing. You put yourself behind, and it becomes impossible to catch up. I can see Mike becoming an early target for this reason.

So for Mike’s sake, I’m hoping that the Healers can win some early challenges. Because I think that he is really interesting, and could play a really fun game. He hasn’t laid out his game plan as clearly as some of the others, although it does concern me that he thinks that his encyclopedic knowledge of the show will be an advantage, which hopefully means that he plans to be adaptable. Watching someone who has been obsessively watching Survivor since season one should prove fascinating. I only hope that Mike gains a foothold within his tribe and a chance to actually play.

Christian: While having a lot of pet peeves is a red flag for a Survivor contestant, there is one pet peeve that stands as a massive red flag all on its own. That would be “germaphobe”. Let’s be extremely clear about this…Survivor is a disgusting game. Between pooping in the woods, ocean and streams, constantly scratching at bug bites, scrapes, and lesions… the lack of toiletries, and all of the other slings and arrows… there’s a reason why we’ve never seen a real hook-up on the island itself. These people are grimy, germy, disgusting messes. So… good luck with that Mike.

To Mike’s credit, he’s absolutely hysterical. Talking about how Ethan was his wife’s hall pass, and that he’s just happy that his kid looks like him? Is absolutely hysterical. But as Catherine points out, six people is a very small tribe, and if they’re not able to win early challenges to keep him safe Mike will need to have gotten in the good graces of either Joe or Cole in order to stay in the game. Unfortunately for Mike, the one thing those two would likely agree on even if they’re sizing each other up for later, is that the tribe needs to stay ‘strong’ in the short-term. Which is likely bad for Mike.

Logan: Move over Shamir’s testicles, there’s a new penis pun master in town. The scrotal jokester has landed. I really hope Mike’s sense of humor reels people in rather than turns people away. Clearly this guy is anxious to play too. He is going out of his way to make references to older seasons. Seventeen years of waiting is tough for Mike, and going through another seventeen years of waiting when it comes to playing his favouite game will be rather difficult for him to control.

Yes, Mike is in the medical field and is a germaphobe. I find it surprising that he is a germaphobe compared to other medical professions since his job deals with penises. Like, wouldn’t he have chosen a different body part to avoid being queasy from the human body? As long as Mike isn’t dicking around with focusing too much energy on jokes, he will likely be safe in a strong alliance because he seems to be such a fun guy to be around. It also helps that he isn’t much of a threat.

Prediction: I know the people above are expecting Mike to go early, but the Healers tribe is very strong physically. Cole, Joe, and Desi are going to help in physical challenges. And Mike isn’t even the most awkward person on the tribe — Cole thinks he is awkward, and Roark talks a bit differently from everyone else. Furthermore, Jessica may end up being perceived as weaker than Mike. So he should make a deep run into this game.

Dan: I really try to avoid jumping to conclusions based on first impressions in these preview articles. Even so, I was concerned for Mike’s chances right off the bat. He’s going to be great TV, especially in comparison to some of the bland athletic types in this cast. Mike’s tribe includes three super athletes plus two players looking to move under the radar. Where will he go for allies? The good news for Mike is the recent tendency for alpha players to attack each other right at the start. Will Cole, Desi, and Joe bond or start targeting each other? Christian points out the need for Mike to connect with one lead player. I hope to see him on our screens for a long time, but I’m skeptical it will happen.

Sarah: I’m going to go against the field here and say I think Mike will make it through those early danger days. I think the comparisons to David Wright might hurt him more than being a physical liability, but ultimately, he still looks very innocuous compared to the more obvious targets of Cole, Joe, and Desi — and Mike has enough confidence that his tribemates will forget about David soon enough.

But he’s still an older guy on a very young season. It’s easier to be the Island Dad than the Island Mom, because there is no Island Dad stereotype, but there’s a big social divide there, and I’m not sure he can bridge it–because he is the dorky Dad. (I kind of want to see him and Chrissy have an island marriage of convenience, haplessly trying to deal with these young’uns and their showmances and podcast in-jokes.) For all he’s a charming guy, I think Mike isn’t going to have the social skills to really take over this game.


The Hustlers

patrickPatrick Bolton

Christian: I will admit that the first thing I do when reading a cast bio is look to see what competitor from the past they compare themselves to. This tells us a lot about what they value in terms of gameplay, and what they think a winning strategy can be. Ironically it’s really hard to make a correct choice here. If you go Boston Rob, you’re giving yourself too much credit, Russell Hantz, you don’t understand the difference between making it to the end and winning.

So what to make of the Alabama business owner who chooses Joe? Honestly, I think he’s got a bit too high of a self-image if he thinks he’s going to be able to replicate what Joe did in the game, and the high water mark he’s trying to emulate isn’t going to get you to the win. He certainly hit the correct notes in his interview about not trusting any players, etc. But the combination of the model for his game and the fact that he seems like he might spontaneously combust after just a few days on the beach, suggests that he’s not long for the game.

Logan: I agree that believing you are Joe Anglim is the equivalent of saying “I am going to be the most well-liked person in this game because I am awesome”. So perhaps his ego may be a bit inflated.

The good news is that all signs point to him being a chipper ginger. Knowing he is an independent business owner, I am very curious to see how he adjusts at the beginning of the game to being in a team dynamic. There are no subordinates — only equals. If Patrick can’t adapt to this change, we are going to see him get voted out very, very quickly. I know those types of people who are self-employed — they will panic once things don’t start going their way. It’s all a matter of whether or not Patrick is aware this will be happening.

He may have been better off comparing himself to Brian Heidik considering he referred to this as “a business trip”. I just hope there are no competitions involving bows and arrows! And unless he gets a camp as luxurious as Moto’s, he won’t have to worry about dirty dishes being left in the sink.

Prediction: Patrick goes home at Hustlers’ second TC or is voted out early post-merge. This guy will never be a follower.

Dan: Patrick seems out of his element in the game, and that’s before it’s even started. I’m not just referring to the sunburn issues either. He appears to be a genuine guy, but does that work for you on Survivor? It depends on the season. This cast does seem a little friendlier than some, so Patrick’s inability to lie might not hurt him as much at first. The Ali connection is going to be tricky; he doesn’t mention it in his pre-game interviews, which is different than her approach.

I don’t share Logan’s feeling that Patrick’s status as a business owner will hurt him on the team. Being able to negotiate prices and work with home owners requires a collaborative spirit. What I wonder about is Patrick’s understanding of Survivor. A crash course in a short time is not the same as watching the show for 15 years. He may be gullible about the level of deception that’s needed to conduct a winning game over a full season. It may be a bumpy ride for Patrick; he’ll require all of his hustling skills to dodge an early target.

Sarah: I’m mostly in agreement with what everybody else said, though considering how he’s kept mute about knowing Ali means he either doesn’t recognize her or he’s able to lie very well indeed. This is a guy who caught a crab in his B-roll, tried to catch a shark minutes later, claims to have once caught a rattlesnake as a pet, and apparently tried to knock a nest out of a tree at Ponderosa just for the hell of it. Patrick is… off-putting, and I keep going back to how worried Ali is to see him. He’s not just a blast from her past. He’s somebody she’s talking about managing.

He’s also the Hustler most likely to take a leadership role, and I can see him butting heads with Lauren whom he’s written off in the pre-game. I’m not entirely sure whose side the other Hustlers will take, but I’ll agree with the other bloggers that an early implosion is headed Patrick’s way.

Catherine: Yeah, I don’t really like this guy either. Like Sarah, I noticed the tone in Ali’s voice when she mentioned that she knew him. She wasn’t thrilled to see him out there. And then there is that weird fact that he never mentioned it. In fact, he mentioned very little of consequence at all. Whereas most of this cast have the kind of personalities that leap off the page, Patrick lacks some of that charisma. I found him more than a little bland.

Is he set up to do well in the game? Perhaps. He’s strong enough without being too strong, strategic enough without being a super fan, and he’s hardly going to be targeted as a social threat. I can’t see Patrick being charming enough for people to vote him a winner, but I see a rosier future for him than my fellow RHAP bloggers seem to. I think he’ll make the merge, and probably get voted out when he no longer has numbers on his side.

ali-1Alexandrea Elliot

Christian: The first thing that jumped out at me about this Ali’s bio is something that has never been a good sign for any player on the show: “I have tons of pet peeves”. Thirty-four seasons of Survivor have proven that pet peeves turn into grudges about 30 seconds after you get sand under your feet, and the thing which gives you the least chance of success is being part of a blood feud on the island. While her daily life as a personal assistant to a YouTube sensation may allow her to adjust to having no set schedule in the game, we’ll have to see how well she handles that when she also doesn’t have a mocha latte first thing in the morning.

Though I will admit that I laughed at her answer to the three things question they ask every contestant. If she keeps her sense of humor, she has a chance to make the merge. I just don’t see her being a major player. I think Andrea is a reasonable role model for any player, but neglecting to point out that Andrea has a reasonable social game as well, misses what makes her so dangerous.

Logan: Yeah, those pet peeves. There are going to be a lot of things that will irritate Ali and will be fun to watch play out. Ali just seems really awkward in contrast to the rest of the Hustlers. I think Mr. Turtleneck will have an easier time fitting in than Ali. Ali thinks being a celebrity assistant is doing the jobs that nobody wants to do — I live in a retirement town. The jobs nobody wants to do around here entails changing soiled adult diapers, getting yelled at by angry old people, and being stuck behind cars that go no faster than ten kilometers per hour because Mr. Magoo is behind the wheel. Ali seems to lack life experience as she thinks being a celebrity assistant can prepare her for anything — so I’m interested to see what she takes away from an experience like Survivor.

And she shares cool photos on social media as a hobby and wants a mirror for the island. She is going to be far out of her element here.

Prediction: She is a prime candidate to go at Hustlers’ second or third Tribal Council. I don’t think she will raise enough alarm bells to go home first, but that second Tribal Council slot seems fitting for her. I don’t see her making it much farther than that.

Dan: It’s going to be intriguing to find out how Ali deals with Patrick, who she knows from college. His presence is top of mind for her and could jeopardize her game as much as his. I think she’ll bring a lot to the show and be a fun character. Christian aptly points out her many pet peeves, which aren’t a surprise after listening to her conversation with Josh Wigler. I don’t see Ali as someone that will hold back if another player is causing trouble. The other players seem mostly taken with her, and first impressions are important on Survivor.

Ali brings a cool energy to the show, but I’m inclined to agree with Christian and Logan’s feelings about her chances. If the Hustlers do well in the early going, Ali could make solid connections and hang around for a while. I’ll be rooting for her, but I’m concerned about what will happen if the Hustlers struggle in the first few episodes. She’s unlikely to be the first target there, but Ali’s energetic personality could make waves. I hope Ali surprises us.

Sarah: I’m going to go against the grain here because I love Ali and have high expectations for her. She’s a long-term fan of the show — her fandom is rooted in her family rather than the internet, and we’ve seen how that can drive players once they finally get their own chance on the beach. I don’t think the elements are going to be a deal breaker for her. She’s charming in video and podcasts, I like what she says about the show and her own social abilities, and it’s been really fascinating to hear her talk through the problem that Patrick poses. I think she’s right to be very wary of that connection, and I like that she’s not hoping it won’t be an issue but actively planning how she’ll deal with it.

But what I really like about Ali is how middle of the road she is. So many players have commented that they want to be that middle of the road player, and there are a lot of them that qualify…but as the field narrows, some of them will become obvious targets, while others might not have the “hustle” to actually use that middle of the road position. Ali doesn’t fall into either of these categories, and I think she could indeed follow in Andrea’s footsteps… the question is if she’s got the game skills to surpass her.

Catherine: I’m with you Sarah. I found Ali really charming in both her pre-game video and her interview with Josh Wigler. As for the pet peeves — plenty of Survivor winners have had extensive lists there — from Kim Spradlin, who hates speed bumps, to Sarah Lacina, who hates stupid people. Every player has listed some ridiculous pet peeves. It doesn’t change the way that they play the game. I don’t see any huge red flags in Ali’s bio; in fact, her bio reminds me a lot of Tasha Fox, who has done well both times that she has played.

I also think that Ali is poised to do well. She’s incredibly likable, and claims that she will be a competition beast. If she’s being honest there, then that makes her an extremely valuable tribe member. I do think that the one wildcard there is how she deals with Patrick. Does she get him offside immediately, or can she work with him and form some sort of alliance? If she can work with Patrick, I think that she could go really far. I see Ali as a potential winner.

simoneSimone Nguyen

Christian: It’s no surprise that nearly every Survivor contestant makes a reference in their bio to wanting to win the million dollars. Who wouldn’t like to jump up a tax bracket or two for a month or so of work? Simone makes no such mention in her bio, which is fairly refreshing. The reason that she does mention, “wanting a change…for like a month”, is far more likely to happen. What I do like most about Simone’s bio is her statement that she’s unafraid to make consequential moves that will affect other player’s games.

While I went on, in some detail, about my annoyance at the cult of the “big move” last season, the big issue for me is people making these moves absent of any game plan. Just blowing up someone’s game at the expense of your own is pointless, and it sounds like Simone recognizes that and the benefit of hiding your power in the game. The problem: “I don’t believe in drama, but I do believe in constructive confrontation”. No. That is not something to believe in on Survivor.

Logan: Simone’s bio is definitely unique. We can’t tell if she is trolling in her answers or is going to overthink things with her constant euphemisms for basic Survivor antics.

Probst really digs Simone Nguyen. Dare I say a campaign will commence with the slogan “Nguyen for the Win?” and then have another tagline that says “When Simone Nguyen is here, it’s all over baby”. Oh wait, that’s Scotty Nguyen.

In all seriousness, Simone appears to be very upfront about her personality — she likes to judge people and is unapologetic about it. This will make her a bit of a quiet assassin on this season. I don’t get her comparison to Tai because he is a bamboo in the wind. Sounds like ditched lyrics from Pocahontas.

I imagine Simone will not get along with Ali. These two appear to have absolutely nothing in common and were thrown onto the tribe together for a reason. I expect a few confessionals where Simone zings Ali. And WHO THE HELL IS SUSAN SHIN? Let’s all Google the name together!

Prediction: Simone makes it to the merge.

Dan: This Hustlers group is really something. Simone is hilarious and willing to speak about her mind about the other players, at least in the pre-game. I want her to do well in this season, mainly because of the confessionals. Will Simone be able to hold back in person with her tribe? I love her big personality, but it may be a lot to take 24 hours a day. Logan refers to Simone as a possible “quiet assassin” this season, and I’d love to see that happen. The key is the quiet part.

It’s so hard to read where Simone will fall in the Hustlers; I’m inclined to agree with Logan (and Simone in her interview) that she’ll clash with Ali. I believe that Simone would win that battle, but it might not help her long-term game. Christian quotes the “constructive confrontation” and the danger in going that route. She fell in love with Survivor in Kaoh Rong, so that’s a pretty limited perspective on how to approach the game. For those reasons, Simone may fall short. I’m hoping for the best and think she may surprise us, though.

Sarah: Simone has been the MVP of the pre-game for me. From her bio, to her comments on every other castaway, to that killer final line in her cast video, she’s been trolling hard — Courtney Yates may finally have a worthy successor. Because of this, I would like nothing more than to see Simone snipe her way through 39 days, delivering killer confessionals every episode, yet I can’t believe it’s going to happen. Simone noted that East Asian women don’t do well on Survivor (Brenda was the last one to make the merge; since then, the record holder is Lucy who lasted four episodes), posited that they may be seen as sneaky and resolved that she would play the little sister role.

Aside from the slight hiccup that Little Sister is the second oldest person on her tribe, I can’t imagine that Simone can actually put a lid on that snarkiness and play sweet day in and day out through all the hardships of camp life. (According to Mike, she couldn’t even keep it under wraps for the cast photo.)  And as the others noted, the constructive confrontation thing is not going to go down well — plus while she’s confident in her physicality, there’s a solid line up of athletes on the cast and I worry that she’s going to be seen as the weakest link on what is on paper the weakest tribe.

That said, she is charming, and I could see her getting on well with a surprising range of people. (Including Ali!) So my fingers are crossed that she lands on her feet, or that the Hustlers surprise us all and never lose a challenge.

Catherine: Like everyone else, I love, love, love Simone. Who wouldn’t? We don’t get many characters in modern Survivor seasons who know that they are a villain, and own it. Simone is owning her villain status even before the game starts. Her snarky appraisals of her fellow cast mates are not only really funny, they are often accurate.

Simone has had some insightful comments. She’s one of the few there who can see that it is going to be difficult for her to succeed in the game. As an Asian woman, as someone with no outdoors experience, she is out there fully knowing that she could be the first one voted out. She’s got a plan to stop that from happening, and she is succeeding, with many of the other castaways mentioning how quiet and sweet she seems. Question is, can she keep up the act when she is on the beach, hungry, cold and wet? I doubt it. Survivor strips you to your core, and is a reflection of your truest self. Simone’s truest self seems like someone I would love to hang out with, definitely someone I would love to hear on a podcast, but not someone that I would want to be around 24/7.

I think Simone is going to struggle. I don’t think she makes the merge.

devonDevon Pinto

Logan: Move over Henry because we have a REAL yoga enthusiast. He is also a surf instructor! He is going to be somebody that is easy to root for. Sure, he probably won’t get much screen time, but the guy seems likable. The guy is just going to be a fun goofball that lets producers relax while they worry about all of the other fires they are going to have to put out on the Hustlers tribe.

And his hobbies include surfing, surfing, and surfing. Unlike Ali, he has only one pet peeve: Not surfing. Oh, and his favorite Pokemon is Lapras. I mean, how couldn’t it be?

Prediction: If Devon goes home pre-merge, I will be stunned. Those who do well in challenges are typically protected in the three-tribe format unless they go completely bonkers. I will also be stunned if he isn’t taken out for being a huge challenge threat once the merge hits.

Dan: Unlike some of the other athletic guys, Devon seems more laid-back about life. That skill is quite valuable in the early days of Survivor. As long as you form good bonds with your tribe, there’s little need to be a hustler (despite the tribe name). Devon isn’t likely to over play and try to prove his value as the alpha. He’s into yoga and quietly confident about his skills.

Logan calls out Devon’s status as a fun goofball, and that’s the big difference between Devon and a guy like JP. There’s a nuance to his approach that should avoid the early target. With that said, he’s not going to sneak up on anyone. Athletic guys are obvious threats by this stage of the game. Of course, we’ve seen an evolution where “meat shields” survive longer in recent seasons. There are also tons of buff players in this season, so Devon won’t stand out as much. I’m not ready to pick him as the winner, but a trip to the merge feels likely.

Sarah: Devon’s greatest advantage is that he’s playing with Cole Medders. As physically amazing as Devon is, Cole is the one who’s going to get the Joey Amazing Target. Devon’s greatest disadvantage is that he’s the surfer dude on the Hustlers’ tribe. While Jeff had a rationale for that, his truer-to-type tribemates were suspicious about his mellow vibe pre-game. To quote Simone: “I’m not impressed. Get a job.

That said, the Hustlers really can’t afford to vote Devon off. And Cole is almost certainly going to last long enough for Devon to use him as a meat shield. Plus Devon has a perfectly functional brain behind the Dudebro face. He’s got the resources to do something in the game. Yet I don’t see the hustle or the savvy to pull off the moves he’ll need to get to the end… I think Devon’s outcome is a big grin as Jeff snuffs his torch after his alliance decides he’s no longer useful.

Catherine: Devon claims that he is just like Ozzy or Malcolm —  “another lovable guy”. What he’s actually saying is that he’ll be good at the challenges, and he’ll look good while dominating. For that reason, I expect that he’ll do well. He’s not going to come across as strategically threatening, and he will be useful in the tribal portion of the game. Devon is in a good spot.

But can he maneuver his way to the end? I’m not seeing it. I believe Devon when he says that he is only playing dumb. I believe that behind the ‘surfer dude’ persona, there are considerable brains and street smarts. But I can’t get past the fact that Devon wants to carry his team in the immunity challenges. That alone is going to put a target on him. While nobody is going to be targeting Devon for being too sneaky, I do think that he will be targeted, both as a physical and a social threat. I can’t see a way that he wins.

Christian: I don’t think Devon is going to ping on anyone’s radar. But he’s also not going to get a lot of votes. This is a season with many athletic players, and Devon’s being laid back and generally looking to get along with folks should keep him fairly safely ensconced early on. However, unless every single physical threat makes it to the jury phase of the game, there comes a time for every Ozzy-type to be sent out of the game.

The exception to this? If a stronger social player decides to make Devon his ride or die. That’s an extremely risky move, since generally going to the end with a social player everyone likes is a death sentence. I think we’ll get a lot of things from Devon. Good interviews, good challenge performances, and a mid-range jury exit.

laurenLauren Rimmer

Logan: While I don’t see Ali fitting in with the game of Survivor in general, Lauren will probably have a tough time fitting in with the people. Much like Patrick, she probably works independently and likely does not hang around with a bunch of people in their early to mid 20s. It also doesn’t help matters much when her daughter has a great work ethic, and will presumably expect that same work ethic from five young people who come from very different walks of life.

She says she is not like any Survivor contestant ever, but I do see a great resemblance on paper to Timber Tina and also Wendy from Survivor: Nicaragua. Saying you are one of a kind after 498 contestants makes for a tough sell 17 years later.

Ali and Simone will not be getting along well, but I do not see them being able to have too many conversations with Lauren. Hopefully Lauren laughs at everyone’s jokes, even when their jokes aren’t funny, and she will break through that initial awkward phase.

Prediction: First one voted out on the Hustlers’ tribe.

Dan: In a cast filled with young, ridiculously fit players, Lauren stands out from the crowd as a fisherman in her 30s. That doesn’t mean she’s doomed, however. It just raises the bar for her to play well at the start. I’m going to go against the grain and predict that Lauren does fine in the beginning. Logan’s predictions about a quick exit could be spot on; there’s definitely a precedent in removing older women first. Like I mentioned with Chrissy, it’s not so typical now. Sunday looked like an early boot in season 33, and she lasted all the way until the final six. Lauren has her eyes on the prize and might be overlooked by the other Hustlers.

It’s sad to call Lauren an older woman when she’s only 35. The reason I mention that fact is the ages of the others on her tribe. Let’s do a quick age roll call: 24, 23, 24, 23, 25. Yikes! In this “game changer” world of Survivor, Lauren’s status as an outsider might be okay. Her name will come up at the Hustlers’ first Tribal Council, but someone will look for the big move and change the target to another player. It’s a common trend and likely to continue with this group.

Sarah: We’re probably not going to see a lot of Lauren over the next few months, but I predict that in two years’ time, the small town horseshoe crab fan will have a cult following. She’s so far from casting’s usual type that she would have been the odd one out on any tribe. The Hustlers, unfortunately, have doubled down on that: as Dan noted, her tribemates are all 10-12 years younger than her. I’m not sure who will take the leadership role there, it should really be Lauren, but it probably won’t be, and I wonder how Lauren will fare taking orders and condescension from somebody so much her junior.

On the other hand, I kind of like Lauren. And for all the mixed reactions she got from her pregame social game, she won over Simone of all people. (Not going to happen, but this season would be pretty awesome if the Odd Couple of Simone and Lauren teamed up to dominate the game.) Lauren’s observations of her fellow cast mates are thoughtful and often accurate; I suspect she’s going to have a good read of what’s going on out there… and I doubt anybody else will be listening to her. Older women have a hard time getting recognized as players on Survivor, and the fisherwoman built like a quarterback doesn’t fit the preconceived stereotype of a winner. Moreso than most players, Lauren could use the money, but I think $100,000 is her ceiling and pre-merge money is more likely.

Catherine: Am I the only Red Dwarf fan out there? The idea of having a Rimmer competing on Survivor tickles me greatly, and for that alone, I want to see Lauren do well. Like the others have noticed, Lauren has an uphill battle to get to the end. She’s by far the oldest on her tribe (at 35! How ridiculous is that!), and she isn’t used to being in social situations. While there are many on her tribe who will be in their element selling their personalities, for Lauren, this is all going to seem very foreign.

But for anyone looking for a loyal ally, Lauren is the best one out there. She’s the only person on the cast who is not really prepared to play the game. She won’t lie, she won’t backstab. When Lauren gives you her word, then her word is good. She’s also quite physically fit, and shouldn’t be a liability in the tribal phase of the game. If the Hustlers are really looking to hustle their way to the end, then Lauren should find a spot in a majority alliance, only to get voted out near to the end as a social threat. Of course, the more likely option is that the rest of the tribe just can’t understand her, and they send her home first.

Christian: Loyalty is a tradeable commodity in the game of Survivor. Being a predictable player, who will vote along with their alliance, who isn’t looking to put their own agenda further can, if you pick the right alliance, put yourself into a position where you can draft along with a better player and then slingshot past them to the finals, and maybe to the win.

It’s a very hard sell to get me to see that happening with Lauren however. The biggest danger to Lauren is if she’s not able to get along with her primarily younger tribe. If she can get over that hurdle she should be able to go relatively deep in the game, mostly on the periphery. Her biggest plus is that she should be able to avoid being perceived as a weak player who drags down the tribe, since she’s fairly strong. I’m leaning with Logan; however, she has every chance of being the second Hustler boot.

ryanRyan Ultrich

Logan: Man, I got stuck with all of the Hustlers. That’s fitting when I start reflecting upon my own personality. Anyways, in the words of one of my favorite MCs Juelz Santana, let’s wrap this up like a BET commercial. Ryan is just a pair of glasses and a wand away from being the guy you expect living in The Cupboard Under the Stairs.

Unlike Cochran’s forced sweater vest apparel, Ryan really wanted to wear his turtleneck. I know he probably wants to bulk up, but putting on a turtleneck to boost your body weight by 10 percent is a bit of an extreme measure. Luckily the camera also adds 10 pounds for Ryan!

The guy is apparently quick-witted. His rivalry of words with the urologist should come in handy either during a switch or a merge. Things are bound to get a bit “testy” during their first meeting. This guy also has an unusual bio. He wants a McDonalds Shamrock Shake — not because it will bring him the luck of the Irish, but rather because it is offered for only a limited time which is much like his stay on the Hustlers tribe if they lose too many immunity challenges.

He wants a podium to hold press conferences on the beach and hates people who are PC. I guess he is more of a Mac fellow. Ryan loves karaoke and sports despite being a self-proclaimed Jersey Boy. I thought all Jersey Boys only know gym, tan, and laundry, but Ryan is ushering in a new generation.

Ryan says he goes to sleep many nights thinking about Survivor. Now it will get unusually meta for him as he goes to sleep thinking about Survivor while on Survivor. Ryan thinks he is most like Todd Herzog. Considering Ryan said he is currently sober and doesn’t have a girlfriend, he already has two things in common with Todd. Perhaps he can go three-for-three by becoming a great Survivor winner!

Prediction: He might fend off one or two Tribal Councils pre-merge…but any more than that and he is screwed. As long as he is a good yes man for the first half of the game and not flake out on his alliance, Ryan stands a very good shot at making a deep run in this game. Nobody will take him seriously at first. Who feels threatened by the guy in Fiji wearing a turtleneck?

Dan: Where does the obvious super fan stand in today’s Survivor game? Millennials vs. Gen-X showed how big fans without obvious athletic skills can succeed. Both David and Adam fit that mold and were rarely in trouble after the early stages. Particularly with Adam, what made his game work was an understated strategy that included strong personal connections with opponents like Jay. Does Ryan have that same ability? I have my doubts, though Ryan understands the difficulty because of Adam’s victory. The first step will be calming down and not getting too excited about his fandom. I’m not sure I could do it.

With that said, Ryan could hang around for a while in a cast filled with athletes. Like I said with Lauren, it’s sometimes the players that don’t fit the norm that survive. Logan is correct that Ryan should be in good shape if he can escape the early Tribal Councils. I’m not convinced the Hustlers will be the strongest challenge tribe, however. If luck goes Ryan’s way, he could be okay. His chances of being the first boot are higher than most, but that’s his danger zone. If Ryan can make the merge, look for him to be around for the finale. At a minimum, he’ll be great TV.

Sarah: I think Dan’s question about modern Survivor‘s attitudes to the super fan is very pertinent, especially considering how many of the cast pegged Ryan as a huge fan, compared him to Adam or otherwise saw him as sneaky. I also wonder how Ryan will handle the paranoia since he’s going into this aware that as much as he knows about the show, he might not be able to outmaneuver his own physical weakness. He could be a Cochran 1.0.

If he can keep his cool, there should be more obvious targets, (unless as Logan said, he goes to several tribal councils pre-merge.) I think in the short term, people are going to want to align with him, to consult him on their game plan… but I also think that in the current climate, Ryan is the guy who gets taken out either once the enemy has the opportunity to strike or once his allies are ready to execute their endgame.

Catherine: Is Ryan really more Adam Klein, or Max Dawson? On season 33, super fans did really, really well in the game. But there were an awful lot of them out there. An awful lot of people who loved to over analyze the game, and wanted to talk (and talk, and talk) about past seasons. I think that unfortunately for Ryan, he’s not in that same situation on the Hustlers tribe.

He’s surrounded by people that are either quite new to the game, or have very limited understanding of how Survivor works. Adam didn’t get targeted as a super fan because Hannah was there. And Zeke was there. There were others who loved the game like he did. On the other hand, Max found himself on a tribe of ‘casuals’- and was voted out for being too annoying.

Ryan is not on the right tribe to succeed in this game. I’m rooting for him, because he is hilarious, but I think that unless the Hustlers go on some sort of immunity run, Ryan’s stay in the game is going to be short.

Christian: Funny super fans, on tribes of experienced players can go fairly far in the game. Funny super fans that are physically weak on a tribe of new players? Not so much. In part if he’s going to survive Ryan Is going to need to be ‘adopted’ by one of the other players, pulled into their social group despite whatever their dissimilarities are. That will give Ryan a chance to bide his time, and form social bonds outside of the context of his super fandom.

What does that mean for his end-game though? It’s a bad spot to be honest. Ryan is too smart for people to completely ignore him, he’s unlikely to win individual immunities at that phase of the game, and there’s every chance that he’ll be towards the bottom of the totem pole.

Ryan’s best chance is that the game breaks down mid-jury phase, with leaders of different power blocks sent home and everyone scrambling to establish a new norm. That kind of general scrum works well for a player who is familiar enough with the way previous games have gone, to see the opportunity and take advantage of it.

Who Will Be the Sole Survivor?

Sarah: Ali! It’s a risk, because I can see scenarios where she goes out early, but in a field with so many possible winners and few obvious candidates, I’m counting on Ali to live up to her tribe name and get the job done!

Christian: Desiree Williams. I will completely cop to this being a fantasy pick, rooted in the fact that Desiree reminds me a little bit of one of my favorite players of all time, and that player will never get a chance to win the game. Desiree isn’t Cirie, but the obvious differences between them actually seem to make her a better player, and give her a better shot at winning the game. So I’ll just be sitting in my corner during the premier, hoping that Desiree doesn’t get broken down by conditions on the island… or lose her mind out of frustration with her fellow castaways.

Catherine: Honestly, this is maybe the hardest season to pick. Nobody really stands out to me. Everyone has their pros and cons, and it’s really exciting to see how the game pans out. With that said, I’m going with Chrissy. She’s a fan, she’s smart, she’s social, and she is on a tribe that (hopefully) won’t lose immunity often, and she should be shielded through the early portion of the game. I haven’t picked a winner yet, and I’ve been making predictions since San Juan Del Sur. So I have no real confidence in the pick, but I love Chrissy and really want to see her win the million.

Logan: Chrissy. Survivor rarely has “older” female winners. Throwing in a reasonably fit, intelligent, and social savvy person onto a Heroes tribe seems like the perfect candidate for producers to get what they want. It’s tough to imagine too many scenarios early on where Chrissy goes home, and even fewer scenarios post-merge where she is the target. On paper, Chrissy should be the favourite. Of course, an unfavourable swap or a game with saturated with idols could change all of that.

Dan: Like Catherine, I’ve found it harder than usual to make a winner pick this season. With the exception of picking Michelle in Kaoh Rong, I also don’t have a great track record with predictions. So I’m going to make it simple. There are a lot of athletic players this season, and not all of them can be the merge boot. Some will survive, so I’m going to pick one of the most likable of the bunch in Alan. We’re also due for a pro athlete to win, right? Alan has a good set-up with the Heroes, and that should put him in a good position to make a deep run to the end.

Tomorrow night, you’ll have the chance to see which blogger is already wrong. I suspect the first one out will be a surprise, despite all the helpful info from Josh Wigler’s incredible podcast. Regardless of what happens, I can’t wait to meet this new group of players and watch them navigate the complicated game we all love so much. Come on in, guys!

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