Aren’t click-bait titles the best?
The truth is, I don’t know if I believe even half of what I’ve written here. And how could I? All of my opinions are based on CBS-curated bios and ever-so-brief intro videos which show the cast doing peculiar things to and with a palm tree.
But wild speculation is what we do at this point of the preseason, right? Might as well create a boot list that will be the source of ridicule throughout the season. There’s nothing quite like knowing that I’m crafting instant regret.
That said, you really won’t believe #5.
BTW, If you’d like more detail on the below rankings, check out the podcast I did with our friends over at Survivor Talk with D&D
There are a lot of Gen-X contenders for first boot… so why did I go with Jessica? In the realm of unfair judgments, her placement here is based on one of the most unfair judgments of all: A brief moment of crazy eyes. In her Meet the Cast video, there she is, being sweet and gregarious, talking about dairy cows and court cases, and suddenly, POP, there are the crazy eyes. You know the ones I’m talking about. Don’t lie, yes you do. They’re the ones when you’re out on a date and everything is going swimmingly but then you see them and you know, on some deep, fundamental level, to run away as fast as you can. (This goes for either gender, by the way; men have crazy eyes, too, and I suspect that there were phases in my life when I had them.)
As you’ll hear a little later, I think there’s a power struggle brewing on the Gen-X tribe, and when that happens, the alphas want followers. Jessica is NOT a follower. She’s too smart for that. Too strong. Too determined. She’s gonna get frustrated with the rams locking horns and she’s going to tell them to cut it out. In the middle of a “Boys, enough already!” speech – during which is absolutely RIGHT, of course, but you just can’t confront people in this game, particularly this early, unless your name is Sandra – out will pop the crazy eyes and the alphas will see it and know that she’s gotta go.
For the record, I like her, and I bet the other players do, too. It’s just that I suspect her tribe dynamic will swiftly become, “Be a leader or be a follower,” and Jessica is neither. And when you won’t play by the rules of your tribe, you’re not long for the game.
What could possibly get a charismatic, charming, and intelligent gamer voted out this early? Actually, I think it’s three things: The storm, the internet, and her tribe.
The storm: If you’ve seen the CBS commercials, you know that the island is hit by a cyclone during the first three days. When players experience brutal weather, it’s gut-check time. People who have deep motivations for playing the game ride it out far better than those who have comfortable lives to return to. If I had to guess, Mari has a lot of money in the bank and really has nothing to prove to anyone. Add in that she wasn’t a Survivor fan going into the game, and I can’t help but wonder if the conditions made her think, “Why the hell am I out here?” I’m not saying she’s going to quit – she’s way too competitive for that – but as soon as a strategic player loses her laser focus on the end goal, bad things happen.
The internet: All of the Millennials are going to be experiencing digital withdrawal, none of them more so than Mari, who seemingly lives her entire life online. No way around it: She’s going to be suffering from social media silence. (I’m only semi-serious here, but don’t be surprised if she’s on edge from the outset; she may well be writing witty 140-character tweets in the sand just to feed the addiction.)
Her tribe: When you’re surrounded by easy-going, fun-loving Millennials – especially those primed to define themselves by their carefree attitudes thanks to the season’s theme and Probst’s continual reiteration of it – you’re pretty much forced to embrace that approach to the game lest you be targeted as an outlier. Like Kelley Wentworth in Survivor: San Juan del Sur, Mari is going to struggle to keep her game awareness under wraps; she’s going to want to strategize while the rest of the kids want to skinny dip. Her intensity is going to turn her into a target, and she’ll end up going home far earlier than she would have had she ended up on the Gen-X tribe where – her internet celebrity be damned – is where she probably belonged.
Fan fiction, narrative speculation, crackpot theorizing: call it what you will, anyone who writes about Survivor before the season begins indulges in it. The most generous of you would call pre-season boot orders an exercise in “educated guesses” – all of the logic leaps here are based on interviews and bios and videos – but really, all we’re doing is playing a game of connect-the-dots, but there’s only three dots, and we’re drunk. The picture we end up with is far more likely to be the work of a kindergartener than a Kandinsky.
With that in mind, here’s my (abbreviated) story about Bret: He’s going to be caught up in a power struggle with Chris… and he’s going to lose. He’s going to be deferential – the nice, funny guy almost always is – but Chris isn’t going to trust Bret to simply play the good soldier. He’s going to see Bret laughing and joking with players like Paul, CeCe and Ken, and he’ll realize that the only way the tribe will ever truly be his will require him taking out Bret. And so he will.
There’s not enough Botox in all the land to hide the intensity inside of Lucy. And that intensity is destined to erupt – sooner rather than later. She’ll be suffering for so many reasons: because all bodybuilders suffer on Survivor… because she misses her kids… because the strict regimen by which she lives her life simply won’t exist on the island. When you’re about two weeks into the game, and you haven’t yet swapped, camp harmony becomes increasingly important… and Lucy will be sent home because collectively, they’ve had enough of her approach to life and the game.
Adam really should be great at Survivor: He’s bright, seems engaging, and, if his job managing a homeless shelter is any indication, he has empathy in abundance. Much like Mari, though, Adam, I feel, is going to struggle to mesh with the younger members of his tribe. Players like Figgy, Taylor, Jay, and Michelle are going to be setting a lighter tone for the Millennials, and anyone who gets too intense too soon is going to pay the price.
Add in the fact that his head will not entirely be in the game – how could it be, when he’s going to be worried about an extremely sick mother back at home – and I see an early departure for Adam. Which is a shame. He’s the kind of guy I root for.
*** SWAP ***
So, here’s my thinking: I don’t believe that the producers will abandon the season’s theme after two boots (they can mix it up at 18 with returning players because the audience knows who they are already), so they’re not going to create three tribes of six. But production LOVES the three tribe format (in large part, I suspect, because, theoretically, the alphas that Probst loves so much are more indispensible in smaller tribes). So they’ll wait until they can make it 5v5v5.
As always, I’ll be keenly interested to see how they handle the swap. There are reasonable ways to do it (pure luck with some gender balancing), and decidedly unfair methods (paint-filled egg distribution which guarantees one tribe a numerical advantage in the swapped tribes, e.g. Caramoan). This is one of the many ways that Probst and the producers create what they see as favorable outcomes; if you don’t believe they take advantage of situations like this, then you are blessedly naïve or relentlessly optimistic or both.
As constructed, this boot list has the Millennials up 8-7 at this point; if there’s discord in the Gen-X tribe (such as my hypothetical power struggle), and the weather has sapped their strength (the kids will have an ever-increasing physical advantage the deeper we go into the game), it could just as easily be 9-6. Whatever the case, some Gen-Xers are going to be scapegoats after the swap, and I place high odds on Paul running out of steam a fortnight into the game.
Like Paul, she’s a physical liability, and if she’s down in numbers, she becomes an easy boot. Which makes me sad: I love her smile, and would love to see her do well. Put this prediction on the list of “I hope I’m wrong.” Don’t think I am, though.
When I worked at a boarding school, I ran a dorm with a lot of kids like Will: Smart, staggeringly overconfident, completely convinced they’ve got it all figured out. Will talks a big game, but I’ll be shocked if he can get any traction; his tribe mates are going to see him as a puppy dog, a tribe mascot, good for a loyal vote. If he’s smart, he’ll ride that until after the merge, where some opportunities will open up. But I suspect that he’ll try to make a move, and a savvier Millennial strategist – Hannah, maybe, but more likely, and entertainingly, Zeke – will see what he’s up to (he’ll be far less subtle than he thinks he’s being) and deal with the problem. Anyone with half a brain will understand that Will could become dangerous late in the game, particularly if he teams up with other members of the God Squad, and so he’ll be taken out before the boy becomes a man (or at least dateable).
*** MERGE ***
Let the Pagonging begin. Normally, I’d put Chris – as the Savage-esque captain of a sinking ship – in this spot. But with the fear of idols being a factor at the merge, there will be vote-splitting and alternate-target-picking, and an innocuous immunity challenge threat from the minority alliance will be sent packing. That’ll be Ken, who will have wisely and dutifully kept out of the Gen-X fray – he’s too easy-going to mix it up with the big guys – and coasted to the merge by being useful in post-swap challenges.
On a related note, for a show that hates Pagongings, Survivor certainly makes some curious choices: If they keep the Millennials and Gen-Xers apart for over two weeks, and stoke the fires of us vs. them the entire time, what do they expect is going to happen? When you utilize a binary theme, it won’t matter if the producers eventually swap the players into three tribes; the two-tribe beginnings will guarantee that the post-merge game will be dominated by whichever original tribe has the numbers advantage. Which is a long-winded way of saying that the first few boots after the merge are going to be predictable.
Oh, before I forget, two quick thoughts about idols, one speculative, and one a conspiracy theory. Speculation: The “shell idol” could be attached to (and buried beneath) a shell which an observant player will realize never shifts in the surf. Conspiracy theory: If Chris, who is most definitely an object of Probstian affection, is in trouble at the merge, he’ll soon find himself in possession of an idol. It’ll only delay the inevitable, but coupled with some strength-based individual immunity challenges, Chris will get deeper into the game than his numbers disadvantage would normally allow.
I fully expect Chris to pull together a majority alliance within a day or two after the game begins. Sunday will be looking for a strong male leader… CeCe will gravitate to him more than to Bret… Paul, too, will be eager to be a back-up singer for once (the oldest player needs someone out front taking the heat)… David is a smart guy and will see which way the wind is blowing… and the Ken/Rachel combo (because she’s going to flirt with him, and for all his talk about putting flings behind him, Ken is going to flirt back, because what else are you going to do for two weeks on a tropical island) are going to be along for the ride. That’ll leave Bret, Jessica, and Lucy as the early targets, and that’s as long a boot list as they’ll need at the outset.
Anyway, Chris should be able to ride his leadership position to the swap, and, even if he finds himself in the minority on his new tribe, his size and strength should keep him around until the merge. At that point, though, his days are numbered, unless he goes on an epic Mike Holloway-ian immunity run. The odds are slim that he’ll earn a seat at the Final Tribal Council – it is incredibly difficult for the leader of a minority alliance to get there – but it’s safe to say that production will give him every opportunity to do so.
I have every reason to love this guy: He’s living the life I used to have – Survivor-loving writer in Sherman Oaks – only he’s funnier and more successful. And truth be told, I really hope he does well in the game. But as just about everyone who has seen his intro video has noted, one does not play Survivor – at least not well – when you’re using it as a way to confront your numerous insecurities.
That said, he’s sharp enough to know that he needs a strong alliance, because other than being a puzzle guy, he doesn’t offer much in the challenge department. The Gen Xers might be able to hide him when the game is 10 on 10, but when the swap hits, and he’s one of five or six, he’s in a whole lot of trouble. If he’s fortunate, he finds himself on a tribe with bigger liabilities, and manages to make the merge. If he’s not, he’s out a long time before this. I couldn’t bring myself to vote him out of my ridiculous narrative early, though, because his confessionals should be great, he’ll be endearingly inept in the challenges, and I’ll enjoy rooting for him as long as he’s in the game.
Like David, Hannah could leave the game a LOT earlier than this… heck, if she proves to be the physically weakest female on her tribe (a distinct possibility), she could be out pre-swap, never mind pre-merge. But I suspect that her disarming, self-deprecating sense of humor will spare her that indignity, particularly with overly competitive, overtly strategic players like Mari and Adam around to attract attention.
Before going into what I think might happen at this point in the game, let me say this: After two minutes of video, I’m utterly smitten with Hannah. She’s smiley and goofy and witty – and above all, genuine. I’d align with her in a fat-man-in-a-sprinting-challenge heartbeat. The fact that she’s a knowledgeable SuperFan is another point in her favor; I even trust that she’s smart enough to avoid the mistakes of her mentor, a former professor and Survivor alum whose knowledge of the game far outstripped his real-world performance.
Back to my fan fiction: A player like Hannah is REALLY dangerous after the merge. She’s not an individual immunity challenge threat, so the other players will think they that can get rid of her at any time. More importantly, she’ll be slowly but surely winning the members of her alliance away from the other power player(s). If you sleep on someone like Hannah, and stick with a predictable Pagonging, you’ll discover, much to your surprise and dismay, that with six players left, she’s completely taken over the game.
I happen to think that there’s one Millennial player who is going to see that possibility looming, and start orchestrating post-merge blindsides to eliminate threats like Hannah.
But more on that in a bit.
Coming into the merge down in numbers, Sunday will be living on borrowed time, and once Chris has left the game, she’ll be searching, desperately, for safe harbor. She’ll find it with the God Squad: Michaela will be happy to have her on board, as will Michelle (and anyone who has decided to play along, as Sophie and Albert did in South Pacific). It makes sense for them to all come together: when you share an outlook on life with other players, and you’re in the midst of an extreme trial (like a 39-day game full of depravation and deceit), you’re going to bond with those who offer comfort and familiarity. Religion, when you get right down to it, is designed to help people cope with the anxieties of an uncertain and often treacherous world, and things don’t get more uncertain and treacherous than Survivor.
And yet, at some point, Sunday has to go; the jury is going to have a lot of Gen-Xers on it, and if she wends her way to the Final 3, she’s a threat to take down the title, if only for the improbability of her journey there. Rachel could just as easily go in this spot, and I’m sorely tempted to put her here, but once again, I think there’s someone left who will be pushing for Sunday’s ouster because she’s got a mind of her own, because her bonds to Michaela are too tight, and because she’s not his goat.
Before you give me grief, please understand that I don’t WANT to put him this high. He seems like a nice enough guy, but he’s obviously not the sort of player I prefer. But I think the game just opens up for him: The Millennials win a lot of early challenges… when the swap hits and he’s on a small tribe, he’ll be useful in challenges, and the odds are high that the Millennials will have the numbers edge in whatever tribe he’s on… and at the merge there are Gen-Xers and strategic threats to get rid of before his name rises to the top of the list.
Eventually, though, Jay needs his torch snuffed before he goes on an immunity run, and before the foursome of Jay/Michelle and Taylor/Figgy can take over the game. Which, now that I think about it, means that this will need to happen before the Final 7. Or maybe not; that foursome doesn’t seem like the most strategically savvy group in the world. Like Hannah at Final 9, I see the Jay boot playing out as a blindside; because he doesn’t understand the game, he’ll fall for the ever-so-familiar “We’ll go to the Final 6 and then battle it out” lie, even though that’s the thing smart, controlling strategists say to gullible players precisely so that they can orchestrate a blindside. Jay won’t see it coming, but you know what? He really, really should.
Michelle, much like Jay, is going to benefit from the Millennial numbers advantage and, unless things go haywire, she’ll coast to the merge. Her only setback in the early going, according to my baseless and increasingly ridiculous narrative, will be losing the flirt wars with Figgy; Taylor’s probably going to be the guy both of them want, but nobody out-flirts Figgy. Jay’s the next guy down the list (which will crush poor Will’s heart), and that connection will carry the two of them to the mid-merge, after the Gen-Xers are all but gone.
Michelle will have to be voted out before the finale, though – and quite possibly before the last Gen-Xer – because this late in the game, she transubstantiates from a number to a threat: the Gen-Xers will like her, the God Squad will adore her, and she won’t have any blood on her hands. At least one of the remaining players will look at Michelle and be reminded of Pearl Islands Darrah, who very easily could have beaten Lil or Fairplay. In other words, you gotta get her gone.
Every season, there’s one player who gets much deeper in the game than his or her skillset warrants. This player could be a loyal alliance member… a float vote… even an annoying antagonist who is being auditioned by the power players for a seat at Final Tribal Council. This year, that player is Rachel, who finds herself here because she’s the last remaining member of the minority alliance, and she was never going to make any plans of her own.
The good news for Rachel? She’ll have the raw material she needs for the chapter she writes in another best-selling self-published novel.
As anyone who has played Survivor can tell you – particularly those who made it to the merge – there is a direct correlation between camp kindness and longevity in the game. If you’re nice, or funny, or easy to talk to, you stick around.
There are times in this game that it really is that easy.
Figgy, from what I can tell from the early footage and publicity stills, is positivity personified. She smiles. She laughs. She flirts.
This will work particularly well on a tribe full of Millennials. Two of the five guys will actively hit on her (Taylor and Jay); one will spend 97% of his days trying to figure out who is hotter, Figgy or Michelle (Will); one will either be captivated or threatened by her charisma, but either way, will be affected by it (Adam); and one will see right through her allure and find a way to use her undeniable social intelligence (Zeke). No matter how you look at it, though, Figgy is sticking around for the long haul.
When the endgame arrives, though, the tandems are going to be under attack; if Taylor doesn’t win the Final 4 individual immunity challenge, he goes out here. Given who he’s up against, though, and the endurance challenge they’re likely to face, he’s going to be hard to beat. And when Taylor wins, Figgy loses (and as tempted as Taylor might be to force a fire-making tiebreaker, he should let her join the jury and vote for him; my guess, though, is that he’d stick with Figgy, who then loses to Michaela, who over the course of 39 days spent less time flirting and more time working).
From what I’ve seen in the preseason coverage, there’s been a lot of focus on Zeke as a scenery-chewing character, and that may well be true (certainly, his video makes it clear that he’s going to play to the camera), but I have a feeling that he’s going to be the season’s defining player.
He’ll get along with everyone at the beginning. He’ll use the Millennial numbers advantage, and his own keen understanding of Survivor strategy, to shape the post-merge game with underrated post-swap moves. And once the post-merge game gets underway, he’s going to manipulate some malleable players to shape the endgame that he wants.
Who keeps Chris from reestablishing himself after the merge? Zeke (despite his love for football players). Who sees Hannah for the threat she is and takes her out before she appropriates his players? Zeke. Who arranges the elimination of the God Squad and preemptively turns on the Millennial alliance? Zeke.
Unfortunately, Zeke will pay a steep price for these moves: He’ll be drawing dead at Final Tribal Council. With a different group of jurors, there’s a good chance his game would be rewarded. But Millennials take everything personally, and Gen-Xers take the responsibility of handing someone a million dollars seriously (I realize these are oversimplifications and egregious exaggerations, but I think there’s some truth to them). Zeke, I suspect, will play the best game. But he won’t win.
Like it or not, Zeke is going to define the season. He’ll be the villain you love to hate and hate to love. And as much as Zeke would like to have the million dollars, I think he’ll gladly settle for ten million Survivor fans knowing his name.
When I first took a look at this season’s cast, I was struck by how easy it was to identify potential first boots on the Gen-X tribe (there were so many!)… and how hard that same task was with the Millennials. In the end, I settled on Michaela as the first boot, largely because she seemed to be a Gen-Xer in everything but age. She seemed too grounded, too serious, too grown up for what appeared destined to be a happy-go-lucky group of fun-loving kids.
And then we were told about the cyclone.
My immediate reaction was to look back at the Millennials to see who might weather the storm – physically and metaphorically – and help hold the tribe together. The name I kept coming back to? Michaela. She’s tough. She’s responsible. She’s more grounded than the rest of them put together.
Before the storm, Michaela was a first boot. Afterwards, if she is who I think she is, she was Mama Michaela. And that’s how some sideways rain can change the game.
So, if she’s all that and a bag of rice, why doesn’t she win? Because she used religion to forge an alliance, but then let her fellow faithful be voted out. Because she played the mother role, and then turned on her children. Coach didn’t win. Neither did Dawn. And Michaela is going to be a little bit of both.
Fabio redux. The kid who rides the numbers to the merge, his connections to the endgame, and his athleticism to the end. Extending the Nicaragua comparison, Zeke gets the Sash treatment. Michaela, like Chase, pays the price for shattered truth and broken faith. Leaving Taylor, the snowboard instructor who worships Woo (because casting clearly gives unknowledgeable newbies a Cagayan DVD in their cram-basket), as our Sole Survivor.
Sicky sicky, gnar gnar!
(Actually, it’s ratchet.)
That’s it for this edition of The Baker’s Dozen – if you’d like to keep the conversation going, leave a comment below!
Andy Baker is a long-time, but definitely not long-winded, Survivor blogger.
Follow Andy on twitter: @SurvivorGenius