1) For my one and only Worlds Apart pre-season column, I’m going to break from my usual Baker’s Dozen format.
** Thirty bullet points – 130% more than your typical Baker’s Dozen. If that percentage is wrong, blame math.
** I’m going to write this as an egregiously speculative boot order (in essence, glorified – or maybe not so glorified – fan fiction).
** Throughout the boot list, I’ll go off on tangents about how the cast was put together, the opening twist, and Dr. Dawson (and whatever else comes to mind).
Before I dive into the boot order, though…
2) A bit about my writing schedule.
As some of you know, I have a baby in the house. Anna Claire is four months old now, and she is, as we lovingly call her, an inarticulate despot. What she says – at high volume, without words but with her meaning loud and clear – goes.
One thing she has demanded: Less writing and more playing.
Who am I to disobey THAT order?
The fallout from this fiat: I won’t be writing every week this season. As of now, I’m planning on a column at the merge and another as the endgame approaches. Otherwise, my thoughts will be contained to the occasional podcast – and the stuff that I yell at my TV screen on Wednesday nights.
(Speaking of podcasts, if you’d like to hear more about my thoughts on Worlds Apart, check out my recent appearance on Survivor Talk with D&D, where I had the privilege of discussing this season with Steve Helling from PEOPLE Magazine and Gordon Holmes from Comcast XFINITY.)
Ah, but there is one way you can convince me to write more, though…
3) Donate to the Durham Warriors Project and/or apply to play in the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge.
I’ve written about this charity and four-day Survivor-inspired competition in previous columns, so I won’t rehash all of the details here.
What I will say is this: Anyone who has taken the time to read this column over the years will LOVE playing in the DWSC. You’ll meet – and possibly play with – Survivor greats from seasons past. And you’ll finally find out if you have what it takes to play the real thing.
Added bonus: I’m helping mastermind this year’s event – and I promise the game is going to be great.
Another added bonus: You’ll get to meet the inarticulate depot for yourself! Anna Claire will be at the event, along with my son Bentley (who I’m training to be the star of Survivor 50; I’m only half-joking) and wife Laurel (who, ever the indulgent spouse, helps me with these columns).
If you’re interested, here’s the only link you’ll need: http://www.durhamwarriorschallenge.com
You can watch videos and see photos from the past two years… you can apply to play this August (we’re accepting applications through April 15th – only takes a few minutes to fill one out)… and you can donate to the Durham Warriors Project (which makes it possible for military veterans to stay at Maine Forest Yurts for free).
Should you apply or donate, be sure to make a note that you’re doing so to inspire – nay, demand – me to write the Baker’s Dozen on a more regular basis, and the organizers of the event will let me know.
Okay, enough preamble… time to get to Survivor: Worlds Apart, my entirely inaccurate boot order, and whatever else comes to mind along the way.
4) First, a quick thought on first boots.
I always feel bad when I pick a first boot – every time, it makes me feel mean, dismissive, and rude. What the heck do I know, anyway, right? It’s not like I’ve been out there and experienced the game for myself.
And yet, choosing someone to exit the game after three days is part of the predictive process. Choose I must, then, and choose I will; apologies in advance to anyone who might be offended that they appear in the pre-merge portion of this list. Except for those players who had no idea what they were doing out there, and were unable to learn or adapt; I find it nearly impossible to muster much sympathy or empathy for the recruit mactors of the world. Thankfully, they are few and far between this season (thank you, Lynne, Jodi, Allie, and whoever else cobbled together this cast at the last minute – more on that later).
Back to the boot order: Often, the reasons for the first player’s departure has more to do with tribe dynamics and the shape of the season than the castaways’ own ability to play the game. Luck, as we all know, plays a massive role in how the game begins, unfolds, and ends. And So it is with the player I think is going home next Wednesday…
WARNING: The below contains mild CBS-promo spoilers. As you probably know, I’m anti-spoiler here at the Baker’s Dozen – but CBS keeps giving things away, whether we like it or not. So if you want to be totally in the dark about next Wednesday, skip ahead to #9…
5) 18th place: So
At first blush, there is no reason So should go home first. On paper, she comes across as self-aware, and she says all the right things in her CBS interview. She’s also relatively young, physically fit, and in the early press photos, socially intelligent (big smiles, open body language, at ease with her tribe).
For reasons both internal and external, however, she may well be doomed.
The internal logic:
** Because these are 6-member tribes, challenge contributions are going to be emphasized in the early days of the game. Call it “The Memories of Matsing” or “The Legacy of Luzon”: the last two times the three tribe format has been used, the tribe to lose the first challenge went on to lose either all of the other pre-swap challenges (Philippines) or two out of three (Cagayan). The players of Worlds Apart are more game-savvy collectively, than most casts; not only will they be aware of this history, they’ll also work to keep from repeating it. Which is a long-winded way of saying that out-of-shape men (Dan and Will) and female players – old and young, in shape and not – will be targeted in the first two weeks of the game. Strategy will, to some degree, be trumped by the anxiety of history.
** Age, too, is going to be a factor: after the food bartering fiasco in San Juan del Sur, production is probably going to make it hard on the Worlds Apart castaways. Nature is going to help with that: August and September, when WA was shot, are during Nicaragua’s rainy season. The White Collars have five players on the wrong side of 30, and have the oldest average age.
** The White Collars are the closest we’re going to get to another Brains tribe – which means that they’ll be using layered (and possibly competing) strategies to determine who should go first (and potentially overthinking things in the process). Safe to say that the odds of a predictable first boot coming from this tribe are just about zero (which means that Carolyn – who on other seasons and other tribes would be an easy 5-1 vote – might be safe).
** The players who are given the choice between food and a hidden immunity idol clue are going to be in trouble, especially if they go to an early Tribal Council. When you’re looking for any excuse to paint a bulls-eye on the back of someone, having an idol clue – or the idol itself – is as compelling a rationale to rally around as you’re going to find. Thanks to the CBS press photos, we know (or suspect) two of the tandems: Jenn & Hali (No Collar) and So & Joaquin (White Collar).
6) A quick side note about how the Food/Idol Choosers are selected.
How these tandems are picked is unclear… which means it’s time to speculate!
** They could just leave it to the luck of the draw and have everyone pick stones… but that feels unsatisfying. It also doesn’t fit Probst saying that this is a compelling twist. I’m ruling this one out. (Which, knowing my recent track record with predictions – remember, it took me until F5 to realize that Natalie would win last season – means that it’s probably going to happen this way.)
** They could ask players to volunteer – but this is a savvy bunch. They’ll know the dangers inherent in having everyone assume you have an idol. And Probst doesn’t want a TV-unfriendly moment like having 18 people say in unison, “No thanks, Jeff.”
** They could have the tribes nominate two people. But if that’s how it was orchestrated, I think Jeff would insist on one man and one woman. If Hali and Jenn are indeed the No Collar choosers, then it didn’t happen this way.
With all that in mind, here’s how I think it plays out (in other words, how I would do it, were I producer): Each tribe selects a leader, and that player picks someone else to join them. Sort of like Cagayan, but with a more positive spin: this time, instead of picking the “weakest” member of the tribe, the leader gets to pull someone into an immediate alliance. One benefit to setting it up this way: the two players would be more likely to share a lie about the food and idol if they’re players who choose each other.
7) An even quicker note about choosing more food or an idol clue
One of the factors that goes into this decision: Do you think that the clue will be so obvious – positively Jon Misch-ian – that you’ll definitely find the idol? Or, as has so often happened in the past, will a second clue be needed?
Given that the producers both want the idols found AND want the two people making the choice to be pressured into keeping or revealing what they did and why, I would assume that the clue leads inexorably to the idol’s discovery.
With that in mind, I think I’m taking the clue and finding the idol. In the past, I’ve argued that players shouldn’t take the clue – it is enough to know that there’s an idol in or around camp, and that it can be found by searching any and all distinctive spots (odd looking trees, waterfalls, rock formations) and things that one would find in all three camps (the well, the tribal flag). But the fact that this idol is going to be attached to the Day 1 twist suggests to me that the producers will want the two selected players – and ONLY them – to find it together if they choose the clue. So finding the idol without the clue might be next to impossible.
8) Back to So
Now, a few external factors:
** Probst has said in interviews that this season is great – and that this greatness begins with the first Tribal Council.
** Apparently, this first Tribal is the best Gordon Holmes has ever gone to.
** We know, once again thanks to CBS promos, that No Collar wins the first Immunity Challenge.
Given everything I’ve written thus far, I’ve reached the following conclusions:
** The White Collar tribe is FAR more likely to have fireworks at a first tribal than the Blue Collar tribe.
** There’s no way Probst is giddy about a predictable boot like Carolyn.
** Joaquin and So are both in danger because they had access to the idol clue (assuming they picked it over more food).
** If challenge contributions are prioritized, then Joaquin, Tyler, and Max are all safe.
Doing the process of elimination, then, that leaves So as the odd one out.
Would the simple blindside of So lead to the best Survivor premiere ever (Probst’s words)? Doubtful. So what happens?
How about this for totally ridiculous fan fiction:
** Max wants to get his hands on the idol and take control of his tribe. He pulls Joaquin into his alliance and says that they need to take out So – that way, only Joaquin will have the idol clue.
** Max does the same thing with So.
** To protect against the possibility that So or Joaquin has the idol, Max gets the tribe to split votes 2/2/2 between So, Joaquin, and Carolyn. (Joaquin and Carolyn vote for So… Max and Tyler for Joaquin… So and Shirin for Carolyn.)
** Upon revote, So goes home.
I just realized something: Speculating about the “How” of a vote feels utterly silly to me… from this point on I think it’s best if focus solely on the “Why.”
9) 17th place: Kelly
The other two tribes will be far more conventional with their first boots, I suspect: older women will be targeted. If Kelly can avoid an early boot, she’ll likely make a deep run – that’s the upside to the older woman demographic on Survivor. Unfortunately, I don’t see the Blue Collars avoiding a date with Probst at Tribal – at some point, having two players over the age of 40 will catch up to the Blue Collars (and No Collars).
So why Kelly and not Dan, who is in worse shape and who Probst says was trying too hard in the early days of the game? Good question. I ended up going with Kelly because of Cagayan, Tony, and the inarguable impact of the last season the players watched before playing the game themselves. It won’t be long before the other Blue Collars suspect or discover that Kelly is a cop – and if she tried to lie about it, everyone will be mentally and emotionally linking her to Tony. They won’t trust her, and that will end her game early.
On a related note, I don’t think the White Collars are going to suffer the same fate as Matsing and Luzon; all three tribes are going to lose someone before the Swap.
Speaking of which…
10) 16th place: Nina
Older woman on a young tribe. Because of her cochlear implant, she’ll have trouble hearing when conversations overlap. She wants to play with integrity. When she said that she’s good at manipulating, her body language (touching her hair, turning slightly to the side) made it clear that she’s not comfortable lying. And the capper: Probst says that she was out of her element and complaining during the first three days. That’s a lot of red flags.
The best case scenario for Nina would be to play the mother role for the Hali-Jenn-Joe alliance. But if she’s complaining, I don’t see it happening. There isn’t a single thing that Nina will provide her tribe that the other players can’t cover in her absence… and that means she’s going home early.
11) 15th place: Dan
Here’s the thing: I’m rooting for Dan – he seems like a really nice guy, he’s a card-carrying SuperFan, and, most importantly, he was supposed to play in the Durham Warriors Survival Challenge last summer, but got the call to join the cast of Season 30 two weeks before CBS shoved everyone on a plane.
He’d be better off on a 10-person tribe, where his age and lack of athleticism wouldn’t stand out so much. As someone who prides himself on his ability with puzzles, he’s also getting screwed by the “choose your own puzzle” twist. Good Survivor players have to adapt to drawbacks like these… but I think the deck is stacked against Dan.
Really hope I’m wrong on this one.
12) Speaking of the “choose your own puzzle” twist…
It’s rare that Survivor does something after 30 seasons that makes you wonder why they didn’t do it a long time ago. This twist just makes so much sense, doesn’t it? A player has to make a decision which impacts his or her whole tribe – that always creates tension. There can be dramatic comebacks… spectacular failures (which can be followed by dramatic comebacks when they switch puzzles)… there can be second-guessing, accusations and judgments…
It also pleases Probst in two ways:
** It keeps him from having to watch two tribes take over two hours to do a puzzle (which happened during the first challenge in San Juan del Sur).
** The importance of puzzle players is diminished and the dependence on challenge beast alpha males increases… and we all know which type of player Probst prefers.
13) A quick recap on how this season was cast…
As I mentioned above, Dan was a late addition… as you probably know by now, Worlds Apart was given an 11th hour overhaul, thanks to Probst’s unbridled frustration with the cast of San Juan del Sur. He demanded the addition of players who knew the show and had some idea of how to play the game – so it makes sense that they added Dan. Max, too, was a late recruit. If you walk through the bios, I bet you can pick out a couple of others who should send the Christy brothers some meat to say thank you for being so bad at the game.
I know of two other last-minute cast members, but they were both reactions to the other moves: Sierra, I believe, replaced a friend of mine primarily because she looks better in a bikini… and Will was brought in because production cut an older African American man and didn’t want the only minority representation in the cast to be two women on the White Collar tribe.
Why share any of this? Eh, I dunno. Thought it was interesting.
14) At this point, I’m assuming there will be a…
***** TRIBE SWAP *****
The whole idea of having three tribes is to make the post-merge game more flexible and unpredictable… and all of that starts with the swap. So I don’t see them doing away with it. Could they move it earlier or later? Sure. But I think “after four eliminations” is the sweet spot: at least one tribe is destined to be down in numbers.
And yet, as Max points out in his Gordon Holmes interview, the moment you start making assumptions about the shape of the game, that’s when the producers have you right where they want you…
Even so, given that a swap serves the overarching goals of the producers, I can’t see them abandoning it. Plus, it’s good TV – we get to see new player interactions, and watch strategists scramble for footholds in the new world order. As a viewer, I LOVE the swap; as a player, I imagine I’d hate it.
15) 14th place: Carolyn
Right after a tribe swap, older women are once again in the crosshairs: when three different tribes are vying for power and figuring out who they can trust, they’ll often focus on an easy target, one everyone can agree on… and that usually means getting rid of the weakest player, physically speaking, so that the tribe can avoid another trip to Tribal.
On a related note, I think Max would have hoped to reunite with Carolyn after the merge – she would have him to thank for ousting So over her – and Max would want to surround himself with players who are loyal and/or beholden to him.
16) 13th place: Vince
Whose act is going to grow old faster, Rodney’s or Vince’s?
I say Vince.
(But he could easily be the second coming of Coach, and finish in 5th place… with no one ever taking him seriously.)
17) A question about the merge
The last two times we had three tribes, the merge took place at 11 players… but there’s plenty of precedent to have it at 12 (with the jury starting at 11). Safe to say that the producers have some flexibility. If the game plays out as balanced as I have it here, we’d arrive at this point with a 4/4/4 split between the original tribes – a tempting dynamic to explore in one camp, wouldn’t you say?
And before you bellow, “They can’t switch mid-stream, it’s a game show and everything is locked down before the season starts,” that simply isn’t true: Survivor hasn’t been classified as a game show since the first season or two. They can do whatever they want.
Anyway, it’s interesting to consider that the entire season could hinge on what happens with a dozen people left in the game. Given how much Probst loves this season, I bet we see a Survivor: Big Move™ happen at the merge. Personally, I hope it leads to some solid strategists needing to scramble.
***** MERGE *****
Time for the Meat Shield Massacre to begin…
18) 12th place: Joaquin
I’m going to spend as much time writing about him as he spent preparing for the show.
19) 11th place: Rodney
Probst loves him.
Gordon Holmes thinks he’ll make a good lieutenant.
He’s being prominently displayed in commercials.
He’s going to be around a while.
Depending on who wins the battle for strategic supremacy, Rodney either goes out here… or gets very, very deep.
20) 10th place: Tyler
In this particular scenario, I’ve decided that the alliance I would love to see come together – Mike, Lindsey, Hali, Jenn, Joe, and Shirin – controls the post-merge game. It could just as easily be Max and the island of misfit toys that he cobbles together (Tyler, Will, Sierra, Rodney). Indeed, I would never, ever, ever bet against Max.
But this is my prediction column, and I like this version of the story… and I really want to see Max forced to make moves after the merge.
Tyler seems like the ideal wingman for a guy like Max: loyal, smart, deferential. Indeed, I see Max and Tyler having a master/apprentice relationship; Max will come up with the plans and Tyler will help Max execute them. Like Rodney, Tyler will go deep if his alliance wins the post-merge war for numerical supremacy… otherwise, the best case scenario for him is that he’ll serve as a meat shield for Max, buying the professor three more days in the game (although by all rights Max should go before him… he’s much more dangerous).
21) 9th place: Max
I’ve thought long and hard about what I’d write about Max in this column…
Here’s the thing: there was a time, not so long ago, when Max and I talked quite a lot about reality TV and a fair bit about life. We might even have been on the way to becoming friends, although one can never be sure with Max. I suppose I’ll never know, though; I burned that bridge, as I have burned so many others.
Out of respect for the myriad kindnesses that he has shown me in the past, I’ll keep my personal recollections to myself, and say simply this: I hope he does well.
22) 8th place: Sierra
In every Survivor commercial, you’re going to get a comment from a) a red herring (someone who is out relatively early), b) a “character” who will get screen-time during the season but isn’t a true endgame factor, and c) someone who is around long after the merge.
In the recent “Blue Collar” Worlds Apart commercial, we saw Dan (a), Rodney (b), and Sierra (c).
Sierra gets my vote for “Castaway most likely to go sheep deep.” Her strongest move will be aligning with the right people. And they’ll carry her as far as she goes because she has almost no chance to win the game.
Pointless admission: Her voice is going to drive me NUTS.
23) 7th place: Will
If only I had known, back when I lived in Will’s hometown of Sherman Oaks, CA, that I could get on Survivor by signing karaoke at the gas station…
Eh. I can’t muster up a lot of excitement for a guy who was a late addition to the cast for all the wrong reasons. He doesn’t stand a chance against a group of players like this one. He’s a dose of bad medicine, he’s livin’ on a prayer, and even if everything breaks right for him, he’s still going out in a blaze of glory – which is fine, it’s his life.
On an unrelated note, it’s gotta stink to be the last member of an alliance to be hanging around after everyone else has been Pagonged. In an ideal world, the player in this spot could flip the bottom half of the dominant alliance. But that would take a skilled social player, someone with enough charisma to convince castaways that their Final 3 deals aren’t as iron-clad as they’d like to think – and that, I’m sorry to say, isn’t Will.
24) 6th place: Joe
There’s no way that anyone lets this guy make his case to the jury, right? He’s Malcolm-lite: attractive, athletic, articulate. There’s a softness to him that may serve him well: I have a feeling that he’ll be perceived as significantly less threatening than Joaquin, Rodney, and Mike. But something tells me that Jenn and Hali will toss him aside for a guy like Mike after the merge…
I’ve long wondered if it would be in the best interest of a guy like Joe to transform into an unrelenting jerk with seven players left in the game. If the alternative is being targeted by his own alliance from F6 on, why not consider flipping at F7 or F9, and then antagonize everyone to guarantee yourself a spot at the Final Tribal Council? I know, I know – it’s a losing strategy to sabotage one’s own social game. And yet, if the golden boy knows that he’ll be going home (barring an epic endgame challenge run), why not salt the earth along the way? It could lead to a seat in front of the jury… and a return appearance on Heroes vs. Villains 2.
Who am I kidding? This is Joe we’re talking about. He’s too nice to flip – and too nice to win.
(Although it wouldn’t be terrible if he did.)
25) 5th place: Lindsey
The one upside to a majority alliance making it to the Final 5 together in a season with a Final 3? Seeing the members of that alliance betray one another. Imagine being Lindsey in this Final 5: you’re here with Mike, with whom you’ve partnered since the beginning. All you need is a third, and Mike assures you that you’ve got Shirin on your side. Only Mike has flipped over to the No Collars…
That would be a brutal blindside.
For the record, I’m rooting for Lindsey: she’s the friend of a friend, and from what I’ve been told, she’s a really substantive, kind, and positive person. And for once, I’d like to see the so-called “alternative” casting choice do really well in the game (she’s my kind of people).
One thing’s for sure: Ms. Cascaddan is NOT Lindsey Ogle-redux… not a quitter, this one.
26) 4th place: Shirin
Every season, there’s one player I do a total 180 on after the original cast reveal. I wasn’t all that excited about Shirin when I first looked over this season’s players; other than developing Google Calendar, an app I use every day for my job, she just didn’t stand out to me. It’s amazing what a brief video and a Gordon Holmes interview can do to a first impression, though; she’s smart, thoughtful, and self-aware.
In an ideal world, Shirin becomes a foil for Max right out of the gate, and the two of them match wits after the merge. A more realistic scenario is that they work together early in the game, are rent asunder in a swap, and then come back together at the merge – only at that point, their loyalties are split. However this dynamic plays out, though, the one thing I’m thrilled about is that Max won’t have an easy time of it with the White Collars, and that has everything to do with Shirin.
27) 3rd place: Jenn
It is a rare thing indeed that I am intrigued with a 22 year-old Survivor player. If you haven’t read her interview with Gordon Holmes, do so immediately. It’s okay, I’ll wait.
Isn’t she charming? That personality is going to carry her deep into the game – the other players will want her around, which you can’t say for everyone out there (I’m looking at you, Joaquin, Rodney, and Vince). You cannot underestimate the power of camp kindness.
The early press photos make it clear that she and Hali are as thick as thieves. They’ll do the math, realize they need at least one more (two would be better), and immediately pick up Joe. I’m guessing they’ll pull in Vince as their fourth – he’s someone who isn’t a threat to make his own plans, and if he’s around at the end of the game, there’s no way he’s winning. He’s also easy to cut after a swap, if it comes to that.
It’s easy to see why Jenn is an endgame threat: she won’t be at the top of anyone’s hit list unless she’s on the wrong side of the numbers and those numbers are getting low. Can she do enough to win the game? Possibly. But it’s a safer bet that she’s going to make a deep run, give us a number of quirky and entertaining confessionals, and charm both viewers and players the entire time she’s out there.
28) 2nd place: Hali
Hali reminds me of Alexis Maxwell (Cagayan)… who in turn reminded me of Eliza Orlins (Vanuatu; Fans vs. Favorites 1). Young, bright brunettes who have an edge to them – an aggressive intelligence. Players who fall into this category tend to be hard to trust.
But I think there’s a little more empathy and openness to Hali than her casting counterparts. If she can soften her sneer (there’s a lip curl to some of her facial expressions that hints at judgment), and if the swap gods smile upon her (unlike poor Alexis), she’ll coast to the merge and have an alliance waiting there for her.
A couple of weeks ago, Hali was my pick to take down the title, but then I remembered that Probst loves this season… which means that a woman isn’t winning.
And so we’re left with…
29) 1st place: Mike
He’ll be the leader of the Blue Collars almost by default: Lindsey will gravitate to him… Rodney will bro down with him… Sierra will be comfortable with him (I’m guessing Mike is cut from the same cloth as the rodeo guys she’s used to)… and both Dan and Kelly will be more than happy to defer to him.
Like all alphas, Mike will be in trouble after the merge, but he’s got that winning combination of “salt of the earth” charm and “aw shucks” self-deprecation that will buy him the time he needs to coalesce an alliance around him. Indeed, I think this whole “collar” theme will play a bigger role after the merge than before it: if there’s one thing that blue collars and no collars can agree on, it’s that the white collars can’t be trusted. Mike and Lindsey will have a lot more in common with Jenn and Hali than they will with Tyler and Max.
Anyway, Mike feels like the kind of guy that members of his alliance know they shouldn’t let get to the Final Tribal Council… but it happens anyway, because they just can’t turn on him.
Mike’s my winner pick.
At least for today.
30) To pull a Pitman…
… I’ll end by putting the castaways into four categories.
(a mix of players I think CAN win and I WANT to see win)
(The Sole Survivor COULD emerge from this group, but I doubt it – and it would be rather surprising on a season being universally hailed as great)
(They went out there… they played the game… and it was an experience)
(If one of this discordant quartet wins, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong)
I’ll be back sometime in April, when the merge is upon us… unless the spirit strikes and/or you’ve shown the DWSC some love.
Until then, my friends, enjoy the season…
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