Yay, more rankings. On the whole, this cast has already earned a lot of superlatives. It's the youngest cast ever, by average age (28.1, a full two years younger than China, the next-youngest), and by median age (26, below Guatemala at 26.5). Less quantitatively (and more importantly), it also seems to have one of the broadest selections of fans and superfans of any new contestant season in the show's history, rivaling Millennials vs. Gen X. As such, the pool of potential winners is fairly deep, and few people stand out as obvious favorites. Rather, the leaders here generally stand out more because they don't—they're in the middle of a lot of potential groupings, and because they can relate to and connect with a lot of people, they (theoretically) should do well.
At least, that's what appears to be the case based on their CBS bios, their pre-game interviews, and so on. Keep in mind that these rankings are based on the pre-game press, and further, just the parts that have been released before this was published. As of this writing, we're at about the midpoint of the rollout of Josh Wigler's, Dalton Ross's, and Gordon Holmes's pre-game pieces (although Erin Cebula's interviews for ET Canada all dropped the day of the cast release), and last season we completely whiffed on Ali, simply because her Josh Wigler interview hadn't been released yet. Another important note: all of the interviews we do have took place before these people ever had the chance to talk to each other. Silent winks and nods may not carry over to actual in-game performance. People who seem good on paper can crumple and fade away in-game, people who seem overmatched heading into Day 1 can flourish and persevere.
Or we could just be completely misinterpreting the few minutes of video we've seen. So... i's mostly a crapshoot, as you can probably tell from our previous attempts at this (HvHvH, Game Changers, MvGX, Kaoh Rong, and so on).
With those caveats out of the way, let's dive in to our now-traditional win-possibility tiers of Likely, Possible, Unlikely, and Impossible:
These people are the best-positioned, most likely contestants to win Ghost Island
1. Wendell Holland (contestant page)
Wendell is almost perfectly positioned here: He's athletic, but doesn't stand out as one of the biggest, strongest athletes. He's smart (he went to Penn Law), but he has the furniture-building thing to serve as a useful cover story. He's a legit fan, but he's surrounded by superfans, and he doesn't immediately stand out visually as being "here because he's a superfan" the way Jacob or Donathan do. He's old enough to have some life experience, but he's not as old as, say, Domenick or Brendan. In his interviews, he comes across as calm, friendly, and engaging. He seems pleasant to be around, has building skills for the early shelter-construction phase, and he should be a challenge asset. There's no obvious reason for anyone to want to get rid of him any time soon. There should almost always be a more obvious threat than Wendell, *and* Wendell should have enough connections to sniff that out, and the chops to flip that around, as well. The one concern is that, pre-season, just about everyone (fans now, producers before the game started, etc.) is picking Wendell as their winner candidate. That suggests that, with minimal information, lots of people can see Wendell for the long-term threat he is. If that extends to his castmates, then maybe it's not a sure thing. But at least for now, Wendell seems to both be in the best spot, and has the skills to take full advantage of that.
2. Laurel Johnson (contestant page)
Laurel's strengths are that she's a (self-described) "triple threat": She's smart, she's athletic, and she knows the game. Laurel has the game knowledge to go deep, but she seems to also have the underlying social skills that will make people happy to vote for her as a finalist. Key points in Laurel's favor: While she was a Division I college athlete (in volleyball), which will help before the merge, she doesn't come across as threatening physically (Wendell's pre-game observations notwithstanding). That will help after the merge. She also seems approachable and not overtly schemy, which will also help. But more than that, like Wendell, she seems to be the kind of person people will be happy to be around, and to trust. Also like Wendell, she has a bit more life experience than a good chunk of this very young cast, most of whom are fresh out of college, still in college, or not planning to go to college. But she's not so old as to seem remote and unrelatable. She has a great balance of all the tools she needs to win this game. Now she just has to put them together and do it.
3. Desiree Afuye (contestant page)
Desiree comes across as suprisingly mature for a 21-year-old, and she exudes both a positive spirit and an inner strength that suggest she knows exactly what she's doing here, and has the grit to finish the job. She compares herself to Cirie, and while she's 14 years younger than Cirie was in her first appearance, she doesn't have any obvious social flaws that suggest she can't be a Cirie. It's a bit of a concern that Josh Wigler's profile suggests she was initially quiet standoff-ish in the pre-game lockdown—as everyone is supposed to be—so some people are wary of her. But once she can talk to people, those worries should be assuaged, and she'll be fine. The last winner this cast saw (Sarah Lacina) also worried people in pre-game Ponderosa. Most reassuringly, she plans to play an idol for someone to win their trust, which seemed like a leap forward in idol strategy during MvGX, then was never again attempted. That shows Desiree has paid attention, and has a good eye for strategy. All in all,
4. Jacob Derwin (contestant page)
From his writing for Inside Survivor, Jacob clearly thinks he knows the game. Luckily, he actually seems to, to the extent that he's aware everyone will immediately peg him as a superfan, due to his appearance (and they do). He also has particularly perceptive pre-game takes on everyone (so far) in Josh Wigler's interviews. Luckily, Jacob is also non-threatening. In his interviews, he comes across as nice, and friendly, but not obviously sneaky. That's a great combination. He's aware he has to make friends to succeed, and he seems well equipped to actually do that. While there's a chance a pre-merge tribe could see him as a physical liability, he probably has the social and strategic skills to at least try to shift the target elsewhere. And if he can reach the merge, he should be able to make a deep run, unless he develops an irrational exuberance for making Big Moves too early. His success against the jury seems a bit more dependent on who his opponents are than for say, Wendell or Laurel, but he certainly has a shot at pulling this whole thing off.
These people have one or more (question) marks against them as they attempt to win Ghost Island
5. James Lim (contestant page)
We're not really sure where to place James. He's only been binge-watching Survivor for a few months, but he's also off-the-charts smart, so if he's missed something during his speed-season-grinding, he's certainly equipped to figure out what this is, and compensate on the fly. Interestingly, he told Erin Cebula that he thinks the tribe should stay strong and avoid Tribal in the pre-merge. That seems like a superficial, mostly inaccurate conclusion (see: the Healers, Tandang, Galu, Timbira, and so on), but remarkably, it's an approach that really could end up helping James. Especially since, like Yul Kwon, James's optimal game strategy will be to keep an Ozzy-like challenge beast around as a meat shield. What James most needs is hands-on experience, and the longer he can last, the more of that he'll get, so a strong tribe is indeed in his best interest. His self-comparison to Yul also seems like an apt one, although Yul came across as authentically empathetic in person, whereas James seems more guarded and less obviously warm (Jeff Probst called him a robot). So his peak might be Cambodia Spencer. But he could also be the second coming of Yul. Time will tell.
6. Kellyn Bechtold (contestant page)
Kellyn is... deceptive. As you watch her interview videos, you'll pick up that she's smart, she seems nice, she's built up some emotional muscles that may help her navigate the game's turmoil more smoothly. But at least in the short CBS video, there's no obvious fire, no cutthroat, killer instinct. It's not until you dig deeper that you start to realize she's actually here to play, and to "find herself," or whatever bullshit theme in which Probst is trying to retroactively enshroud this season. For example, you learn from Dalton Ross' s quizzes that her favorite season is Cambodia, "because they all came out, guns a-blazing." What's more, her backstory (recent divorce, looking to make a life change) is very similar to what Kim Spradlin's was, heading into One World. Could Kellyn be likable enough that everyone just wants to give her a million dollars, and be BFFs for life, as they did with Kim? Hmmm... maybe! Because that's exactly how pretty much everyone seems to react to her in the pre-game, according to First One Out. In the early going, there's a not-insignificant risk that Kellyn could get picked off as a physical liability, but if she makes the merge, she won't be seen as a threat. And if her pleasant demeanor is this effective at masking a legit gameplayer, and she emerges as this season's Aubry? The sky's the limit after that, as long as she explains and sells her game.
7. Domenick Abbate (contestant page)
As a fan since the very first season, Domenick has the depth of knowledge and appreciation for the game to know what works and what doesn't in Survivor. As a construction supervisor, he also knows how to get people to do things. Those are Domenick's strengths. There's a worry that, like the other people over 35, he'll be on the outside from the start, simply due to his age. Unlike the others, Domenick seems to have both a Tony-like energy source that will have him operating at full speed from the second he hits the beach, and a disarming calmness that may help keep that mostly under wraps. The only remaining question will be how his tribemates perceive him. Again, it probably doesn't help that he's the oldest man on his tribe, and the only dad, and the only married guy, on a tribe that's almost entirely young, single people. But late-30s is a recently productive demographic for male winners (Tony - 39, Mike - 38, Jeremy - 37, although the last three winners have been 25, 32, and 32). Domenick is 38. Maybe he can blaze a glorious return to victory for men in their late 30s?
8. Morgan Ricke (contestant page)
Of the women on this season, Morgan appears to be one of the few who should be an aggressive competitor, while also not immediately coming across as one to her opponents. That's the right balance to have. Her tribe will probably view her as a physical asset, and therefore overlook her as a strategic threat. Which is right where Morgan wants to be. The only question is: Can she cash in on that favorable first impression? Maybe. She has Sarah Lacina upside, but the worry is, this game starts mere weeks after everyone just watched Sarah win.
9. Michael Yerger (contestant page)
Michael is much, much better than anyone ought to expect an 18-year-old model to be. In fact, nobody should blink an eye when he claims to be 23: He's calm, he's mature-sounding, and he's physically huge. Best of all, he has actual game knowledge. Maybe not Will Wahl-level, but he's at least been watching the show with his family for a long time. He's clearly one of the best very-young players Survivor has ever cast. But, and this is a big but... there is a point at which Michael will almost certainly fall short, and that point is the merge. Michael's a young, buff, attractive guy, so he'll instantly become everyone's #1 target as soon as the game becomes individual. Just as Cole was, just as Joey Amazing was. So unless Michael can somehow pull off a magical, Ben-like string of idol plays and/or regular IC wins, Michael won't be reaching the finals. Unless everyone ends up hating him for some reason, and he's taken there as a goat (this seems even less likely).
10. Bradley Kleihege (contestant page)
Bradley compares himself to "spot stealer" Spencer Bledsoe, but he really comes across as more of an intentionally villainous Adam Klein. He's young, he's smart, he's a superfan. Everybody knows, just from looking at him, that he's a young, smart superfan. In Josh Wigler's pre-game interviews, almost every person pegged him in the pre-game as a superfan they had to keep their eye on, because he's probably doing something sneaky and/or strategic. If Bradley can play Adam's game—direct, blunt, cards played face-up—he could avoid that stigma of being the obvious strategist. The more direct he is, the less people are worried that he might be hiding something. Can Bradley play the devious game he envisions, and still win? Or will he face a backlash, like Ryan and Chrissy? It's a really narrow course to navigate, and we're not sure Bradley can tack at all the right times to make safe passage.
These people *could* win Ghost Island... but they probably won't
11. Sebastian Noel (contestant page)
Every time we hear Sebastian talk about the game, we move him up a slot or two. By premiere week, he may be in the top tier. But for now, Sebastian seems like the new Ozzy, minus the "challenge beast" anchor label that drags Ozzy's game down at the merge almost every time. That's good. Also unlike Ozzy, Sebastian is an actual superfan. That's also good. In a season where production has taken steps to make it easier for providers to stick around, Sebastian has one of the best pre-game "provider" résumés that anyone could want, as a professional fishing guide. Also, it helps that bigger, beefier guys than Sebastian are out here to provide cover for him. Good, good, good. So he has a decent chance to go deep into the game. The question remains, though: If Sebastian gets to the end, will the jury see Sebastian, or will they see Ozzy? Whenever Sebastian is out fishing, he won't be bonding—or just as importantly, plotting—with his tribemates. If he reaches the end, will the jurors even know who Survivor Seb is? Or will they just see the dude who fishes a lot, like Ken McNickle? With the exception of Richard Hatch and Tom Westman, providers generally don't win, probably because they're rarely around. Sebastian will have to play the social/strategic game at double speed while he's in camp to make up for time away. Can he do that? That remains to be seen.
12. Chelsea Townsend (contestant page)
Chelsea's a longtime fan, but she doesn't seem as aggressive and game-focused as a lot of the other players. She seems... nice. Or at least, that's what you're expecting, considering she grew up in Utah, and has been an NFL cheerleader. But then you hear she's spent the pre-game period reading the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Could she be a Littlefinger, or a Tyrion, or even a Cersei? Interesting.... Chelsea seems athletic and social enough that she can probably last a while at the start, and if she reaches the merge, she won't stand out as an obvious threat. Perhaps she can play a Varys-like game after the merge, and emerge from the shadows to off some Lannisters and seize control of the realm. Er, million. Maybe?
13. Donathan Hurley (contestant page)
Donathan is so positive, so overflowing with joy just to be here (he described himself as "a butterfly" to Erin Cebula), that if he reaches the end, he should have a good chance at the million. How can you not root for him? Working against Donathan is that he may struggle to get there: he's a slight-looking guy on a heavily muscled cast. If his tribe is looking for rid themselves of weak links, he will probably be among the top names they consider. Another potential worry is that, just four seasons after thinking Tai Trang was a unicorn, and that casting would never find another contestant so brimming with blissful effervescence, here comes Donathan. But clearly Donathan is not Tai, and he seems a bit better placed in this cast than Tai was in Kaoh Rong. Unlike Tai, Donathan is a superfan, which should give him a better idea of what to do (connect with his tribemates) and not do (get caught, repeatedly, hunting for idols). He'll also have more in common with his tribemates, being surrounded by fellow superfans. He should go pretty far in the game if he reaches the merge, but crossing that threshhold will probably be his biggest challenge.
14. Brendan Shapiro (contestant page)
Probst says Brendan was passed over for MvGX. This is tragic. Brendan would have been so much better off there than here, where (at the ripe old age of 41, which would have placed him in the younger half of the Gen X tribe) he stands out by being more than a decade older than the next-youngest man on his tribe, and almost a decade older than the next-youngest person, period. He's on a tribe some other buff alphas, as well (James, Michael), which could be a breeding ground for potential dissent. Brendan just missed the finals for Marquesas, and Josh Wigler called him an alternate universe Hunter Ellis. Which seems appropriate, because Hunter's fate—initially pegged as the leader, then swiftly overthrown by a majority of much-younger malcontents—seems like a highly plausible outcome for Brendan here. Which would be hugely disappointing for a guy who's been applying for 16 years. Worse yet, if Brendan reaches the merge, he'll still be a target, by virtue of being a strong guy, and thus a visible immunity threat. Especially since everyone playing had just watched Brad Culpepper sweep the late-game immunity challenges in Game Changers. Brendan seems like a super-likable guy with a good sense of both Survivor history and how to play, who with a better casting draw, might have tricked people into thinking he was a straight shooter, only to pull off some late-game strategic blindsides. Here, however, the deck seems stacked completely against him. If he gets to the end, he could certainly win, but getting there would require just about everything to break in his favor, which seems unlikely. We really hope we're wrong about this one, because Brendan deserves better than being cannon fodder.
15. Libby Vincek (contestant page)
Probst sees her as the new Andrea. Hmmm. On the surface, that seems like an almost exactly backwards assessment. This is a cast of superfans, and Libby stands out as one of the few who's seen relatively little Survivor, whereas in Andrea's first season (Redemption Island), she was one of precious few actual fans, unless you count Boston Rob and Russell. Then again, Libby appears to be a quick study, because her pre-game views of her competitors (in Josh Wigler's interviews, at least) seem pretty perceptive. So maybe Libby could be a Jaime Dugan— an easily overlooked, Christian, Southern belle-type contestant who actually turned out to be a pretty solid competitor. (Albeit one who was also the merge boot.) Then again, in her in-depth interview with Gordon Holmes, she gave quick, one-word answers to a lot of questions, unless the subject was the hotness of Michael Yerger. So... how she'll play is a little difficult to pin down. Either way, people can grow and opinions can change over the course of 39 days, and there's no reason to think Libby can't. Libby was featured in the first preview (during the HvHvH reunion show), so maybe that's production hinting that there's more to her game than is apparent from her pre-game interviews. She does say she wants to align with Jacob because he's a superfan, and he can fill in the blanks for her. Let's hope that's a sign of future growth.
16. Stephanie Gonzalez (contestant page)
Stephanie Gonzalez has a lot in common with Libby, in part because it's hard to assess how she'll approach the game from the limited info in her bio/CBS interview. Again like Libby, Stephanie's similarly young and pretty (she has a beauty pageant background), although she does have a compelling backstory of coming to the U.S. as a young teenager, having to learn English, and overcoming bullying. So there's strength lurking there, waiting to be tapped. There's bonding potential with fellow Floridians Chris and Sebastian, although neither is on her tribe initially. She seems tough and resilient, but she's also relatively small, and if Malolo decides to "keep the tribe strong," she, Libby, and Donathan will probably be among the first targets. If she makes it to the merge, however, she'll be on nobody's radar. Could she win? Maybe. Who knows?
17. Chris Noble (contestant page)
He's better than he seems on paper, but he'll probably be out shortly after the merge, just like every other young, buff dude. Unless he's out earlier. Chris is in his late 20s, and he says he's more naturally aligned with the older, Gen X-type people. So it's possible he and Wendell, Domenick, and Angela can forge some kind of alliance, but that would still be an alliance that's lacking in numbers. He's also entering the game planning to be the new Devon - playing dumber than he actually is. Will that allow him to overcome the semi-annual reaping of the buff alpha dudes at the merge? Eh, probably not. Based on their comments in First One Out, just about everyone in the pre-game (before they can talk to each other) has a first impression that Chris is arrogant or self-absorbed, and already are making plans that don't include him. That's a bad sign. More worrisome, he's convinced he'll be completely safe until the merge, while there's a non-zero chance his tribemates could want him out right away. Garrett Adelstein 2.0?
18. Stephanie Johnson (contestant page)
Stephanie enters the game slightly better off than her tribemate Brendan, mostly by being eight years younger, but she's still the oldest woman on her tribe (at just 34). Furthermore, she's a mom, and one who's seemingly willing to be vocal about being a mom, as opposed to Chrissy, who tried to downplay it last season. That's something that will stand out on a season with only four parents out of 20 total contestants. That may increase her difficulty of blending in socially. On the plus side, she further stands out (intentionally) with her retina-straining outfit choices, which is at least fun and different. Also working in her favor: Stephanie seems relentlessly positive, and like Brendan, has been applying practically forever. She knows the show, and she'll at least have that in common with a good number of her castmates. If she can find a way to bond with her mostly younger tribemates, she should be fine. With her triathlon and yoga backgrounds, she should also be a legitimate threat to win the endurance/balance challenges that dominate the early post-merge, just as Ashley did last season. But she has to get there first.
19. Jenna Bowman (contestant page)
Probst flags this nebulousness as some kind of advantage, but it's tough to pin down who, exactly, Jenna is. At times she seems to know the show reasonably well, but then in talking about playing the game, she casually intends to make enemies on the jury. Depending on which pre-game interview you read, it's sometimes unclear if she actually watched the show before being cast. She's from Venice Beach, which is pretty close to casting's headquarters, so if anyone on this cast is a warm body that casting plucked from a bar or restaurant in desperation the week before leaving... Jenna would be the most likely candidate. Does she have other qualities that might make her a great player? Well, she spends a lot of time in her pre-game press talking about conquering Resting Bitch Face. So... there's that? Also her favorite twist is the ridiculous double Tribal that eliminated Malcolm in Game Changers, which is... a particularly odd choice. Still, she's young, so she'll blend in well with most of the cast. Can she win? Doubtful.
Mostly due to demographics, this person has virtually no chance to win Ghost Island
20. Angela Perkins (contestant page)
Angela is the oldest player in the game (at a positively "ancient" 42, which, as with Brendan, would have been on the young side in Millennials vs. Gen X). In the pre-game, people routinely have commented that she seems standoffish. In her answers to Dalton Ross here, it seems that she may wear the crown of this season's contestant who's least familiar with the show. These are not great ways in which to set yourself apart. What's more, she also stands out as one of the most likely to give orders, given her military background, having recently retired as a captain in the Army. In her CBS interview, Angela describes her last tour of duty, where she was placed in a company of soldiers she didn't know, as good preparation for Survivor. That's... not a great comparison. In the Army, lower-rank personnel are required to follow (lawful) orders, and everyone is working toward the same goals: achieving mission objectives, and bringing everyone back alive. In Survivor, however, everyone is really in it solely for themselves, they're almost all Type A, and don't like being told what to do, and at least one person departs every episode. It's a completely different environment. Even though she's probably the strongest woman on her tribe, Angela could easily be the first person they boot. Or the next. Or the one after that. If she reaches the merge, she could go relatively far, because she should do well in endurance challenges. Even so, if she gets all the way to the end, she'll face the same obstacles with the jury that every over-40 woman does. Despite our all just having watched another veteran (Ben) march to victory, there just seem to be too many obstacles impeding Angela's battle plan. It's probably not completely "impossible" that Angela could win on this season, with this cast, but it's pretty close.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other Ghost Island pre-season cast analyses
Individual pre-game interviews