Well here we go, Survivor fans. If you’re like me, this is the season we’ve all been looking forward to for a really long time. I feel like we first started hearing rumors about this back at season 30 and here we are five years later and it’s finally here.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
I know that we’ve lived through a couple periods where we had some stretches of bad seasons. I mean, remember seasons 21 through 24, where, if you’re me, the only exciting thing was watching Boston Rob manhandle folks he should have never played against? Those other three seasons? South Pacific, One World and Nicaragua? That’s quite the poop stretch. But with all that said, I’m going out on a limb here to say we’ve never had worse back-to-back seasons than 38 and 39. Oh sure, both had some moments, but Edge of Extinction featured a godawful twist that gave us a winner that really didn’t play Survivor, and we all remember the shitshow that was the second half of 39.
So happy new year and let’s put all that stuff in the rearview mirror. We’ve got our winner’s season, Winners at War. Woo hoo.
In the past, my preview column is all about splitting the contestants into four categories ranging from most likely to least likely to win. Then I choose a winner. I’m going to do it a little differently this time because, I think, a returnee season is a bit easier to predict.
Now, let’s remember when I say a bit easier to predict, we’re still talking about me. A rundown of my dumbness coming.
Here’s what I wrote before Island of the Idols:
(Edge of Extinction), well, it could have been my best. I had Devens and Aurora as likely winners and they both did pretty well. And, of course, last year’s winner doesn’t even count since I refuse to even consider EofE a real season. If we go by the season’s Wikipedia page, apparently some dude named Chris won, and I had him as an unlikely winner. But, if I remember correctly, some dude named Chris was actually voted out third, so my prediction was … really good? Again, though, if that’s my best season in terms of predictions, you know I’m bad.
And in the past what did I write?
Let’s be clear, (in David v. Goliath), on the surface, it looks like I did well. Heck, I ranked Davie first. Go me. But, you know what else I did? I had Bi third. Yep. And, um, Angelina second. Christian 17th. Seventeenth! Oh, at least I had Nick fifth.
Now, I know, that sounds like I did pretty badly. But, guys, let’s just take a second to remember how badly I usually do.
In Second Chance, I chose Monica, who was voted out fifth and turned mute for a season. For Kaoh Rong, I chose Liz, who annoyed Debbie and lasted nine days. In Millennials vs. Gen X, I chose Mari, who lasted six days and who I honestly don’t remember. And in Game Changers, I tried to hedge my bets and pick a few “likely” winners. Who did I go with? Andrea (voted out 13th), Michaela (voted out 14th) and Hali (voted out 8th). And my main winner pick? That would be poor Malcolm, who lasted a whopping 11 days and was (controversially) voted out fourth.
And, remember, once I also chose JP to win. Such is life.
What could have been...
Oh yeah, and for Island of the Idols I chose Molly. Clearly I’m good at this whole prediction thing.
That’s all in the past, though. I’m going for a good winner pick this time around. But before we get into predicting the season, let’s think about how casting did. I remember after season 39, on the final Know-it-Alls, Rob and Stephen kind of decided – with some JT jokes mixed in – that this is the best cast possible. I’m not sure I agree. Why don’t we dissect it?
Understanding that the cast would always be 10 men and 10 women, let’s start with the women. Over the years, we’ve had 14 women winners: Tina (Australia), Vecepia (Marquesas), Jenna (Amazon), Sandra (Pearl Islands, Heroes v. Villains), Amber (All-Stars), Danni (Guatemala), Parvati (Fans v. Favorites 1), Natalie (Samoa), Sophie (South Pacific), Kim (One World), Denise (Philippines), Natalie (San Juan Del Sur), Michele (Kaoh Rong), and Sarah (Game Changers).
That means 14 women have won Survivor and, therefore, four needed to be left off this cast. So, we don’t have Tina, Vecepia, Jenna and Natalie White. I can’t really complain too much about those decisions because Tina’s played a bunch, Jenna’s had some issues lately (according to the news) and the other two aren’t that memorable. But, for me, I would have subbed Vecepia for Sarah and Tina for Michele. I think I’m probably prone to the opposite of recency bias, but I think it’s hard to have a winners season without Tina and I’d like to see Vecepia again. Michele and Sarah did little for me as winners.
In the end, I think casting did a very good job with women. We have the three I consider some of the best five or six players to ever compete (Sandra, Parvati and Kim) and a decent mix of old and new. Obviously, I can quibble a bit, but it’s not too big of a deal.
Ah, but the men … The potential castaways include 24 players: Richard (Borneo), Ethan (Africa), Brian (Thailand), Chris (Vanuatu), Tom (Palau), Aras (Panama), Yul (Cook Islands), Earl (Fiji), Todd (China), Bob (Gabon), JT (Tocantins), Fabio (Nicaragua), Boston Rob (Redemption Island), Cochran (Caramoan), Tyson (Blood v. Water), Tony (Cagayan), Mike (World’s Apart), Jeremy (Cambodia), Adam (Millennials v. Gen X), Ben (H v. H. H), Wendell (Ghost Island), Nick (David v. Goliath), Chris (Edge of Extinction), and Tommy (Island of Idols).
To arrive at the best possible male cast, that means we have to ditch 14. Let’s go for it. As sad as it is to write, I think Hatch goes first if only because running around naked just doesn’t play in 2020. We don’t want last season again. I think Todd goes next only because of his personal issues. I would definitely consider him a top-10 male winner. I’m thinking next in terms of not-so-great winners, it’s easy to then drop Bob, Fabio, Mike and Chris from Edge. That leaves us with 8 more to boot. Tommy can’t play because that would be unfair, so we’re down to 7 more to boot. I would then, say, Adam and Ben didn’t do much for me. With 5 more to go, it starts to get difficult. Even though JT played what many consider the perfect game, he’s played a ton, so I’m OK ditching him. Then, I would get rid of Aras since he played somewhat recently and even though I like him as a player, he’s definitely a middling winner. Three more to boot. Next, I would get rid of Tom because even though I definitely think he’s a top 10 winner, he’s 56 and might be a bit old (and didn’t really impress the last time he played). Now we’re down to 2. My next boot would be Ethan since he’s played twice and is kind of boring. It hurts though. Finally, I guess, I’m ditching Cochran because I don’t think he could win this type of season and we’ve seen him somewhat recently. That leaves me with, for my personal wish list: 1. Brian, 2. Chris, 3. Yul, 4. Earl, 5. Boston Rob, 6. Tyson, 7. Tony, 8. Jeremy, 9. Wendell, and 10. Nick.
I know Brian will never return, but I believe that along with Sandra, Kim, Parvati and Boston Rob, he’s one of the best ever. I think Chris from Vanuatu played one of the most underrated games ever. And, come on, Earl basically had a perfect season. Those are the three I’ll miss most since they’ve only played once and were amazing winners.
Now that we’ve recapped the cast, let’s get down to predictions. I’m going to go through the cast based on gender. Why? Besides Jeremy’s win in Cambodia, seasons with all returnees have been won by women. I think that’s going to happen again. So I’m going to start with the men and rank them from least likely to most likely to win. Then I’ll do the same with the women, ending with my winner pick. Oh, and by the way, I’m going to pretend that Edge and fire chips or whatever don’t exist because I have no idea how to factor those in (and I don’t think veterans will let people on Edge win).
Here we go:
10. Tony — While I certainly can dream that Tony stays on my TV screen as long as possible, Tony played the kind of game that isn’t exactly replicable. To me, he’s a huge personality and too tough to trust, so he’ll be an early target. And that’s what we’ve learned from all-returnee seasons: The winners typically are low-key personalities from their first season. Think about it, Amber didn’t exactly move the needle in The Australian Outback, but won in All-Stars; Sandra was a two-time winner after Heroes v. Villains, but she was definitely low key compared to the rest of the cast; Jeremy had come in 10th in San Juan del Sur and was a pretty laid-back guy even in Cambodia; and Sarah did very little in Cagayan. Even in the fan versus favorite seasons, we saw folks who played very minor roles the first time around (often featuring bad gameplay) win in Cochran and Parvati. I just don’t think anyone lets Tony get very far, unfortunately.
9. Ben — While I think Ben played an underrated game the first time around, I still think he’s on the low end of any winner ranking. And he relied mostly on immunity wins and idol finds and far less on social skills. I think this season is all about social skills and that’s why Ben ends up down here.
8. Tyson — Tyson is another player like Tony: I hope he goes to the very end, but I don’t think he’s going to be trusted enough. I put him higher than Tony because I think Tyson has the ability to make good connections, but I just don’t see folks letting him stick around too long since if he gets to the end, people will like him and reward him. Plus, with this cast, he’s a huge physical threat come the merge.
7. Adam — Adam’s game played really well during his season, but it won’t against a far more sophisticated cast, many of whom have known each other for years. I just don’t think he can do it again. I actually think he could be a first-boot candidate.
6. Wendell — Do I think Wendell could win this game? Absolutely. Do I think he will? Nope. I think people will target Wendell pretty quickly since he’s young and a legitimate triple threat. He’s just way too much of a threat to keep around for too long.
5. Boston Rob — Folks, especially newer winners, are going to want to play with Boston Rob. He is Survivor, for better or worse. Plus, we’ve seen quasi-recently in Redemption Island, that Rob is no longer the physical threat he once was. But I have no doubt he’s gone around the merge. Nobody wants him at the end. Except maybe Amber.
4. Yul — I think Yul is the most underrated winner in the history of Survivor. I think he absolutely destroyed Cook Islands. And I also think people forget about the cast he beat: Parvati, Ozzy, Penner , Candice, Cao Boi … oops. I added one too many. Seriously, producers have brought back all those folks multiple times and we consider Parvati (especially), Ozzy and Penner some of the greatest players in history. Yul beat them all and it wasn’t really all that close (except against Ozzy). Yul can win this game. And I’m rooting for him.
3. Nick — I think Nick comes into this game with as many skills as literally anyone. He played recently and has experience with all kinds of advantages; he played on a season with a boatload of good strategic players, he’s above average physically, way above average socially and enough of a low-key personality to not stick out too much.
2. Ethan — I mean, you want low-key personalities? Here’s Ethan. He won a season a full generation ago, is a hugely nice guy and will not stick out or be a strategic threat (off the bat, but could be in general since he’s very smart). I like Ethan’s chances.
1. Jeremy — I have to go with my fellow Massachusetts native. He even went to college in Rhode Island … not where I went, but at URI. Look, Jeremy is a triple threat who just knows how to wield power from the background. Everyone always likes him and he’s played on two very strategic seasons (for different reasons). I think he’s the best bet for the guys.
And the women …
10. Sarah — I know Sarah takes a lot of heat for her win in Game Changers (starting with why she was there in the first place), but she’s a winner, so she’s here. And she won, which a lot of folks did not. My thing with Sarah and placing her this low is that I think she lacks subtlety in her game. I believe it’s a hugely important thing and why I don’t think she has any chance to win. I think she could, though, go very far.
9. Parvati — And now one of the greats at subtlety. Look, Parvati is an amazing player and we can all make a very good argument that she should be the game’s only two-time winner, but she’s going to have a huge target on her back. Her reputation will not allow her to win. She’ll be around for a bit, but out before the merge, I think.
8. Michele — Like Ben from the guys, I think Michele played an underrated game her season, but she doesn’t have the chops to win (at least from what I remember of a season I watched only once). I think she could stick around for a while, but won’t have the resume to win this type of season.
7. Sandra — Wouldn’t it be awesome for Sandra to win for a third time? This is her kind of season: A lot of big personalities to act as meat shields. However, I think she lasts till the early merge and then folks know taking her to the end is a bad idea. People will reward her in this kind of season.
6. Amber — I might honestly have made Amber my Winner Pick™ if Rob wasn’t playing. I think both of them in this game puts a big ol’ target on them. Amber plays the kind of game needed to win a season like this, but I don’t think she can actually pull it off.
5. Natalie — We’ve come to the part of the list where the next five people are literally five out of my top seven or eight overall choices. Natalie played an awesome game her first time out. She knew how to wait and be patient, use advantages, etc. But it was an odd season since it was a blood versus water theme. Can she adapt? We shall see. But I like her chances.
4. Kim — I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say Kim is easily a top-three winner of all time. It’s been a while since she played, but she was a clear triple threat who knew how to stay under the radar and everyone (men included) had a bond with her. I think she can actually do it again.
3. Danni — I remember, when first watching Guatemala, being disappointed Rafe didn’t win. In general, though, it was a truly crappy season. There were very few likable players. Danni, though … people liked. And I think that will happen again. This ranking depends on her still being a physical threat, but I think Danni is exactly the kind of player that wins an all-returnee season.
2. Sophie — I have to admit, I wasn’t all that impressed with Sophie during South Pacific. As much as I hate to say it, I think Coach actually deserved to win that game, But, with that said, over the last few years, we’ve all probably heard a lot from Sophie on RHAP and she’s super impressive. She knows the game. And I think if she can make really good social connections, she can win.
1. Denise — Another hugely underrated winner, Denise won her only season against a simply great cast: Penner, Kent, Malcolm, the person who will never be mentioned, RC, Pete … the list could go on. Philippines was a great season for strategy and Denise won. I think she’s going to do it again. She is, friends, my Winner Pick™. Sorry, Denise.
Now, of course, with the return of Edge of Extinction none of this matters. Watch Adam get booted first and still win the game … or something like that. But, I don’t think returnees let Edge play a big role, so I’m sticking with what I got here.
OK, that’s all I got. It’s finally almost here … the season we’ve been waiting for. We’ll talk after the premiere. Enjoy it. We may never see it again.
Pat Ferrucci started watching Survivor when episode two of Borneo first aired. He's seen every episode since. Besides recapping here, he'll be live-tweeting this season from the Mountain Time Zone. Why? Because nobody cares about the Mountain Time Zone except when they want to ski. Follow him @patferrucci for Survivor stuff and tweets about anything and everything that enters his feeble mind.