In his interviews during the very entertaining Survivor: Philippines season last fall, Jeff Probst claimed that the next installment would be even better. While this could just be an attempt to draw viewers, it still raises the intrigue for the show’s 26th chapter. The hook is the return of 10 past contestants for a second "Fans vs. Favorites" battle. It repeats the season 14 format from Micronesia. The returning players dominated that game and took the top three spots, with Parvati winning the top prize. The fans were not good players and star struck during the early going. This time, the show has pulled “favorites” almost solely from recent seasons. The familiar group is skewed towards craziness over stellar game play and includes few players who dominated their original seasons.Thankfully, everyone has appeared once previously, so there are no Hantz-like characters that will dominate the screen time.
The returning players are a diverse bunch that crosses the spectrum between sweet and insane. Malcolm comes right back after missing a chance for the million dollars in the Philippines. No one has seen his season, so he has the benefit of being mysterious. However, the memory of Russell making the end in Heroes vs. Villains may hurt Malcolm’s chances. If he survives the first few votes, Malcolm could make the end. There’s also one returning fan from the Micronesia season that is known for a stupid move of giving away immunity. Erik may have a better chance because of that reputation and being likable. On the other hand, Brandon returns with the same mistake on his resume but doesn’t seem as self-aware. He was a maddening player and not one of the better parts of the South Pacific game, but the producers clearly want fireworks. That’s also the reason they brought back Phillip, a self-proclaimed “specialist” who made the end on Redemption Island by acting crazy. The last male returnee is Cochran, and it will be exciting to see how he adapts. His big move changed the game in his first shot but ended up dooming his chances. The problem is that super fans don’t always do well in their second attempts; Rob Cesternino is a perfect example.
Several of the strongest players are returning women, who should be able to take control over guys like Brandon. It’s refreshing to see the return of Andrea, who has both the smarts and physical skills to go far. She played under the radar on Redemption Island and could do the same thing again. A player with similar skills but a bigger target is Brenda, who had a good run in the Nicaragua season. She’ll need a strong alliance to avoid an early exit. Another interesting surprise is Francesca, who was the first player voted out of Redemption Island when Boston Rob considered her a threat. She’s the definite wild card. In a similar mold is Corinne, who made a lot of enemies with her outspoken play in Gabon. It’s hard to know how she’ll do because this is such an odd crowd. The potential for chaos is very high. The final returnee is Dawn, easily one of the nicest players of recent seasons. She is strong enough in challenges to avoid an early boot and could last for a while.
While the favorites are familiar characters, it’s so hard to judge the new group of fans. The first question is how much they truly know the show given the producers’ knack for casting recruits. Also, the online bios and videos say little to truly indicate who will win. The reason they may do better is the fact that returning players usually go a long way. If the newbies recognize the threat and ignore their adoration for their idols, it might be different than the first version. One guy who seems destined for a quick exit is Matt, who’s most notable for having a giant beard. He’ll likely stand out in a very young group. The women also seem more capable in this tribe, particularly race-car driver Julia and pre-law student Hope. Guys like Reynold and Eddie seem pretty arrogant on first glance, which isn’t a great trait in this current Survivor era. One intriguing player is Shamar, an Iraq War Veteran who should have few problems with the elements. On the other hand, his bio frequently mentions playing with honor, which means he might not be ready to backstab the other players.
Here are some fearless predictions for the new season that will certainly be wrong:
First person voted out: Matt
Most painful television (again): Brandon
Favorite who might surprise: Corinne
Fan who might surprise: Michael
Million-dollar winner: Andrea
This season is destined to provide ridiculous moments given the goofballs that are returning. The question is whether they will take advantage of the fans or get stuck in petty fights. Picking a winner is difficult because there are so many unknowns. How long will the tribes remain in their original formats? Will injuries shift the dynamics of the game? Andrea is the best choice because she’s so likable and won’t fall victim to the early boots for strength. She already played with Phillip, so having this disruptive guy on her side is wise. If a fan wins the game, Michael is a strong possibility. He mentions Cirie and Rob Cesternino as similar past contestants, and they’ve shown the right way to play. His humble approach and understanding of the game could take him far. The two-hour premiere airs February 13 and should give plenty of time to get acquainted with the new players. Regardless of what happens, it’s shaping up to be another classic season.