One week from today, on September 15 at 8:00pm ET/PT, Survivor: Nicaragua debuts. I’ve covered the twist being employed in this 21st season, and briefly reviewed the cast and new power being introduced. Now, as was a staple of my recaps last season, I present to you my preseason Odds to Win. I went back and reviewed all of the video interviews available from CBS and Entertainment Weekly, and the other biographical information available on those sites. Below is how I see the cast shaping up. Please note, this list is not the order in which I think the players will be voted off, nor how “strong” I think any individual contestant is. Rather, this is a list of what I think the chances are that a particular contestant will win the game.
Before I start the list, I have some general thoughts on what we’ll find this season. As has been made widely-known, the tribes will be divided by age. Espada will be the ten players over the age of 40. La Flor will consist of the ten players 30 or younger. I like this concept, but I’m afraid the consequences will be exactly what everyone thinks: the kids are going to whup the old folks’ butts. Survivor likes to run very physical challenges that show off the location at the beginning of the season, as opposed to puzzle challenges that don’t require a lot of space (although, yes, there has been a move toward hybrid challenges the last couple years). If this pattern holds, I expect the younger, sprier La Flor tribe to run up the score on Espada. As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a mixture of the tribes (not The Merge, but shuffling the members of each tribe) sooner than the producers probably planned.
Next, I don’t think the Medallion of Power is going to have much of an effect on the game. First, it likely won’t be such an advantage that one tribe will be guaranteed a victory whenever it is deployed. Second, as the Medallion will switch between tribes, I imagine it will be played equally by both tribes. What I do think will have a pretty big impact on the game is the new use of the Hidden Immunity Idol. The clues to the HII will consists of visual puzzles that need to be solved, and the clues themselves will not lead to such an obvious location. Further, the number of HIIs will likely decrease. All of this makes the HII a much more deadly and important piece of the game.
OK, that’s enough ruminating on the new season. How do I see this cast shaking out? Let’s go to the list!!
Chase: 2-1. This may seem like an obvious choice, but the NASCAR pit crew member seems to have the perfect blend of Survivor traits: physically tough, very personable, good looking, nature skills (he’s a hunter and fisherman). Further, he has a sense of humor. When he was asked what he’d like to hunt during the game, he replied, “A shark, but going after a shark is a pretty stupid thing to do.” I swear, it’s funny in the video. Anyway, look for all of the women, old or young, to love him, and for the guys to think he’s a dumb Southern hick that they can push around. Chase has “J.T. in Survivor: Tocantins” written all over him.
Jud: 5-2. I know this goes against what I said when the cast was first announced, because Jud certainly seemed to me like a stereotypical surfer, withoutÂ Brain One in his head. Listening to his interviews, however, he seems very aware of this stereotype and how he can use it to his advantage. There are only four “big” guys int he game (Chase, Jud, Shannon and Tyrone), and I know that after The Merge, players tend to try to vote out the physical threats, but I think by that point in the game, Jud will have ingratiated himself to pretty much everyone, and should remain safe.
Yve:4-1. Of all the Espada members, I feel Yve has the best shot at winning. She appears physically fit, and seems sincere when she describes herself as resilient and determined. At 41, she is the youngest of the “older” folks, so I think she’ll have the best chance of getting along with the younger La Flor members. Further, with her own tribe, I think she will get to play the Parvati/flirty card and have the men where she wants them. The only drawback I see to Yve is that she has young daughters, so homesickness might take her head out of the game late in the season.
Alina: 6-1. There are a number of girls on La Flor that will try to use their feminine wiles to their advantage in the game, but I think only Alina canÂ actually make it work. With her “girl next door” look, the “smart” male players won’t suspect that she’s playing on their animal instincts (as opposed to blond-and-purple-haired Kelly S. or really young, beach-babe Brenda). Alina noted in her interviews that she can be ruthless when she needs to be, and is certainly physically capable (look at the large cord of wood she’s carrying in the EW.com video): great qualities for a potential sole Survivor.
Jill: 7-1. The reason I initially said Jill didn’t stand much of a chance was because of her self-description as a “very conservative, right-wing Christian.” Usually, extreme stances, whether they be political, religious, or whatever, do not help a person blend with a large group. That was my fear with Jill — that she will ostracize herself due to her strong beliefs. Then I watched her interviews again, and realized that absent such expressed beliefs, she would be an ideal candidate to win. She’s an ER doctor, so she is used to stress and little sleep. She is a mother, so she can manage needy personalities. She also seems physically and mentally tough. If she can manage to not clash with a diametrically opposite personality, Jill will go very far.
Holly: 9-1. Holly is also on the younger side of the “older” tribe, and seems to be in great physical shape. I like that she’s spearheaded so many differentÂ endeavors, as it has allowed her to work with and direct many different personalities. If there is one concern I have with Holly, it is her spoken desire to want to be in charge all the time. Early on, having a leader is not a bad thing, but we’ve seen time and time again that being the leader also puts a target on your back. Will Holly allow herself to follow someone else for a bit to keep herself out of the spotlight?
Brenda: 10-1 (tie). Advantages for Brenda: physically fit, funny, attractive, owns her own business. Disadvantages for Brenda: young, so very young (she’s only 20). If Brenda were five to seven years older, I’d probably have put her as my favorite to win based on her other characteristics, but I fear she will be taken advantage of by most members of her tribe. She says she’s great dealing with different types of people, but I doubt she’s dealt with anyone who has looked to snooker her as badly as these players will. Further, she says she needs to work on her patience, a quality essential for success in this game.
Tyrone: 10-1 (tie). This 42-year old renaissance man (he’s a DJ, fireman, music producer, gang evader, etc.) seems like an ideal Survivor player on paper. Then youÂ see a picture of him, and realize that he has a lot to overcome: namely, his muscles. Dude is huge!! We all know what happens to the really big guys once The Merge occurs — their torch is snuffed with haste. No one wants to be in a final challenge with a guy built like Tyrone, so unless he has some major persuasion skills (and, from his videos, he just might!), Tyrone will perform well, but probably be the first or second member of the Jury.
Coming up…The Dark Horses and The Longshots!
The Dark Horses
Jimmy T.: 15-1. The CBS/Sears Online Casting Call winner (expect to see a couple Blatant Product Placements for Sears this season) is clearly a physical player. He has a charming Boston accent, which everyone knows doesn’t hurt on Survivor, and he’s a fisherman, which is always helpful because he can be a provider. Jimmy T.’s downfall, however, will likely be his stated desire to prove he’s the Alpha Male. Acting like Russell Hantz, while successful for him, is not usually a recipe for success in this game. He seems aware the he needs to keep his personality in check, but I think the rigor of the game will wear down his defenses and his true personality will shine through, much to the chagrin of his tribemates as they write his name down on their votes.
Kelly B.: 20-1. Much like Tyrone, Kelly B. looks like a great contestant on paper. She’s physically fit, she’s really smart (I make the assumption that most med studentsÂ are really smart), and she has a really great personality. Then you look at her, and you notice her prosthetic leg. Now, by no means am I saying that her leg will be a liability. Quite the opposite actually — I think it makes her tough mentally and physically, and it appears the prosthetic is better suited for the game than the one Chad had in Vanuatu. The problem is, I can’t imagine there is anyone who would want to bring her to the final Tribal Council because if she can make it there, how can someone argue that she doesn’t deserve to win? Kelly B. says she will do everything she can to rid the possible “sympathy vote” from other players’ minds, and if she is successful, she will march right up this list. I’m just not so sure she can do it. To be honest, I’d have her further down the list if the remaining contestants actually stood any chance of winning.
Marty: 25-1. This former Yahoo! executive seems very low key. Perhaps too low key. Even though Marty is in great shape, and is a former wrestler, he just seems really boring. While successful Survivor contestants don’t want to be completely out there, boring players almost never win (and they certainly don’t make for great TV) because they have trouble building strong bonds with other tribemates. This I feel will be Marty’s undoing. True, he has experience managing people as an executive, but I really get nothing from him that shows me he can win the game. Then again, Earl and Aras have won, so you never know.
Shannon: 35-1. Shannon is the first “big guy” I think will go. He seems like a really cocky jackass who says he’s a lot better at giving commands then being told what to do. Further he says that he’s not going to lie to anyone and always speak his mind: the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do to win Survivor. I think he’ll be kept around long enough to try to win tribal challenges because he’s strong, but as soon as they can get rid of him, Shannon will be gone.
Sash: 45-1. The self-described real estate guru of New York (“I control all of Harlem and am taking over the whole island of Manhattan!”) seems like a cocky jackass. His “best” attribute is that he believes he already has all of the women wrapped around his finger. Further, he models his game after Tyson (a two-time loser, who caused his own dismissal on Heroes vs. Villains), but with better one-liners. If Sash has any redeeming quality it may be that he’s not physically imposing, and therefore, will not be seen as a threat.
NaOnka: 50-1. I want to like NaOnka, and I want her to do well, but any person who calls herself a “firecracker” and a “rainbow” and speaks about herself in the thirdÂ person will have issues in this game. NaOnka said that she will mold her personality to be whomever she needs to be at a given moment or to a given competitor. The isolation and deprivation is so acute in Survivor, that successful players have a very solid idea of who they are and who they are trying to portray; people who are trying to be everything to everybody will find themselves lost in their own lies and alliances. While her career as a track star is impressive, her fear of bugs is not going to serve her well. NaOnka will not win Survivor.
Dan: 75-1. This Brooklyn native is such a stereotype of New York area Italians that it’s almost not funny (but, it really is kind of funny, and I say that as an Italian from New Jersey). Very proud of his appearance on The Sopranos and his (I’m sure completely legit) real estate businesses, Dan just seems too out of shape, and too obnoxious to go very far. It is this type of player, one that is just there to fill a personality type, that drives me crazy that the show seeks out people to cast. There are so many people who send in audition tapes, that I’m sure they can put together a great show without relying on casting people that have no real shot of winning and are there just to make good TV. It’s unnecessary. Hopefully, Dan won’t be around too long.
Kelly S.: 80-1. Kelly S., like Brenda, is very young (she is also 20), but she doesn’t seem to have the head on her shoulders that Brenda does. Like the other youngÂ women, she claims she’s going to use her looks to get ahead, but she also admits that she hasn’t watched a lot of Survivor. Essentially, she has no strategy other than to try to flirt her way to the top. Further, she claims to be bothered by complainers, which probably means that she’s just projecting, and is a complainer herself. Whiny twenty-year olds have a very short shelf life on Survivor, so I don’t expect Kelly S. to advance far into the game, let alone win. Oh, and I can’t remember a time when someone with dyed purple hair has won the whole thing, so yet another strike against her.
Jimmy J.: 125-1. Jimmy Johnson is famous. Not only is he famous, but he’s rich and famous. Not only is he rich and famous, he’s rich, famous and the oldest competitor by four years (over Dan). All of these add up to a “no-way-in-Hell-does-he-win” finish for the old ball coach. This aside, I do see Jimmy J. (JJ? We need to come up with nicknames for the Jimmys and Kellys) sticking around for a bit, if for no other reason than contestants are going to want to hear stories about his time in football and broadcasting. In the end, however, who wants to give a million bucks to someone who already has millions upon millions back home? The only reason he’s not at the bottom is because if he can survive to late in the game, people may way want to specifically take Jimmy to the end, precisely because no one will vote for him; and once you’re in the final Tribal Council, who knows what will happen.
Benry: 200-1. Ben Henry will evidently be known by the douchey nickname “Benry” on the show, so that is what we call him (reluctantly). This guy comes off as such a prick thatÂ comparisons to most recent Survivor prick Ben from Survivor: Samoa are inevitable. I’m sorry, but there is no way the former cameraman for Girls Gone Wild and current club promoter, who loves to name drop celebrities with whom he is supposedly tight, won’t get on everyone’s nerves. Benry admits to having a short fuse, which is widely known to be such a great attribute on Survivor. I see this numbskull going down early just like his namesake in Samoa did. (God, just typing about this guy drives me crazy!)
Jane: 350-1. If Jane were about ten years younger, I’d give her more of a shot to win, but at 53, I think she may be past her prime. Tina Wesson was not quite 40 when she filmed her season of Survivor: The Australian Outback, and she was the oldest female to ever win the game. It’s unfortunate, but true, that older players, regardless of gender, just aren’t that successful when it comes to actually winning Survivor. Only Bob Crowley, who won Survivor: Gabon, was 50+. Jane does seem tough, not afraid of anything, and she will be playing for the memory of her husband who had always encouraged her to apply for the show, but I just think the game will wear on her too much. Plus, she doesn’t seem to me to have the personal skills to make true bonds with her tribemates because she seems to have a touch of the crazy. Then again, she’s nowhere near as crazy as…
Wendy: Eleventy-billion-1. There always has to be one coo-coo bird in the bunch, right? Well, Wendy is it. Let’s look at what she freely admits to being. She keeps goats as pets, butÂ likes to eat them (not that there’s anything wrong with eating goats per se, but usually one doesn’t describe their food as a pet). She cops to talking a lot. She’s good at “strategy,” and on this word she actually used air quotes. Is she saying that she’s good at something that is strategy-like? Now, I will give her credit for having been in the Army, and for figuring out the tribe split just by looking at the other contestants (during Survivor pregame school, the contestants are not allowed to talk to one another); however, she chose to wear a pink cowboy hat and a black, fringed jacket out into the jungle. What?!? Honestly, this woman seems nuts when you watch her videos. Further, we all know that when a tribe loses their first challenge, they almost always boot out an older woman. I think in three days, Wendy will have already annoyed everyone in Espada, so they’ll keep Jane and make Wendy the first on their tribe to go.
Alright folks, that’s how I see this season’s contestants stacking up. Hopefully I’m more accurate than last season! (Look at my initial Odds to Win from last season. Man were those terrible! I blame the whole all-star format. Yeah, that’s it!) What are your thoughts? Anyone you’d move up or down the list? Where am I spot on, or way off base? Please leave your questions, comments and theories below or in our Survivor Forum. Remember: Survivor: Nicaragua premieres next Wednesday, September 15, at 8:00pm ET/PT on CBS. TVOvermind’s Jordan Cramer will post an immediate reaction to each episode right after it airs, and I’ll have a full recap with my new Odds to Win every Thursday morning. We hope you’ll check them out. Until then, I’m off to “Be Aggressive. B-E Aggressive!!”