We've seen the cast's pre-game interviews with EW's Dalton Ross, XfinityTV's Gordon Holmes, and with CBS cameras. We've watched the TV Guide Network Survivor: Philippines Preview show. And from that and tiny blurbs on an MSN photo gallery, we even have some vague idea what Jeff Probst thinks about these people. From all that (and avoiding any spoilers, as much as possible), which of these contestants looks the most likely to win the game in Survivor?
That's where we come in. We've sorted the contestants into various probability tiers (in descending order: Likely, Possible, Unlikely, Impossible), and ranked them within those groups. Let the tiers, and the tears, commence.
Contestants most likely to win Survivor: Philippines
1. Michael Skupin, Russell Swan (tie). Let's be honest: Returning players (as a group) historically have a tremendous advantage in any season in which they're mixed with first-time players. In every season with that combination (Guatemala, Micronesia, Redemption Island, South Pacific), at least one returnee has reached the finals (two in Micronesia, including Parvati, who won). But that was the old formula, where returnees simply had gameplay experience and knew what to expect with the conditions. In this season, where the twist is returnees who were medically evacuated, the advantage is greater than ever before.
In previous seasons, there was at least some (justifiable) newbie bitterness against returnees, because they'd already "had their chance." In Redemption Island, an easy argument against Boston Rob could have been "Yeah, he played all right, but come on, this is this guy's fourth time here, and his second time facing a jury!" Not so with these returnees, especially Skupin and Swan, neither of whom has ever been voted against, and who collectively have only attended three tribal councils. Three! Not to mention that, should either reach the finals, how could any juror begrudge a guy who almost burned his hands off, or who almost died, getting a belated second shot at a million dollars from the game they still love?
2. Jonathan Penner is on a slightly different, and perhaps less favorable, plane here. He's a lot more seasoned, as his medevac didn't come until his second appearance (in Micronesia), and in his first pass in Cook Islands, he lasted 33 days, while racking up a then-record number of votes against himself. Still, on this, his third try, the experience he's gained will undoubtedly benefit him, and the antagonistic persona he played up during Cook Islands will, if anything, be disarmingly protective when his new tribe meets the bright, charming Penner 3.0 (see Coach Wade, South Pacific).
Overall tier synopsis: If any returnee reaches the final three, they will probably win. Way to level the playing field, Survivor.
Contestants who have a decent chance to win Survivor: Philippines
1. Malcolm Freberg. Malcolm's pre-game EW interview with Dalton Ross may be the holy grail of pre-game self-descriptions, at least for longtime Survivor fans. He combines an analytical, strategic approach with Survivor superfandom. Or, to be more brief: he compares his overall strategy to that of Thailand winner Brian Heidik. Malcolm has a coherent, detailed gameplan, including a simple-yet-effective cover story playing up his current beach resident/bartender status, and hiding his Dartmouth background, no less. He has physical skills (football, worked construction) and a work ethic that will serve him well on an early, six-person tribe. Amazingly, even though he combines all the positive traits of JT and Stephen from Tocantins, casting has routinely passed him over since then. When they should have been casting Malcolm and 17 more people like him every season instead.
2. Denise Stapley. Denise, like Malcolm, seems remarkably well-prepared for Survivor. Despite being the second-oldest woman in the game, she may be the strongest physically. And socially, she has perhaps one of the best matches of career to Survivor gameplay since Richard Hatch. As a counselor/ sex therapist, her job is to establish a level of trust with people she doesn't know, and get them to discuss information with her that they'd probably otherwise prefer to keep private. Her work ethic and physical prowess should protect her in the early tribal stages, and her people-reading skills should be extremely helpful post-merge. As long as she can keep her opinions of her more Barbie-esque castmates to herself, she should do well.
3. RC Saint-Amour. RC has a lot of useful tools for playing Survivor: Philippines. First, she's a strong swimmer, which will be a huge asset in the challenges, as Survivor finally gets back to water competitions. She also a longtime fan of the show, and has the smarts and analytical skills (she's an investment banker) to apply her Survivor knowledge towards mapping a path to the end. All of this should work in her favor, although any one of these could also make her a post-merge (or earlier) target. The main outstanding question about her overall longevity is what kind of strategic and/or social game she'll put forward. If it's strong, she can play to her strengths, like her fellow initial-named contestant, JT from Tocantins. If it's weak, she could end up like Cochran in South Pacific. Which will it be? Hard to tell from her pre-game interviews, which seemed to focus mostly on hoop rolling at Wellesley.
Overall tier synopsis: They could be at a disadvantage in a final three against a returnee, but otherwise, any of the people here have what it takes to win Survivor.
Contestants who will probably fall short in Survivor: Philippines
1. Abi-Maria Gomes.We almost had Abi in the Possible tier, which seemed like a bit of a reach, for a lot of reasons. There's absolutely nothing in her pre-game interviews that suggests familiarity with the show (beyond Tocantins, for which she says she was originally recruited). No overarching game strategy. Nothing but a big question mark as to how she'll do in challenges that don't involve dancing or flirting. Despite all that, there are two things in her resume that do stand out as positive: she's an entrepreneur (see Brendan Synnott, Tocantins), and she's in business school. So she's not dumb, and she's probably taking negotiation strategy classes, doing team projects, reading books like The Art of War. A lot of things directly applicable to a game like Survivor. Could she win, though? Again, with no indication from her interviews, that's a much harder case to make, and what keeps her mired in the Unlikely tier.
2. (Sarah) Dawson. Quick. Go read Dawson's pre-game interview with Gordon Holmes. Best pre-game interview, ever, right? Despite the brilliance of that exchange, and Dawson's self-described Survivor superfan status, it's still difficult to see how her exuberance and penchant for mischief-making translates to a winning game. In many ways, she seems like a more-likeable Fairplay, which could get her close to the end. Jeff Probst said in the TV Guide Network preview show, "I don't know what planet she's on." We'd love it to be the one where she wins a million dollars, but it'll take a bit more of a coherent game plan before we're convinced. This isn't Cranium.
3. Pete Yurkowski. Perhaps the biggest disparity between twitter persona and pre-game interviews on the cast. Pete comes off as smart, funny, and engaging on twitter. In his pre-game interviews, he seems bland, reserved, and only dimly aware of what's going on around him. Like a less-charismatic Nick Stanbury. For example, he hasn't seemed to have noticed that there are fewer new male contestants than female ones, and even when repeatedly nudged by Dalton Ross to make the leap to "Oh, there could be returning players," Pete stubbornly resists even entertaining that as speculation. All the same, in the camp scenes from the EW videos, he seems to get along well with the younger Tandang members, and should be a physical asset early on. While he's clearly intelligent, and admits to being a hardcore gaming nerd, there's still no indication from his interviews that the guy who chose being a model over engineering has sufficient Survivor knowledge (or interest) to put together a winning strategy. Especially when he seems to believe Russell Hantz won.
4. Lisa Whelchel. Once you get past the fact that Lisa was on a popular network TV show for several years as a teenager, you're left with the fact that she's the oldest woman on the cast (by almost a decade), and admits that she probably isn't going to be able to play a completely cutthroat game. On the other hand, she is legitimately a longtime Survivor fan, and a case could be made that, given the right alliance and some luck, she could reach the final three without angering anyone. Which might be enough to win with an otherwise bitter jury. Still, those are a lot of caveats, and she seems at least as likely to get the dreaded "we have to vote her out, she's too nice" treatment instead.
5. Artis Silvester. It's hard not to pull for Artis. He's entertaining, a longtime fan of the show, and says he's a 15-time applicant. He's also in great shape, which should help keep him around early on, at least with this season's opening small-tribe scenario. And yet little things seem to add up to work against him. With his shaved head, earrings, and muscular physique, he can initially appear intimidating. In the camp scenes in the EW videos, while the rest of Tandang is bonding as a group, he's almost always off on his own. He's also the oldest person on his tribe, although he's only 52, and has 49-year-old Lisa and 50-year-old Mike Skupin around. Furthermore, while he's a longtime fan, he has a faulty memory for past details (20 people in the first season?), which raises questions about how deeply he's thought about the game. If he can't quickly ingratiate himself with his tribe, or pull off an old-vs-young alliance, he could be an early target.
6. Katie Hanson. Katie is hard to read. From her interviews, it sounds like she walked into the Miss Delaware USA pageant with no preparation, and came out a winner. As far as we can tell, that's also pretty much been her approach to Survivor. Despite claiming to be a fan, and citing Guatemala winner Danni Boatwright as an inspiration on her CBS bio, she admitted to Gordon Holmes that she'd only watched Borneo, then stopped (then watched Micronesia and Heroes vs. Villains, both likely shown to her during the casting process, along with the two seasons that aired during casting). While she's in good physical shape, it's difficult to imagine what life skills (luck? good looks?) or strategic insight she'll bring to the game to supplement her young age (22) and college student experience. But you never know. Amber Brkich won All-Stars.
7. Carter Williams. Carter seems like a nice enough kid. Fresh out of college. Committed to his girlfriend. Fast runner, and he coaches cross country, so he has a few skills that may be helpful here and there on Survivor. Where it all goes off the rails, at least in terms of winning, is his identification with both Ozzy Lusth and Erik Reichenbach. Both of whom were great in challenges (as Carter could well be), but had little to no strategic acumen. Ozzy's sole argument for winning in Cook Islands was "Uh, hey guys, I won a bunch of challenges. (Except the one I threw to get rid of Billy Garcia.)" That didn't work out so well for him. And we all know about Erik's game-ending move in Micronesia. That Carter doesn't seem to have a Plan B is fairly worrisome, at least if he plans to win. (Does he?)
Overall tier synopsis: While several of these people are ones we'd love to see do well, we're not holding our breath.
Contestants who have no chance to win Survivor: Philippines
1. Dana Lambert. Dana has a rootable bio, but she's also lived most of her life in Arkansas, and has never swam in the ocean. Which seems like a spot of poor timing, since this season, as mentioned above, is the first with a lot of water challenges in what seems like centuries. Also, it's unclear from any of her interviews whether she's even watched Survivor before. They do have TVs in Arkansas, right? Oh wait, she does cite Boston Rob as someone upon whom she wants to model her game, meaning that victory is just around the corner! No, not that corner, the one three more seasons away.
2. Zane Knight. Zane is probably a lot better contestant than he appears on paper. But his accent, tattoos, and occasionally doughy appearance don't make a strong case for his fitting in quickly. Worse yet, if he does manage to turn his admirable work ethic into a solid position within an alliance, his favorite player is Brandon Hantz, who checked out mentally from South Pacific around the family visit, and turned his game over to God, who apparently wasn't interested in taking the time to manufacture a Brandon win. So, short-term danger, followed by longer-term danger. But at least he's dead-set against playing like his hometown player, Jonny Fairplay, who finished a few places ahead of Brandon Hantz.
3. Roxy Morris. As one would expect from a seminary student, Roxy spends a lot of time talking about God. A lot. Pretty much all of one of her pre-game interviews, and her entire "Meet Roxy" Sprint TV ad. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, unless her tribemates would prefer to talk about the challenges, or strategy, or chocolate chip cookies. Roxy is aware of this, of course. But just when you think she could put it all together, and play a simple, hard-working, straight-shooter game, she goes and cites as her Survivor beacon of hope: Brandon Hantz. Sigh.
4. Jeff Kent. Please. Yes, we feel a bit guilty now for whining on twitter (post-Redemption Island) about Survivor's bizarre insistence on casting a series of unrelentingly dull ex-football players (or coaches), and suggesting that maybe baseball would provide a better casting pool. (It's not our fault that our suggestion, Jose Canseco, was put on Celebrity Apprentice instead.) But still: a multi-millionaire, who admits that winning Survivor would, if it happened, only be his second-best accomplishment, after baseball? Who's known for his hotheaded outburts, often directed at his own teammates? Who had a reputation as a bit of a loner the rest of the time? Perfect match for winning Survivor! Yeah, sure, Jeff Probst can claim "He could win!" all he wants, but we all know this is pure fantasy. On the plus side, there's at least an off chance he'll provide some combustible entertainment before his inevitable early exit, which is at least more than Jimmy Johnson did.
5. Angie Layton. No apparent knowledge of Survivor, beyond the requisite Parvati mention? Check. Under 21? Check. Beauty pageants? Check. "I will win... because I'm awesome!" Check. (Can't argue with that logic!) We have reached the ignominous point where even Jeff Probst can't fathom what she's doing on this show. Oh really? Then why did you put her on, Mr. Executive Producer? Why?
Overall tier synopsis: Honestly, no disrespect intended to any of these people, who generally seem nice (except maybe Jeff Kent). But we still don't understand why Survivor insists on casting people who have no chance whatsoever at winning.