Once again, I've dusted off my four-tiered Survivor contestant ranking system (likely, possible, unlikely, impossible), and applied it to each new San Juan del Sur contestant, to determine how good their chances are to actually win the game. Normally, I'd wait for Probst's own set of opinions on the cast, but who knows if that's even on the horizon, so all I have to go on is their CBS and EW pre-game interviews, TVGN preview show interviews, and cast bios. For a point of reference, feel free to peruse my previous hits and misses from such past seasons as: Philippines, Caramoan, and Cagayan.
None. Unlike Philippines, where it was clear from both Malcolm and Denise's pre-game interviews that they had potentially game-winning tools at their disposal, or Blood vs. Water, where Vytas wowed pre-game, there are no obvious winners in this group. This is partly the fault of the format, where a lot of the pairs seem to be one person who's really into Survivor and their somewhat reluctant partner. Some of the blame may also be placed with CBS press, which has decided to completely hide the entire cast from its pre-season ad campaign (which, less than two weeks before the premiere, totaled exactly one ad, which may well have been put together before this season was even cast... until a new one, exclusively about John Rocker, dropped on 9/11). So there's a paucity of information with which to evaluate these people. But based on what we do have, it's also mostly the fault of casting and/or CBS, where it seems everyone watched Cagayan and said: There are too many competitive people on this season, people who know how to play, and are playing hard! Ugh! No more Tonys or Spencers! They're so boring! And old! Bleah! Let's load up on young hardbodies with senses of humor!
The good news is: this season's winner's circle is pretty much up for grabs. The bad news: about half the cast doesn't seem particularly interested in taking the time to wander over to that circle. Some may also be unaware which shape is a circle.
Contestants who might win San Juan del Sur
1. Drew Christy. Even though Baylor (gently) mocked both Drew and Alec in her TVGN interview as the "Fabio brothers," Drew is a longtime watcher of the show, and on TVGN, mentions applying and making multiple attempts to get cast. In their CBS interviews, Drew and Alec gave off a loose, carefree, almost Courtney Yates-esque vibe, which will serve them extremely well if they can carry that into the game. In addition to having similar looks and outlooks, the brothers Christy also have similar skill sets: Confidence, athleticism, and ability to go with the flow of their tribes. They should be good in challenges, but they're neither physically intimidating nor obvious evil masterminds. They're not the youngest, the biggest, the oldest, or the smartest, and thus they should each nestle comfortably into the sweet spot in the middle of their respective tribe. Perhaps more importantly, there are extremely few strategic players on this season, so there will likely be a heavy jury bias towards social and physical games, much as in Nicaragua, and the Christy (okay fine, Fabio) brothers fit both those categories. There's not much basis upon which to distinguish between their relative gameplay acumen, but of the two, Drew is the bigger Survivor fan, and seems like the one who at least thinks he knows what he needs to do to win. Which, let's face it, is not much, like Fabio. Whether he actually does remains to be seen, of course.
2. Reed Kelly. Like Drew and Alec, Josh and Reed seem to have similar skill sets and backgrounds, so it's hard to pick an obvious favorite, but as in the prior case, the edge has to go to overall fandom level. In their TVGN interview, Reed says he (re-) introduced Josh to Survivor, and that both ended up applying separately, but finally made it onto this season together. That suggests both long-term knowledge of and commitment to the show. Both Reed and Josh come across as charming, likable and non-threatening, which could either work for or against them. The big question mark is to what extent either of them can play strategically. Worse yet, we don't yet know whether the other contestants will view them, rightly or wrongly, as potential strategic players. Superfans tend to get targeted because their castmates assume they'll be playing an underhanded game, even though neither Reed nor Josh really gives any hints of planning to do so. They just seem like affable mentally, socially, and physically competent guys who also happen to love the show. Shrug... it might work.
3. Val Collins. Unlike the two previous examples, in the Val-Jeremy pair, Jeremy appears to be the Survivor superfan who says he's applied multiple times, yet Val seems best suited to winning. Val, however, has a few immediate, unfortunate hurdles to clear. First, one of the first impressions multiple people on twitter had upon seeing Val was "She looks like Cirie" (which is somewhat accurate). Maybe this won't end up being a problem: Val seems more reserved and far less ebullient than Cirie, so that first impression should wear off fairly quickly, and besides, despite being one of the greatest social/strategic threats of all time, Cirie last played nine seasons ago (and her best season was now 13 seasons ago), and with this recruit-heavy cast, there's a reasonably good chance that half or more of Val's tribemates have never even heard of Cirie. Most of them should know who Tony Vlachos is, however, which exposes Val's longer-term problem: like Tony, she's a police officer, and she plans to hide that fact. This could end up hurting her long-term, if anyone discovers the truth before she doles it out. On the other hand, her police observational skills should be a net benefit, and she also appears to share Tony's go-go-go intensity, which could, and probably should, help her overcome these potential problems. The previews give us no idea how Val will mesh with her tribe. If she can circumvent the multiple early obstacles strewn in her path, Val has a really good shot at lasting a long time. Working against her: she's the most likely to play a Tony-like game, on a cast that is already unlikely to reward Tony-like gameplay, especially after just having seen him win.
4. Alec Christy. As we said before, there's not really a clear delineation in game-readiness between Alec and Drew. In the interviews, Drew usually takes the lead, and admits to being the bigger (perhaps sole) Survivor fan. This knowledge/ assertiveness combination would appear to give Drew a slight edge, but Alec is no less suited for this particular season. At 22, Alec is a bit older than Fabio was in Nicaragua, so while he's still a college student, his youth probably won't be an impediment, and if anything, it should be an early benefit: his tribe has a majority (five people) of twenty-somethings, and a full four members 25 or under. Witness the camp shot above: he's relaxing between the 20-year-old Baylor and the 22-year-old Wes. Alec blends. And if by some fluke both Drew and Alec get to the endgame together, Alec seems a bit less arrogant than Drew, which could translate to a higher jury vote total. But really, Alec fits all the same beneficial slots as Drew, and each has a decent chance to do well. Another factor working in both their favors: each seems almost eager to top his brother, so they may be the pair least likely to work together after a merge/swap. As such, they're even less of a perceived threat, further increasing their chances.
5. Josh Canfield. Again, Reed is the longer-term Survivor fan of this couple, but Josh is at least an enthusiastic convert, so he should have some idea about how to play. Still, a red flag or two popped up in their interviews: Josh mocked Malcolm for gaining weight before returning (two weeks after Philippines) for Caramoan, which brings into question his and Reed's pre-game preparation. At the least, they're no Jeremy (and maybe Val?), who described adapting himself to a minimally caloric diet over the weeks prior to Day Zero. Also, in one of the bigger pre-game surprises, many of the EW camp shots at Coyopa show Reed hanging out with none other than John Rocker (above), an extremely unexpected pair, which speaks well to both of their adaptability (both Val and Jeremy had their sights on Rocker as a useful goat, pre-game). But in a Josh-Rocker alliance, if one in fact happens, the pitcher could either serve as a vote shield, as Clay did for Heidik in Thailand, or as a morale-sapping albatross, as Shamar did for Sherri in Caramoan. Which way that could go probably won't be apparent until after the first episode. The other potential problem for both Josh and Reed, which must be addressed: this is a highly Southern (and likely socially conservative) cast. The Broadway boyfriends should have little problem rising above the initial problem of fitting in on their respective tribes, but long-term, it's not enough to be tolerated, or even accepted, you must be respected to win this game. It would be a great testament to the game if that happens, but it's not a safe assumption that it necessarily will. Still, if Hatch convinced Rudy to vote for him to win 28 seasons ago, why couldn't Josh or Reed perform the same feat with their castmates in 2014?
Contestants who probably won't win San Juan del Sur
1. Jeremy Collins. We really want to root for Jeremy. He's applied multiple times, made extensive physical preparations for this season (starving himself for weeks to adapt to functioning with no food), and as a firefighter, is a real-life hero. So why is he leading the Unlikely-to-win group? Casting. He is the sole man of color on the entire season (even including the two last-minute medevacs, since they were female). He's also older than all but two of his tribemates, and they're the only other married people. While those two (Keith, Missy) are parents like Jeremy, each has one of their kids on this season with them. He and Val are the only New Englanders, versus four New Yorkers and eight people from the South. Simply put, Jeremy has little in common with anyone, except that Keith is also a firefighter (but also likely to be outside the core Hunahpu alliance). Even so, Jeremy clearly knows the game, and has wanted to play for a long time, so in theory, he at least has a shot. Another concern, however, is his go-with-the-flow, "island time" approach, which is perfect if you're part of the dominant alliance, but less useful if you're down in numbers, as we expect Jeremy will be. We hope he has more of a chance than we think he does. Prove us wrong, Jeremy.
2. Wes Nale. Wes is the lowest-ranked of the known applicants/ fans, but that's mostly because we saw precious little of him in his pre-game interviews. Wes's dad, Keith, dominated the Q&A, and Wes generally deferred (the same was true of Ciera, pre-BvsW, and she turned out just fine). Wes seems to be hinting he wants to play a Russell Hantz-like game, which, despite our misgivings, worked out great for the last guy to say that (Tony). Can a 22-year-old actually pull that off? We have our doubts. Wes is visible in a few group camp shots at Coyopa, but also has a lot of solo shots -- tending the fire, chopping coconuts, and the like. His youth and work ethic should serve him well in the early going, so he should at least make the merge. Can he run the game after that? There's almost nothing to suggest that in the pre-season footage, but that could just be due to the dearth of footage.
3. Kelley Wentworth. Of the remaining, as-yet-undiscussed pairs, Kelley and Dale seem the most likely to be knowledgeable about Survivor, mainly because Washingtonian recruits are pretty rare. Unless they just got shuffled over from TAR casting, which could have happened with a lot of these couples. Even so, as with multiple other pairs, they talk almost exclusively about their background in their interviews, and not about the game, or at least Kelley does. Kelley seems intelligent, and her marketing background should give her some social skills, even if the worst-case scenario occurs, and this father-daughter duo has never seen a single episode of this show. How much more potential Kelley has as a player really can't be determined from her pre-game interviews. As with most of the other parent-child combos, dad did most of the talking.
4. Jon Misch. The Jon Who Is Not Rocker seems like a good guy, and is affable, fairly intelligent, with athletic prowess to spare (in the previews, he's shown blazing through the crawl obstacle in the Ep1 IC, far ahead of the pack). So why is he way down here? The only real reason is there's nothing in his bio that suggests he's watched Survivor before. He does recognize that having bigger, more muscular guys (presumably Rocker) around makes him less of a target, so there's hope. Although Rocker ends up on the other tribe. But without more insight into Jon's game thinking, it's difficult to project him as anything more than your standard good-looking, athletic, circa-merge boot.
5. Jaclyn Schultz. Yes, she's the requisite pageant queen, and no, at no point in her pre-game interviews does she mention Survivor, her planned strategy, or really much of anything game-related (except the stock "I'll be underestimated!" response, which is the Survivor equivalent of hoping for world peace). Probst was dismissive of her chances on TVGN (with the obvious caveat that, of course he was, considering her gender). Still, she seems reasonably athletic and bright, and probably won't be an early-game anchor to her tribe in challenges. So she could make the merge. Could she win? Sure, why the hell not? Go ahead and believe that, if it works for you.
6. Baylor Wilson. Several people at Sucks and Reddit seem to have been under the impression that Baylor and Missy were the sole applicants this season. Not only did multiple other people apply (Drew, Wes, Josh, Reed, Jeremy), there's conversely nothing to indicate that either Missy or Baylor did, although to her credit, Baylor does know who Fabio is. When most of Dalton Ross's questions are "Tell me something embarassing about her?" you also get the sense that there's little game-oriented insight to be gleaned. So we're led to suspect that Nashville-based singer-songwriter Baylor may be here for the same reason Chase Rice and Whitney Duncan were, and that's to get a network TV boost for her music career. Apparently because Rivers Cuomo told people to "turn off those stupid singing shows" (thanks a lot, dude). In Baylor's favor: She's 20, on a majority-young tribe, and is highly non-threatening. If somehow the jury also ends up being stocked with younger people, she might have a shot at the million. Assuming she's not a pre-merge casualty of a swap, she should reach the merge, then go extremely deep, because why boot her? Maybe, like Chase Rice, she'll pull off an out-of-nowhere performance at Final Tribal, and even be a threat to win. Who knows? Has a former cheerleader ever won Survivor? No? Well, they must keep casting them for a reason, right?
7, 8. Natalie and Nadiya Anderson. As a non-The Amazing Race viewer, evaluating the survival prospects of the famous/infamous (depending on whom you ask) Twinnies is difficult. As far as we can tell, neither twin ever watched Survivor before getting cast for this season. In their interviews, they seem to feed off of each other's energy, combining to form a highly combustible mixture of high-volume overtalking and (mostly inside) joking. When on separate tribes, we would expect them to be reasonably competent at the game, perform adequately in both physical and mental challenges, and perhaps most importantly, feel at home, since they are seasoned reality-competition veterans. But come a swap or the merge that brings them together, their wonder twin powers activating will most likely frighten their tribemates. Together, they seem like, bar none, the most inseparable duo of any in the cast (as twins should), almost the exact opposite of Alec and Drew's constant bickering and attempted one-upmanship. Together, one or the other of Nadiya and Natalie will be an almost immediate boot target. Once that Twinnie is gone, however, there's no obvious reason to boot the other for a while, especially if she can bring herself to participate in voting her sister out. So while the pair is unlikely to survive, it's not impossible that half of it could. We have no idea which, though. Another potential problem: There's a high possibility that one or more pairs here actually applied to TAR, or are TAR fans, and already dislike the Twinnies because of that. It's a handicap a lot of other pairs won't have on Day One.
Contestants who almost certainly won't win San Juan del Sur
1. Dale Wentworth.We have almost nothing to go on here. Dale does speak a bit about his game plan in his TVGN interview: he hopes he gets dragged along to the end because he won't be seen as a physical threat. Hard to see how that's a path to the win, but... Bob Crowley won with pretty much the same strategy (ironically, winning a string of challenges in the process). Seems unlikely that farmer Dale will have the same luck, but who are we to say definitively that he won't? Dale seems like a good guy, and he's a competitive cyclist (as were Jill in Nicaragua and, of course, Tyson Apostol). Honestly, we struggled between Dale being the 9th person in the previous category or first here. Eventually, we decided the cachet of "Dale is first!" won out.
2. Missy Payne. Missy started a cheerleading gym, despite never having been a cheerleader herself. Which means she ought to win Survivor, because that's exactly the same thing, right? She also has had a series of marriages which seems tailor-made for a country music song. By a shocking coincidence, did you know her daughter (also on this season, whose name rhymes with "tailor") is a country music artist? Again, this means Missy should win Survivor, because.... Sigh, even we can't keep up this charade in jest. She won't.
3. Keith Nale. On this exceptionally young cast, the three people over 40 face some of the lowest odds of winning. There's really no way around it. None are particularly likely to reach the merge, and of the three, Keith seems faced with the most obstacles. Not only is he the oldest guy on his tribe, he's also not just a firefighter, but a fire captain, meaning he's used to being in charge. He continues taking charge in the pre-game interviews with Wes, despite Wes clearly being the bigger Survivor fan of the two. He steps up in the IC, trying to hook the rope knot in the rope climb, but it appears Drew is the Hunahpu who succeeds in the end. Being the oldest guy on the tribe, then having to be swapped out for in the first challenge is not a fortuitous sequence of events for Keith. Should Hunahpu come up short in the first IC, Keith seems like a prime candidate for the first person voted out.
4. Julie McGee. Julie seems to be a more socially/strategically aware version of Monica Culpepper, but she will face the exact same obstacle should she reach the finals: as much as she doesn't want to be viewed as a wealthy athlete's "chicky" (Julie's word), she can't escape the fact the jury will likely think twice, or perhaps three or more times, before awarding a million dollars to a retired MLB player's significant other. Never mind that Julie admits she's only here because Rocker didn't get on a previous season, and they still wanted to cast him, so she received an invitation to interview. Or that neither she nor John seems to have much interest in or knowledge of the game of Survivor. But hey, despite all these clear limitations on Julie's likelihood of winning the million, all you people who unsuccessfully applied to this season with the #InstantAlliance hashtag: John Rocker's girlfriend may have a miniscule chance at winning Survivor, but that's infinitely more than you do. It's a fun season! Enjoy!
5. John Rocker. There is a 0.0% chance that John Rocker can win Survivor. And if by some horrific miracle he did, we hereby pledge to stop watching (after S30, anyway). You're not fooling anyone, CBS and SEG: Rocker is only here because you were desperate to generate some more cheap publicity after the racist houseguests on Big Brother 15 attracted so much attention. And Probst's "He faces obstacles! The players make their own rules!" defense for this casting is pathetic. Probst is the showrunner. He had the power not to put Rocker on the show; he chose otherwise. That IS an endorsement of his views, because you are implicitly saying you want those views voiced on your show. There are hundreds of non-bigoted former MLB players of similar age you could have cast if you just wanted an "athlete," but we all know that's not the slot you were trying to fill here. You can tell from CBS's Rocker ad that the network and host are positively overjoyed that he ended up giving them the exactly the results they were hoping for (verbally abusing Natalie, apparently). Rocker says what internet trolls say from behind the anonymous safety of their keyboards, except he does it in person. And he gets away with it, because who's going to stand up to a 6'5", roided-up dude with a temper? And and as sure as the Sun shall rise in the East, Rocker will (eventually) struggle, and editing will take pains to portray him as a victim of his castmates' preconceived notions about him, to pander to their red state viewers who fervently believe that the real problem with bigotry is that everyone else is just too sensitive, and that the real victims are.... Eh. Whatever. Fine. This is your game, SEG, but we won't play along. The less said about Rocker, the better. Don't feed the troll.
The redirection section: What you probably should have been reading/hearing instead of this
Pre-season San Juan del Sur cast-related news and commentary