Survivor: Game Changers - Jeff Pitman's recaps
By Jeff Pitman  |  Published: February 18, 2017
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Game Changers cast projections

Welcome to the Season 34 edition of our frequently inaccurate, usually misorganized pre-season set of contestant projections, in which we will sort the cast into tiers of decreasing likelihood of winning. This has been done this for many previous Survivor seasons, such as Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X | Kaoh Rong | Worlds Apart | San Juan del Sur | Cagayan | Caramoan | Philippines. Our record of success? Middling, at best.

 

But that's not going to stop us. These rankings have been informed by as much of Gordon Holmes and Josh Wigler 's pre-game interviews as we can reasonably read before judging these people (still incomplete, but we like to jump the gun), and an eye to Jeff Probst's various pronouncements about the season and the pre-season ads (thus far, minimal). Otherwise, however, completely spoiler-free. Seeing as this is an all-returnee season, and returning players always talk, if you know spoilers, please keep them to yourself, and out of the comments section.

 

Okay, Survivor rankings ready? Go.

 

The Likely
Contestants most likely to win Game Changers - click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages

So... the "Likely" tier: There are a lot of really great players this season, and many not-so-great ones. Unfortunately, the great players should be able to win, but they face a lot of readily apparent obstacles. Meanwhile, the ones who haven't really given any indication they can win, for that very reason, may actually sneak through. In that sense, it's a well-balanced cast. There are no sure-fire winners here, but these two seem like the ones with the best chances. After all, someone has to win. There's no obvious happy medium where someone is both really good at playing Survivor, and not regarded as a threat. In truth, we probably should have gone with only two tiers this season: possible and unlikely. So if we're way, way off this time, we won't be all that surprised.

 

1. Malcolm Freberg

Malcolm Freberg

 

Positives: Of the non-winners who also know the game well, Malcolm is perhaps the best positioned here. He has a track record of a solid social game, and adaptive, creative strategy. He's surrounded with people who could have been in his previous alliances (Caleb is the new Eddie, Brad is the new Reynold), and Malcolm played long enough ago that he's probably not at the top of most people's threat lists. Thanks to being on the two-winner tribe, he also has his choice of first targets and/or shields. Despite playing twice before, his only former castmate here is Andrea, who was neither a strong ally nor a bitter enemy, so nobody should be rushing in to break them up as a perceived power couple. He'll be an asset in the tribal challenges, especially given that he's one of the few young, strong people on his tribe, and he's savvy enough to tank the early individual challenges in order to avoid the beast label. Plus, as he makes clear in his interview with Josh Wigler, he's had time to watch and revisit and rethink his past seasons, which he hadn't when he rushed back to play Caramoan before Philippines had even aired. Finally, if he reaches the finals, his knack for Tribal Council showmanship should earn him the respect of both strategists and physical players alike. Along with Cirie and Aubry, Malcolm is one of the best players here who has not won Survivor, and this could be his best opportunity to finally do so.

 

Negatives: Sandra's already worried about him. He has a history of idol shenanigans. He's the youngest guy on his tribe, and is only a year older than the youngest guy in the game (Zeke, although at 29, that's mostly because this is an older cast than usual). Malcolm's one real flaw has been failing to finish off his comebacks from being down in the numbers. The Three Amigos play earned him just a single extra Tribal Council, and he was unable to crack the Denise-Skupin-Lisa final three. The modern trend of more flexible alliances (some would say "voting blocs") should give Malcolm a lot more options to work with, though, so again, this could be his best chance.

 

2. Sierra Thomas

Sierra Dawn Thomas

 

Positives: From her pre-game interviews, she seems much more game-aware than she did in Worlds Apart, a season in which she literally did almost nothing to change the game, even when graciously handed numerous opportunities to do so. Still, that is somewhat paradoxically her greatest asset this season: Nobody expects her to do anything, which means she may well be capable of doing a lot. People will come to her, expecting her to be a safe, reliable number, and she'll be perfectly positioned to flip the game on its head, at least until people start to catch on. Former castmate Shirin Oskooi thinks Sierra has the tools to do just that.

 

Negatives: There are no real negatives here, just a bunch of question marks. In order to win, Sierra will need to make a move at some point in the game, and sell that to the jury. Hard work and loyalty probably won't cut it this time. Does she have it in her? Apparently, but who knows for sure?

 

The Possible
Contestants who might win Game Changers - click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages

Almost everyone this season has at least one knock against them, either a track record of target-inspiring gameplay, or a complete lack thereof. This tier and the Likely set are far less distinct than they have been in recent seasons. (Although in most recent seasons, the variance is mostly due to lack of adequate information about the new players.)

 

1. J.T. Thomas

JT Thomas

 

Positives: Of the three former winners appearing this season, JT is probably in the best spot. Everybody should be absolutely terrified of Tony, and similarly wary of Sandra. But will they be as worked up about JT? He wrote a love letter to Russell Hantz! And gave him his idol! Ha ha ha, what a rube! (Conveniently forgetting that he also unanimously won his previous season.) A lot depends on whether JT plays as Tocantins JT (the amiable, charming rancher) or Heroes vs. Villains JT (the cutthroat, wannabe villain). Given that one was significantly more successful than the other, his choice should be obvious. With his strength and speed and work ethic, he'll be a useful guy to have around in the early going. JT's danger zone is the merge, but if the post-merge devolves into a cascade of blindsides, with strong players taking each other out, JT is just non-threatening enough that he might be able to duck out of the way and be the nice guy everyone likes in the finals, guaranteeing himself a spot there with a string of crucial immunities as he did the first time. Unless he rushes in to embrace his inner villain too soon, in which case he won't be around to do that.

 

Negatives: Despite not being the biggest, most obvious threat, JT is still a prior winner, and at least some people are aware of that. Furthermore, he's the only winner on his initial tribe. All it takes is one Jenna Lewis clone (Ciera?) to bang that drum, and JT could be toast, early. He's also on the more physical of the two initial tribes, so his challenge abilities are significantly more dispensable than a Malcolm or a Michaela. If JT can make it through to the first swap, and swap favorably, he has a decent shot to go far.

 

2. Aubry Bracco

Aubry Bracco

 

Positives: Aubry is socially skilled, strategically sound, and a solid performer in both tribal and individual challenges. An all-around threat. While it's not ideal that Kaoh Rong was the most recent season the rest of the cast saw before playing, her visibility may actually help her a bit. Her Kaoh Rong growth narrative, going from overwhelmed almost-medevac to surprising jury vote shortfall-er, may help lower her perceived threat level a bit. Because she didn't win, some may see her as an acceptable endgame risk. Similarly, she was shown as a capable competitor in challenges, so her name shouldn't be one of the first mentioned early on, when tribes are focused on challenge strength.


Negatives: Two words: Too soon. While Aubry has had the benefit of watching her first season play back, it's unlikely she's had enough time to fully evaluate what went wrong in the context of what other castmates were thinking during the game (which she could only get from the TV version). Furthermore, being on a recent season means it's well-represented here. Sandra is openly targeting the "Kaoh Rong Four" in her pre-game interviews (and likely will continue to do so as soon as she hits the beach) and Aubry is clearly the most dangerous of those four. And she's on Sandra's tribe. Even if it's just a Sandra seed, that threat label will be hard to shake. Aubry's authenticity should work in her favor in winning new tribemates over, though, so she still has a solid shot. Unless Tai or Debbie or Caleb (or all three) actively sabotage her.

 

3. Michaela Bradshaw

Michaela Bradshaw

 

Positives: She should be a challenge asset to her initial, visibly underphysical tribe, and being a complete unknown to the rest of the contestants not named Zeke (since this season filmed in the summer of 2016, before Millennials vs. Gen X aired) may work to her benefit. Why on earth would you boot Michaela, when you could be taking out Sandra or Tony? Similarly, of the two MvGXers, Michaela should seem much less Hantz-like to her new tribemates than Zeke probably does. That should help her. We haven't seen Michaela in a post-merge situation before, but she should be capable there, we'd imagine. After the merge, she's not the most subtle player, but she does have a compelling life story that will be fresh news to the her current castmates, should she reach the finals. Finally, as several people have pointed out, Probst went out of his way to mention her a couple of times during the MvGX live final/reunion show, and flagged her as a Game Changer contestant (but not, oddly, Zeke) during the Game Changers preview segment. That has to mean something, right?

 

Negatives: Michaela's game could go south for two reasons completely outside her control: She has a really grim chance of being voted out very early, simply because she's a woman of color and that's what Survivor does these days. Alternatively, she and Zeke could each be targeted because nobody knows who they are. Or she could be booted for both reasons! Hopefully, however, being one of the few standout physical players on her initial tribe will help counteract those forces, and give her time to get her bearings with the new cast.

 

4. Tony Vlachos

Tony Vlachos

 

Positives: Tony is, simply put, the most dangerous player in whatever season he appears. Everyone seems to know that, but even so, can they realistically keep up with his non-stop frenetic gameplay? Chances are, he'll have an idol (or at least claim to) by the end of Day 1. How the rest of the cast responds to Tony will go a long way towards forecasting how far Tony can get with a group that already knows about his bag of tricks. Will his tribe timidly steer away from playing with fire, and cast their votes elsewhere? Or will they take him head on, force him to play his idol, and/or split the votes against him , to at least take out a potential ally (if he has any), or a challenge liability they were planning to target anyway? Tony's antics worked to skew that decision to the former, safer position the last time, so there's at least a chance it will work again.

 

Negatives: We're of course excited to watch #TeamTV until his show is cancelled, but we're really, really worried that it won't last for long. Who's itching to align with Tony? We haven't seen anyone say they are. Furthermore, unless they're both lying in pre-game press, it doesn't sound like Tony will be forming a winner's alliance with Sandra any time soon, no matter how much fun that would be to watch. Other similarly oriented players like Malcolm also seem hesitant. As glorious as an Aubry-Michaela-Sandra-Malcolm-Tony-Varner majority alliance on the Mana tribe would appear on paper, there's no evidence it's even being considered. *Sigh*. You could all take turns being in charge! Think about it, people! Can't we all just get along? (Eight months ago.)

 

Bottom line: If anyone on this cast can turn an alliance of one into a winning game, it's Tony. Unfortunately, we're extremely worried that this scenario is pretty much his only path to victory. Then again, that was our worry in Cagayan, too, and we all know how that turned out.

 

5. Andrea Boehlke

Andrea Boehlke

 

Positives: Andrea was a standout player in Redemption Island, then made it pretty deep before being blindsided in Caramoan. She's a longtime fan, and she's been interviewing recent contestants for PeopleNOW. So she should know the people she's up against fairly well. She was last on the show eight full seasons ago, which is far enough back that some people (at least Michaela) don't seem to know her well enough to want to target her immediately. If she makes the merge, she could have a shot, and is a threat in individual challenges.

 

Negatives: She has the job of her dreams in real life, so why play Survivor again? Apart from that, her scheming in Caramoan seemed a little transparent, and her castmates regarded her as paranoid. (Although, to be fair, JT is looking for a new Stephen, and Andrea does live in New York now, so maybe that's an asset?) She's a good all-around player, but hasn't yet shown the strategic chops of a Cirie or a Tony or an Aubry. (Again, to be fair, Boston Rob didn't allow anyone else to actually play in her first season.) But in a season of big threats, it's also possible that Andrea could find herself surrounded by useful shields and a goat or two, and Cochran her way to the million. It could happen.

 

6. Cirie Fields

Cirie FIelds

 

Positives: She's Cirie Fields, duh! One of the finest social/strategic players the show has ever seen. Effortlessly charming, quietly ruthless. So close to winning twice, then an untimely early exit in Heroes vs. Villains. That finish may help defuse her Gangster-in-an-Oprah-suit reputation. Zeke wants to work with her. Michaela wants to work with her. It was long enough ago that several people may not even know who she is, and there are actual former winners here, so maybe there's a chance?

 

Negatives: Unfortunately, Micronesia is one of the best-known seasons and Cirie and the Black Widow Brigade are unquestionably at the center of it. And if everyone doesn't know what Cirie is capable of doing if she stays in the game, surely there are enough that do know to educate the casuals. Maybe not Caleb, but probably everyone else. As with Sandra, Cirie will face early opposition because she's both a massive threat in the game and because she's been a poor challenge performer in the past. Just reaching the merge will be a huge struggle for both of them. And if their pre-game interviews are to be believed, they plan to work against each other, not with each other. If anyone is even remotely paying attention, will she even be able to get as deep as she did in Heroes vs. Villains?

 

7. Sarah Lacina

Sarah Lacina

 

Positives: Perhaps the most-common winner pick prior to Cagayan, Sarah is a longtime fan with strong challenge skills, particularly on puzzles. She's perceptive (famously identifying Tony as a fellow police officer before Cagayan even started) and tough. She drove much of the early strategy in the Brawn tribe, until fate isolated her on post-swap Solana. Still, she made it through to the merge, only to overplay her hand and bicker with Kass, giving rise to the first-ever use of the #ChaosKass hashtag. In her favor, it's been a while since Cagayan, and she and Tony are the only two from that cast here. Having that time to reflect, while also allowing people's memories to fade should help her tremendously.

 

Negatives: Sarah's attempted power grab at the Cagayan merge was her undoing, and mostly her own fault. For all her skills of perception, she failed to read that people in her alliance were quietly chafing at being told how to vote. Since she seemed to mostly blame Kass's flip for her demise (which, to be fair, was partly responsible), that could be a problem if she fails to guard against that this time through. Also, while Sarah looked like an effective strategist early on in Cagayan, it's worth noting that her big moves (trying to take out Cliff, mostly) did not work out until after she left in the swap. There's definitely still untapped potential in Sarah's game, but also a fair number of question marks.

 

8. Zeke Smith

Zeke Smith

 

Positives: Zeke made a big impression during Millennials vs. Gen X, coming back (like Adam) from an initial blindside to nimbly navigate trust clusters, and most visibly, convince a ragtag bunch of underdogs to draw rocks for him. He ultimately fell short, but played hard and fast, and provided a worthy foil to David Wright, until Adam prevailed over them all. He's willing and eager to work with Cirie, which could be an all-time great strategic power couple, if it comes together.

 

Negatives: Probst appears to have actively sabotaged his entire game before it even started by introducing the MvGX duo as playing back-to-back, "like Russell Hantz." As a conniving strategist, that is absolutely the last comparison Zeke needs people to be making before they get to know him. Hopefully his ebullient charm can convince his new castmates otherwise, because he's also the least athletic guy on the jock tribe. His only real kindred spirits on Nuku are Cirie and maybe Andrea or Tai. There are no obvious Adams or Hannahs to regroup with if the first Tribal doesn't go his way this time. Terrible draw for Zeke, and it may explain why Probst neglected to mention why he was on Game Changers during the MvGX reunion show preview of this season. Let's hope he can at least reach the swap at 18, then put his skills to use moving forward.

 

9. Hali Ford

Hali Ford

 

Positives: She would seem to be in a favorable spot, based on the past patterns for returnee appearances. She's smart, she's athletic, and she didn't last very long her first time, so she's on nobody's radar. So she has a pretty good shot of at least reaching the merge again. Where she goes from there will likely be a change from her previous game.

 

Negatives: Who is she? We haven't really seen enough of Hali's game to know how well or poorly she could do in the post-merge. In Worlds Apart, she was the victim of an enormous opposing alliance at the merge, and Jenn's idol could only be used once, while Joe's challenge prowess limited the options to her or Jenn. As with Sierra, the theme of the season may work against Hali if she reaches the end without having some Game Changing moves under her belt. She could be capable of that, but who knows?

 

The Unlikely
Contestants who probably won't win Game Changers - click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages

We don't relish any of these people dropping down this low, but we have significant doubts that they can actually win, given the competition on this specific season. In another season? Sure, why not. Especially in the first case, obviously.

 

1. Sandra Diaz-Twine

Sandra Diaz-Twine

 

Positives: She's played twice and won twice, and the second time it was against a cast of all-stars, just like this season. That alone should be a decent résumé. Despite that, Sandra is still somewhat underestimated, although far less so than the last time she played. Has the game passed her by? Not really, since Adam Klein successfully adapted her brutally honest approach to the social game last season, to million-dollar success.

 

Negatives: Unlikely as it may seem to find a two-time player, two-time winner down this low, everyone is aware that Sandra has won twice. Even Caleb! Caleb! That's not good, especially because there's a lot of pre-merge to get through before Sandra's free and clear to cruise to the end in the individual phase of the game. This time, Sandra's on the tribe that looks overmatched in challenges, which is bad, because she's a challenge liability, unless there's a puzzle every time. She could be (and probably should be, if they're paying attention) a target the very first time her tribe attends Tribal Council. (So far, Dalton Ross's Instagram has revealed that Tony, Aubry, Cirie and Caleb all picked Sandra pre-game as the person they'd like to vote out first.) And if her tribe starts losing with any frequency, there will be a push to "keep the tribe strong," which will make her a target every other time, as well. Sandra had Courtney as a buffer for that kind of talk in Heroes vs. Villains, and she has Ciera here. So all may not be lost. But Sandra really does have a tough task ahead of her if she wants to reach the merge. Still, if she does... three-peat?

 

2. 'Troyzan' Robertson

Troyzan Robertson

 

Positives: Troyzan is probably a better player than most fans think he is, and probably not as good a player as Troyzan thinks he is. That's the dichotomy of Troyzan in a nutshell. The extent to which that fan opinion crosses over to the superfans and veterans he's now playing against will determine how far he gets. He's a longtime fan of the show, he knows the game, he's comfortable with the survival aspects, and he's a strong competitor in the challenges. But his reception by his peers matters, if he's going to win the million.

 

Negatives: Where Troyzan falls short is the social game, which was part of his downfall in One World. His inability to cobble together an anti-Kim alliance toward the end of that season was partly because everyone left really wanted to believe they were already an integral part of Kim's plans, but also partly because they weren't all that excited about throwing that away to become pawns for Troyzan. He seemed mystified that nobody was interested in just letting him become the winner. Thus, his approach to persuading these reluctant non-alliancemates was almost identical to Ciera's in Cambodia: "Come on! Play the game, you dummies!" As we saw, that didn't work out particularly well for Ciera, either.

 

Has he learned from that experience? If he has, it's not obvious from his pre-game interviews. To a certain extent, he may benefit simply from the evolution of the game, and playing against a cast with a higher percentage of cutthroat gamers will help. But unless that translates to winning friends and influencing people, we question his ability to work out of a jam, and whether a cast of much higher-caliber competitors will also be interested in just letting Troyzan become the winner.

 

3. Ciera Eastin

Ciera Eastin

 

Positives: She cast a superfluous vote against her mom! And she tricked the wily Katie Collins into revealing she didn't have an idol. That's it for track record. On the plus side, as with Jeff Varner (below), she plans to play more like Jeremy Collins this time, and try to be everyone's friend. That's a great idea, and there's a decent chance that Ciera could pull that off, since she seems fairly adept at the social game.

 

Negatives: Her most celebrated non-mom-voting-against moment in Blood vs. Water, abandoning Tyson's alliance to draw rocks (after extensive lobbying by Hayden Moss, and which ended up not working at all, instead taking out Katie Collins) could have been avoided if she'd just looked at the numbers an episode earlier, and not been the deciding vote in booting Caleb Bankston, 4-3. Which would have, you know, actually changed the game. Her next season, she attended Tribal Council just once before the merge, after which she quickly found herself on the wrong side of the numbers, and was gone shortly after Kelley Wentworth made the most successful idol play of all time. And now here we are, in the third season of Ciera's mythically game-changing career. In addition to her still largely unexplored strategic game, she's also historically poor at challenges. But she at least talks a good game, even if the results have yet to bear that out. She's initially on the weaker of the two tribes, so she should have an opportunity to make Big Moves fairly quickly. Maybe it'll work out this time?

 

4. Jeff Varner

Jeff Varner

 

Positives: As we said the last time he played, Jeff Varner is a national treasure. He's naturally charming in person (i.e. with his tribemates), and is hilarious in confessional. Based on our analysis of returnee trends, it should be to his benefit that he went out so early the last time he played. He has no real track record (well, just long enough for a brief flirtation with peanut butter) in the individual phase of the game, so people can't hold that against him. For a too-brief period of time in Cambodia, he had successfully snookered his tribe into thinking he was some overmatched old guy who couldn't keep up with the modern game. And this time, he should at least expect a swap when there are 18 people left.

 

Negatives: It's great that Varner's getting another chance to play, but it's too soon. Even though he's clearly spent a lot of time thinking about how to avoid his past errors, this season only filmed eight months after his boot episode aired. Instead of entering the game as a question mark, he'll start off with that overplaying implosion relatively fresh in his castmates' minds. That most recent version of Varner, the one with the extensive pre-game alliances and the clearly deceptive attempts to claim the "game is moving too fast," not the snarky but ultimately harmless Season 2 edition, is the one everyone will be expecting to face. He's certainly charismatic enough that he might be able to convince his tribemates to trust him, but it would really help if he were on a tribe that could avoid Tribal Council for a while. Instead, he's on the one that seems devoid of challenge beasts outside of Malcolm and Michaela. Not a promising draw.

 

5. Tai Trang

Tai Trang

 

Positives: Like Varner, Tai made an immediate, highly entertaining impression at the start of a recent season - in this case, the last one everyone saw before playing. Unfortunately, everyone also saw him turn on Scot and Jason, receive zero votes from the jury, then unwittingly inspire the hijacking of the reunion show by Sia. So there's a lot of baggage to sift through. He certainly came out of the season less universally beloved than he was at the start. Even so, that could actually work to his benefit here, as he'll be seen as less of a threat.

 

Negatives: Just for argument's sake, however, let's say he can reach the finals in both of his first two seasons. Can he now convince a jury to vote for him? It was hard to tell whether he was just unartful in explaining his gameplay, or if the jury was simply determined not to listen to him, but his first pass at owning his game went about as poorly as it possibly could. Which is a pity, because he did make some important moves, and was loyal to Aubry to the end. Even with the best presentation possible, he still might have fallen short of Aubry and Michele's vote totals. Given a different pair of opponents this season, though, it's possible Tai could pull it all off. It's just not very likely. This is something Tai could most likely correct with enough time between appearances to thoroughly evaluate what went wrong in Kaoh Rong. Unfortunately, he hasn't had that opportunity, and he's right back out here.

 

6. Ozzy Lusth

Ozzy Lusth

 

Positives: It pains us to put Ozzy down this far, because after watching his pre-game interview, it's clear he really wants to win, and has thought long and hard about the aspects of his previous games that need changing. He's not some dumb, aloof jock who's only good in challenges. He's paid attention, he knows the people he's playing against. He'll still be providing daily fish, and he can still probably win an immunity or find an idol when he needs to. Can he do all that and pull off Just A F***ing Stick 2.0? If he could, that might be a winning combination.

 

Negatives: Barring some kind of spectacle like that, people are going to be highly reluctant to let him run the game, or grudgingly admit that he did. As with a few other people (Brad Culpepper, for example), perception really is reality, especially to a jury. If Ozzy retreats to his Free Agent comfort zone, catching fish and winning challenges, his results are likely to be about the same as Ken McNickle's, even if he does reach the finals. Which is a pity. Ozzy does have that elusive win in him, he just needs the right set of opponents to make it a reality. His first time, against 19 fellow first-time players, he finished one vote short of the million. His third, against 16 newbies and Coach, one puzzle short. In Micronesia, against half-and-half newbies/veterans, barely into the jury phase. So a full cast of veterans does not look like Ozzy's ideal fit. Furthermore, the numbers are not good for someone making a return appearance after reaching Day 38 the last time. It could work out for Ozzy, but it probably won't, at least not here.

 

7. Brad Culpepper

Brad Culpepper

 

Positives: If you watch his pre-game interviews, Brad Culpepper v2.0 seems much improved from the bossy, Dudes Only alliance head coach we saw back in Blood vs. Water. He makes a lot of good points about things he needs to change about his game, including stepping back and letting the other alphas lead for a while. That shows an impressive amount of self awareness. There are two reasons Brad's way down in this tier, though: 1. We're not convinced he can actually do that for 39 days, and 2. We're not convinced anyone else will give him that chance. To be fair, if he really can allow others to lead his tribe, even for a little bit, in time his tribemates should value the impression they're seeing first-hand over what they saw on TV. It could work. At least until there's a swap (so... Episode 3), where he has to do it all over again. But for the sake of argument, let's just say all of this is successful, and like his wife Monica, Brad makes it all the way to the end in his second appearance. For the purposes of this list, that's actually a reasonably plausible scenario.

 

Negatives: But the real question is, can Brad win? Brad is an extremely wealthy attorney/retired NFL player, so he doesn't need the money. His tribe didn't seem all that enamored of him the last time he played, particularly Ciera, who's here. As you may be aware, Brad also has a four-word phrase following him from his last season, half of which is his name, and the other half is an expletive. No matter how well he plays, Brad has a major uphill battle in reversing the impressions his first appearance left. It's not impossible that he could put it all together and pull off a shocking win. But it seems highly unlikely.

 

8. Debbie Wanner

Debbie Wanner

 

Positives: Debbie is so close to greatness. Her strategic gameplay made its spectacular debut in the Liz Markham boot episode of Kaoh Rong, an ouster which Debbie orchestrated. She hides her calculating brain and deeper-than-expected Survivor knowledge behind her eccentric exterior, which is the perfect cloaking device for strategic cutthroatery.

 

Negatives: Despite being smart and having a good idea of how to organize a boot, Debbie has two major problems: 1. She's resistant to alternative ideas, and 2. A lot of her tribemates find her irritating (well, at least Neal did). As she's always claimed, she's a lot like Coach, but that brings with it both the positives (highly entertaining on screen; good albeit dated feel for the game) and the negatives (emphasis on loyalty and honor; a preference for dictating her wishes to an unbreakable alliance). In addition to that, just about everyone has seen her transformation from harmless goofball to cunning strategist in Kaoh Rong, since it was the last season that aired before filming. She won't be fooling anyone this time (although she still seems underestimated by a good chunk of the cast). Despite all that, Coach was able to reach the finals and almost win in his third appearance. It's not impossible that Debbie could do so as well, maybe even skipping ahead a season. But that seems highly unlikely with a cast of veteran players.

 

The Impossible
Contestants who almost certainly won't win Game Changers - click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages

The line between this tier and Unlikely is a lot more blurry than it has been in recent seasons. In fact, none of them are really "impossible." But one of them really is much worse than the others, and we needed a fourth tier. Plus we listed him down here the last time, so... tradition?

 

1. Caleb Reynolds

Caleb Reynolds

 

Positives: Jeff Probst seems far less enthusiastic about this season than he did about MvGX. Could that be because another beneficiary of CBS Reality's insistence on crossover casting has now found success on Probst's show?

 

Negatives: Nah, almost certainly not. For one thing, Probst would love that outcome, given his instant fetishization of Caleb's near-death experience in Kaoh Rong. For another, Caleb may be the least-prepared second-time Survivor in the show's entire history. Has he watched any other seasons? There's no real evidence that he has. His response to almost dying in the middle of a second-place finish in a reward challenge? Make his muscles bigger and pledge to try harder in challenges. Even though having comically oversized show muscles is pretty much the exact opposite of the sort of training (CrossFit) that is generally recommended for winning challenges in Survivor. And that, even if his plan was successful, winning a bunch of challenges is a surefire ticket to Ponderosa, not a recommended path to victory.

 

Other Game Changers pre-season cast rankings and analysis

 

Game Changers pre-season contestant interviews

  • Josh Wigler at Parade.com: Game Changers cast interviews index
  • Gordon Holmes at XfinityTV.com: Author index, currently pre-game interviews
  • Dalton Ross at EW.com: Survivor stories index, currently pre-game
  • Erin Cebula at ET Canada: Survivor index, currently pre-game interviews

 

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