Jeff Pitman's Survivor 36: Ghost Island recaps

The Ivy Lead - S36 edition


Note: The original version of this article appeared shortly after the Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers cast was announced. Rather than re-write the entire thing for two new players (and follow-up check-ins on the three HvHvH players), we've just added "S36 update"s after each section. And, of course, updated the chart, above. The rest of the text is otherwise as it appeared in the fall of 2017.


You've undoubtedly read other, better, coverage of the newly unveiled Survivor: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers Ghost Island cast. This article, right here, is obviously the least important one, because it asks the question: Which Ivy League school now wields the title of the most (undergrad) alumni in Survivor history?


If you're reading this article, you can probably read a graph, so the answer is, clearly: Brown University. The Berkeley of the East. The one the late JFK Jr. was wealthy enough to get into. Heckuva job, Brownies!


We should probably point out that this prestigious title is not without controversy. You see, Brown has held the overall title since Worlds Apart, when the Shirin/Max alumni duo put them squarely in the lead. But had So Kim not been pulled from San Juan del Sur due to her sister's pre-game medevac, Penn might have briefly held the lead. Instead, Penn is left with their traditional asterisk status, honed through years of "No, we really are an Ivy, not a state school."


Why is this important?

We know, we know, you're probably skeptical. But let's be honest: This *is* important because Survivor casts are a true cross-section of American society, and clearly, Ivy representation is a demonstration of that. As this season shows, one in every six Americans is a former student of an elite, highly selective Ivy League university. (And one in nine men are former NFL players. And one in nine men and women are 2014 graduates of the University of Alabama.)


But it wasn't always this way. Historically, Ivy alums showed up only sporadically, with a mere three in the first nine seasons. But around Palau, casting sent out a directive to find a male "Ivy League type," and ended up with the relentlessly entertaining strategic mastermind, Gregg Carey (Penn).


So delighted were audiences with that result, Survivor casting kept at it for a full one additional year, resulting in Guatemala including both Brian Corridan (Columbia), whose chyron even identified him as an "Ivy League student", and Rafe Judkins, who (being from Brown) had to settle for being a "wilderness guide." (He's now a successful TV screenwriter.) Since Brian and Rafe were both interesting, game-changing characters, Survivor promptly forgot all about the Ivies for several recruit-heavy seasons. (Technically, astronaut Dan Barry is also an Ivy alum, but that's not why he was cast.) Five seasons later, by some freak accident, two ended up on Gabon.


Since nobody watched that season, the drought really extended all the way through to South Pacific, when Survivor realized it could combine general nerdery with Survivor superfandom, and cast John Cochran, who was quickly followed by the more triple threat-ish Malcolm Freberg. Since Worlds Apart, Survivor has been on an unbroken Ivy streak, with casts now containing up to three ex-Ivy contestants: Three in S30, two in S31, three in S32, one in S33, two in S34, and another three in S35. Hooray, progress!


S36 update: Two more in S36. Hooray, even more progress! The streak continues!


First place: Brown University - Six contestants | eight appearances.

Dr. Mike, Brown alumnus


Contestants: 1. Greg Buis - S1: Borneo; 2. Rafe Judkins - S11: Guatemala; 3. Max Dawson - S30: Worlds Apart; 4. Shirin Oskooi - S30: Worlds Apart, S31: Cambodia; 5. Aubry Bracco - S32: Kaoh Rong, S34: Game Changers, 6. Mike Zahalsky - S35: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.


What else can we say about Brown? Its reputation for quirky students is supported by the likes of memorable characters like Greg, Shirin, and Aubry. And, obviously, this season's requisite urologist, Dr. Mike Z. With Mike's inclusion, not only does Brown retain its title for most contestants, it also extends its lead in most overall appearances (now at 8, three ahead of Penn). Brown is also the only Ivy to have more than one player return. Not to mention that after a stately two appearances in the first 29 seasons, Brown alumni have now made six appearances in the last six seasons. Sure, go ahead and run up the score.


S36 update(s): No new Brownies on Ghost Island, but apparently the (half-) idol Dr. Mike threw into the fire will be making a an appearance, so... yay, that sort of counts? Mike's fifth-place finish in HvHvH was another strong showing for Brown, as well, giving them now four contestants who've made the final five or better (counting Aubry twice).


Second place: University of Pennsylvania - Five contestants | five appearances.

Chrissy, Penn alumna


Contestants: 1. Gregg Carey - S10: Palau; 2. Charlie Herschel - S17: Gabon; 3. So Kim - S30: Worlds Apart; 4. Cydney Gillon - S32: Kaoh Rong; 5. Chrissy Hofbeck - S35: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.


While Penn has produced a first boot, some later jurors, and most recently a respected (if underedited) just-missed-the-Final-Three contestant, it's still lacking a finalist or winner. Could Chrissy the actuary (leading the hauling above) be the one who carries Penn over the finals line? Maybe.


S36 update(s): First, congratulations to Chrissy, Penn's first finalist, following Cydney's near-miss in Kaoh Rong. Still no winners, but Chrissy came close. As for S36, there is another former Penn student (sort of) on Ghost Island, in Wendell Holland. Alas, however, this is a list of undergrad alumni, and Wendell went to Penn Law. So he doesn't count. Also, according to his pre-game interviews, he's not going to admit to being a lawyer, so that seems appropriate.


Third place (tie): Columbia University - Three contestants | four appearances.

Simone Nguyen, Columbia alumna


Contestants: 1. Brian Corridan - S11: Guatemala; 2. John Cochran - S23: South Pacific, S26: Caramoan; 3. Simone Nguyen - S35: Heroes v. Healers v. Hustlers.


Technically, this NYC-based (and thus obviously Wine-and-Cheese aligned) institution is tied with Cornell for third place, with three contestants each. But we'll give Columbia the edge here, because (1) Brian was officially an "Ivy League student," and has written for this site, and (2) Cochran actually won (and is the only ex-Ivy winner), and (3) Simone (above) is on this season. Hooray, recency bias! Also (4) counting Cochran's return in Caramoan, Columbia has now had four total appearances, which further differentiates them from the other New York Ivy, Cornell.


S36 update: Simone didn't end up helping Columbia's average placement stats very much, and with the arrival of Ghost Island's two new Ivy alums, Columbia is now in a three-way tie for third place. But that's still better than sixth. Or... *shudder* being Princeton.


Third place (tie): Harvard University - Three contestants | four appearances.

James Lim, Harvard alumnus


Contestants: 1. Marcus Lehman - S17: Gabon; 2. Zeke Smith - S33: Millennials vs. Gen X, S34: Game Changers; 3. James Lim - S36: Ghost Island.


It's hilarious that Harvard and Yale, bitter rivals, and the two most famous Ivies, are exactly tied (and near the bottom) with two total contestants and a mere three total appearances each. We've listed Harvard first, since it had the most recent appearance, but they are tied. Tied, we say. Indistinguishable. So there. If not for Princeton's continuing goose egg, Harvard would have at least held the title of the last Ivy to field a contestant. But at least their most recent alumnus has been a memorable player. Wait, didn't Zeke also hide (in Malcolmesque fashion) his Harvard education in MvGX? Maybe we should move Yale ahead, then. Hmm.


S36 update: Apparently casting took our mockery to heart, because just two schools are represented in Ghost Island, and guess which two they are... yup, Harvard and Yale! This moves both schools up into a three-way tie with Columbia. We'll bet they're as excited about that as you are.


Third place (tie): Yale University - Three contestants | four appearances.

Laurel Johnson, Yale alumna


Contestants: 1. Anthony Robinson - S14: Fiji; 2. Stephen Fishbach - S18: Tocantins, S31: Cambodia; 3. Laurel Johnson - S36: Ghost Island.


Ah, Yale. The only noteworthy thing in Connecticut, except maybe the Mystic Aquarium and the 100 or so miles of exits you wish you were done driving past on the 95. Yale! The school, forever in Harvard's shadow, that George W. Bush was wealthy enough to attend. While Harvard produced the most Hawaiian-shirted recent contestant, Yale did give us the Knowingest Know-It-All (Stephen Fishbach). This can't be overlooked. Certainly, Yale's Survivor podcast appearance numbers are unlikely to be matched anytime soon (unless Aubry ups her output considerably). And Stephen's casting did lead to Liz Markham's appearance on Kaoh Rong, making her the only MIT (undergrad) alumna ever to play Survivor (actually, Yau-Man Chan is also an MIT alum, thanks, @IanHollenberg), which is way more impressive than some dime-a-dozen Ivy. Then again, we're still waiting for a Caltech grad, Survivor casting. Or maybe someone from Harvey Mudd. Put it on your to-do list.


S36 update: Laurel (and James Lim, Harvard) add a new dimension to the in-season Ivy rivalries. Both are former college athletes—Laurel in volleyball, and James in track. To our knowledge, the only previous example was Malcolm, who played football at Dartmouth. Regardless, after the great showing by the HvHvH Ivy alumni (Dr. Mike and Chrissy), it'll be interesting to see what Laurel and James do to add to their respective Ivy's Survivor legacy.


Sixth place: Cornell University - Three contestants | three appearances.

Neal, Cornell alumnus


Contestants: 1. Matthew von Ertfelda - S6: The Amazon; 2. Dan Barry - S12: Panama-Exile Island; 3. Neal Gottlieb - S32: Kaoh Rong.


While Brown's quirky reputation precedes it, Cornell has itself churned out some unique characters, from an aloof, Mandarin-conversing, machete-sharpening global adventurer, to a Space Shuttle-riding astronaut, to an ice cream pants-wearing entrepreneur who found an idol, was medevacced before he could play it, then was removed from the jury in one of Survivor's lamest twists ever. Not an unremarkable run, by any stretch... but not represented in this season.


S36 Update: Nothing new to report for Cornell. Still at three one-off appearances.


Seventh place: Dartmouth College - Two contestants | four appearances.

Malcolm, Dartmouth alumnus


Contestants: 1. Linda Spencer - S3: Africa; 2. Malcolm Freberg - S25: Philippines, S26: Caramoan, S34: Game Changers.


The New Hampshire Ivy has produced but two contestants, but also the Ivy alum with the most appearances: Malcolm Freberg. Then again, Malcolm swore during Philippines that he actually went to college somewhere in Georgia, so maybe we should deduct one of those appearances. Although he should get bonus points for enduring the ridiculous production decision that led to his elimination in Game Changers, so we're probably back to even.


S36 Update: No movement for Dartmouth. Still stuck on two.


Last place: Princeton University. Zero contestants, zero appearances.

Definitely not a Princeton alumnus


Contestants: None. (Yep, still none.)


We have no idea why Princeton has, at least through the first 35 seasons, never produced a Survivor contestant. Maybe Brandon Hantz's pre-Caramoan tiger stripe tattoos have so scarred casting that they now have a tiger phobia that extends to collegiate mascots. Maybe Princeton grads are just really, really boring. But you would think that, what with New Jersey recently becoming the new West Hollywood of Survivor casting, maybe at least one Jersey resident would have attended their resident Ivy. But alas, not so far. Who knows what the future may hold? Could Brandon Hantz attend Princeton before Princeton produces a Survivor contestant? Who knows?! Maybe!


S36 update: Clock's still ticking on the Brandon Hantz challenge, Princeton. We're now up to 516 Survivor contestants, and still stuck on zero Princetonians.


Jeff Pitman's recapsJeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and in the interests of full disclosure for this article, attended Brown. But only as a post-doc, which isn't even really a student, so even if he were a Survivor contestant (ha!), that wouldn't count here. Follow him on twitter: @truedorktimes

Other Ghost Island pre-season cast analyses

  • Josh Wigler at The Hollywood Reporter (2/2/18): "Jeff Probst Previews the Ghost Island Cast"



  • Rob Cesternino at RHAP: "Survivor: Ghost Island Preview Special with Josh Wigler"