This cast has been a pleasure to get to know through their pre-game interviews: Four worthy returnees, and 14 newbies, almost all of whom are actual fans of the game, and seem to know what they're getting into.
Which will make it all the more confounding when they get close to the merge, and it's clear they weren't told what they were actually getting into: the Edge of Extinction twist. (Although, since it's right there in the season name, someone's gotta guess that something's up ... right?) Unfortunately, as simple audience members trying to predict how these contestants will fare, the Edge of Extinction twist complicates that process. How does it work? Can one person re-enter the game at the merge (and final five), as with Redemption Island? Is it two people, as with the Outcast twist? Is it ... everyone? (Almost certainly not.) Since the element of surprise will be ruined as soon as the first person(s) returns to the game, you'd expect that the post-merge portion will be explained a little better ahead of time. But who knows?
So we're going into this somewhat blind, and the best we can do is project success based on this being a reasonably normal season. Or at least a reasonably normal season with something vaguely resembling Redemption Island. Historically, the people returning to the game from that purgatory haven't had much of a shot at actually reaching the finals. We'll guess that continues here, but again: Who knows?
For comparison, here's what we thought of the casts at this point in David vs. Goliath, Ghost Island, HvHvH, Game Changers, MvGX, and Kaoh Rong. With that out of the way, let's plow through our semi-annual win-possibility tiers of Likely, Possible, Unlikely, and Impossible:
These people are the best-positioned, most likely contestants to win Edge of Extinction
1. Joe Anglim (contestant page)
If there was ever a season that seemed deliberately designed from the outset for a specific player to win, this is that season, and Joey Amazing is that contestant. First, history has shown us that in seasons that mix returning players and first-time contestants, at least one returnee always reaches the finals. Furthermore, the lesson production apparently learned from South Pacific was "Holy shit, if Ozzy had just won that final immunity challenge, he would have won the game." Now that people can't get voted out at Final 4 any more (as Ozzy was), there's really only one vote at which a player like Joe (or Ozzy) is potentially at risk in a Redemption Island — final five (the second final five).
Sure, Joe's all but guaranteed to be voted out as soon as he loses individual immunity, and will spend the rest of the post-merge keeping people fed and content on Extinction Island, just as Ozzy did in South Pacific. But then (assuming the re-entry mechanism is some sort of challenge) Joe's also all but guaranteed to return to the game in the finale. After that, he just needs that one immunity challenge win OR to play an idol to reach F4 firemaking, which he'll probably also win. How are we so sure Joe will clear those last two hurdles? Well, guess who the all-time leader in having the highest average placement in individual challenges is? That's right, it's Joe Anglim — both for a single season, and for his overall Survivor career. If someone put a gun to your head and made you pick a player to win one Survivor challenge, sight unseen, you'd be a fool to pick anyone but Joe. And because Joe's a pleasant, likable guy who's record-settingly great in challenges and will probably also have kept the entire jury alive after they were voted out, if he makes it all the way to the finals, he's the heavy favorite to win this season.
The only potential speed bump to Joe's coronation is whether the jury sees this vacation-on-Extinction path to the end as a valid one, or a violation of the Outwit/Outplay portion of Survivor, at least in spirit. They probably should (see, for example, Ben Martell's column for reasons why), but obviously Jeff Probst doesn't have even the slightest concern in that area, so they certainly won't be getting any nudges in that direction from the Final Tribal moderator.
Still, let's look at the bright side: Maybe, just maybe, when Joe inevitably wins, Jeff Probst might actually stop putting Redemption Island into the game, because it will, at long last, finally have fulfilled its purpose.
2. Aubry Bracco (contestant page)
As with Joe, Aubry's presence in the preview that aired after the David vs. Goliath finale could be a sign she does well, or it might be a red herring. Realistically, though, if any returnee can seize the season title from Joe, Aubry probably has the best chance. (Barring an unlikely newbie revolt that keeps all four returnees out of the finals.) Aubry will benefit from her purple edit/bad luck streak in Game Changers, because people will probably forget what a social/strategic threat she really poses. At least in comparison to Known Challenge Beast Joe, and the idol-wielding Day 38 Club (Kelley and David), anyway. Aubry has never found an idol, and while she's an underrated challenge performer, her key weapon is her social intelligence, which is harder to quantify, and easier to overlook.
There's a reason Aubry is tied for the second-most average days played of anyone with two or more seasons under their belt: She gets along with everyone, she's capable of convincing people to work with her, and she doesn't stand out as overtly threatening (just like Cirie). Aubry will likely work a classic Survivor social/strategic game the entire way through, in contrast to Joe's projected challenge/Extinction dominance. As with Joe, there's a good chance that Aubry will still be there as the finale opens. If it's Joe vs. Aubry in the final three, that would be a showdown for the ages. Although it would be particularly on-brand for Aubry (again, the heir apparent to Cirie) to play a near-perfect social/strategic game, only to have victory snatched away from her right at the end because of some dumb twist.
These people have one or more (question) marks against them as they attempt to win EoE
3. Kelley Wentworth (contestant page)
Kelley's returning to the game under vastly different circumstances than she did in Cambodia. There, she entered as a promising but mostly unknown quantity, someone who had attended just two Tribal Councils in her entire prior Survivor career. Now she's beginning Edge of Extinction as a fan favorite, the Fallen Angel/ Robbed G.oddess of Cambodia, who just missed the final three. She's the only woman ever to find two idols in a season. She has her own catchphrase, which has appeared on a line of RHAP t-shirts. Expectations are through the roof, and as such, her perceived threat level will also be stratospheric.
Kelley will be a physical asset in the tribal portion of the game, but she'll need to make some rock-solid early alliances during that period to shield her from the inevitable target that will land squarely on her back as soon as the merge hits, since she's also pretty good in challenges. Part of her Cambodia success was that she was playing from the bottom, she was still able to fall back on past relationships with old friends (her ex-Hunahpu tribemates Jeremy Collins and Keith Nale) and was surrounded by bigger, better-known threats, like Joe Anglim. She won't have those same advantages this time (except that Joe will still be around, obviously). Her fellow Witches Coven alliance member, Ciera Eastin, was the first boot in her next appearance (Game Changers). This is probably a less-aggressive cast, and most likely, Kelley will make the jury. But it'll be tough going from that point on.
4. Rick Devens (contestant page)
Rick appears to be pretty well-positioned here: His job makes him comfortable talking to people (and performing for the cameras), he's a longtime fan who knows the game (but not a super-duper fan who might overthink things), his "dad bod" hides plausible athleticism (he says he hikes and plays basketball), and despite the glasses, he doesn't come across as intimidatingly nerdy. He's also self-effacingly charming and high-energy. In short, he shouldn't be at the top of anyone's post-merge target lists, and he's likely to be useful in the pre-merge. He's also totally prepared to play a cutthroat game, and tells Josh Wigler he'd be disappointed if he left the game without having the opportunity to do so. By aiming squarely for the middle, he's exactly the kind of player who could find himself with lots of post-merge options, and could thus end up controlling the game. Can he actually pull that off, against a cast full of scheming newbies and hungry veterans? The competition will be fierce, for sure. But he seems like one of the newbies with the best overall odds.
5. Keith Sowell (contestant page)
Keith seems friendly, knowledgeable, poised (especially for his age) and really excited to be there. Still, it's hard to overlook his age (19). With Michael Yerger fresh in everyone's minds, a teenaged superfan will probably face tighter scrutiny on this season than he normally would. Keith's also the only man of color (and one of only three people of color, the lowest total since Blood vs. Water) on a cast that somehow managed to fill all four of its returnee slots with white people, right off the bat. One area where Keith seems to have something in common with the rest of the cast (apart from being a superfan from the South) is his faith, because this cast is stacked with devoutly religious contestants (Gavin, Eric, Lauren, Ron, Julia). Keith's experience as a pastor could come in handy on Extinction Island, and he easily find his niche as this season's Matt Elrod, lending spiritual strength as he shepherds future jurors through the isle of purgatory. And who knows, maybe this time, the Matt Elrod could beat the returning player. Oh, who are we kidding? Joe Anglim will probably be this season's Matt Elrod. But don't count Keith out!
6. Lauren O'Connell (contestant page)
Did you know Lauren played soccer for a Division I school? If not, you must not have seen her pre-game interviews yet, because she mentions it a LOT. (To be fair, Lauren herself has apologized for this after the fact.) Obviously, that's a solid answer to the standard "What do you bring to the game?" question, but it makes you worry that Lauren, already the youngest woman at just 21, might find it hard to keep her self-described triple threat status under wraps.
She really could be a triple threat, though, and if she's successful in toning down the self-promotion, her combination of athleticism and fandom might actually serve her well. She'll be a useful physical asset in the pre-merge, and she comes across as just a friendly girl-next-door type, not as a scheming superfan, which will be helpful in the post-merge. The one worry is that if Lauren foolishly goes all out in the early individual challenges, she could earn herself a premature post-merge trip to Extinction Island, where it's less obvious she'll be able to stick it out, or at least get back into the game.
(Yeah, it's a little weird that we have both of the 21-or-under contestants ranked so high, but that's how it ended up looking.)
7. Gavin Whitson (contestant page)
Gavin will benefit from his accent, thanks in part to Donathan's and (mostly) Laurel's reluctance to rock the boat in the season this cast just watched. People will overlook him, in a way they probably wouldn't (and shouldn't) if they had just seen Nick Wilson win David vs. Goliath. And Gavin makes it clear he plans to use that "hick" perception as a shield, as he backstabs his way to the end. One concern: He looks really young, but isn't. Could he suffer from reverse Michael Yerger syndrome? He really is 23, but looks 18. That could cause people to distrust Gavin right off the bat. Still, with four returnees to trot out as human shields, Gavin could have ample time to earn some trust. (And then betray it.)
A lot depends on Gavin having the patience to lull everyone into complacency early, then strike late in the game. That's a tough request for a younger player, but it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.
8. Julia Carter (contestant page)
Julia has a deep, personal connection to this show: it was an escape for her as a child, after her father passed away from heart disease. That experience also inspired her to seek out a career in medicine, and she's now in med school. Together, those two backstory pieces could lend meaningful emotional weight to her Final Tribal argument. On top of that, she's smart, she's relatable, and appears to have a great grasp of what she's getting into.
One concern: Is she too nice? Does she have the killer instinct, a good read on when to go in and backstab as the opportunity arises? It's not clear, but there are so many people here who do, maybe it's better to err on the nicer end of things anyway, especially since she's planning on leaning on her social connections. As a woman (and as a woman of color even moreso), Julia's danger zone is the pre-merge. But if she can navigate that part of the game, she doesn't appear overtly threatening, and because of that, she could go quite deep. As Ryan Kaiser pointed out, Julia starts out on a tribe with Aubry, and that feels like a natural alliance fit.
9. Chris Underwood (contestant page)
Chris was perhaps the biggest surprise of the pre-game interviews: From his looks, you're expecting a bland, outdoorsy muscle bro, who probably has a job in sales or marketing. Instead ... okay, well, part of that is accurate (outdoorsy, sales), but Chris is anything but bland. He's a bona fide superfan, one who's also well-prepared, funny, and smart. Key to his appeal: there's a playful goofiness about him, which really disarms your negative expectations. Even so, it's hard to escape his obvious problem: If he was smaller, or older, or visibly nerdier, Chris would have a lot better chance of succeeding. But he's not, and because of the way he looks, he's probably going to get cut down right after the merge. The same general area your Cole Medderses, or your John Hennigans, or your Alec Merlinos get snuffed. (Also your Joe Anglims.) Heidi Strobel was right! It's so hard being pretty! You don't even know!
Then again, thanks to this season's twist, that's not necessarily the end for Chris, though. His outdoorsy background will serve him well on Extinction Island, and while we don't know what's required there to return to the game, you'd have to imagine Chris would be among the favorites to do so, at least for people not named Joe Anglim. It's still a tall order because Joe's history proves he's the actual favorite (as long as returning to the game involves a challenge), but Chris at least has a potential path to the end, however bumpy it may be.
10. Aurora McCreary (contestant page)
Aurora speaks aggressively and says what needs to be said in her job (divorce attorney), but plans to tone that down a touch in-game. Or at least apologize for it afterwards. The good news for Aurora is that her approach could work just well enough to overcome her self-described "loud mouth and I get into arguments without even knowing it." Let's hope so, anyway, because she looks like she'll be highly entertaining while she's there, and is happy being cast in the role of the villain. Her age (33) places her square in the demographic center of the cast, which is where winners tend to come from. Could Aurora make it three lawyers winning in a row? (Counting Wendell, of course.) Most likely not, thanks to there being four returnees. But it's not out of the question.
These people *could* win Edge of Extinction... but they probably won't
11. David Wright (contestant page)
It's wonderful to see David back playing Survivor again, but at the same time, it's such a bummer that it's on this season in particular, and not in a full all-star format. David is the returnee who has played the fewest times (just once), and has also played the fewest days (just 38). He was last seen as the overwhelming favorite to win Millennials vs. Gen X, until he was cut down at final four, because his three alliance-mates were well aware he was a threat to win. (Which is probably part of the reason that today we have F4 firemaking.) On an all-star season, David probably finds himself surrounded by plenty of others who are known threats. In this environment, however, he's one of the biggest.
Every returnee is threat-assessed primarily by their last performance, which is good news for the recently overlooked Aubry, and terrible news for the Day 38 Club — Kelley and David. In David's case, he's also saddled with all the negative first-impression baggage he brought with him the first time: He's older (second-oldest man on the cast, just two years younger than Ron Clark), he's smallish, he's nervous, he's a nerdy superfan. He's the guy everyone will be watching like a hawk, to ensure he's not scampering off into the woods, looking for idols. If his tribe starts losing physical challenges AND is worried about the returnees (as they should be), David could easily be an early boot, possibly even the first. (Noooooo!!!!!)
Hopefully, being a returnee gives David the relatability (from everyone having seen his previous journey) to escape these perceptions, and the confidence to thrive during attempt #2 at the million dollars. Even so, he'll still be a target, pretty much from Day 1 until the day he's voted out. On the flip side, if through some miracle he makes it back into the game AND fire-makes his way into the finals, he's probably one of the people with the best chance to win that million bucks. Huge risk, but a high reward.
12. Victoria Baamonde (contestant page)
On a more geographically balanced season, Victoria would easily fit in with the young/city-kid cadre of contestants. This season, though, she's the only NYC-adjacent person present, except for Julie and the good old Wardog, neither of whom are particularly young. Just about every other newbie is from the South. At least Victoria's an actual fan though, plus she's smart, and funny, and spent a lot of time preparing. Still, the pre-merge is the most dangerous time to be a woman on Survivor, and overall the composition of the cast seems stacked against her. Even so, she just has to make it to the merge, and then she'll be safe for a while. The odds aren't great, but it's possible.
13. Eric Hafemann (contestant page)
Seems competent, but maybe too chill? The competitive "fire" in Eric is a bit difficult to detect, although to be fair, maybe that's because that's his job. Biggest factor working against Eric: A good chunk of the cast looks up to Jeremy Collins's win in Cambodia as an example of the type of game they want to play. (As they should!) Unfortunately, that group includes Eric, who, like Jeremy, is a firefighter. That connection won't be lost on anyone here, especially when two of the returnees lost to Jeremy the last time they played, and one of them is on Eric's starting tribe. Still, Eric's calm, he's friendly, and his strength will be useful in the pre-merge challenges. He probably won't be an early boot, but it's difficult to imagine him sticking around too far past the merge. Can he come back from Extinction Island? Maybe. Hard to rule it out when we don't know how that works.
14. Julie Rosenberg (contestant page)
Julie's in great shape, especially for a 40+ player, which should help her survive the usual pre-merge graveyard for female contestants. In theory, she shouldn't be the target when her tribe wants to cut someone in favor of "keeping the tribe strong." As a longtime fan and a 17-year repeat applicant, and one who's prepared for this shot by learning fire-making, she should know what's coming. Unfortunately, if anything goes wrong, and she ends up on the wrong side of the numbers, what's coming is Extinction Island. And as an NYC resident who has never camped, how will she adapt to that? Additionally, Julie is demographically on an island to begin with: older, and a New Yorker on a season full of Southerners. If she can stay in the regular game, she could go deep. But there's still a significant risk that she could, in fact, get voted out, and at that point, you would have to assume her chances to win drop significantly.
15. Wendy Diaz (contestant page)
Wendy was a vibrant, colorful ball of energy in the post-DvsG finale preview. Still, as with Elizabeth last season, Wendy can't possibly keep her excitement level cranked up to 11 for a full 39 days ... can she? Also working against Big Wendy: She's young, she's the smallest person on the cast, and she wants to make big moves. Put it all together, and she's a strong candidate for standing out in her tribe, which you don't want to do early, and that might then trigger Wendy to play too hard, too soon, once she realizes she's not blending in. (To be fair, her pre-merge plan is to try to lay low, in her interview with Josh Wigler.) Still, that same unquenchable enthusiasm could really be an asset for her on Extinction Island. Even is she is an early boot, if she can keep everything on a low simmer long enough to return to the game at the merge, she would probably face smooth sailing after that.
16. Dan 'Wardog' DaSilva (contestant page)
We've said this before, but Survivor keeps getting the order of this wrong: The correct sequence of things is: (1) Win Survivor, then (2) become a pro poker player. Never the other way around. Luckily, Dan is also a law student at a good school (Pepperdine Law), so he'll have something to fall back on when this whole Survivor thing inevitably falls through. The Wardog is extremely self-confident, almost to the level of hubris. But he's also the eldest non-returnee guy on his tribe, and is twice Keith's age. While the Wardog should be a solid physical asset early on, it's hard to imagine everyone overlooking his similarity in age, shaved-headedness, and accent to recent players like Tony Vlachos or Joe Mena. Especially on a season where nearly everyone else speaks with a Southern drawl. Tony and Joe played highly aggressive games, and the Wardog seems poised to follow in those exact footsteps. If he can rein that instinct in, and just chill for a while, maybe he'll be fine. If not ... well, at least a guy with the Wardog's combat experience should be a solid contender to withstand the rigors of Extinction Island long enough to return to the game.
17. Reem Daly (contestant page)
Reem's presence seems like an obvious attempt by casting to recapture the magic of Lauren Rimmer. But is she? Lauren's real-life manual labor on her fishing boat gave her a solid physicality that made her indispensible in the pre-merge. Reem looks fit, but she's also decade-and-a-half older than Lauren (Rimmer), and she works in sales. So she doesn't quite project the same nose-to-the-grindstone, blue-collar grit that Lauren Rimmer (or Keith Nale) did. As such, if there's a goat on this cast (and there very well might not be), the eldest woman — who coincidentally doesn't plan on sugar-coating anything she says — might be a good bet. Reem's charmingly blunt demeanor will be lots of fun to watch, though. Let's hope it helps her.
18. Ron Clark (contestant page)
On a regular Survivor season, there is not even the slightest possibility any halfway sane contestant would allow someone with a life story as compelling as Ron's get anywhere near the final three. This is not a regular season, though! There's a handy backdoor to the finals this season, and that's called Extinction Island. (Well, Extinction Island, plus one immunity challenge win, then a victory at final four firemaking.) You can't definitively count anyone out. Ozzy's insurmountable obstacle in South Pacific was one measly puzzle. Ron Clark? Ron has spent the last six months screen-capturing every past Survivor puzzle, printing them out, and practicing them. Ron Clark will not be felled by a puzzle. (At least not one that has been used before.) So while he shouldn't logically have winner upside, we're saying there's a chance!
So, to sum up: even the lowest-ranked person here has a chance to win. Extinction Island takes away, but it also gives. As far as we know.
These people have virtually no chance to win Edge of Extinction
There are no people on this cast who have zero chance to win, which is really refreshing. Everyone, at least on paper, seems like a solid competitor, and almost everyone is a seasoned viewer.
Again, we also don't know in advance just how the Extinction Island return system works, so in theory, anyone could return. Also, we don't know how the late-game returnee(s?) will be received: Do they really have a chance to win? Will it just be like Redemption Island, where the person(s?) returning to the game gets voted right back out again at the earliest opportunity? And how will the jury view someone with an extended Extinction stay? Ozzy might have won South Pacific if he'd won that last challenge. Could someone returning from Extinction Island also have a legit shot?
There's only one way to find out: To watch the show. No matter how terrible Edge of Extinction twist turns out to be, let's hope this solid-looking cast at least makes our joint (players and audience) discovery process worth watching. Maybe the real twist is the pretend TV-friends we find along the way.
Jeff Pitman is the founder of the True Dork Times, and probably should find better things to write about than Survivor. So far he hasn't, though. He's also responsible for the Survivometer, calendar, boxscores, and contestant pages, so if you want to complain about those, you can do so on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other Edge of Extinction pre-season cast info and interviews
Other TDT pre-Edge of Extinction writings