Baker's Dozen - Andy Baker's Survivor: Winners at War analysis
The Natural

The natural

 

In The Natural — one of my favorite movies — a young baseball phenom tells a mysterious woman, “When I walk down the street, people will say, ‘There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was.’” 

 

When you get right down to it, isn’t that what this Murder’s Row of Sole Survivors is fighting over in Winners at War? The ability to stake a claim for “Best Ever” status? Why else risk your reputation as a Survivor player other than an opportunity to elevate your status to, “The Greatest of All Time”?

 

Ah, but then there’s that brutal downside. When Roy Hobbs insisted that he would be the best that ever played, the mysterious woman, Harriet Bird, shot him. Metaphorically speaking, that’s what’s going to happen to nineteen of these winners: gunned down in the pursuit of immortality. And the earlier they leave, the more their reputations will suffer.

 

Clearly, given who agreed to play, the title — and the $2 million — is worth the risk.

 

Given that this is a returnee season, we can be certain that there was endless pre-gaming (they can go ahead and deny it during interviews, but c’mon, now). The question is, which relationships will reign supreme? Is this old school vs. new school? Legends vs. That Next Group vs. Which Season Did You Win Again? Anybody But Sandra?

 

Needless to say, I have some opinions about that.

 

What follows is a completely absurd boot order that is equal parts rampant speculation and educated guesswork. That said, hopefully there are some salient observations to be found within the putrescent fan fiction. Because as good as these players are -- and there will never be so talented a group of Survivor players in a single season ever again -- they’re still human, and the human animal is so very often a predictable beast.

 

They all want to be “the best there ever was.” But only one of them gets that title. Read on to see who I think that might be.

 

20) Amber

Amber

 

You have to give Boston Rob credit, he —

 

— HOLD ON A SECOND.

 

Here’s a frustrating truth: It’s really, really hard to talk about Amber without borderline ignoring her and focusing instead on Boston Rob. It’s terribly unfair. She did well in Survivor: The Australian Outback (although overshadowed by more than half the cast), and managed to Natalie White her way to the All-Stars title.  

 

Still, given Amber’s connection to Rob — and the existence of Edge of Extinction and, more specifically, the Fire Token Currency — she’s screwed. 

 

A quick word about the Fire Tokens: From what I’ve read, a player on EoE can find advantages, then pick someone in the game to sell them to. If the players know this going in, then any obvious pair is immediately doomed. Because here’s the scenario they’ll all immediately imagine:

 

** Amber gets voted out and heads to Extinction Island right after willing her Fire Token to Rob.

** While walking around EI, Amber, who has no advantage-hunting competition at this point, finds something that she can send to Rob.

** She offers it to him for one Fire Token.

** He buys it and suddenly Boston Rob is in possession of something powerful ... and the only one who has any idea what that something can do is over on EI.

 

CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT: Given that this cast is all former winners, they’re likely pragmatic about potential production influence/interference. They’ll at least worry about the possibility that the advantage is player-dependent; if Michele is on EI looking to help Denise, for example, she’d find an expiring extra vote ... but if Amber wants to send something to Boston Rob, we’re looking at an expiring Tyler Perry Idol. (For the record, I’m not saying this WILL happen, only that the players have to consider the possibility and plan for it ... and even if they don’t believe it, they can certainly convince others that this is a reasonable fear and to shape their votes around it.)

 

The other players can’t keep both halves of Romber in the game — that’s pure madness — but, because of the Fire Tokens they need to get them BOTH out as soon as possible. Which means that one of them is going first, and the other one will at most be able to leverage an advantage (or the possibility of an advantage) to stick around for a little while longer… but will ultimately head to Edge before the merge. And if the worry about Fire Tokens fades a bit as more players have had their torches snuffed and the competition to find advantages intensifies, the truth remains that they can’t let Amber stay in the game and then have Boston Rob win the challenge to return (or vice versa) ... because “Romber together at the merge” is at the top of the “that can’t f****** happen” list for pretty much everyone out there).

 

19) Boston Rob 

Boston Rob

 

Here’s how I imagine the conversation went down between Boston Rob and Probst...

 

Probst: What will it take to convince you to be a part of an All Winners season, bud?

 

Boston Rob: I want $100K just to show up.

 

Probst: Done!

 

Boston Rob: There’s more.

 

Probst: Name it, B-R!

 

Boston Rob: Season 39 needs to be all about me.

 

Probst: Way ahead of you! Do you mind hanging out with Sandra?

 

Boston Rob: Only if you build us a massive shelter but pretend that I built it ... let us eat with you and the crew but make it seem like we’re roughing it on the island even though we won’t lose any weight ... and pay me, I dunno, another $250K. 

 

Probst: That’s steep, but no problem, I’ll fire Spillman. Anyway, I’ve got three words for you, Brob: Giant. Head. Statues.

 

Boston Rob: Excuse me?

 

Probst: You ever seen the Moai on Easter Islands, those massive stone heads?

 

Boston Rob: Yeah ...

 

Probst: That. Only you. And Sandra.

 

Boston Rob: Uhhhh, I guess? 

 

Probst: AWESOME! Finally! I drew up the plans after you were voted out in Marquesas. Helped me deal with my grief.

 

Boston Rob: I also want Redemption Island back. Worked out well the first time. 

 

Probst: We’ll do you one better: Edge of Extinction! You can go hang out for a few weeks, get back into the game at Final 6, and then march to victory with an idol that we’ll give you, a fire-making challenge, and a jury that loves you.

 

Boston Rob: That ... that seems sort of unfair.

 

Probst: Don’t worry, a kid named Chris just did it and everyone loves him! [calls out] Van Wagenen! Get in here!

 

Matt Van Wagenen races into the room.

 

Van Wagenen: Yes, sir, please don’t Spillman me, sir.

 

Probst: EDGE ME!

 

Van Wagenen: Wait, what?

 

Boston Rob: I don’t think that means what you —

 

Probst: — EDGE ME!

 

Van Wagenen: I don’t understand, sir, please don’t Spillman me, sir.

 

Probst: We’re bringing Edge of Extinction back for Season 40.

 

Van Wagenen: But I thought everyone hated it?

 

Probst: EVERYONE LOVES IT, SHUT UP ROB WHO ISN’T FROM BOSTON.

 

Van Wagenen: Yes, sir, please don’t Spillman me, sir. Also, my name is Matt, sir.

 

Probst: The Edge is back, baby!

 

Van Wagenen leaves.

 

Boston Rob: I’ve got one more demand.

 

Probst: Ransom away, Robert!

 

Boston Rob: It’s a big one.

 

Probst: Not as big as the wooden heads we’re gonna build!

 

Boston Rob: Amber gets to play.

 

Probst: Amber? Who’s she?

 

Boston Rob: My wife.

 

Probst: Not ringing any bells.

 

Boston Rob: Played in Australia, won All-Stars?

 

Probst: Now I KNOW you’re f****** with me. YOU won All-Stars!

 

*****

 

Just to have some fun with speculative accounting:

 

Season 39 Appearance Fee: $250,000

Season 40 Appearance Fee: $100,000

Season 40 Placement (Rob):   $25,000 (minimum)

Season 40 Placement (Amber):    $25,000 (minimum)

Season 40 Finale Fee (Rob):   $10,000

Season 40 Finale Fee (Amber):   $10,000

 

Total: $420,000

 

Not bad. Not bad at all.

 

18) Natalie

Natalie Anderson

 

What is true about Amber applies to Natalie, too: she’s half of a dominant duo. Only it’s worse for Natalie: She’s on the same tribe as Jeremy. One of them pretty much has to be the first boot from their tribe. 

 

Here’s the thing: All of these players pre-gamed extensively. Collectively, they probably logged over a thousand hours of phone calls. Never mind all of the time they’ve talked about a hypothetical all-winners season at various Survivor events. 

 

The spider web of connections between these twenty people undoubtedly resembles the most insane “map with thumb-tacked photos and a tangle of overlapping yarn” you’ve seen in a serial killer movie. They each have multiple alliances. And alliances within alliances. But they don’t know, with 100% certainty, which of those deals are real. 

 

And so, here in the early part of the game, everyone is pretense hunting. They’re looking for excuses to target obvious threats, people everyone can agree must go. Sure, the reasons are legitimate, but they’re also a way to avoid committing to specific pre-game alliances. Delay the truth ... because when the truth is known, all hell is going to break loose.

 

Everyone is going to look at Jeremy and Natalie and breathe a sigh of relief. This is a tandem that HAS to be split up. And they will be, so that exposing more pivotal plans can wait just a little while. 

 

Frankly, either Jeremy or Natalie could go here. (With the other arriving not long after.) I’m picking Natalie for a few reasons:

 

** She probably pre-gamed with a Twintensity only matched by Cochran before Caramoan.

** She’s a likely candidate to team up with winners like Michele, Denise, Danni and Sophie to take out the legends of the game.

** She played a legitimately great winning game — she’s a true triple threat — but could fly under the radar for awhile, while Jeremy, having won a returnee season, will always remain in the collective crosshairs. Better to take her out now and him later. 

 

17) Jeremy

Jeremy Collins

 

Oh, man, when he and Natalie get targeted, he’s gonna be PISSED. I keep replaying his San Juan del Sur post-merge confessional in my head; the game had turned on him, and he was surly and dismissive, cursing the Confederacy of Dunces who had taken over the game. When things are going well for Jeremy, as they did in Cambodia, he’s a force to be reckoned with; when the tide turns against him, though, he hasn’t been nearly as impressive. It’s an open question, then, if he can play from behind, and he almost inevitably will be doing exactly that (as someone who won a returnee season, he’s going to be in trouble).

 

I like the guy — a lot, actually (winning a returnee season is HARD) — but I don’t think he’s long for the game.

 

16) Sandra

Sandra Diaz-Twine

 

For many people, including Sandra herself, it doesn’t matter what happens this season; she will forever be the best that ever was. And if you wanted to argue that Sandra’s reign endures unless another legend takes down the title, I’m not going to argue with you. While it’s an open question how far down the list you have to go before the claim of “I’m the Best Ever” crosses into the “No You’re Not” zone, I think we can all agree that if Parvati or Rob is this season’s Sole Survivor, Sandra’s status is in mortal danger, while if Ben or Michele gets the jury votes, it’s doubtful that fans (of either the Super or Casual variety) will elevate them to “massive heads on a Fijian island that will confuse future archaeologist” status. The middle ground is murky — could Tyson, Kim, or Tony be coronated? — but that’s a debate for another day.

 

One thing is certain, however: there is NO WAY this cast lets Sandra win a third time. They won’t let her anywhere near the merge. Nor should they. We all saw Game Changers; Sandra had no business lasting beyond three days, and yet she made it sixteen, and all that stood between her and another deep run was a bad swap.

 

Strategically dangerous, a challenge liability, and already a two-time champ? She should probably go first. But I just can’t put her there, because she’ll find a way. She always does. She’s just that good.

 

15) Wendell

Wendell Holland

 

At some point in here, we’re getting a swap into smaller tribes -- 5/5/5 is my personal preference, because the odd number creates far more flavors of fractures — and that’s when the real alliances are going to emerge.

 

PET THEORY TIME: If you look at each season of Survivor as an individual player, we’re going to end up with Seasons 20-30 as the swing votes. There are six winners from Seasons 1-20 and seven from Seasons 31-40. Obviously, it’s more complex than that when you factor in multiple seasons and personal connections, but let’s just run with this for a moment, okay? Anyway, if we look at the winners in the 20’s, I think we can safely say that Rob and Tyson’s hearts and minds will be with the old schoolers. That puts them at 8. Not enough. But it COULD be ... depending on what Sophie, Kim, Denise, and Tony decide to do (Natalie, I think, would be working with Jeremy and the Season 30+ crew). 

 

Which is a long-winded way of saying that Sophie, Kim, Denise and Tony may dictate the course of this entire season.

 

If you’re them, what do you do? My opinion: They’re going to want to get to the end with the more recent players because they’d be seen as beatable ... and yet they’ll want to keep some old school meat shields around to take some bullets late in the game ... and make sure that when the numbers get small, neither old school or new school can marshall the numbers to take them out. 

 

How the heck do you do all of that? A possible plan:

 

Step 1: Take out a couple of the dangerous new schoolers to whittle down their numbers (extremely important, given that they’re the winners of seven CONSECUTIVE seasons, so likely to have some strong connections).

 

Step 2: Team up with the newer winners to eliminate significant old school threats like Tyson and Yul, falling back on the “they could go on an immunity run even though the endgame is really far away” fiction.

 

Step 3: Go to war with each other, using pre-game and in-game alliances that involve both old schoolers and new schoolers.

 

Plausible, no? And if that’s even close to how things go, Wendell is in a lot of trouble. Of the newer winners, he’s got the highest threat level; he’s smart, fit, and easy-going. If and when the rest of the cast decides to cull the 30+ herd, he’s at the top of the list.

 

14) Adam

Adam Klein

 

As some of you know, I help run Survival Challenge, a five-day Survivor-based LRG. In our fifth season, Adam joined us in Maine, and was everything any of us could have hoped for: engaging, charismatic, invested. Watching him play Survivor — up close and personal — was an educational experience for every member of the field production team, myself included. Adam, simply put, is very, very good at this game.

 

Spend five minutes in a confessional with Adam, though, and one thing is abundantly clear: he is aggressively intelligent. Yes, everything he says is tempered with wit and charm, but you can see the gears spinning; when you talk with him about Survivor, you can quite palpably feel the intellect at work. And that’s what I think will doom him.

 

Let me put it this way: If you were trying to figure out which of these newer winners needed to go, who would you pick?

 

Michele

Adam

Ben

Nick

 

You may disagree, but I go with Adam each and every time.

 

13) Tyson

Tyson Apostol

 

Question: Who do you send to EI if you want to make sure that a bunch of strong players stay there? 

 

Answer: Tyson.

 

First and foremost, there’s a good chance he wins the challenge to return to the game: he’s in 7th place all time in Career Mean Percent Finish*, second in this cast only to Boston Rob, who is in 3rd (but I think we can all agree that Rob hasn’t jumped on his Peloton in a few years). If Tyson wins, a number of dangerous players get stuck on EI until the Final 6 ...

 

... and Tyson rejoins the merged tribe having confirmed that he’s a challenge beast, significantly increasing his threat level. And really, the other winners NEED to do that, because otherwise, Tyson could charm his way into an endgame alliance (heck, he might still do that anyway). 

 

Of course, should Tyson lose, he’s stuck on EI away from the game. Not the worst possible outcome. True, it might be dangerous to leave a guy as charismatic as Tyson on EI to bond with the jury, but I think that worry is a bit overblown.

 

Here’s why: I just don’t think that the winners will let anyone Underwood the title. 

 

While it’s true that this cast started their game only a week after the Season 39 finale*, so the players weren’t around to witness the extensive blowback to Chris’s win, there was certainly enough coverage before the finale that dove into what a Chris win would mean and how it would be perceived.

 

The winner of Season 40 will have spent every day in the game. I just can’t see this playing out any other way. No matter how much the Extinction Islanders love and respect the player(s) who return from EI, they’re not going to hand the title and $2 million to someone who had an extended break from the game (or, more accurately, played a different game entirely). 

 

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: Probst really doesn’t care what we think about Edge of Extinction. Everything he’s added to the game is based on his truth that the wrong players win. Moving to a Final 3 ... the Final 4 firemaking challenge ... Redemption Island/Edge of Extinction ... all of them are there to expand the winner pool to include his preferred type of player. And it works! Sure, Chris was supposed to be Joe, but Probst got what he wanted, right?  As much as we bemoan the inclusion of Edge this season, it was inevitable, not only because it provides an assist to the legendary players they know will be targeted (in theory, anyway), but because SEG and CBS get a return on their investment. Boston Rob is on our screen every week ... Parvati could return to the game ... Sandra will likely control the narrative on EI. It also serves as a threat: take out a legend and not only can they send something into the game that could crush you, but they could come back and take their revenge personally. And then, when the season winds down, we get the jury of all juries, a bunch of winners who have strong opinions about who should win their game. Of COURSE Edge of Extinction is back (even though it’s awful and it sucks). Probst knows better than we do — just ask him.

 

* Stats and calendar info courtesy of Jeff Pitman (True Dork Times really is the best site ever for Survivor geeks). Thank you, Jeff!

 

There’s no way around it: the players who learn from failure make the most dangerous returnees. Rupert never got better; he’ll never win a season of Survivor, no matter how many times he returns. Tyson, on the other hand, evolved. He thinks he’s one of the best players ever ... and he may not be wrong about that. But contrary to what some other pundits and prognosticators are saying, I think the rest of this cast has a healthy fear of Tyson (even when they really like him) and won’t let him get anywhere near the endgame.

 

I really don’t have much more to say about Tyson, oddly enough. He’s great (and I’ve been so very wrong about him over the years; I never thought he would get to this level). And in this game, greatness has gotta go.

 

12) Sarah

Sarah Lacina

 

Not sure if Sarah would remember this, but after Cagayan and before Game Changers, we traded messages, and I said something along the lines of, “When you go back out there, you’ve got a great chance to do really well.” You could see that she had the skills, even if (as Ryan wrote about this past week) her first game fell apart at the merge. She learned from that loss, however, and emerged victorious from a strong field of returnees (although I remain bitter about Cirie’s departure at Final 6). 

 

Sarah, when you get right down to it, is a lot like Tyson: she’s smart, she evolved her game, and she triumphed over experienced players. Which is to say, she’s dangerous. And given some of her moves — like voting out Sierra so that she could have the Legacy Advantage — she can’t be trusted.

 

Here in the early merge, a seven-player alliance is likely to take over the game, and it is that inability to trust her that will have her on the outside looking in (although her pregaming will make her think she’s on the inside looking out).

 

11) Yul

Yul Kwon

 

I’ll be honest: I have NO idea where Yul is going to finish. He could be the first out because of limited engagement in Survivor circles over the past thirteen years. Or he could go deep because he’s likely to be a fiercely loyal alliance member who crushes tribe challenges and a potential meat shield after the merge.

 

As the numbers dwindle, though, players begin to solidify the narrative around who should stay and who should go. There are arguments to blindside everyone in this cast, and equally compelling reasons to keep them. It all comes down to whether or not there’s a reasonable counterargument. 

 

At some point in the game — probably around here, but who the heck knows — the counterarguments to “we need to get rid of Yul” dry up. He’s too smart. Too savvy. He’s still jacked after all these years. He can crush a puzzle. And when it comes to Final Tribal, he’s articulate and will have a great story.

 

You just can’t let him get any further than this. So they won’t. (And he won’t have the God Idol to save him.)

 

10) Ben

Ben Driebergen

 

There’s an old saying: “If you look around the village and can’t identify the idiot, the idiot is you.”

 

No, no, no, I’m not saying Ben is an idiot. He seems like a great guy and plenty smart. I just think he’s overmatched in this cast.

 

Ben, as we all know, is the poster boy for, “Just how many idols is production going to give one guy?” They put one by the boat where he slept, for Probst’s sake. But that happened when Ben had the best story. That’s far from the case here in Winners at War.

Now, Ben isn’t the ONLY one who will discover in Season 40 that he’s no longer a favored nation, but he’s undoubtedly one of them. Which means he won’t find an idol on his walk back from a confessional this time around. Which in turn means that his arsenal will be empty when his layer of the onion is peeled away.

 

*****

 

Before I move on, a quick note about production interference. It’s been interesting to observe over the past ten seasons how the conversation has shifted, and now people are more open to the idea that production puts its finger on the scales. I used to take a lot of heat for suggesting such things; now, even casual fans have their doubts whether production plays it straight. 

 

For me, it all comes down to production’s need for control. I understand it, of course: they’re creating a TV show. They need compelling narratives. And often, the players refuse to give them the stories production wants to tell. 

 

So they insert points of control. Idols and advantages ... controlled swaps ... Redemption/Extinction Island ... Final 4 firemaking. They’re everywhere you look. And when you ask yourself WHY those things are there, you may be able to rationalize SOME of them, but not ALL of them ... and eventually, you’ll come to the conclusion that there are preferred outcomes, and production will use their points of control to help guide the narrative in that direction.

 

That said, let’s just hope they stay out of the way in Winners at War. But brace yourself. If you’re not worried that there will be shenanigans around what’s found at EI, how the swaps go down, and who ends up with idols, then you haven’t been paying attention.

 

9) Ethan 

Ethan Zohn

 

Let’s throw Ethan-related information into the Survivor success algorithm: Nice guy ... loyal ... beat cancer not once but twice ... the oldest old schooler out there ... not as athletic as he once was, but can hold his own .... 

 

Most likely result, according to the algorithm: Right around 9th place.

 

See, it’s one thing for Cochran to create a cruel narrative voting out Francesca first for a second time ... it’s another thing altogether for this cast to vote out Ethan early. They just can’t do it. They would take so much crap for it. And even the most ruthless ones out there won’t want to deal with the public blowback, especially when Ethan isn’t seen as someone who would need to go with so many bigger targets out there.

 

That, I think, will get Ethan to the merge. Even if he’s part of a dominant alliance that starts pagonging the minority, though, eventually, all eyes will be on Ethan. You CAN’T let him get to the end. He’s too dang nice. The jury will remember that Ethan nearly DIED, and yet there he is at Final Tribal. He’d get all the votes.

 

So when you look for a spot to take out Ethan that allows him to get deep enough to be a heartwarming story but not so far that he makes a late-game push through the endgame (with or without production co-writing the narrative), 9th place feels just about right.

 

BTW, proof that Ethan is going to be central to this season’s story: in the opening five minute sequence that CBS shared last week, Ethan had one of the four confessionals before they hit the beach.

 

Other random observations about those five minutes:

 

** If history is any indication, three of the four players who had those early confessionals will get deep in the game (the fourth one will be a misdirect). The other three: Tony, Parvati, Amber.

** Given that Amber feels doomed, she’s the misdirect.

** That means Tony and Parvati will be around for a while.

** Interesting that Boston Rob didn’t get a confessional while Amber did… 

** … and then, towards the end of the teaser, Sandra rips into Rob, which doesn’t bode well for him. Or her, frankly. Not a good look. 

 

8) Nick

Nick Wilson

 

This is horribly unfair, but I see one of three outcomes for Nick:

 

  • He’s a goat who gets cast off from his alliance right around here.
  •  

  • He’s been acting like a goat but he’s actually a wolf in goat’s clothing, tries to make some moves after the merge and gets booted here.
  •  

  • He ends up at Final Tribal with a floater and an EI returnee and wins the game because a Nick win wouldn’t move the needle much for the legends of the game, because a Nick win would be seen by the fans as a fluke.

 

And now that I’ve written that, I feel like a jerk. I actually like Nick and thought he played well (although he falls into that category of winner who was in a lot of danger early in the game, which takes him down a notch, at least for me). I just don’t see him as a force in a game like this. But I wouldn’t mind him proving me wrong.

 

7) Sophie

Sophie Clarke

 

I hesitate to say that a women’s alliance could very well shape this season, because apparently it’s not okay to think that now. I’m acutely aware that I am a middle-aged white man writing this, and I’m undoubtedly mired in entitled patriarchal assumptions. Women don’t align with women just because they’re women and to suggest that is reductive and offensive and indicates that I’m mired in myopic masculinity and misogyny. 

 

At risk of triggering everyone, though, let me make a list:

 

** Female alliances have been a thing, most notably in Vanuatu and Micronesia

** The final three players have been women in four seasons (Marquesas, Micronesia, One World, and San Juan del Sur)

** The final three players have been male once (Nicaragua)

** While more subjective, the argument can be made that a disproportionate number of female winners have been unfairly labeled as “undeserving” or “underwhelming.”

 

My point in risking all of the wrath from all of the people: If there’s a season when women might justifiably and understandably use the unfair narrative of the “undeserving winner” to put together an alliance, this is the one. 

 

Michele, Denise, Sophie, Danni, and Amber have heard it all and read it all ... and if they want Probst and the fanbase to drink down an overflowing cup of shut the hell up, they would do well to work with one another.

 

Personally, I think it’ll happen.

 

I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person.

 

(It probably does.)

 

6) Denise

Denise Stapley

 

I simply cannot be objective about Denise. Thanks to Rob Cesternino, I was covering Survivor: Philippines for RHAP, and I found myself backstage for her win. I hugged her when she was holding her million dollar check! And I got to talk with her the next morning about her game, about Survivor, and about life. It remains to this day one of the most amazing conversations I’ve had about this game that all of us love.

 

I have complete faith that Denise is going to get into a powerful alliance, and that she will be at the heart of it. That’s just who she is: warm, kind, loyal — the kind of person that you’ll be able to trust when trust is in short supply. Remember, she was willing to take Malcolm to the end even if it meant that she lost to him. THAT’S the sort of player you take with you deep into the game.

 

On the one hand, I want to put Denise into the Final 3 ... and she could very well end up there. I worry, though, that she’ll fall just a little bit short. She’ll have too many friends on the jury. She’s too articulate. They would be wise to take her out when they have a chance.

 

That said, a Denise win would make me ecstatic. She’s a great player and an even better person. I’m thrilled that she will once again be on my TV.

 

Go, Denise!

 

(Like I said, I’m not the least bit objective here.)



*****

 

At this point, we’re going to find out what the EoE players have decided to do re: voting for one of their own to win the game. As explained above, I think they’re going to collectively agree that only someone who remained in the game can win. Which in turn will lead to an odd outcome in the second re-entry challenge.

 

It’s already going to be complete mayhem, given how many fire tokens the Edge players will have to buy advantages in the challenge ... and whatever the challenge is will certainly favor a certain type of player ... but in the end, I doubt that some of these players want to sit at Final Tribal knowing that they can’t win. 

 

(The second place money might be tempting, though, so I’m probably wrong about this. Which is worth more, the $100K or whatever they’re giving the second place finisher — or avoiding the awkwardness of being trounced at Final Tribal and the reputation hit a player might take among casual fans? I really don’t know.)

 

Anyway, I’m going with the theory that the winner of this “return from the Edge” challenge won’t be a legend ... instead, it’ll be someone who rejoins the game knowing that they can’t and won’t win.

 

*****

 

6) Parvati

Parvati Shallow

 

Parvati is another player I can’t be objective about…

 

When I was backstage for the Philippines finale, Rob C was introducing me to some other members of the press ... I met Steve Helling, who writes for People, and he remains a dear friend ... and I also met Parvati, who was working for The Hollywood Reporter at the time. Actually, “meet” is a really strong word for what transpired. She stared at her phone the entire time. Zero eye contact. Really uncomfortable and off-putting. A little while later, though, I witnessed from afar as she turned on her high-wattage charm.

 

And that’s Parvati in a nutshell: when you’re with her, you bask in this glow of warmth and acceptance. If you’re on the outside, though, you feel the cold.

 

Which is a long preamble to this: I think she’ll set herself up well and make a deep run. She’ll inspire loyalty. She’ll win the war within a war between her, Rob and Sandra.

 

But then she’ll realize she was used.

 

An alliance would be wise to align itself with Parvati for a number of reasons: she’s well-connected ... she’s a meat shield late in the game ... and (CONSPIRACY WARNING) once Boston Rob and Sandra are out of the game, Probst is going to be all-in on Parvati.

 

Because she’s a master of Survivor math, Parvati will have a Final 4 within a Final 7 (probably more than one), and she’ll have Final 3 within that Final 4 (again, probably multiple). But it will all be a mirage. These players remember Micronesia and Heroes vs. Villains ... they know that Probst thinks she’s the best ever ... they simply cannot let Parvati get any further than this.

 

5) Tony

Tony Vlachos

 

Now, a third player I cannot be objective about. 

 

Tony is awesome.

 

Here’s why I love this guy so much: he sent my then eight year-old son a Happy Birthday photo not long after his season finished airing.

 

This, despite my pre-season prediction of him being the first boot and some in-season analysis that strongly questioned some of his choices and behavior.

 

He’s a good guy, Tony.

 

Could he leave Season 40 early? Sure. He probably should.

 

But whether it’s accidental, intentional, or inevitable, I think the timing was just right for Tony to make a deep run.

 

His win is seen as an extreme outlier, irreproducible. And his second shot was a gawdawful mess. I think he’s coming into this season with his threat level as low as it can possibly be.

 

Add in that Tony’s pre-game interviews reveal him to be calmer, more reflective, more measured ... and the fact that he has the opening confessional in the five-minute teaser ... and the fact that I trust him to align with alliance builders like Kim ....

 

By all rights, Tony should be gone a long time before this ... but I really hope he’s not.

 

4) Danni

Danni Boatwright

 

Danni’s another one that confuses me… 

 

On the one hand, I love that she’s back, it’s long overdue ... on the other hand, the game has changed and I don’t know how well she’ll adapt (despite being a triple threat who will take the time to understand new school Survivor).

 

On the one hand, her social game is strong and there’s probably no one out there gunning for her in the early part of the game ... on the other hand, the high-profile winners will take every opportunity to raise the alarm about under the radar players like Danni.

 

On the one hand, if the stories about her production skepticism in Guatemala are true, Danni will wisely factor that into her approach to the game ... on the other hand, Probst will not be eager to see Danni make it to Final Tribal (can you imagine his implosion if Danni, Michele and Denise were the Final 3?)

 

When you get right down to it, I don’t think we know what we’ll get from Danni this time around. She’s as much of a Survivor cipher as you’ll get on an all winners season. Maybe that’s good. I dunno.

 

And that “I dunno” makes me think she’ll find her way to the endgame. She’ll present herself to this cast as a loyal number and have allies who decide that Danni is along for the ride. She won’t make waves (although I hope she makes moves). She’ll join forces with other players who don’t get the respect they deserve and use some high-profile players to stand out in front and take the bullets.

 

We just don’t know with Danni. Which makes her compelling. I don’t know about you, but I’m intrigued to find out who she is fourteen years after beating Stephenie (a much belated thank you for that, Danni).

 

*****

 

Another pet theory: The final three will be a returnee from Edge of Extinction (Probst and production are heavily invested in validating its inclusion in this season, so prepare yourself for the returnee to have enough ammunition to get from F6 to F3), someone who has floated to the end… and a player who remained in the game the entire time, who made moves, controlled strategy, and who will win in a landslide.

 

3) Michele

Michele Fitzgerald

 

Don’t get me wrong. I like Michele. And she’s taken way too much heat for her win.

 

I think her social game will get her into a strong alliance, and she has a good chance of being one of the last ones standing after the intra-alliance bullets stop flying. 

 

But as much as she wants a win (don’t they all?), I don’t see her strengths being rewarded by a jury of winners. 

 

Here’s hoping that getting to the end will be enough for Michele to quiet the haters.

 

2) Sophie

Sophie Clarke

 

We’re going to get someone unexpected — a Sophie, Denise, or Nick, maybe? — coming back from Edge. Someone who wants a seat at FTC. Someone who thinks they could convince the jury to reward one of their own, even when they all agreed they wouldn’t. 

 

They’ll be wrong.

 

1) Kim

Kim Spradlin Wolfe

 

One World was the first season I ever wrote about ... and once it was over, I was convinced that Kim would win each and every season she ever played. She’s that good. She’s not only a triple threat, but she has a fourth facet to her game, an ineffable quality that simply puts her in a different realm. She just makes it look so easy. Everyone WANTS her to be with them at the end. It’s astounding, really.

 

She’s The Natural. 

 

Andy BakerAndy Baker swore he’d never play again, but the allure of an All Winners season brought him back..

 

Andy is no longer on twitter, but he's a regular guest at the Survivor Talk with D&D podcast.

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