Before we begin... as a whole we are absolutely delighted with this cast. Every cast should have this many Survivor fans. And they're not just fans, but competent people capable of playing this game, and playing it well (at least to the extent we can tell from their bios and 2-minute "Meet X" videos). Please feel free to copy whatever formula you used for this cast for every season from here on out, Survivor.
Like those, this one will sort the contestants into tiers of decreasing likelihood of winning.
Okay, the "Likely" tier: These are the favorites, on paper at least. Will all of them win this season? Obviously not. Could one of them win this season? Maybe. All in all, though, we're so delighted with the number of actual Survivor fans on this cast that we'd be pleased with close to half the contestants winning. At least until we see them actually playing, anyway. Note that for the rankings in this tier, we are slightly colored by Probst's unbridled enthusiasm for this season, which suggests the smart money should be on a man that Probst likes taking home the million. Sorry, ladies.
1. Joe Anglim
Joe's game could go a number of different ways, and in the pre-game, he seems to have the easiest path to the end. He's young, athletic, apparently good at puzzles (as shown in the first ad), and from his pre-game interviews and bio, actually appears to have spent some time studying the game. Joe is a former volleyball player, and thus should have good combination of conditioning and agility, which should better prepare him for the standard array of balance/endurance post-merge challenges than does the standard young male contestant, who's usually a lumbering, ex-football-playing soufflé of steroids, hGH, and gym muscles. Think Cook Islands Ozzy, but an Ozzy armed with some prior knowledge of the show. Benefitting from both his youth and the low expectations afforded the No Collar (Nagarote) tribe, Joe should initially be underestimated. Despite that, he seems to have spent enough time studying Survivor that he could potentially pull off a big strategic move or two. He's a less-superfan-ish version of Malcolm, but theoretically also one with less shaky hands.
He's the star of the first pre-season ad (by virtue of being the only person who gets to talk). He seems to be the early leader of the Blue Collar (Escameca) tribe, taking on the puzzle in the first challenge. He's one of the few authentic blue collar workers on his tribe. Jeff Probst already has a massive man crush on him. Probst even goes so far as to compare Mike to Colby. We're not sure we see the similarity: Mike has an actual, manual-labor, blue-collar job in the oil fields, whereas Colby, unless we're misremembering, was a border-state meth kingpin who concealed his illicit empire behind a facade of spiffying up cars. We're not sure the parallel works. Rather, Mike strikes us as a Palau Tom Westman type. To be fair, in his pre-game interviews, Mike does say he's happy to check his real life at the door and embrace the villain role (like one Tony Vlachos), but we're not convinced he can pull it off, and if he can't, again, he's basically Tom Westman. If Mike can get rid of Rodney early, Mike's strength will be indispensible to Escameca. (Good news: Rodney's wearing a tank top that has the letters BO-O-T on in, almost in that order, see below.) Whatever the case, Mike's spotlight in both the CBS ads and Probst's fevered imagination suggest he could be a prime contender for the crown. He says he's been watching since The Australian Outback. Let's see what he's learned.
3. Max Dawson
The bearded Max Dawson is pretty much an exact clone of Rupert Boneham. Except for Max's preference for button-down shirts and khakis over tie-dye and jeans. Not to mention Max's Ivy League education, his Survivor- and reality-TV-analyzing professorial résumé, and his post-academic TV consulting career, versus... PSA spots promoting life jacket usage. Also Max's deep knowledge of Survivor strategy and history. And the paucity of Max's roaring. And Max's desire to play a calculating, cutthroat game, instead of one trumpeting an entitled, solipsistic sense of honor and integrity. But, you know, other than that... twins! In all honesty, Max knows exactly what he needs to do. Whether he'll be successful remains to be seen, but should he fail, it definitely won't be due to a lack of effort or forethought. Max is exactly the kind of superfan Survivor ought to be casting every season. Multiple times every season.
Hey, no sooner do we ask for more Maxes, than another appears! Much less beardy, though. But the similarity seems strong: Max and Shirin are both Brown alumni, both high-achieving leader types, and are both longtime Survivor viewers/fans. Further like Max, Shirin's CBS bio reads like a superfan's fantasy grab-bag of deep-cut Survivor callbacks and RHAP references. Where Shirin diverges from Max, however, is in her tech background. We think Max might have the better experience here, since while Max has been teaching undergrads, Shirin has been managing (presumably older, rational) software engineers, which as a group are much less similar to your standard Survivor contestant than are random college students taking a class on reality TV. Shirin comes from an (ironically) ivory-er tower, if you will. We see two possible paths for Masaya: either Max and Shirin butt heads in a battle for dominance, or they do the smart thing and align with each other, allowing someone like Joaquin to think he's in charge, and quietly get busy positioning themselves for the endgame. Can they both get to the finals? Probably not. But we would be thrilled if either does. Dear Survivor: More Shirins also, please.
(The contestants who might win Worlds Apart - Click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages)
The divisions between this tier and the first one are far less defined than they usually are. Hey, there wasn't even anyone in the first tier last season. There are at least three Survivor fans in this group (and three in the next one), and in any random season, any could succeed. In this particular season, however, we think these five people face longer odds than the first four above.
1. Hali Ford
Of all the contestants, Hali is the one who most seems great on paper, yet her interviews and bio inspire reasonable doubt. In theory, she's almost perfectly positioned: young, but not too young; smart, but not a perceptibly intimidating know-it-all; charming, but not so overtly flirty that she's an obvious social threat. As a future defense attorney pledging to improve representation for the indigent, she has a spectacular story for the jury. But for Hali, the key question is: can she get there? The biggest unknown in Hali's pre-game is how much she's watched and understands Survivor. Like Joe, she'll likely reap the rewards of low expectations in a switch or the merge. As intelligent and potentially stealthy as she is, however, she'll likely be competing against openly smart/wise Survivor experts. Hali's strength is that she won't be perceived as a threat, yet her biggest weakness is that she might not be ultimately recognized for having been that threat. It's a tight balancing act, much the same perception/performance equilibrium of which Stephen Fishbach found himself on the wrong side at the end. A person with a deep Survivor knowledge might recognize that, and adjust their game accordingly. Is Hali that person? Who knows?
Many people (including Carolyn herself) have compared her to Denise Stapley, and Carolyn's accomplished career managing and training people should give her a similar set of people skills to one Richard Hatch. She's also a longtime fan, and has studied what works and what doesn't in Survivor. On paper, Carolyn seems like a sure-fire winner, right? We dunno. While Carolyn certainly exudes intelligence and confidence, we just don't get quite the same this-game-was-made-for-me vibe Denise projected in her pre-game interviews (even though Carolyn uses those exact words in her CBS bio). Part of the problem facing Carolyn is that Masaya is stacked with potential strategic masterminds (Max, Shirin, possibly So and Tyler, plus pretender-to-the-throne Joaquin), and Carolyn tells Gordon Holmes she plans to lead from the background. She's a potential chief on a tribe with too many of them, and while this plan might work with a more malleable group, we suspect she'll have to wait for a swap to put that into action. No matter what happens, it will be interesting to see how Masaya shakes out, and of its members, Carolyn certainly has the tools to adapt, possibly to thrive.
3. Jenn Brown
She's a long-time viewer, she has a sharp, biting wit, she says what she thinks, she has a decent gameplan heading into Day 1, and she should be great TV. Overall, she has the potential to reveal how first-appearance Tyson Apostol or Courtney Yates might have been, if they'd been watching the show since third grade (as Jenn has). Despite all those positives, Jenn is the youngest contestant this season, and this is an older, experienced cast. It's difficult to imagine a jury loaded with 30+-somethings giving the prize to a 22-year-old whose chief life goal is purchasing a jet ski, no matter how devious and/or entertaining she might be. That is, unless she manages to get there with two highly objectionable trolls, which in this cast could only be Joaquin and Rodney. That could happen, but it seems rather unlikely. We don't see another path to the title for Jenn, but if we're missing something, that would be awesome.
4. Will Sims
Will seems to be an affable guy, but there's almost nothing in his pre-season bio or interviews that indicates any in-depth knowledge of Survivor (almost nothing, anyway, we'll get to that). Add to that he's starting off on a six-person tribe, and (like Dan Foley, below) he's both the oldest and least athletic man on that tribe, making him an obvious target for first boot, should the No Collars finish third in an immunity challenge. Luckily for Will, his tribe doesn't lose in the first episode (thanks, CBS!), so there's a reasonable chance No Collar could reach the swap without ever attending Tribal Council. This is great news for Will. Beyond not quite fitting in on No Collar, Will's other major hurdle would appear to be a lack of discernible Survivor fandom, on a season awash in fans. He and his wife have a joint "Will and Monifa" twitter account, on which until recently they followed Phil Keoghan, but nobody Survivor-related, which suggests they were originally trying to get on Amazing Race, not Survivor. Still, one major caveat to that observation: in his bio, Will lists Earl Cole as the Survivor he's most like. Since we're pretty sure casting doesn't hand DVDs of Fiji to its recruits or TAR crossovers, that's a potential sign Will really is a Survivor fan. Unless Earl just happens to frequent the bar where Will works. Let's hope it's the former.
5. Dan Foley
Nobody on this cast can top Dan's determination to become a Survivor contestant. Does Dan's fifteen-year quest to get cast necessarily translate to savvy gameplay, however? We're not convinced, although in his pre-game CBS interview, he seems bright, and has a decent working knowledge of the game. Working against Dan are two factors: he's a superfan on the non-superfan tribe, and he's far and away the oldest dude on Blue Collar. Again, any guy over 40 faces the grim likelihood of a pre-merge boot, unless they're a former professional athlete. Or, in the case of the last three pro athletes, especially if they are. Luckily, the youngest guy on Escameca is Rodney, so in theory, Dan stands a decent chance of making it past a Tribal or two. If he can make it to the merge, Dan could go quite deep. Whether he can pull that off is anyone's guess.
(The contestants who probably won't win Worlds Apart - Click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages)
Before you object mightily to seeing your favorite contestant here, know that this is not the end, but merely the slightly less likely to win group. We were dumb enough to put Natalie here last season! So, you know, maybe we'll be quite wrong again.
Like many on this cast (you have no idea how luxurious it feels to say that) Kelly is a longtime fan. Kelly's biggest problem? Tony Vlachos. The last season this cast saw before heading out culminated in Tony digging deep into his bag of tricks and pulling out a million-dollar win. Like Tony, Kelly is a police officer. Like Tony, she intends to hide this fact. Like Tony, this attempted deep cover is probably not going to be successful long-term. Unlike Tony, her castmates will probably not be particularly forgiving at having been duped. Luckily, she's on the tribe where several of the people likely have no idea who Tony Vlachos is, so it may all work out anyway. We doubt she'll actually play like Tony, but it's hard to know for sure, since her CBS bio features some of the shortest answers in the history of Survivor bios.
A quick Google of Tyler's name reveals an old blog post in which he briefly complains about Heroes vs. Villains casting decisions (mostly yearning for more "vintage players"). So he's clearly a longtime fan, even if most of those yearned-for players had already worn out their welcomes on All-Stars. But, oddly enough, a few lines mentioning Colby, Fairplay, and Hatch in 2010 reveals far more about how Tyler's experience with the show and how he might approach the game than did both his CBS bio and his interviews. It's just bizarre that he's that difficult to read, even in what is essentially confessional. Is he trying to hide that he's a fan? On a tribe (and season) with a fair number of vocal superfans, that might not be the best approach. Probst is also down on Tyler's chances in his pre-game cast assessment, saying he doesn't fit in... which lowers Tyler's prospects to this tier.
3. So Kim
This is So's second shot at Survivor, having just missed being on San Juan del Sur, when her sister allegedly had to be pulled for medical reasons, days before filming began. Escaping from that cast and that season's Blood vs Water format, then neatly landing in this cast and season is perhaps the best change of circumstances So could ask for (except maybe being a late scratch from the Fans tribe in Caramoan). Hopefully that didn't completely deplete her stock of good fortune. Well, okay, she probably ended up in the worst possible tribe. While So is bright (one of three Ivy League grads this season, all on Masaya), and in her interviews projects solid, level-headed determination, she's maybe the fifth-biggest Survivor fan on her tribe (before being slated for SJdS, she was trying to be an Amazing Race-r, sigh). Like Tyler, we don't really see how So can emerge unscathed from what could be a bloodbath on Masaya. She says all the things we want to hear in her CBS bio, and we hope that she can succeed, but we remain unconvinced until we see it.
4. Nina Poersch
Probst seems highly dismissive of Nina's chances in his pre-season comments to Gordon Holmes. Because of that, she'll probably end up in fourth place, just like Spencer Bledsoe. To be sure, women over 40 have a pretty impressive streak of high game placement going right now (Denise & Lisa, Philippines finalists; Dawn & Sherri, Caramoan finalists; Monica, BvW finalist; Trish & Kass, Cagayan 5th and 3rd place; Missy, SJdS 4th place). Of those, however, only Denise earned the win, and despite Nina being a long-time fan of the game, nothing in her bio or interviews suggest she'll be playing a cutthroat strategic game. And while she seems to be in great shape, she's also a full decade older than the next-youngest person on her tribe, and 19 years older than the third-oldest, so she might be an easy pre-merge target if her tribe starts losing. If she reaches the merge, however, she should be home free until the final five or six. Beyond that, however, her chances of actually winning seem remote.
Lindsey doesn't seem to have much Survivor knowledge, yet she's a dark horse to succeed despite that. Lindsey seems personable, hard-working, and should fit in well on Blue Collar. Furthermore, Lindsey is super-fit, so she should be an early physical asset to her tribe. As a young mom, she has a great story to tell the jury, should she reach the finals. Getting there may be her biggest challenge: she's young enough to be a target until the merge, but luckily, her tribe sports the more readily bootable Sierra and Rodney. Once she reaches the merge tribe, however, she should be able to safely fade into the background until the end of the game. Her best scenario is to latch on to a devious strategist (or a pair of them), and Amber Brkich/Natalie White her way to the prize money. Does/will she realize that? Your guess is as good as ours.
6. Vince Sly
The only thing keeping Vince out of the bottom tier is that he seems much more grounded and intelligent in his interviews than you'd initially expect based on his new agey spiritualism/ coconut sales/ feathers. He's not a Phillip-/Coach-type showman, winking to the cameras between breaths, he may actually be a serious competitor. That said, while he does have some form of leadership experience as a "holistic life coach," that only works because his clients ask him to advise them. People like Joe, Hali, and Jenn seem far more likely to allow Vince to think he's the leader, while they do all the actual plotting and manipulating. As such, Vince will most likely end up as yet another befeathered figurehead.
(The contestants who almost certainly will not win Worlds Apart - Click contestant pics to view individual contestant pages)
Okay, this actually is the end. If any of the people listed in this tier wins Survivor: Worlds Apart, we'll eat a rock.
Yes, Sierra rides horses competitively. No, she's not the standard bland ex-Miss (Name of state) USA contestant. In fact, as far as we can tell, she was never even in a beauty pageant, nor were any of her castmates (!). But will anyone else believe that? Probably not. Especially when nothing in her bio or pre-game interviews suggests she's ever even seen Survivor. It's as if casting thought they were pulling off a hilarious prank on everyone, saying "See? She's not a model/actor, she's only a model! Ha ha!" Ha ha, indeed.
He's the guy from marketing on a tribe full of corporate people. Has he never read Dilbert? Nobody likes the people from marketing. He's also openly dismissive of the idea of watching past seasons of Survivor, on a season loaded with actual Survivor fans. That said, he was one of the only people shown in the pre-season tease shown at the San Juan del Sur finale, and he's the only person in his 20s on his tribe, so there's a decent chance he lasts for a while. Winning the game, though? Nope. But it is nice that, between Joaquin and Rodney, casting was apparently so thrilled with Drew Christy that they decided to cast two more.
He seems to have latched onto the idea of calling himself Boston Rod (or at least "Rodney Boston," his twitter handle). On a season where another guy is comparing himself to Earl Cole, we think Rodney should go instead with the "Nightmarez" nickname. Both he and Joaquin have a non-zero chance of reaching the finals as goats. Just not as the G.O.A.T.s they seem to think they are. That said, Rodney is a roiling cauldron of entertainment, so we're certainly not complaining that he's here. For example, his pre-game interview with Gordon Holmes is a thing of beauty. Read it, savor it. This may be the first Survivor season Rodney watches. It will not be one he wins. (Special note: It amuses us that, in the picture above, Rodney's shirt is at just the right angle such that it appears to say BOOT, rather than BOSTON.)
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