Another season, another new (-ish) cast. Which is good! Of course, half of them have no chance at winning out of the gate, having been labeled as "Goliaths." Which is bad. On the other hand, that should make this projection of their relative chances of winning much, much easier. Except that, well... this group has a lot of interesting, TV-ready characters, but no clear-cut obvious winner candidate(s).
Still, we're lucky to have Josh Wigler's First One Out podcasts, since they are basically the entirety of the pre-season coverage. No TV ads, no bios, no on-site coverage from Dalton Ross or Gordon Holmes or even ET Canada. We have FOO, we have bios, and... that's it. In fact, with just one week to go until the premiere, we only just got our first looks at (well, listens to) the Goliath tribe. Sigh.
Which means this is even more of a crapshoot than usual. Hooray! (Here's how badly we whiffed on Ghost Island, HvHvH, Game Changers, MvGX, Kaoh Rong, for comparison.) So let's dive in, as we go through our now-traditional win-possibility tiers of Likely, Possible, Unlikely, and Impossible:
1. Angelina Keeley (contestant page)
Having just said a Goliath can't possibly win this game, let's completely contradict that: Angelina could. She's relentlessly positive, she's a college friend of Millennials vs. Gen X winner Adam Klein, and she's a (recent) fan of the show. Like two-time winner Sandra Diaz-Twine, she also has "military spouse" going for her as a relatable backstory, despite being on the Goliath tribe. As the former student body president at Stanford, she's both smart and has a track record of voting victories. And at 28, she's also right about the median age for this set of contestants, which should help her connect with just about everyone. It's unclear how much of a physical asset she'll be, but that's not really a problem on a tribe as stacked as Goliath. Angelina's main strength should be her social ability, which is the most important area in which to be skilled. Her desire to be Prime Minister of Survivor, with Sandra as the Queen? It could happen.
2. Gabby Pascuzzi (contestant page)
After she was featured in the post-Ghost Island finale preview for this season, people immediately declared Gabby to be the new Hannah Shapiro (probably because of the panic attack discussion). Really, though, Gabby seems much more like the newest variation of Kellyn Bechtold, or possibly Aubry Bracco. More likely to mesh socially, less likely to be on the outs. Like the past comparable players, Gabby's also an RHAP-listening superfan, so she knows her way around the game. The one concern is that the David tribe looks pretty overmatched out of the gate, so there might be some early danger of a "keep the tribe strong" mantra eventually focusing on Gabby as a target. But she's unlikely to be the first target, and probably not the second. And once she hits the merge, she shouldn't be at the top of anyone's list.
3. Mike White (contestant page)
This is Mike's third run on a CBS competition-reality show, following two stints on The Amazing Race. He's also the guy credited with talking Jeff Probst out of using Redemption Island during San Juan del Sur. (A short-lived achievement, if you've seen the alleged theme of Survivor 38.) Mike's laid back, he's funny, he's self-effacing, and he's an accomplished Hollywood actor, screenwriter, and filmmaker. Christian is not the Cochran of the season. Mike White is the Cochran of this season. The Caramoan Cochran, at least. The one thing working significantly against Mike's chances is his starting tribe assignment. He's a 47-year-old writer/superfan on a tribe of mostly recruited physical behemoths, like John Hennigan. On the one hand, the Goliaths probably won't lose ICs very often. On the other hand, as the oldest guy this season, Mike's almost certainly near the top of the list of people they need to get rid of in order to win challenges. Just like the second-to-last Mike Survivor featured (HvHvH's Dr. Mike Zahalsky), Mike White faces stiff odds of reaching the swap, and only slightly better odds of then making the merge, but after that, he should be free to play for quite a while. Being on a tribe likely to win a lot of challenges should help his longevity immensely. So we're saying there's a chance.
4. Christian Hubicki (contestant page)
Christian thinks people will compare him to Cochran. Really, though, he comes across as more cerebral and less self-deprecating than the former The Millers scribe. Much more like Panama's astronaut Dan Barry, or Kaoh Rong's Liz Markham. Where the (South Pacific) Cochran comparison may be more apt is socially: Christian seems unlikely to blend in seamlessly with his older, more blue-collar tribemates, like Pat or Carl. Still, Christian is a superfan, and one who has pondered strategy in depth. If anyone can think up a way to turn around such a crappy tribe draw, Christian seems like a good bet. Unfortunately, he's also hoping for a continuation of Cambodia's Voting Blocs style of play (which popped up once more as "Trust Clusters" in MvGX, then was never seen again). Sadly, despite all the fans here, the David tribe more closely resembles the faith-based, strategically rigid Upolu tribe from South Pacific. Would Cochran have thrived starting off on Upolu? Um... maybe? Christian seems intent on being a big character, at least, and when Dalton Ross interviewed Probst before Season 38, Probst flagged Christian up as a reason to watch. Let's hope that means he builds an idol-finding robot.
5. Alison Raybould (contestant page)
Alison seems to have just about the perfect mix of positive attributes to pull this off: Smart and hard-working (she's an M.D.), athletic (former Division I soccer player), knows the game well (podcast listener). She has a solid grasp of proper strategy, and an intelligent gameplan going in, based on her "First One Out" interview. So why is she way down here in the "possible" section? Two words: The theme. Alison has a terrible tribe/theme draw for a physician. Even though her career path is roughly the same as Christian's (a supportive family, putting in lots of hard work, earning a doctorate degree, forging a successful path in her chosen field), Alison is a "Goliath," while Christian is a "David." Even though Alison most likely has a large pile of student loans to pay off (from med school), if the jurors are given a choice between Alison, the doctor from the Goliath tribe, and any random David... they're probably going to think the David "deserves" the money more. It's completely unfair, it's inaccurate, but it's the crappy shackles that production arbitrarily chained to half the cast. Hopefully Alison can play her way around such obstacles and still succeed. That's possible, but it's enough of a hindrance that it bumps her down to this tier.
6. Davie Rickenbacker (contestant page)
Davie is a ball of energy, a huge fan of Survivor, and joined the cast just a few days before filming began, according to Josh Wigler's "First One Out" interview. That could work either for him (Tina Wesson was a last-minute substitute in The Australian Outback), or against him (Candice & John Cody showed up to replace RC Saint-Amour and her dad in Blood vs. Water, and neither made the merge). Davie seems like he should have the social skills to rise above his late arrival, with no problem. As Tyson Apostol proved, there's always room in Survivor for a fun-loving jokester. Can he win, though? Maybe! At the very least, he should help make the David tribe the fun tribe.
7. Elizabeth Olsen (contestant page)
Elizabeth is also a hoot, and her over-the-top enthusiasm for Survivor is both endearing and infectious. She's raring to go, and wants to kick some butt. The main worry for Elizabeth is one we'll paraphrase from "First One Out": Does she have a level that's below 11? The answer seems like a huge no, but hopefully caloric restriction will at least help tone down her volume a tad. What's most interesting about Elizabeth is how completely she embraces the big-move mindset of Michael Yerger's fake double-idol play (again, from FOO). Like Michael, Elizabeth has been a huge fan of Survivor since she was a kid. She's just a 31-year-old mom now, instead of an 18-year-old male model. While she was probably cast to be this season's Lauren Rimmer (with #12 below, could there actually be two this time?), Elizabeth actually seems more like Micronesia Erik Reichenbach mixed with Tony Vlachos. She presents an exciting combination of a wolf in sheep's clothing, sheer irrepressible joy, and an unquenchable thirst to play hard. Can that kind of intensity smolder for 39 days, or will it flame out within a week? Let's hope for the former.
8. Dan Rengering (contestant page)
At first glance, it seems like Dan is here because someone told casting "Put Michael Yerger on again, except this time find a version actually in his 20s." The result: Dan, who has both more and less going for him than Michael. On the plus side, he has a lot more life experience, as a cop and a single dad. (It's great that Survivor is finally allowing its young contestants to also be parents and/or married, even if that has come 14 years too late for Brendan Shapiro.) On the minus side, he seems to have less Survivor knowledge to draw on than Michael did. Dan also seems even more mis-placed on the Goliath tribe than Christian (a successful young professor) is on the David tribe. Even with the poor tribe draw, can Dan actually win? Maybe. He'll probably be able to hide behind John as a meat shield, and his nerdy superhero fandom seems to have successfully down-played his perceived threat level in the pre-game. That's all good. It remains to be seen if Dan can outmaneuver his castmates strategically, but he seems to have the personality and approach needed for success. Or at least he would, if he'd started out on the David tribe.
9. Nick Wilson (contestant page)
Like Christian, Nick doesn't really come across as a true underdog David. To a person, everyone in the pre-game seems to flag him as a preppy frat boy, which Nick himself admits is the impression that came across in some of his prior applications to Survivor. Luckily, Nick has an admirable real-life backstory to deflate that suspicion, as a public defender helping people in a county ravaged by opioid addiction. Unluckily, he's not planning to admit he's a public defender, which is a questionable choice. Still, he's a superfan and RHAP patron, so he knows the show, and chances are reasonably good he'll find a spot in which to position himself. The David tribe looks pretty overmatched physically (unsurprisingly), and people like Nick should be challenge assets. He'll be good for a while. Can he win? He sees JT Thomas as the player he most wants to replicate, which could work out, because his tribe is packed with Southern people. If it's the Tocantins version, that's great (except fellow superfans Gabby and Christian are the most obvious Stephens, and they both know the game far better than Tocantins Stephen did). If it's Game Changers JT, that's a hard no. Which JT is the real Nick? Who knows? We'll find out soon.
10. John Hennigan (contestant page)
Nothing would make CBS happier than for their latest WWE/NFL/NBA/MLB stunt casting attempt to last the entire season, perhaps even taking home the million, to generate franchise-flogging headlines in places other than EW, THR, or Parade.com. But that seems unlikely. John is clearly a smart guy, which should give him some ability to navigate the strategy, but as with Cole Medders before him, he's far from a superfan, *and* he's a walking mountain of muscle. Being surprisingly intelligent only makes the immediate post-merge target on John's back bigger, not smaller (again, just as with Cole). Add to this that John needs roughly 15,000 calories a day to maintain his mass (of which he'll be lucky to get 200/day on Survivor), and... prospects of success seem slim. It's a pity, because as a guy already comfortable on TV, he should be a capable narrator, and his pre-game intention to always have fun is a great way to approach the show. He's already the highest-placing Tough Enough contestant to appear on Survivor (surpassing Dan Lue's efforts). Let's hope he can play beyond the obvious immediate post-merge deathzone.
11. Carl Boudreaux (contestant page)
Carl should mesh perfectly with the likes of Elizabeth and Pat as the worker bees of the David tribe. Is that enough to keep him in the tribe's good graces? Let's hope so, because he seems like a character who (editors willing) could deliver the confessional gold. Still, while the obvious parallel is Sue Hawk, Carl could also end up as more the new version of South Pacific's cowboy, Rick Nelson. Hard working, happy to play game, unlikely to make many waves. (Also cowboy-hatted, but let's hope not quite as purple.) If Carl gets to the end, it'll probably be as a reliable voter in someone else's alliance. Probably not as the winner. Actually, maybe Sue Hawk isn't that bad a comparison after all. Similar sense of humor, too: "Me myself, being an old guy, I don't give a s*** about that [working out], I'm married. I'm not here to impress anybody. Give me some f***ing beer, and I'm good!"
12. Pat Cusack (contestant page)
Maybe??? There are a lot of question marks here, but Pat seems to most authetically inhabit the underdog David-type persona. But is it good that multiple people compare him to Ben Driebergen. After all, he did pretty well in HvHvH! (Or does that make Pat an early target?) In a lot of ways, though, Pat's also a bit of a Lauren Rimmer. Ben had instant rapport with everyone around him, whereas Lauren needed a bit more time to find her niche. Based on people's reactions to him pre-game in "First One Out," Pat may be cut from the same cloth as Lauren. Regardless, all are fans of the game, know their stuff, and are/were primarily motivated to make a better life for their families. All admirable stuff. So why is Pat down here, below the halfway point? Mainly because Probst seemed really hyped up about Pat before David vs. Goliath filmed, then strangely muted about him when Dalton Ross talked to him pre-Season 38. Pat was also not featured in the post-Ghost Island preview. The same was true for Lauren, though, and she went pretty deep, and made a huge impression. Then again, she didn't win, while Ben, who was featured, did.
17. Jessica Peet (contestant page)
From Josh Wigler's "First One Out" interview with her, Jessica's pre-game plan is to deploy her "sweet" nature as a decoy, then replicate Sarah Lacina's winning Game Changers strategy of "playing like a criminal." It's great that young contestants are excited to come in and play hard. The success of this plan, however, is predicated on Jessica understanding just how much work Sarah put in to become everyone's confidante and conversational go-to. This was something that was really not shown during the actual show, so who knows the extent to which Jessica can reproduce it. It was also easier for Sarah to enter the Game Changers season with an established reputation as a reliable, trustworthy player. Working against Jessica: other people on her own tribe already seemed a bit wary of her, suspicions that won't be assuaged by Jessica lying about her age (she's 19). Most likely, Jessica will fly under the radar for a while, attempt to make a big move, then get booted, just like almost every other very-young contestant.
14. Jeremy Crawford (contestant page)
*Another* Jeremy C., so soon after Cambodia? Well, luckily he's on the tribe where half the people have never heard of Jeremy Collins. Of the two lawyers this season, Jeremy might actually be slightly better situated, tribe-wise, apart from the negative Goliath connotations. Still, everyone will be looking at John Hennigan when it's time to take out physical threats at the merge, not Jeremy. Jeremy's smart, he's full of life, and he'll be a physical asset. The worrisome parts for Jeremy, from "First One Out": He's a superfan, but his motivations for playing seem a bit vague. People seem uncertain about him, describe him as "closed off." He seems to know the game pretty well, though, and he has good reads on everyone. Let's hope things pick up once the contestants can talk to each other.
15. Lyrsa Torres (contestant page)
Lyrsa is both a Survivor fan and a larger-than-life, hilarious character. Clearly, the David tribe will be the fun tribe. Listen to Lyrsa's "First One Out" interview: She's great. Working against her: She's small, and she's not a super-athlete. Working for her: She's a chef, and she knows the game. Lyrsa's short-term success depends significantly on how well her tribe does, and how well she can integrate. If she can avoid the first Tribal Council, she should have more than enough time to dispel any mistaken negative impressions. If the Davids are simply outmatched physically (which seems probable), and make repeated early Tribal visits because of it, Lyrsa seems like an obvious early target for a "keep the tribe strong" purge. Which would be a huge disappointment, because she seems like a fun, entertaining character.
16. Bi Nguyen (contestant page)
If only Bi had had more time to prepare, she seems like someone who might be able to do some serious damage in the game. Instead, having binged five seasons in a couple of weeks, Bi seems to have a lot of good but partially formed ideas, and a few personal traits that will probably work against her. On the plus side, as an MMA fighter, she should be a strong physical asset to her tribe early, which should give her enough time to get her feet under her. But in the pre-game "First One Out" content, everyone else perceives her as extremely reserved and quiet, which could hurt her long-term, at swaps, and especially at the merge. She probably won't be the first one out, given that if David loses the first IC, they're unlikely to cut one of their few physical threats, but she probably won't make it much past the merge, just like John.
17. Natalia Azoqa (contestant page)
Natalia presents an interesting series of paradoxes: A longtime fan who's not exactly an obsessive superfan. A "not stereotypical" engineer, which is a relief, because all the engineers so far (except maybe Yau-Man) have been a bit underwhelming (Dave Johnson, John Fincher). She appears physically strong, and is obviously intelligent. She comes across as friendly and sociable in her "First One Out" interview, but Natalia herself flags her aggressive bluntness as her biggest weakness, which, if she actually starts yelling at people, could indeed be a problem. Natalia seems like someone who could go far, as long as she plays well with others. Will she? "I really don't know how I'm going to play." Hmmm.
18. Natalie Cole (contestant page)
Natalie has already compiled an impressive résumé in her real life in the L.A. newspaper publishing world. Those skills and accomplishments don't seem like they'll automatically translate to Survivor, though. She's the oldest person in the cast, she's a woman of color, and she's extremely assertive in the post-Ghost Island preview. That's a similar set of attributes that torpedoed Lucy Huang's game by Ep4 of Millennials vs. Gen X. Furthermore, if Natalie does make it to the end, she then faces any number of intrinsic Survivor jury biases: against older finalists, against older women (at 57, she's a full *16 years* older than the eldest female winner), and so on. Furthermore, if she presents herself as a CEO, how many jurors are going to vote to give a CEO more money? Worse yet, half the cast has already pegged her as the first one out (on "First One Out") before the game has even begun. Despite all that, Natalie is a podcast-listening superfan. She's smart, knowledgeable, and personable in her own interview. She's aware of all these things that set her apart, and how they could set her up to be the first boot. She has great reads on everyone else on the cast. She just has to flip everyone else's perceptions quickly. Can she? Hopefully. It would be a great thing if someone like Natalie *could* win, and help quash these inequities in the Survivor jury system. Still, while it's certainly not impossible that Natalie will be the person to do it, it does seem unlikely.
19. Kara Kay (contestant page)
Like good old #20 (below), Kara seems like casting filler: The Goliath tribe had a hole that Les Moonves wanted plugged with someone young and pretty, so casting Googled for "NFL cheerleader / beauty pageant contestant" and somehow came across Kara's Instagram/ facebook/ whatever. She seems nice, but there's nothing that really stands out about her. She probably won't be the first Goliath boot. But she could be! She also probably won't win David vs. Goliath. While she's watched before (and does know Parvati's and Figgy's names), her views about how to play don't seem particularly elaborate. Worst of all, others in the cast (Davie?) already pegged her pre-game as a potential Parvati. Oh well, at least she probably won't have to deal with "drivers who use their brakes unnecessarily" for a couple of months.
20. Alec Merlino (contestant page)
Shortly after the cast returned from Fiji, and Inside Survivor had completed its cast list, Alec made big news by posting an NDA-breaking, showmancy picture with another DvsG castaway on his Instagram, with the caption "Fuck it." That's the move of someone whose game performance left them with very little to lose (although he's now allegedly banned from the reunion, and won't get the $10,000 appearance fee that goes with it). Which, when you compare Alec to some of the other, more enthusiastic contestants, seems fine. Alec claims to be a fan, but his fandom mostly seems to extend to dudes who perform well in challenges (none of whom have won the game). But hey, at least he fits the theme by coming across as overconfident and a bit too self-congratulatory. In writing these blurbs, we usually try to find the hook that casting saw in selecting these people. But apparently "surfer dude" comprised most of it, and we've already spent close to 200 words on this slot, and he's the last of 20 contestants, so... fuck it.
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, do so in the comments, or on twitter: @truedorktimes
Other David vs. Goliath pre-season cast info
Individual pre-game interviews, to the extent they exist