The season of Survivor celibacy is over! Well, U.S. Survivor celibacy. Survivor: South Africa has done the job at filling the void in my heart, but I’m excited to finally be going back to Fiji (the first and only time I’ll ever say that)!
Thanks to a push from the Survivor Diversity Campaign in 2020, the show is back with the most diverse group of players ever, and with Winners at War effectively ending an era, “41” as we’re calling it feels fantastically fresh. Given that, I wanted to kick off my cast assessment in a different way than I’ve done in the past, by incorporating something everyone loves ... dating apps!
Back in Blood vs. Water, Kat Edorsson gave life to the meme of no one wanting to date a person who doesn’t make the merge in Survivor. Playing with that idea, I thought to give my hot takes on the 41 cast through a game of Tinder — a “game within a game” if you will. I’ll be “swiping” right or left based on who among them I deem dateable, i.e., who I think will make the merge and who otherwise is undeserving of love.
This is all based on immediate first impressions from the cast photos, maybe 10 seconds of footage from each player, and their press release bios. That doesn’t sound like enough to know someone, but this is Survivor Tinder, so making decisions based on next-to nothing aside from looks and ~vibes~ is actually quite spot-on. The fact that I’ve spent time to read everyone’s bios means that I’ve already put in more than the effort expected when swiping through profiles.
I’ll set the bar a little high and guess the merge to be at 11, so that means 7 of these hopeless hopefuls will get the X (swipe left), 8 will get a cute little heart (swipe right), and I’m prepared to hand out 3 Super Like stars to the ones who especially capture my attention (and then never acknowledge my existence, making me feel really good about myself). I’m sure I’ll decide to ghost a few players too, as is the Tinder tradition.
I can’t wait to put all my hopes and emotional investment into these people only for some, if not all, to inevitably and heartbreakingly let me down. Without further ado, bring on the mental self-abuse!
Let’s start the swiping with clearly the immediate star of the 41 cast, Genie! Yes, as in “in a bottle, baby” or “Genie Machine-y” as her coworkers call her, perhaps best known for winning some hero, healer, or hustler title one time at a high school basketball camp. Iconic.
Genie will also no-doubt be the Meme Queen of the season.
She describes herself as funny, which goes a long way with
me and should make the others want to keep her around at
camp for morale. You don’t want to spend
26 days on an island bored, and Genie will make life
anything but that. Being an older woman with a huge
personality can sometimes make for an early boot in Survivor,
but we’ve also seen some in this archetype thrive, so
I’m going to wish for Genie to land in the latter
group. I don’t think that’s just wishful
thinking — she reminds me of a Pacific-Northwest
version of the last newbie cast’s Elaine Stott, so I
think Genie is going to be very popular with the fans and
the players. This, however, will ultimately land her where
it did Elaine when it becomes clear she will win if
she’s sitting at Final Tribal Council — because
who wouldn’t give Genie a million dollars? I
just met her, and I’m already considering going into
debt for her should she not get the Sole Survivor check from
So, do I swipe right or swipe left? Genie is an absolute swipe right for me. The only reason I’m holding on to a coveted super like is because she’s just too damn perfect to me, and Survivor would never let me have a fairytale ending with Genie winning. I also love that Genie’s hobbies include playing video games and calling people out for not knowing how or refusing to wear a f***ing mask during the pandemic — basically, Genie and I are soulmates.
Next up is David. Hm, okay. He’s a neurosurgeon; that means he’s smart. He looks strong — works out twice a day (little bit of a not-so-humble brag, but it shows). He’s very driven — he went into neurology because brain cancer claimed his father’s life. Aww, alright, David seems like a very well-rounded, stand-up guy. This could be another swipe ri- oh, wait. He wants to “play with a similar aggressive nature as Russell Hantz.”
…readers, that is what we call a RED FLAG in this Survivor dating simulator and the moment where I’d be ghosting David. Anyone who claims they want to play like Russell, even if they admit to his flawed social game, strikes me as someone who doesn’t understand the essence of the game. David correctly also references Cirie as a master game player if a little lacking athletically (David clearly missed the episode where Cirie crossed the balance beam in his obvious first-time binge in 2020), so I think David is at least better than Russell in that he understands how important the social game is, but David seems stubborn. He’s going to play his game and his strategy — he talks about making people feel valuable to him even when he doesn’t actually believe that, and this attitude will be his downfall. David will treat his competitors too much like chess pieces and completely neglect their feelings, probably patronize them a little. I’d be curious to see David’s bedside manner — as a doctor — because I’m skeptical of it. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt outside of Survivor, but in it, I’m feeling a prescription for a pre-merge visit to Ponderosa.
If David has a face you could punch (especially since he kind of looks like Russell), Ricard has one to love. It’s always those damn smiles that get ya. A few players name-drop Todd Herzog in their bios, and coincidentally, Ricard is another gay flight attendant which could tip others off to be careful of Ricard, but I see it being only some minor turbulence to navigate. It takes a certain type of individual to do well in that profession, and I’m sure some of those qualities are shared between Ricard and Todd, so I see them leading to similar success.
Richard comes across as very emotionally aware and perceptive of others — the opposite of the vibe I get from, say, David. He’s deaf in one ear, so has to rely on more than just words to communicate with others. I once read this book called What Every Body Is Saying, and while its title is a clever pun, it also speaks to how body language is equally if not more important than verbal communication. Words can say one thing but the body has a much harder time lying. While Ricard is studying his competitors, I think they’ll be fascinated learning about him as well. From the snippets in his bio, Ricard has endured a lot in his short 31 years (I don’t know if the silver hair is a choice or the result of stress), and I’m excited to hear more of his story. He seems fun, friendly, and a fan of Aubry, though claiming that unlike Aubry, he’ll win. Them’s fightin’ words, but I get a very good read from Ricard.
Three entries in, and I’m already going to do it. I’m giving Ricard a Super Like. He just feels like one to watch, and no matter what, his story will be a compelling one. I expect him to emerge as a cutthroat player who can also balance playing with compassion, owning it all at the end as “part of the game.” I don’t see an apologetic Amanda performance from Ricard should he make it to the end — I can definitely see a Todd who confidently claims the title with hopefully some Courtney charm along the way,
Liana is one of the two youngest in the cast at 20-years-old, but one wouldn’t immediately guess that from her bio. She had the very cool honor of performing original spoken word for John Lewis at a fundraiser which is appropriate because I gather that she has the self-empowerment to speak up for herself, referencing how she often faces being both a minority in race and in gender in her college courses. Liana is going to be someone who makes a largely positive impact on the world and fight to break barriers and stereotypes like some of her heroes before her.
Liana has two causes for concern before I’d swipe right, however. First, she’s young — very young. We’ve had Jenna and Fabio win at 21 and Todd at 22, but from now until the show ends, I’m going to find it difficult to imagine a jury voting for a 20-year-old, or 18/19-year old for that matter, unless they play a truly flawless game, bringing me to the second and larger red flag: Liana wants to play like Tony. Liana sounded smart and confident in who she was up until I read this. If wanting to play “like Tony” is simply wanting to win $2 million dollars, sure, but I’m not seeing Liana having the same success building spy shacks and shoddy ladders. She’s already up against a Gen Z stereotype (is that what we’re up to now? I don’t know, I’m an old millennial), so acting a spaz at camp doesn’t sound like a solid plan. Thinking she’s playing like a two-time winner could instead result in Liana playing reckless — it’s an extremely fine line that only one man has been able to balance. If Liana tries walking that same tightrope, I see falling over and landing more like a Game Changers Tony: not dateable.
Brad is officially the first Survivor contestant from Wyoming. That’s a title to be ... entitled to! Way to go Brad! Didn’t I just mention Game Changers?
I like Brad. He’s a sweet, lovable farm guy – those tend to do well on Survivor. I don’t know if it’s just the hair, but he reminds me of a super tall (6’5”) Erik Reichenbach or like that viral “happy dog” song. You know the one: “Hap-py. Happy guy. Oh, just a happy happy hap-py guy!” It’s grating as hell, but can be cute with the correct choice of dog. Back to Brad the dad — he’s a father of four, happily married, and I bet his family lives on a lovely ranch. I’d guess he’s lived a quiet, peaceful life, but his bio says he’s survived a rattlesnake bite and getting blown up with a propane tank — I know there’s anti-venom for the former, but how in the world does one survive a propane tank explosion? We’re gonna need the full story on that one, Brad.
Brad cites Boston Rob as the player we can expect to see from him. Fair — Boston Rob is usually dateable, but I’m not seeing “Boston Brad.” I don’t envision Brad to be the one herding all the sheep in Fiji. No, I think he’ll play a relatively low-key game, make a lot of friends, work hard at camp, tell some funny farm stories and likely end up out of the game for being too nice. I think Brad is definitely dating material, though — a solid swipe right. Who knows, maybe he’ll surprise us once we meet him on-screen!
“People also don't believe I'm 5-feet tall because my vibes make me seem 5'3"” – I absolutely love this line and Erika’s vibe. She also understands how 3 inches can really make or break someone on Tinder. Erika already sounds like a lot of personality packed into a small stature, much like Genie. She is ready to PLAY. She quit her job to go out to Fiji, so this is as much business as it is fun. Erika will hold nothing back — she lists getting into contact sports among her greatest accomplishments, and she’s a boxer so I think we can expect a few fights from Erika. She won’t settle for whispering at tribal council; no, I expect Erika to rip all the gloves off and give us a fiery show.
She says she’s Brenda on the outside and Todd underneath, a definite TKO combo if done well. I was a little sad her super-fandom showed to be slipping, though, when she said Brenda was “not afraid to show her teeth.” Dawn was the one who infamously showed her teeth, not Brenda, but I got where she was going with the metaphor. I loved Brenda; she was fierce and ferocious, so I expect the same energy out of Erika. That kind of power could be dangerously explosive if not contained, but Erika works in Communications, so I’m sure she can hold her tongue at times. I think she’s an end-game contender, so men in ill-fitted jeans beware!
If Erika’s Brenda on the outside, then so is Sydney, but I honestly get more of the black mamba vibe from Sydney than I do from Erika. She knows she’s someone everyone is looking at, and she’s ready to weaponize it, describing herself as confident and sexy. I think we have another fighter here, potentially one that could come to blows with Erika if they’re too similar in wanting to be the alpha woman. Sydney’s a New York law student which tells me she’s going to play to win and take nothing less as the prize.
Sydney could’ve easily and predictably compared herself to Parvati, but to my surprise, she mentions Natalie White — someone who’s been neither seen nor heard since 2010 (must be a Milford grad). Sydney commends Natalie’s ability to nurture Russell’s massive, over-inflated ego so it’ll be funny if Sydney finds herself paired with David. Not that I know much of Sydney beyond about 200 words, but her first impression doesn’t scream Natalie White to me. If her opening confessional starts with, “oh mah word” then I guess I’ll look like an idiot.
I don’t see Sydney making it to the end by hiding in the villain’s shadow, and instead, Sydney may land on the villainous side herself, but I think she’s merge-bound at least — worth a date. That’s when the claws could come out of the leopard-print bikini and get her into trouble.
I can probably say that Survivor has taught me some life lessons, but I definitely can’t say that it’s taught me English like it did Naseer — the word “bequeath” being the only exception to that for me.
Naseer’s climbed up in one hell of a life, and he’s (hopefully) not even halfway finished. I can’t imagine moving from Sri Lanka to the United States and the culture shock that would follow, and while it sounds like Naseer has since assimilated, I do wonder what kind of “little thing” Americanisms someone who doesn’t grow up in the States may miss. Socially, that makes me worry for Naseer. As far as the elements go, he sounds more equipped than anyone to live off the land, but that too may serve him poorly if he acts like a know-it-all. Survivor is a passion for Naseer, and sometimes people can get caught up in the excitement that they forget they have to kind of just chill. I like Naseer and I’d love to listen to more of his life story, but I don’t get “chill” from Naseer. He’s like the novel-length triple-texter (same, to be honest). I love someone who’s enthusiastic, but it can easily flip to become overwhelming.
When the first names and faces of the cast leaked a few months ago, I made an early winner pick for purely shallow and baseless reasons, and that winner pick was Shantel. What stood out to me most was probably that her listed occupation was a comedian, listed next to “pastor” which I found to be an interesting combo. I love comedians, intentional or unintentional, the most on Survivor, so part of me just wants Shantel to do well, but in general, I think comedians are underrated geniuses. It takes a lot to be quick witted and write jokes that land, and people who pull that off are masters at knowing their audience. If this is Shantel, then I do feel she’ll do well.
Survivor is all about appealing to an audience and knowing when and how to rework material as necessary. “Learn to adapt, or be voted out of the tribe,” as Probst says every season. Shantel is doubly an audience expert as a pastor, so suffice to say, she knows how to work a crowd. She says she’ll play the game most like Kim — a tall order and much like Tony and a few other winners, I don’t think Kim’s game is one that can be replicated, but when it comes to standing up in front of people and getting them to listen, I think Shantel will have that part down.
I’m sticking with my gut from the first time I saw Shantel, and I’m going to give her a Super Like! When you feel that “spark,” you just know. Shantel’s going to shine and I hope I’m not cursing her by putting her high up on my contenders list.
He called himself “JD” in a quick intro video, so that may be the name that shows up over his confessionals, but I’ll stick to “Jairus” for the sake of source material here which as of now is a little light. Much like what to call him, I’m not sure where Jairus will land in the game. I don’t get super strong winner vibes from him, but I also don’t get a lot of negative either — his love of children would be a likely swipe left for me if this was real Tinder, but I’m only debating whether to deem Jairus dateable in the Survivor context, so that’s not a dealbreaker here.
Like Liana, and Xander still to come, Jairus is very young. I believe he believes he’s just as smart and will be as successful as anyone older than him in the game, but what young adult wouldn’t believe that? I’m very concerned that Jairus wants to emulate Fabio, who is the worst winner in franchise history for me, only ahead of Chris Underwood. I get that Jairus wants to go with the flow, fit in with everyone, and be underestimated, but listing Fabio among Parvati and Jeremy on the list of his role models is frankly insulting to Parvati and Jeremy.
Of the three young’uns, though, I actually think Jairus is the most merge-bound, barely. This cast doesn’t have a lot of jocks, so that should make Jairus an asset in the beginning but a big threat later in the game. Still, that’s a swipe right ... knowing there’s probably not a strong chance here at something long-term.
Rounding out the “young’uns” is Xander, another Survivor born after the Borneo premiere (thanks for that ... ). Hailing from Florida and attending University of Chicago, what Casting must have been going for with Xander was the “if they mated” result of Jay Starrett and Spencer Bledsoe. I didn’t mind Jay sometimes, but if you aren’t a first-time reader, then you may recall Spencer being one of my absolutely least favorite Survivors ever. I try not to be (Parvati) shallow in life, but this is Survivor Tinder where that’s essentially the name of the game, so I’m going to go ahead and assume I’ll hate Xander, but at least I’ll do it with passion!
I will say that a Jay with a Spencer brain, if that’s what is being advertised here, is an interesting combo. Jay and Devon Pinto, who Xander also references, weren’t strategic slouches despite their “good vibes only, bro” persona, so there’s a chance Xander isn’t totally full of shit when he says he’ll outsmart everyone. He says he thrives in social settings and lives a “diverse life” so this should be the opportunity to put his parents’ money where his mouth is. I’m sure Xander is eager to prove that he can outperform everyone who has more life experience than him, but often times that eager attitude can lead to a crash and burn — a win for the audience, at least. Yeah, I expect Xander to be around for a good time, not a long time. In the words of a dated MTV dating show ... NEXT!
I was crushed when Evvie pronounced her name as if short for “Evelynn” and not like the Pokémon “Eevee.” Alas, I still love Evvie. I think she wins the “Longest Bio” award which gives her and I a spiritual connection (as I’m already over 3,000 words in this post). She’s also the spitting image of one of my best friends who I texted “It’s you!” as soon as the official cast photo went live, so I feel like I have an especially vested interest in Evvie this season.
Evvie seems like a brainiac — a very articulate and confident individual. We’ll see if Casting aimed to instigate anything between her and some devout Conservative as Evvie is very much open about living on the Liberal side of the country. I’d like for Evvie to go all the way and win because she so far seems unlike any winner we’ve had, including the fact that there never has been a queer woman to win the game (Santoni *cries*). However, some doubts emerge given the fact that Evvie may be too smart to win the game. She wears the look well of a “student of the game” and while I have faith that she’s sharp enough to avoid an early exit, Evvie’s time may come around final six or seven when that look is too obvious to ignore. I don’t expect quite the zaniness from Evvie as we got from, for example, Christian in David vs. Goliath, but as far as both being end-game strategic threats that need to be cut, I see them sharing a similar fate.
From the immediate first impression, I wanted to give Evvie a super like, but taking a little more time to think it through and come up with pros and cons, I think “winner pick” is a little too optimistic. End-gamer? Yes, I hope so and think so, but this cast will know better than to let Evvie make it to Final Tribal Council and give an empowering speech to secure her a victory.
There’s always at least one in every cast who gives me absolutely nothing and that’s Sara in this one. On paper, she’s well-equipped for this. She’s young thus non-threatening, a secret smarty-pants as an MIT grad, and a girl who looks like she could smile and sweet-talk her way out of most situations. Among the cast I already have some hard passes and definite yesses, but somewhere in the middle for me, Sara falls in line as just “fine.”
I don’t know specifically why Sara would not do well, but I don’t see her emerging as one of the season’s stars, and instead I could see her swap-screwed into an easy-pickings early boot. I think she has the right tools and the right attitude, and maybe if we saw Sara play in 5 years, I’d have a stronger sense of her one way or another, but I look at the cast and I just can’t tell where Sara will “fit.” She says she feels bad for people who underestimate her, so I guess count me among those on Sara’s pity list. I can’t love everyone (as if that’s ever been an issue for me).
Survivor went out of its way to better diversify its cast, but there was still room left for the token ex-professional athlete. Alan Ball set the standard of how to be an explosive ex-baller, and while Danny says he’ll play like Alan’s buddy Ben “Boom” Driebergen, I’m not sure if we’ll actually see balls-to-the-wall play from him. Allegedly, though, Danny became a big fan through bingeing Survivor after his football career, so maybe he’ll actually know when to make moves and when to not ask people to drop their shorts to look for hidden immunity crotch idols.
Wanting to play like Ben is almost as big of a NOPE for me as wanting to play like Russell, but at least Ben won (per the amount listed on his check). To add to the list of flags on the field for Danny, he also says “lying” is one of his biggest pet peeves. While he has yet to say he’s going to play an “honorable” game, as soon so as he does, he’s on my ghosted list. Danny may be able to coast to the merge off his muscle, but I’m going to go bold here and DQ Danny as dateable if he isn’t prepared to lie his ass off and instead default to relying on challenges or advantages when his back’s up against the wall.
As a teacher, I know Tiffany is capable of handling a lot of stress from managing a room full of unruly animals. Oops, I mean, children. That bodes well for her being able to keep her cool in the face of her tribemates driving her crazy. She’s a superfan who got engaged during an episode of Survivor, so that speaks to me more than her saying she’s seen every season and that her favorite player is Ozzy.
Oh shit, Tiffany says she does want to play like Ozzy. Well, this is awkward. Maybe this won’t be a swipe right ... I really hate to assume the Survivor stereotype true that middle-aged moms are most likely early boot fodder, so I’d like at least one of Tiffany and Heather to do well (did I miss any other #MomSquad members in this cast?) If this is a “neither can live while the other survives” situation, then while I think Tiffany won’t be as exciting to watch, for that same reason, I think she’ll avoid causing earlier commotion. This is a risky swipe that could bite me, but I’ll go right on Tiffany. Watch her be the first boot.
I had no idea Jennifer Coolidge was a Survivor fan! If I could have one wish of Heather this season, even if it means her being the first boot, I just need to hear her talking about food and go, “it makes me want a hot dog real bad!” Or as she’s voted out, she can look at Jeff and say “I’m taking the dog ... dumbass!” It could happen! Heather says she cusses like a drunken sailor, though I’m not sure what dog she’d be talking about. Who knows? The mind goes a little cuckoo when it’s food- and sleep-deprived.
Heather already sounds a little cuckoo. A “passion for opossums”? Who the fuck says that? Does she own an opossum sanctuary or something? Do people call her “Opossum Mom?” If they don’t already, I’m going to push to get that trending on Twitter. Ugh, this woman knows the way to my heart by also naming greats like Tina Wesson, Lisa Whelchel, and Chrissy Hofbeck, but she had to go and ruin it by mentioning Rick Devens. Since when is he in that archetype? He’s the Kool-Aid man, not the Ovaltine mom. Three of these four made it to the end, and god would it be amazing to hear Heather talk about wanting to bring home the bacon for her baby opossums, but as eager as she sounds to play, I tragically think she’ll play herself out early, and the Rick Devens in her won’t have Edge of Extinction to fall back on this time. Heather is going to be a hoot, though, for as long as she can survive. If this were any other circumstance, she’d get an instant Super Like from me, but I don’t know if Heather will make the merge, so I don’t think she can be dated. I’m already resenting this cast for voting her out early and robbing us of gold.
Now that I’ve talked about the #MomSquad, time to round out the #DadSquad. If Brad is super chill and Naseer has no chill, then Eric will land somewhere in between. He’ll naturally assume a leadership role at camp, but I see him running things in a respectful way rather than rubbing people wrong. I don’t know how tall Eric is, but he looks like a force; however, I could see him being more of a gentle giant figure. He describes himself as cheerful and happy-go-lucky, but will it last when some of the younger 20-somethings force him into dad-mode?
If you’ve been keeping a tally, I’ve got one regular Like and one Super Like remaining, so what does Eric get? I don’t see Eric being one to cause much trouble, and he’ll likely be an asset both at camp and at challenges, so I think I can safely say he’s date-worthy. He should be a likable guy and if he can find his way in or build himself a sturdy alliance, I could picture a finale where Eric wins. He’s not who I most expect to win, but not who I least expect — Eric may very well be the one I most medium suspect, and that means he’s one to watch.
Sometimes just in the voice, I can pick up a good vibe from someone, and that’s how Deshawn first struck me. I was surprised to learn he was only 26 because he sounded a little older and wiser, but that makes him more of a standout pick. Personality-wise, he’ll be able to mesh with anyone in the cast, young or old. We’ll see his fun-loving and charismatic side, but he also says he’s devious and has studied Survivor like he’s studied for med school exams. Deshawn sounds very well-rounded. He’s got brain, brawn, maybe some blazing speed — I think he has just enough to go deep in the game while not having too much that makes him a target.
Some of this cast I’ve criticized for having wildly off-base picks of Survivors who they’ll play like, but Deshawn’s answers to that prompt were Wendell and Cirie, and those ones actually makes sense to me. Deshawn strikes me as a charmer on the outside and a conniver on the inside. Cirie was the “gangster in an Oprah suit” and I don’t know whose suit would be the equivalent for Deshawn, but a suit along those lines would fit Deshawn fine. Definite winner potential in Deshawn – super potential.
I’ve run out of potential matches! And, no, I’m not paying $9.99 a month to unlock more, since I’ll get 18 for free in January 2022 anyway.
In summary, I’ve got Heather, Naseer, Liana, Sara, David, Danny, and Xander landing in the lonely Losers Lodge. Among those, my first boot pick would be ... Sara? Making the merge so deserving of at least one date: Brad, Erika, Jairus, Sydney, Tiffany, Eric, Evvie, and Genie (#robbed already). That would then make Ricard, Shantel, and Deshawn the most likely Survivor marriage material? Of the three, I’ve gotta go with Shantel to win it all, if only so I can say I knew it to be true at first sight. The last season with newbies, Island of the Idols, my top two winner picks ended up the first two boots, so there’s literally no way I can do worse this go-around ... unless Ricard, Shantel, and Deshawn are the first three boots ....
I’m choosing to ignore the bad signs of twists or gimmicks already threatening to mess up this season: “game within a game,” “the monster,” Remus Lupin puzzles — Survivor is still primarily about the people for me and this season has put together some good ones. Honestly, Casting has been crushing it the last several seasons; the casts just get crushed themselves by too many twists and Probst trying to fix what isn’t broken. Still, it’s been over a year since my Survivor has been in my life, and I’m willing to take it back in any condition. Even though it’s hurt me in the past, I’m ready to give it another chance at the risk of getting hurt again. That’s love, isn’t it? You accept each other for who you are and hope you don’t get murdered in your sleep.
I haven’t been this speculative over who or what “the monster” is since LOST aired, but the only half-decent guess I can come up with is something having to do with Chris Underwood.
Ryan Kaiser has been a lifelong fan of Survivor since the show first aired during his days in elementary school, and he plans to one day put his money where his mouth is by competing in the greatest game on Earth. Until that day comes, however, he'll stick to running his mouth here and on Twitter: @Ryan__Kaiser