The fortieth season of Survivor is currently filming in Fiji, and with its cast of returning champions, the likelihood of spoilers leaking between now and the official air-date in early 2020 is exceptionally high. With that in mind, the Inside Survivor team wanted to make their draft picks before the cameras even started rolling.
Three weeks ago, six of Inside Survivor’s contributors got together to draft their respective teams. Below are their gut instinct reasons as to why they made their picks.
The contributors taking part in the draft assessment are:
Ali & Gus: the recently engaged couple writes the weekly Hot or Not feature, where they rate the players and bicker about each other’s picks.
Austin Smith: three-time draft champion, Austin recaps the episodes of Survivor US and Australian Survivor.
Rob Brodeur: our resident Stat man, Rob delivers all the latest statistics following each episode of Survivor US.
Stephanie Lauw: Steph writes the weekly Next Time On Survivor feature, the same feature originally started by Survivor castaway Jacob Derwin.
Martin Holmes: that’s me! Owner of Inside Survivor, Edgic writer, and all-round Survivor sleuth.
ROB’S FIRST PICK
PEARL ISLANDS, HEROES VS. VILLAINS, GAME CHANGERS
Queen Changa, the OG SDT, two-time Survivor winner, is my favorite contestant in the history of the show, so naturally, when I got the first draft pick, Sandra was always going to be my number one. Will she last long on the all-winners season? Probably not (although I REALLY hope she does), but just as she did in Game Changers, she will DEFINITELY be entertaining for however long she’s on the season. The good thing is, she is now going to be on a cast with all other winners, so her target will become much smaller than it has been previously. She’s the only two-time winner, but she managed to last longer than the other winners in Game Changers, which says something about her ability to play a solid game and find ways to shift targets off of herself and on to other players.
MARTIN’S FIRST PICK
SAN JUAN DEL SUR, CAMBODIA
I couldn’t NOT pick Jeremy after locking him in as my official winner pick on Twitter (a tweet is forever!). In my opinion, the likable firefighter finds himself in a sweet spot heading into this season. Yes, he’s a threat, but he’s not as obviously threatening as say Boston Rob or Sandra or Tony or Kim. Yes, he’s a recent winner, but he’s not as fresh in mind as Nick or Ben or Wendell or Sarah. As crazy as it sounds, I think Jeremy could once again be underestimated on this cast, at least in the early stages. I don’t see why he couldn’t use his Cambodia “meat-shields” strategy again to great success. Navigating his threat level come the end-game will prove trickiest, but I believe Jeremy has the smarts, the likability, and the right connections on this cast to pull it off.
ALI & GUS’ FIRST PICK
Despite being a fairly dominant winner in her first season, Denise has flown pretty under-the-radar amongst the wider Survivor community since her time on the island. We’re hoping that this means there’ll be less of a target on her back right out of the gate, as more vocal players may choose to target one another first and allow Denise’s social strengths to infiltrate and form bonds between her and the other players on her tribe (whomever they may be). More than that, she’s a therapist with a ton of experience in navigating human behavior and defusing high-stress situations. Social stress doesn’t get much higher than trying to win the first (and possibly only) Survivor Tournament of Champions, so we’re expecting great things from Denise her second time out.
STEPH’S FIRST PICK
I chose Sophie as my first pick as she’s one of the players I feel will be able to fly under the radar among the bigger names in the cast. The South Pacific winner played a relatively silent but sneaky game, especially when compared to Coach, who emerged runner-up. Having been on RHAP podcasts, I think it’s safe to say Sophie knows the game very well and I feel like it would translate into her strategy against returning players this season. I don’t think she’s going into Season 40 with a huge target on her, letting her blend into situations and adapt just as she did in South Pacific. All in all, I’m ready for her second shot and am hoping to see some more of Sophie’s snark and wit this season.
AUSTIN’S FIRST PICK
I am unbelievably thrilled at the prospect of seeing Yul play again. His brain vs. brawn showdown with Ozzy Lusth in Cook Islands was a seminal Survivor memory from my young superfan days, and there was no way I was going to pass him up in the draft. Widely recognised as one of Survivor’s most intelligent players, Yul has a lot to live up to when it comes to the mental and strategic game. But if there’s one old school player who can adapt to the chaotic nature of modern Survivor, it’s the guy who helmed the Aitu Four through one of the biggest underdog stories in the show’s history and who leveraged social capital and the Super Idol to secure victory.
Speaking of, the legacy of his Super Idol and his good fortune with the first ever Final Three have long left an asterisk beside his name in many fans’ winner rankings. However, I’m hoping that these asterisks, combined with the time passed since he last played nearly 15 years ago, will cloud his competition’s judgment of him as a savvy player and give him the room to play.
AUSTIN’S SECOND PICK
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
The best thing for Natalie’s chances in the all-winners season is that she had to drop out of Game Changers due to injury. Natalie is a fierce competitor, strong-willed, determined, and physically strong, but her greatest strength is in her bold strategic gameplay that plays best when others underestimate her. Without Game Changers to raise her profile, Natalie’s brilliant gameplay in San Juan del Sur has largely fallen out of the Survivor consciousness, particularly as Sarah Lacina usurped much of the attention as a strategically aggressive female winner. She now lies in that sweet spot between recency bias and the old schoolers – and between the Big Threats™ and the scrappy underdogs.
I’m hoping to see that Natalie can slip into this season with a degree of underestimation, granting her the opportunity to forge strong social bonds to drive her forward in the game and give her options to exploit come merge. If we can see even a sliver of the cunning of her feigned voting error at the Alec boot or “Did you vote for who I told you to vote for?”, I think we could be looking at another loud, confident and bold woman seizing a double title.
STEPH’S SECOND PICK
TOCANTINS, HEROES VS. VILLAINS, BLOOD VS. WATER
It’s Tyson’s fourth time playing Survivor, following his appearances in Tocantins where he was blindsided, Heroes vs. Villains where he basically voted himself out in the pre-merge, and finally in Blood vs. Water, where he eventually won the game. He’s a strategic player and also does pretty well in challenges, but more prominently, I feel like he is a social player underestimated because of his sense of humour. Tyson also has some pre-existing relationships with this pool of winners, having been on the Villains tribe with Boston Rob, Sandra, and Parvati. With this and his experience combined, version four of Tyson is something I’m really looking forward to watch!
ALI & GUS’ SECOND PICK
While we think Nick and, to a lesser extent, Adam, Ben, and Sarah, will suffer heavily from recency bias against their games, we feel like Wendell (and his season) will be largely overlooked in terms of his threat to win – at least at the outset of the game. Between the two of us, Wendell is a highly controversial winner. Ali considers him to be one of the all-time greats as demonstrated by his and Domenick’s incredibly tight control of the Ghost Island cast. And Gus thinks he has yet to be tested due to the broad strategic weakness of the post-merge Ghost Island cast, and that he won’t be able to hold up in the face of a more dominant cast of winners. It remains to be seen how Wendell will perform without a Laurel in his pocket, but we think he’s got potential to have a deep run.
MARTIN’S SECOND PICK
I was somewhat surprised Kim was still on the board when it got to my second pick. I mean, I get it, she is widely regarded as a Top 3 Survivor winner, if not the best of all time, and that is a scary reputation to have going into this season. Other than say, Brian Heidik, no other first-time player dominated their season with as much control as Kim did in One World. She absolutely steamrolled the competition and made an already intellectually-challenged cast seem even dumber.
It’s not going to be quite so effortless this time around; even with it being a while since Kim’s played, this cast knows she’s a massive threat. That said, I think the former One World champ can charm her opponents to death once again. Every Kim story I’ve heard, whether it’s from her time in the game or outside the game, they all mention how utterly charming she is. She has the sort of personality that draws you in and makes you want to be her best friend. If she can work her social game from the start and solidify some trust, I can see her making another deep run.
ROB’S SECOND PICK
When I found out Ethan was on the season, I was so excited. Back when Africa was airing, I was rooting for him the whole season. He was from MA, just like me, so as a 15-year-old watching Survivor, that was exciting! He went on to be the first “good guy” winner of Survivor and cemented a place in All-Stars a few years later. Just like Sandra in Game Changers, Ethan was the last remaining winner in All-Stars, beating out the likes of Richard Hatch and Tina Wesson. I recently rewatched All-Stars to get myself hyped for the return of some old-school winners, and I was impressed with the game Ethan managed to play with a lot of cards stacked against him. I’m somewhat concerned about how he can adapt to the new style of gameplay that’s happened in the 32 seasons since he’s been on, but Ethan is definitely someone who CAN adapt to things when he needs to. And his charm and personality (and possibly others being starstruck by seeing him play again) will help him make it pretty far into the game.
ROB’S THIRD PICK
Generally, in an all-returning player season, the unassuming, often forgotten players tend to do much better than the more recent, in your face, flashier players. In ¾ of the returning player seasons, this has been an “under-the-radar” female player: Amber in All-Stars, Sandra in Heroes vs. Villains, and Sarah Lacina in Game Changers. Of all the winners asked back, I think Danni fits this role perfectly. Known for hiding her gameplay from production, and being the sole newbie from Guatemala that’s ever come back as a returning player, I think Danni could easily make it very far into the game, and even possibly win again.
Nobody’s going to be worrying about Danni when people like Boston Rob, Ben, Parvati, Tony, etc. are on the same season. I’m also really excited to see her play again. As previously stated, she’s our first true Guatemala returnee. Guatemala is an underrated season, and there’s plenty of players that should have returned by now. I’m very interested to see how some of these old-school players fare on a strategy heavy recent season. But considering they’re all winners, they’ve done something right before, at least enough to earn them $1 Million (or $2 Million in Sandra’s case).
MARTIN’S THIRD PICK
COOK ISLANDS, MICRONESIA, HEROES VS. VILLAINS
This is my riskiest pick. It shouldn’t be. It’s Parvati for god’s sake! She’s played a combined 114 days over her three Survivor appearances. She’s one of only five players to make it to Final Tribal Council twice. She wins challenges and finds idols and makes moves. All of those things are why she is considered one of the game’s greatest players. It’s also what fills me with dread, because all those qualities could quite easily make her the first person booted from this all-winners cast.
In looking at the board, it’s hard to see where Parvati fits into this cast. There are three of her former Villains tribemates here, two of whom she voted out, and the other she faced off against at FTC. Where Rob, Tyson, and Sandra all seem pretty friendly in real life, I’m not sure Parvati fits comfortably into that grouping. Then there’s Yul, who she played with back in Cook Islands, and again, their in-game relationship was testy to say the least. However, that was 13 years ago, times have changed, and it’s not as if Yul is coming into this season with a lot of connections either; so they may need each other.
So if I have all these worries, why did I pick Parvati? Well, because it’s Parvati, isn’t it? If there is anyone that can cook up some dark magic and do the impossible, then it’s the former leader of the venomous Black Widow Brigade. Also, she’s married and had a kid since the last time she played, so perhaps this will add a different layer to Parvati’s game that might shift the perceptions of her wary castmates.
ALI & GUS’ THIRD PICK
Have you noticed a trend in our picks thus far? They’ve all been relatively low-lying, social players who made their mark in the game less through some huge #bigmove or incredible, juror-wowing #blindside, but rather through simply forging strong bonds with other players and remaining an integral part of things through the end. They’ve also had another, flashier fellow player with them who was able to absorb a lot of flak and also tarnish a lot of their shine (Denise had Malcolm, Wendell had Domenick). Who better to continue (and, arguably, perfectly embody) this trend than the one and only Controverchele Slayzgerald?
Michele is without a doubt one of the most controversial Survivor winners of all time and the likely catalyst for many of the recent sweeping changes in the format of the Survivor endgame. She is either going to be executed the moment she steps foot on the island (if not by the players, then by Jeff) or this will happen.
STEPH’S THIRD PICK
AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK, ALL-STARS
Amber is one of the handful of old school players this season. She played in the second season of the show in the Australian Outback and won the first All-Stars season of the franchise. Fifteen years from the last time she played Survivor, I’m really interested to see an older version of Amber, especially because she was perceived as the archetypal young, good-looking female player all those years ago. Obviously, she’ll be connected to her husband Boston Rob, and perhaps also her fellow old-school All-Star Ethan. I feel like she’ll be able to navigate these connections, and I’m also expecting Rob to be voted out before her, should they be targeted as a power couple early in the game.
AUSTIN’S THIRD PICK
MILLENNIALS VS. GEN-X
In all honesty, I’m just in this to see Adam geeking out about playing Survivor against bonafide Survivor legends, historic icons, and the pantheon of modern greats. He’s an avatar for many of us who grew up on Survivor, and I know I’ll be living vicariously through his experience. But what about his chances to win it all a second time? I can’t say I’m betting on it – Adam’s game in Millennials vs. Gen-X was inarguably flawed, despite what his shutout 10-0-0 victory looks like on paper.
That said, there’s an earnest charm to Adam that could endear him to his fellow winners, and he may be willing to play padawan to the bigger egos, which could help him skate under the radar with a meat shield to protect him. While he’s demonstrated a predilection for making bad judgment calls – his misplaced trust in Taylor nearly tanked his game – he never wavered from his determination to keep fighting it out, and that quieter, non-threatening drive could propel him far.
AUSTIN’S FINAL PICK
HEROES VS. HEALERS VS. HUSTLERS
Since I started making winner picks, Ben has been my only pick to follow through and secure the victory, so I gotta keep the faith that he can do it for me again! I know Ben’s reputation is hotly contested given his blustering race to the finish line and his ultimate win due to a twist with the Final Four fire-making, but it’s not like that’s entirely unprecedented (Yul, the Final Three and the Super Idol say hello!). But I’m optimistic that this black mark against Ben’s name could be one of his bigger assets. If his fellow winners buy into any of the narrative that he only won because he got lucky, then he might be able to dodge some of the bullets headed for other larger-than-life threats like your Tonys.
Particularly early on in HvHvH, Ben showed signs of being a pretty effective player on the social front and his game only turned when he became public enemy number one due to being deemed a threat. If Ben can tap into the less threatening side of his personality and his laidback charisma, he could play a different kind of game that could reap the rewards. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ben try something new, because the biggest thing that excites me about Ben is that he’s got something to prove. He’s in the small camp of controversial winners like Michele or Amber who have had their victories scrutinised and routinely criticised, and with his second shot, there will be a level of determination to prove that his first win was more than just a lucky break.
STEPH’S FINAL PICK
CAGAYAN, GAME CHANGERS
For starters, I’m looking forward to more variations of the spy-shack (can there be a spy treehouse please??). After Game Changers, where Tony was out second, I don’t know if he’ll come out of the gate crazy again, or play a more low-key game to balance his threat level.Then again, I’m not sure if Tony is capable of playing a low-key game. I’m not really counting on him making it deep into the game, and that’s because, in many senses, Tony’s really a wild card to plans, even if his showing on Game Changers has lessened his strategic threat level. In any case, he will definitely be an interesting character to watch!
ALI & GUS’ FINAL PICK
MARQUESAS, ALL-STARS, HEROES VS. VILLAINS, REDEMPTION ISLAND
Remember what we said about our picks following a trend of low-key social players who aren’t bombastic or exceptionally visible? Yeah, we decided we should also bring Boston Rob into the mix just to throw any sense of logical flow or consistency out the window.
Most returnee seasons follow the trend of ‘under the radar female player who nobody thought would be invited back wins the entire thing’ – Amber, Parvati, Sarah Lacina, (arguably) Sandra (the second time), (arguably) Sophie’s wins all fit into this category. The ones that don’t play out this way tend to wind up more along the lines of ‘male player with an enormous personality dominates things and wins it all’ – Boston Rob (the first second third fourth time) and Jeremy’s wins fit into this category. That’s a roughly 3:1 ratio of soft-spoken social players winning to loud and aggressive strategic players winning, so we thought we should format our picks the same way. Beyond that, Boston Rob is just such a huge personality in Survivor that he’s bound to be a big personality on our screens whether he wins the game or not, so we felt it would be foolish just to leave him on the table.
MARTIN’S FINAL PICK
CAGAYAN, GAME CHANGERS
The low placing of this pick actually does a disservice to Sarah’s skill-level as a Survivor player. The no-nonsense Iowa cop gets a lot of hate in the Survivor community because of her supposedly “boring” game. I think that’s an unfair claim and one which mostly comes as a result of how terrible Game Changers was as a season. Sarah might not have the most dynamic personality amongst this cast, or be the best confessional-giver, but in terms of gameplay, she is one of the most ruthless.
She isn’t afraid to shake things up, flip on an ally, or make a bold play. In a season comprised of winners, many of whom tend to play the straightforward “stick-with-the-numbers” strategy, Sarah is precisely the type of player needed for a more fluid game. The worry is that she may not get the chance, being a recent winner known for playing a cutthroat game, her opponents might not let her get off the starting blocks. However, if she’s able to get her footing, I can see Sarah making another deep run, and hopefully, finally, bringing that Cops R Us alliance to life.
ROB’S FINAL PICK
DAVID VS. GOLIATH
The sole recent player on my team, who I got “stuck” with, but coincidentally almost picked him earlier in the draft. I’m actually super happy that I got Nick on my team, considering how great of a season David vs. Goliath was, and how well he played in that season. Nick is basically the love child of the Tocantins Final 2. He’s got the charm and personality of JT Thomas, but the strategic prowess and intellect of Stephen Fishbach. This is quite a dynamic combination, and it suited him well in season 37. He formed bonds with the other players, won challenges, found a hidden immunity idol, and received 7/10 jury votes.
I think since he was on a very recent season, he won’t have to adapt to the game as much as some of the other winners will have to. This recency could also be a curse for him, considering he’s the most recent winner out there that the players have seen. His game is fresh in everyone’s mind, and it could work against him. Thankfully he’s not as flashy as some of the other recent winners, and could easily stay out of harm’s way for a while.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Season 40 will air on CBS in early 2020.