Survivor: Edge of Extinction is just three weeks away and there are still a lot of unknowns going into this thirty-eighth season. It remains unclear, officially at least, how this new format twist will work and what exactly it entails. There are also fourteen fresh-faced castaways we need get to know. But one thing we do know without a shadow of a doubt is that four former players will be returning to the island for another shot at the million.
With that in mind, we’re going to take a quick look at each of the four returnees – Aubry Bracco, David Wright, Joe Anglim, and Kelley Wentworth – and work out who has the best chance of success heading into this season based on current reputation and past gameplay.
Survivor: Kaoh Rong, Survivor: Game Changers
Of the four returning veterans, Aubry has played the most recently, and that could be both a blessing and a curse. Theoretically, Aubry’s game should be freshest in the minds of her fellow players and that could make her an immediate target, especially given her deep runs in both the seasons she played. The coleslaw-loving castaway made it to the Final Tribal Council of Kaoh Rong, losing out to Michele Fitzgerald in a controversial finish, and landed in 5th place in Game Changers in 2017.
The silver lining here is that Aubry had a severely under-the-radar edit in Game Changers. Her game never really picked up momentum as she often found herself on the outside of the vote and the screentime instead was focused on the more involved players. That could prove beneficial here as Aubry won’t be coming into the season off the back of a hugely dominating game. That said, regardless of what happened or didn’t happen in Game Changers, I think most people will remember Aubry for her impressive post-merge gameplay in Kaoh Rong and how close she came to winning.
It’s that Kaoh Rong resume which made Game Changers such a struggle for the 32-year-old social media manager. There was a hesitance from her fellow castmates to fully commit to an alliance, especially in the pre-merge, and that made it tough for her to implement a consistent strategy. That could be the case again here if the newbies are standoffish and unwilling to align themselves with such an accomplished player. If that happens, Aubry might never be able to find her footing.
However, despite the criticism received from a portion of the Kaoh Rong jury, Aubry has proven she can work the social game when necessary to flip the game or make a crucial move. If she can focus on securing relationships early on, which may be easier to do with new players, then she could build a solid foundation to work from later in the game. She is entering the season with a sense of familiarity and popularity that she might be able to use to her advantage on the more impressionable newbies. With the right group of people, there is no reason why Aubry couldn’t make another deep run.
Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen-X
Sadly, I think David has the biggest uphill battle of the four returnees. He might have only played once, but it was such a memorable and formidable game that there is no way people won’t view him as a threat. In Millennials vs. Gen-X, the 44-year-old TV writer overcame his early-game anxieties and went on to play a surprisingly commanding game, finding idols, taking risks and naturally charming his fellow castaways. Pretty much every member of the Millennials vs. Gen-X cast has said David would have won in a landslide had he made it to Final Tribal Council.
What makes things worse for David is that not only is he coming into the season with an intimidating reputation as a shrewd strategist and expert idol finder, but he doesn’t have the qualities necessary to help counter his threat level. For example, he isn’t going to be able to convince wary tribemates to keep him around for his challenge strength. David was not a good challenge performer in Millennials vs. Gen-X, especially in tribal challenges, and that is scary in this situation. If he screws up, not only will he be perceived as a challenge liability but he will also be fighting against his past reputation.
The first few days of the game is also where David struggled the most in his first outing. It took him a little while to shake those social anxieties, and his awkward behavior painted him as suspicious to the rest of the group. If that happens again in this season, David might not be afforded the time to recover, especially when he will also be dealing with the label of “challenge weakness” and “strategic threat.” I feel like it’s going to be a really rough road for David unless his tribe can secure a couple of early wins and avoid Tribal Council.
On the positive side, David is very smart and likable and is the type of person that can somehow find common ground with anyone. His odd couple relationship with Ken in Season 33 is proof of that. If David can enter the game cool, calm, and collected, and turn on the charm, then perhaps he will be able to disarm his tribemates. He’s also a brave player who isn’t afraid to shake things up, for example, playing his idol on Jessica Lewis at a pre-merge Tribal. So there is every chance that even if he finds himself in a jam, David will be able to cook up some magic to change his fate. It will be an extremely tough task, and I don’t hold out much hope, but if anyone can do it, it’s David.
Survivor: Worlds Apart, Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance
Ever since the new twist was announced, many fans have claimed this season was built specifically for Joe to succeed. That even if he is voted out and sent to Extinction Island, he will be able to win his way back into the game and bulldoze his way to Final Tribal Council. But when we actually break it down and take a proper look at Joe’s chances, does that remain the case? After all, challenge wins alone can only get you so far and don’t necessarily translate into a million dollar victory.
There is no doubt Joe is a challenge beast. He almost seems guaranteed to make the merge each time he plays simply due to how much of an asset he is to a tribe pre-merge. This is what gives him such a significant advantage over someone like David; even if Joe is seen as a threat due to his veteran status, he can douse the flames by highlighting his skills as a provider and a challenge MVP. Even if he is on a losing tribe, and he was in Worlds Apart, there is little chance that Joe will be viewed as the scapegoat given his overall track record.
That said, Joe plays a predictable game and has never seemed particularly well-versed when it comes to strategy or social play. When most people think of him, they remember “Joey Amazing the Challenge King” because that’s how he was presented in his previous seasons. It remains to be seen if he can evolve his game beyond that and actually put himself in a controlling position with a chance to win. Relying on challenge wins should be a last resort not the entire basis of your strategy. Also, Cambodia showed us that Joe’s social game is not exactly the smoothest, with his personality sometimes grating on the likes of Abi-Maria Gomes, Ciera Eastin and fellow returnee Kelley Wentworth.
Heading into the season, I really don’t expect anything different from Joe. He’s kind of like Ozzy Lusth in that you know what you’re going to get. He will dominate in challenges while underestimating the value of the strategic and social game, and that will ultimately cost him. He should honestly try and use his popularity to take some of the new players under his wing and attempt to Boston Rob this thing, but I just don’t think Joe has the capability of playing that kind of game. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong, but I just don’t see it happening.
Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance
Kelley’s chances are perhaps the hardest to gauge of the four returning vets. There is enough distance between the last time she played and now, so it’s reasonable to assume she won’t be quite as big a target as she would have been had she returned in Season 34. Also, despite being a two-time player, her first outing in San Juan Del Sur was essentially a write-off, and so unlike Aubry and Joe, who are perhaps more recognizable to Survivor casuals, she might not be seen as this player who has already had multiple chances.
However, Kelley’s run in Cambodia was marked by two monumental idol plays and an impressive underdog story that almost resulted in a spot at Final Tribal Council. That Andrew Savage blindside is something etched into the mind of every Survivor fan and could be the image swirling around every player’s head as they step foot on the beach. Similar to David, who is also known for his idol prowress, it’s that “sneaky, sneaky” persona that might cause wariness among her fellow castaways. If that is all people are focused on, it could be a challenge for the 32-year-old Marketing Manager to form lasting bonds.
Yet Kelley is one of those players who is adaptable. She rarely lets her emotions get the best of her and always views the game in a logical manner. She remains open to ideas and is willing to work with different combinations of players. That is what kept her alive throughout Cambodia despite often playing from an underdog position. Even after her big idol play on Savage, which thrust her into the spotlight, she managed her threat level and maneuvered her way through the strategic complexities of that insanely cutthroat season. So, in theory, Kelley should be able to read the mood of her tribe and determine the best way to navigate her game.
The other negative for Kelley is that she has played with Joe before, and while never true allies, the other players could see that as a potential tie that needs severing as soon as possible. However, as I said, Kelley is adaptable, and if that is an issue, I could easily see her playing that off by reminding her tribemates she voted Joe out in Cambodia. If she can overcome the “Idol Queen” reputation and use her laidback personality to fit in and not rock the boat early on, she could find herself in a strong position in the later stages of the game. On paper, I would say Kelley has the best chance of success of the four returnees, followed by Aubry.
That said, we know very little about their competition, and that could completely change everything. At least we don’t have to wait long to find out! Which returnee do you think has the best chance at success this season? Let us know in the comments.