As Survivor: Game Changers inches ever closer, as a fan, I can’t help but look at all the players on the board and think what in the world we could have in store for us. It is a cluster of sorts being represented by all angles of Survivor. All sixteen years are represented, with players from the pre-all star era, to the exile island era, to post Heroes vs. Villains and the early thirties. What is evident is that while this is a strange cast, these character types are no strangers to returning player seasons.
There is a common theme amongst the characters we see with each all-star season. It’s not who is the truly best players from the previous seasons; it’s about the story that Jeff Probst is trying to get us hooked on and he achieves that by casting archetypes. And it works, it’s how we got players like Parvati Shallow and John Cochran. My question is, which all-star archetype categories do each of these 20 returning players fit into? And will they be able to succeed within those categories?
The Robfather is often the male all-star who is brought back for his charisma and athletic ability. In his return, he runs a veteran season by making the right alliances and convincing people to do his dirty work for him. This could be being set up brilliantly for Brad Culpepper and Caleb Reynolds. Both have some degree of charisma as we saw in Brad leading his all male alliance and Caleb perfectly straddling the gender line in the beauty tribe. Both were eliminated pre-merge, so neither has a solid resume that makes them a huge threat.
If they can tap into a Jeremy Collins style of play and keep bigger targets all the way through the game and downplay their ability to win, they could definitely come back and play hard. What could be stopping them is their egos, which could turn them into Boston Rob in All-Stars, where they run the game but face an extremely bitter jury.
The Russell Hantz Effect
With Michaela and Zeke returning immediately off the back of Millennials vs. Gen X, they’ll be entering a game where nobody knows their play style. There are a lot of people on this cast who are all too familiar with this effect. Malcolm, who played back-to-back in consecutive filming cycles, knows the advantages and disadvantages. Sandra and JT, both of whom suffered through Russell Hantz, completely underestimated him in HvV in large part due to the lack of knowledge on him. Cirie was voted out right before the final tribal in Micronesia by Amanda Kimmel who had played the season prior and became the first person to go to the finals twice.
There is no reason why in an all-star season back-to-back players should not be feared. They did enough to be asked back that promptly, and following the shadows of players like Rupert Boneham, Malcolm, and Russell, they would need to go.
The Silly Goat
When asked to name some of the most absurd personalities in Survivor history, it would be hard-pressed to find a fan that didn’t at least mention Coach Wade, Phillip Sheppard, and Debbie Wanner. They are the TriForce of the grand delusion that exists in the Survivor realm. However, the former two have made similar mistakes in their return to compete for the million dollars.
Coach grew as a player each time he played, so much so that he was able to make it to the final tribal on his third swing, but fell short due to people not taking his strategy seriously. Phillip, while making it to the finals his first try, was merely brought there as a pawn. In his second attempt, he tried to play a more controlling game, but people still laughed behind his back, and he was eventually blindsided. If Debbie can learn anything from this, it is to find a middle ground. Be the character but be the character that balances strategy and camera gold.
Update: Tai is hard to place as an archetype but probably fits best in this category. Although he isn’t the same type of character as a Debbie or a Coach, there is a perception of Tai after Kaoh Rong where people don’t take his strategic game seriously and don’t want to reward his efforts.
The Winner’s Circle
If you remember back to Survivor: All-Stars, the idea that winners were playing for the money again was just the craziest thing imaginable. The infamous Jenna Lewis cut through the winners like butter. It seemed to be an understood rule of Survivor: you can only win once. Fast forward to Mrs. Sandra Diaz-Twice who changed that rule in the second full all-stars season.
Sandra came back in HvV and proved that a winner could most certainly win again. Even Parvati, also a former winner, made it to the end with Sandra in the same season. But the three former champs returning on Season 34 are not just your everyday winners. Sandra will be competing for her third title, JT went from hero to villain in two seasons, so no one knows what to expect from the good ole country boy, and Tony Vlachos is…. well, Tony Vlachos, a Survivor enigma. It is possible for a winner to go far and do well. However, with the status of these particular winners and their history, I am curious to see how much of an uphill climb it will be for them.
The Fear of the Unknown
It never fails, every returning player season there is a big “WTF?!” casting choice. The interesting part is that these “WTF?!” players have gone on to win: Amber Brkich and Parvati Shallow the most significant examples. In the last returning player season, Survivor: Cambodia, we were very close to a Kelley Wentworth win, another initial “WTF?!” casting choice where people weren’t sure why she was on the voting ballot in the first place.
In Survivor: Game Changers, there are quite a few of these random players. Hali Ford, Sierra-Dawn Thomas, Jeff Varner, and Sarah Lacina are very much head scratchers in the “Game Changer” category. Now, I adore Jeff and Sarah, and while I’m not too surprised they are back, I am confused as to where they fall in this theme, other than Sarah’s elimination flipping the game and allowing Tony’s mob to charge to the end.
But the big shocks, Hali and Sierra, coming from a not so well received season and really doing nothing to deserve an “all-star” status, are the big “WTF?!” choices. They are complete wild cards. If you were drafting a Survivor fantasy league for Season 34, you might bet high on this archetype. Historically, they do exceptionally well, especially females. They almost always make it to the merge due to their brand not being as strong as some of the others, and without a firm grasp on their previous strategy, it’s hard to make a decision on what they are going to do.
However, I do trust Survivor casting. They have seen something in players before that initially didn’t reach great heights, and now those players are looked at as some of the best players of all time (Boston Rob, Parvati). Heading into Game Changers, these “WTF?!” players need to sit down, shut up and be a snake in the grass; otherwise, they stand no chance.
The Man Bun Mania
While the man bun may be exiting the style of pop culture, it is still a very, very strong archetype in Survivor. And this season, for the first time, we not only have the king of this character, but we also have two of his proteges. I, of course, am referring to Ozzy, Malcolm, and to a lesser degree, Troyzan (an older version of the long-haired challenge dominator). Coming in for a second, third and fourth time, these three gentlemen have a big task at hand. Never has this archetype won, Ozzy and Malcolm have been the closest (Ozzy was runner-up in Cook Islands and Malcolm fourth in Philippines), but the man bun has never taken home the crown.
All three of these guys are good at challenges, all are very charismatic, all have played idols, and all are big names in the Survivor world. If any of them can get to the end, Malcolm probably standing the best chance, then maybe, just maybe they can break this curse and take home the prize. If not, we will just have to hope for a Jay Starrett return where he dominates and brings home the million dollars.
“The Superfan/ Too Close to Call”
This section is dedicated to just one Season 34 cast member. A player originally in one character type but who tipped into another archetype by the end of their season, forming a sort of hybrid. I’m, of course, talking about Ms. Aubry Bracco.
Aubry was the second biggest loss that 2016 experienced. She falls under the Cochran archetype, which is the superfan/nerd who is completely out of her element, but thrives. One difference between the two – Aubry got her act together in her first season, where Cochran took two. Then I thought to myself: Aubry is Fishbach! She didn’t get the credit she deserved in her first season, and she can learn from Stephen from his second go around. However, I feel like Stephen played a better game in Tocantins than in Cambodia and I do worry that Aubry is not going to get this chance.
One has to remember that Kaoh Rong was the last season to be seen by players before flying out to Fiji in summer 2016. Anyone who keeps up with Survivor is going to know who Aubry is. She was the master strategist in Season 32, she was the queen of storytelling, and she was arguably the biggest fan favorite. While I would love nothing more than for Aubry to take this title, I do believe her odds to win are about as high as Richard Hatch’s were in All-Stars. I’m not sure what she could do other than sit back and be stealth like. It also doesn’t help her threat level that she is returning with three other people from her season, making at least ⅕ of the Game Changers cast from Kaoh Rong.
The Secret Strategist
The final, and arguably most dangerous category, is the secret strategist. Players that on first glance might be underestimated but prove to be stealthy game players with the ability to shake things up. This archetype is a bit of a blend with “Fear of the Unknown” except these three women are not unknown by any means. Ciera, Cirie, and Andrea all return as scrappy strategists who have shined in a very male dominated production. Ciera famously voted out her mom and forced a rock draw; Andrea was voted out with an idol and was a major target post-merge in Caramoan, and Cirie didn’t even make it to the merge in HvV because of what a mastermind she is.
What makes these players so good is their ability to work magic behind the scenes. Even Jeff Probst used Cirie getting Erik to give up immunity as a promo for the Game Changers season. These women are lethal, and anyone who doesn’t see that has signed their death certificate for Season 34. How could they possibly shed this image of themselves? Cirie has a leg up in the sense that it’s been 14 seasons since her last return. However, she is still the first female to be cast four times, and her reputation precedes itself. Ciera could stay as far away from rocks as possible. And Andrea could maybe just not flirt with everything that walks? Either way, I would love a win from any of these three, but I’m not sure it’s in the cards.
Alright, Probst. I know you have a story to tell us, so let’s hear it. Damn you for making us wait until March, but I have high hopes it’s worth the wait. Here’s to returning characters, making moves and proving their worth as a “Game Changer.”