I was standing in line to get on a flight from Fiji to LA in May of 2016 when Taylor Stocker told me our names had been leaked by the website Inside Survivor. [Editor’s Note: Ironically, Taylor was the one name not leaked by Inside Survivor]. I’d been on the site several times and listened to Survivor-related podcasts, but I honestly had no idea what was coming as a castaway on the show. Knowing that the leading expert in finding cast members ahead of time had released our names was exciting yet completely nerve-racking at the same time.
We would have just shy of four months to wait before our official cast bios were going to be released by CBS. For Millennials vs. Gen-X, there were six of us featured in the preview following the Kaôh Rōng finale—Chris Hammons, David Wright, Mari Takahashi, Taylor, Zeke Smith, and myself. For us, the cat was out of the bag. For myself it was somewhat of a relief; while I couldn’t comment on anything, at least I didn’t have to lie to friends and family about where I’d been until the official cast release in August.
The cast release is a big deal; every player anxiously waits to see how they are portrayed and, more importantly, how the Survivor fandom receives them. It’s somewhat like going to the dentist, you hope for the best, yet you are almost sure you’re going to get yelled at for not flossing and then be punished by having to have a root canal. There is an official cast release sent out by CBS to local and national outlets, a castaway video, and short bios with questions answered by the cast themselves. In an instant, it’s all out there. It literally takes moments before the ‘reviews’ start flooding the internet, or at least Survivor Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter.
Like the show itself, drama sells and nice does not. I don’t care who you are, how confident you may be, everyone reads this stuff, everyone Googles themselves, and everyone is affected on some level by the words they read about themselves online. I was warned not to read it, I was told don’t look at it—that’s like handing a 3-year-old a cookie jar, walking away, and telling them not to eat a cookie.
Don’t listen to Corrine Kaplan’s Brutal Cast Assessment (a yearly tradition on Rob Has a Podcast where the former Survivor player roasts the new cast) they said. “You’ll regret it.” Are you kidding me? Miss out on a yearly tradition? No way! I listened and giggled a bit. My favorite line was “I’d rather listen to kittens being skinned alive than hear Sunday’s voice.” Is my voice really that bad? It actually made me laugh. First of all, how does she know what it sounds like to skin a kitten? That’s way more disturbing than my recognizable voice! If you are smart, you take it all in stride, you laugh, and you realize it’s all a part of the ‘off the island’ game.
Armchair quarterbacks are in their prime from the day of the cast release until the premiere of the season. Judging and critiquing every player based on a short-written bio and a 30-second video clip, where, keep in mind, they are asked to answer a question. Chalk it up to naivety, but I had no idea the fans, bloggers, and podcasters would so thoroughly examine this one document. My favorite is the “Who will you play like?” question, it’s a fair question to ask, but the truth is until you’re out there you really have no idea how you’ll play. Fans make comparisons as to who they think a player is like and in many cases they are flat out wrong.
Imagine for a moment you were cast in an upcoming newbie season; it’s your dream come true! You are excited about every aspect of the show on and off the island. The press, the commercials, the cast photos (which, in the case of Season 33, were awful I might add), and the official cast release day. The fun is starting, and you get to see the dream you already experienced play out in public. Then you look at the comments and it’s as if a creepy, drunk clown stumbled into your party uninvited and popped your red balloon.
While I was in the middle of writing this article, Kellyn Bechtold, from last season’s Ghost Island, tweeted a screenshot of a private message sent to a new Season 37 cast member that was beyond simply being mean, it was disturbing and harassing.
To any of you who say “if you go on Reality TV you deserve criticism” take a look at a message one of the new S37ers got today. Just for being released as a castaway. NO ONE deserves this. Please stop. And if you are fans, slide some love into the newbies’ DMs! #survivorsunshine pic.twitter.com/FTDiI6xwSe
— Kellyn Bechtold (@bechtoldya) September 6, 2018
Why do people have to immediately dump on the new players? I get it, it’s more fun and more interesting to be mean. But honestly, do people not realize these are actual people they are talking about? Maybe it’s that green-eyed monster coming out because they themselves wished so badly they were playing the game. Also, players are often attacked for things out of their control, for example, players have nothing to do with the theme, the casting, or the twists and yet still receive hate in relation to these aspects of the show. Could we give the players a break?
So much of the pre-season commentary is made up of assumptions based on very limited information. In the case of MvGX, you couldn’t listen to a single podcast or read a post that didn’t include the foregone conclusion that Mari Takahashi would dominate the season. Mari, for the record, is amazing and definitely had all the right elements to win the game. But the point is, it is a game, and there is no way to account for human behavior in such a stressful situation.
While many sang the praises of Mari, I, on the other hand, had quite a few comments such as, “she’s going to be a train wreck,” “she’s a religious nut-job,” “she’ll be the first boot for sure.” In both cases, the armchairs got it wrong. Either way, these are still just big assumptions based on little information.
Am I saying don’t analyze the players? Keep quiet about your opinions? Absolutely not, it’s part of the fun of the Survivor community. The banter, the guessing, the fantasy drafts, Josh Wigler’s First One Out (a must-listen by the way) are all a part of the game that brings us together as a community.
What I am saying is this, for all the ratings, opinions, and polls, try to remember these are just ordinary people fulfilling a dream that hopefully one day you yourself will get to experience. When you read about the new players and are ready to type your thoughts, instead of simply minimizing them to just a TV character, think about the fact that they are just like you.
Welcome to the party Season 37, keep your heads up and enjoy the ride, you are now officially in the Survivor family and family looks out for each other!