“Spencer has a zero percent chance of winning this game.” – Jeff Probst
Survivor is a game that thrives on these big, bold statements. How many times have we heard that “[Castaway] is definitely getting voted out tonight” or “I would never write your name down,” only to see this unthinkable thing come true? Far too many to keep count.
Keep that in mind as I write this article.
Whether you follow Survivor through InsideSurvivor.com, Reddit, Sucks, or even Facebook, dream casts are everywhere. Aside from not having cast me, Survivor’s casting team has done a brilliant job of consistently producing players that are entertaining, original, and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the influx of great characters and players hits a road block when the game gets going. All of these players that had so much potential are voted out early, or overshadowed by other, bigger and better players, or don’t pan out for whatever reason. When looking at these players in hindsight, we have left longing for more.
Take Darnell for example. The “King” of the unspoiled and underhyped Kaoh Rong was praised by many to be a serious contender, yet got voted out first. Even players like Laura Alexander, the oft forgotten blonde in Caramoan, showed serious potential as a player but didn’t stay around long enough to see their potential realized – check out the Missed Opportunities fantasy cast for these players.
Yes, this is another one of those “dream casts.” No, I’m not going to fill the spots with players like Joe, Ozzy, and Colleen. Rather, I take this time to highlight 18 players (9 males and 9 females) who showed potential, yet seem to fall short of casting time and time again. From being under the radar to underappreciated, this cast represents 18 one-time players that I believe stand a slim-to-none (note how I didn’t say never) shot of being on a returning season. If this cast set off for Fiji tomorrow, I believe it would be a fantastic group; good enough that I would willingly eat crow if any of these players ever made it back. But for whatever reason, their Survivor ship has likely sailed.
As I write this, know that there were a ton of people that made the list or just fell short. Again, there is a myriad of players worthy of a second chance, yet won’t get one. Also, like a fine wine, a character ages well (or doesn’t) over time, so this list skews towards the older seasons and attempts to avoid recency bias.
I’m going to make a big statement here: Kelly Goldsmith is the OG Corinne Kaplan that we never knew we wanted, but was on too early a season to be truly highlighted. Her witty remarks and sarcasm made Kelly a confessional gem. At one point, she even says that there are prescription drugs to help people like tribemate Frank Garrison.
Sure, Kelly would be great TV, but that’s not entirely why she made the cut. Kelly holds the title of being the first person to flip on their alliance, in this case leaving the Borans and joining the Samburus. Had Brandon not also flipped at tribal council, Lex would have been voted out 5-4 and Kelly would have stayed, likely becoming the critical alliance member in the late-game.
Unfortunately, Kelly isn’t remembered, especially with three other Boran members (Lex, Ethan, and Tom) all getting more screentime, game time, and chances to return. Even further, it seems like T-Bird Cooper is likely the first female to come back from Africa after being on the Second Chance ballot. Kelly’s game was hampered by the fact that Survivor, at the time, was more about the survival element and remaining loyal to your alliance. A second chance to play in the modern era would give her the opportunity to play the game at full speed.
Since Survivor, Kelly has gone on to receive multiple graduate degrees (Masters and Doctorate) and has entered the world of teaching.
The first time that Survivor split tribes based on gender, there was a clear age divide on the female tribe, Jaburu. The “younger, prettier girls,” Heidi, Jenna, and Shawna, and the “older” women comprised by players such as “Oh Glory, Hallelujah” Joanna and “that’s not my granola bar” Janet. In the middle, however, was District Attorney Deena Bennett. Elected the leader, Deena led Jaburu in both the camp life and at challenges. After a tribe swap mixed the genders, Deena once again landed in a favorable position on the new Jaburu, gaining the loyalties of Rob Cesternino and Alex Bell. Along with Jerri in Australia, Deena is one of the first females in Survivor history to be truly blindsided. Unlike Jerri, however, Deena stood a legitimate chance of winning.
Deena’s leadership abilities, challenge prowess, and alliance management made her one of the bright spots in the Amazon. Another chance for Deena would provide her the opportunity to right her wrongs (namely overconfidence) and draw attention to an old-school season that production overlook when it comes to returnee casting. That reason is why Deena will likely never return. While she was a great competitor and player, Deena and other members of Survivor: The Amazon are frequently forgotten when it comes time to make casting calls.
Think about all the things that made you like Ami Cusack as a strategist in Vanuatu…. Yeah, they were probably because of Leann. As time has gone on, it’s become more common knowledge that Leann was the one pulling the strings from behind the scenes, and Ami was the one that got the credit. If Chris went home at the Final 7, it’s possible that Leann ends up winning the entire season. Sadly, the edit and episodes don’t point towards this, so we’ll never really know how big her impact was.
Aside from a memorable earthquake confessional and arguably the most textbook blindside of Survivor, Leann didn’t make a blip on the radar of Survivor: Vanuatu. Sure, I’m a fan of hers when many are not but I’d be interested in seeing how she would perform in another season. For the sake of a good returnee season, however, I don’t know if Leann would be an excellent choice. Returning seasons tend to favor those who had a nice character arc, which Leann did not have. Additionally, if Vanuatu gets another first-time returner, I’d be downright shocked if it’s someone other than Chris or Twila.
Palau is one of my favorite Survivor seasons. I know I’m in the minority here, but watching Koror, initially perceived as the underdogs, entirely decimate Ulong was brilliant TV if you ask me. From the demise of Ulong, the Caryn Groedel soundboard, and Katie’s one-liners, Palau is a highly entertaining season regarding strategy, human nature, and character development.
Concerning returning players, Katie is probably most like Courtney Yates: not regarded as a strong competitor (remember her trying to use a rope swing?), but has a commendable social game and witty one-liners to boot.
Why can’t a female alliance happen? Yes, you’ve just remembered exactly why Katie is an underrated Survivor player. She knew her strengths and her weaknesses and was not afraid to play them up. Despite always being in a comfortable position, Katie wasn’t afraid to test the waters elsewhere and ensure her a spot in the final two. Her social standing and bonds with people were so strong that Ian quit the game so she could have a place in the final two.
I genuinely hope that Katie graces our screens again, but highly doubt it. While in Palau, Katie contracted a life-threatening infection, prompting viral cardiomyopathy, that nearly killed her. I hope I’m wrong, but I just don’t imagine that she would want to go back to a situation that almost took her life the first time.
In a season where racial divisions overshadowed actual gameplay, few remember the “cutie in the peach,” Jenny Guzon-Bae. Jenny might be the most obscure candidate on this list, but her game in the Cook Islands fascinates me. Even more peculiar, Jenny’s elimination came at the hands of a mystery twist that invoked a second vote at tribal.
I do not believe that Survivor production deliberately steps in to impact the course of the game. However, I don’t believe for a second that Aitu would have voted out a second member if they had lost the immunity challenge responsible for sending Raro to tribal council. I wonder why they needed to have the message in a bottle in the same way that I wonder why they went directly to tribal council after the first immunity challenge in Cambodia.
Potential controversy aside, Jenny was an impressive social, strategic, and physical player. Watching her breeze through puzzles and compete in physical challenges makes me think that she could have a lot more game left in her. I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell she comes back, but I believe it would be great to see how a member of the Cook Islands that isn’t Parvati, Penner, Ozzy, or Candice would fare.
Of the castaways that got screwed over by a twist, Michelle Yi is, by far, my favorite. In the firestorm that was the Builders vs. Explorers and Moto vs. Ravu, Michelle came out cleaner than Daenerys Targaryen after burning down Vaes Dothrak. It’s even more ironic given that she was the one that started the fire at Ravu.
Michelle’s upbeat and positive attitude in the midst of the terrible situation that was Ravu quickly made her a favorite of mine. Add that to her incredible puzzle solving skills, a hilarious fall off of a tower, and her ability to stay in excellent social standing and Michelle had all the makings of going very far in the game. Again, however, a mysterious twist landed Michelle at tribal council with the odds stacked against her.
I would love to see Michelle get another chance to play, but it’s likely that her being on Fiji, an oft-maligned season, and not having a huge personality will prevent her return.
The cast of Tocantins was absolutely loaded with potential. To whoever cast it, thank you. From the onset of the season, Sierra was on the outs looking in. Deemed the weakest by her tribe, she worked hard and tried to maneuver herself further. Arguably, she did well, making the jury after being singled out at the very beginning.
Sierra’s legacy in Survivor is one of overcoming struggles and playing as a massive underdog. What I’m not sure of, however, is if Sierra received the Sugar edit and made her look a lot better than she is (almost the entire cast did not like her in the game). Regardless, Sierra’s history makes her perfect for a sort of redemption arc in a second season.
There’s already a group of Ciera/Sierra’s as returning players and it’s clear the CBS has tried to get her back for another round. However, according to the Survivor fanbase, Sierra lives a happy life in Australia and has no interest in returning.
I wasn’t kidding – I could have put the entire cast of Tocantins on this list and been a happy man. Unlike Sierra before her, Erinn’s game was calculated and low-key, fueled on the wariness of Timbira after Candace was voted out. Erinn’s timely flip brought her to the final three before JT decided that loyalty was better than taking a perceived goat.
In a season with huge personalities, Erinn, known for hilarious confessionals, held her own and showed some serious strategic chops. In terms of returning females, however, the casting seems to tend towards those who have made big, bold moves. Erinn married NHL player Dave Moss and recently had a child, so it’s doubtful that Erinn will return soon, if at all.
Trish is the closest contestant I have to present on this list… and I’m okay with that. I think recency bias has expired now that we’re a few seasons out from Cagayan. In many ways, Trish was a vital part of Cagayan’s success. Trish provided drama, funny moments, but most importantly, she was the lynchpin to Tony being able to navigate his way to the top. Like Jerri in Heroes vs. Villains, had Trish gotten to the end, it was very likely that she could have won.
Trish is one of the few contestants on this cast that I think could play again. What Trish has going against her, however, is that the Cagayan cast was stacked with great players, and it seems unlikely that production will opt for a more subtle and unshown game. With four members of Cagayan having already returned (plus two more on the upcoming Season 34), I think it might be a while before we see Trish have another chance at even making a cast.
Silas had it all. Before the first tribe swap in Survivor history effectively crippled his chances of staying alive. After switching from Samburu to Boran, Silas’ new tribe was so worried about him that they decided to throw the next immunity challenge to get rid of him. Without any help from his old Samburu members, Frank and T-Bird, Silas was swiftly sent out of Africa.
To me, Silas is the perfect candidate for a returnee season that seeks a redemption arc. Silas’ downfall was his overconfidence, rooted in the fact that a tribe swap had never been done before, hence totally unexpected. In a newer season where most twists are set in stone – hidden immunity idols and tribe swaps, namely – Silas would be able to expect the very thing that was his demise.
This one feels a bit weird to write. For the past year or so, John (and Neleh) have been informally campaigning for a shot at another season. Neither appeared to have made any traction, however, as neither name showed up on any casting lists for Season 34. Of the two, however, John stands the better chance to come back as he has a better chance of correcting past mistakes.
Those past mistakes? Well, they came mostly due to John’s hubris and the unprecedented nature of the bottom flipping on the alliance. John’s downfall gives him a chance of coming back, as his character arc is ripe for redemption.
Aside from two-time winner Sandra, one-time pity winner Rupert, and super-villain Jonny Fairplay, Pearl Islands had been long forgotten in returning seasons. However, Andrew Savage broke that trend, joining the cast of Survivor: Second Chance. Savage’s return, if anything, gave a more casual audience the chance to remember why Pearl Islands should be regarded as a great season and not just the season where Fairplay’s Grandma didn’t die.
While the idea of the Outcast twist is not something I enjoy, I do appreciate how Burton (and Lil’s pouty face) changed the dynamic. Burton remains one of the most memorable cast members that hasn’t returned. If a couple of things went differently for Burton, he could have easily won Pearl Islands. Unfortunately for him, however, Burton didn’t make the most of his second chance on his season (albeit without time to truly process the events), so it’s unlikely that he’ll get a chance at another.
Gregg is the second of three Palau members that make this list. Sure, I love Palau, and that’s why I view these characters in higher regard, but I think they’re totally deserving. Gregg played an underrated game that became overshadowed by the likes of Ulong’s demise and Tom Westman’s stranglehold on the game.
Gregg was playing hard even though his fellow tribemates saw him as a nonthreat with Jenn Lyon. He was sitting pretty in the majority, but actively made a deal with Coby and the minority to overthrow Tom. Unfortunately for that plan, Koror went beast mode and had few opportunities to go to tribal pre-merge (if you can even call it that). I’d go as far to say that if Koror had lost one more pre-merge immunity, Tom would have been voted out and Gregg goes on to win Palau.
If you want a character that can clearly show the emotional toll that Survivor has on contestants, look no further than Ian. Ian bowed out of the final three immunity challenge and asked to be voted out to mend somewhat broken relationships. The relationships soured when Ian tried to do some late-game scheming.
A second season and the chance to play again would serve Ian’s character arc well. In a season in the new era, Ian has the opportunity fully to embrace the manipulative nature of the game and right the wrongs of the past. Ian has since become a successful businessman, and it’s likely that this chapter of his past has closed. I would love nothing more, however, than to see Ian on another iteration of Heroes vs. Villains.
Fewer players have played a more flawless social game than Rafe Judkins. Even more astonishingly, his game has been massively overlooked because of its subtlety. Concerning modern Survivor, I would compare Rafe’s social dominance to that of Aubry, except that everyone knew Rafe was pulling the strings. That presence, however, was his downfall as he fell short and was voted out at the Final Three.
Guatemala is another one of those seasons that boasts fantastic characters, yet hasn’t seen any returners (excluding Stephenie here as I classify her as a Palau player). I’m not sure what his character arc would look like (unfinished business?), but I’d love to see Rafe return. Rafe has been successful since Survivor, recently writing for shows like Agents of SHIELD on ABC. He now lives a presumably happy life in Spain, so I doubt that he would 1) get a call and 2) want to return.
Yes, many regard Fiji as one of the worst seasons in Survivor’s history. It’s not in my upper echelon, but it still has some fantastic moments and players. Boo’s game in Fiji didn’t get highlighted, yet it was very impressive. To my knowledge, Boo was the inventor of the Spy Shack (sorry Tony). Tied with Tom Westman, Boo also won SEVENTEEN challenges in Fiji. After helping overthrow the Four Horseman, Boo just didn’t have any traction within a very tight group of four.
Boo has been a huge part of Survivor in a way that many don’t know and appreciate – he is responsible for the casting of players like James Clement, Russell Hantz, Colton Cumbie, and Shannon Elkins – although whether that is something to appreciate or not is questionable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave the Nale’s a helping hand too, but I can’t confirm that. Disregarding that his ACL tore in a challenge, Boo had proven himself to be a strong physical and strategic threat. Some trouble with the law mixed with his casting experience leads me to believe that Boo won’t be back.
Sash’s game will always be remembered for one thing: Mortgage-gate (where Sash apparently offered to pay off fellow contestant Jane’s mortgage off if he won). Whether it happened or is a myth, it doesn’t change the fact that Sash played an impressive game, doing whatever it took to get himself further. He was always in good social standing, despite coming off to viewers as the villain of the season. If mortgage-gate isn’t true and he isn’t blacklisted, Sash could come back in on a Villains season. The problem, however, is that Sash’s game wasn’t flashy in the way that you need a Villain edit to be.
Speaking of villain edits, Pete didn’t receive one (that honor was bestowed on Abi), despite having played like one. If you ask me, putting the idol clue in RC’s bag might have been the biggest move in the Philippines. Without it, RC and Abi probably don’t entirely hate each other, and Tandang stays loyal after the merge.
How Pete hasn’t returned yet is honestly beyond me. He’s a good looking, articulate villain that would play very well to viewers on a returning season. My only guess is that bigger personalities overshadowed his time, and he often falls through the cracks.
If you disagree or feel like I missed out on a total gem, sound off in the comment section below or slam me on Twitter at @SRSurvivorEgo.