With the season premiere of Survivor 41 almost upon us, the Inside Survivor team got together to draft its teams and assess the new crop of castaways about to battle it out for the $1 million prize and the title of Sole Survivor.
For this season, the contributors have teamed up in pairs to pick four castaways each (meaning two unlucky castaways will go unchosen). The teams are:
Alexandra & Gus Schlanbusch: Newly married couple Ali and Gust currently write the weekly Hot or Not feature, where they analyze the players and bicker about each other’s picks.
Austin Smith & Stephanie Lauw: Austin recaps the episodes of Survivor US and Australian Survivor, while Steph writes the weekly Next Time On Survivor feature.
Christine Pallon & Gia Worthy: Christine and Gia are regular Inside Survivor contributors providing recaps for various editions of Survivor.
Martin Holmes & Rob Brodeur: Rob is our resident Stats man and Martin, well, that’s me, owner of Inside Survivor!
Taking turns in a snake draft, decided by random draw, the four pairs picked their winner candidates, big characters and personal favorites to assemble their teams. Read on to hear their first impressions and predictions for each castaway…
TEAM CHRISTINE & GIA
Christine: For me and Gia’s first pick, I had to go with Evvie. I’ll be honest: this pick is largely a personal one for me. As a fellow short-haired gay Survivor nerd with glasses, Evvie is probably the closest I’ll get to ever being on the show myself. Plus, they’re our first out non-binary contestant on US Survivor!
Beyond those reasons, though, Evvie seems like they’ll be a whole lot of fun on this season. Her answers for who she’ll play the game most like really won me over. Anyone who cites Natalie Anderson’s brilliant San Juan Del Sur gameplay as an inspiration is already a winner in my book.
Gia: Excuse me, that’s Genie Machiney to you, and don’t you forget it! Based on early teasers and interviews, Genie was immediately an early fan favorite. She has a good-natured, humorous nature about her that sticks with you, even amongst 17 other castaways. Her infectious personality is already radiating off the screen and in every interview she’s given. A naturally charming disposition is great for a Survivor player, but it’s even better when they know how to weaponize it, which Genie claims she does.
Genie wants to play an effective game while also being well-liked, a difficult balance in a game about outwitting everyone around you. I want to believe that if anyone can achieve this equilibrium, it’s Genie. While she has emphasized her social skills as her greatest strength going into the game, she also holds her work ethic in high regard, hence the nickname “Genie Machiney.” Differences in work styles around camp have been known to be the center of pre-merge disagreements. At its best, working hard around camp could keep Genie safe in the game’s earliest stages. At its worst, it could be her ticket out of the game if she rubs people the wrong way.
As a Survivor player, Genie could go either way. On one hand, her boisterous personality could earn her allies both in the Ua tribe and across tribal lines. On the other hand, things could go south if her personality rubs anyone the wrong way. In modern Survivor, anyone highlighting their work ethic is cause for concern because it’s one of the easiest ways to clash with others. With Genie, I choose to remain optimistic. Instead of attaching other concerning buzzwords to her ideal game like playing with “honor” and “integrity,” Genie just wants to be respectful to everyone, even if she plans on blindsiding them. And considering that she’s inspired by the likes of Cirie Fields, I still have faith in Genie Machiney.
Christine: Danny is a pure “good vibes” pick for me! He seems like a pretty solid mix of charisma, physicality, and intelligence. On paper he shouldn’t be targeted early, but there’s always still the chance he could fall victim to an early shock blindside due to his physical strength, especially since this season is poised to be even more fast-paced than usual with the shortened number of days.
However, Danny seems to have good awareness of that. Even if Ben Driebergen’s winning game isn’t one of my favorites, Danny is right to recognize he might need to be ready to play with his back against the wall more than others.
Gia: The stay-at-home mom with a passion for opossums is going into the game with a lot to overcome. Of course, one of the immediate stand-outs about Heather is that she is the oldest player of the season. For some contestants, this is an obstacle that is near impossible to overcome, especially when you’re a woman. For Heather, she’s wearing this fact as a badge of honor. She wants to be the oldest woman to ever win Survivor and plans to use the wisdom that only age can provide to help her get ahead. In this new era with modernized diversity initiatives, I can only hope that someone’s age will not be the detriment it usually is.
As someone with a lot working against her, Heather’s fate in the game will rely heavily on how she comes off to her tribemates on the Luvu tribe. She has highlighted that one of her greatest strengths is her observation skills, not just her environment but the people around her too. There’s nowhere for her to hide on a tribe of six, and unfortunately, women, especially the older women of the tribe, are usually some of the first few to get voted out of the game.
Heather comes off as a player who wants to do well but also wants to enjoy her time on the island. This, combined with her survival skills, could make her Luvu’s greatest asset or one of the earliest boots. Still, reading her bio made me more excited for her than concerned. She is a mom that has studied the other Survivor moms of the past. Not only is she fully aware of her archetype, she’s planning to use it to her fullest potential and learn from those who have come before her.
She comes off as a very warm and extroverted Southern woman, but don’t let her bubbly persona fool you. Her years as part of a roller derby team proves that she isn’t afraid to get down in the dirt when needed. She grew up near a creek and boasts that she knows how to fish, make fire, and forage. This may not be the most valuable asset in modern Survivor, but her outgoing nature combined with her survival skills may just be the deadly combination needed to outlast the rest.
TEAM MARTIN & ROB
Martin: As soon as I saw Liana pick Cirie Fields and Sandra Diaz-Twine as the two players she identifies with the most, I knew she had to be on mine and Rob’s team. This is a woman with taste! And if you’re going to model yourself after two former players, it doesn’t get much better than Cirie and Sandra.
Reading her pre-game interview with Parade’s Mike Bloom, I feel like Liana has the right approach to the game in mind. She doesn’t want to come in too hot. She will let others do the name-throwing and hardcore strategizing while she plays up her bubbly social side. And she seems physically fit enough to be an asset to her tribe in the pre-merge portion of the game. All of these things give me hope of Liana making a deep run.
What really tells me that Liana has a good grip on Survivor, though, is that she said she will be her authentic self. She’s not going to lie about her age (20) or where she goes to school (Georgetown). “This game already moves at super speed. And the more things I have to remember, it’s just gonna make me flustered and not be able to play to the fullest,” she said. So many players get caught up in unnecessary lies, and that ends up being their downfall. Liana’s more measured approach tells me she has her head screwed on for this game.
Rob: I was more than happy to have Deshawn as my first fantasy draft pick. He reminds me a lot of Davie from David vs. Goliath in that he comes across very sociable and looks to have a good strategy coming into the game. In his bio, he describes himself as charming and that definitely comes across when hearing him talk. I think he’s going to fit in very well with his tribe and won’t be seen as a huge threat or a liability. He’s also a medical student, and this cast seems to be a very smart cast overall which will work to his advantage.
Deshawn says that he’ll be nice to everyone on the island but cutting in his confessionals and will probably be seen as a villain by the audience. Luckily for him, some of the best contestants are able to get along well with the other castaways and can let off steam in the confessionals rather than in the face of their tribemates. Deshawn also said he’d like to play like Cirie, and she’s one of the people that fits into that previous statement.
I think he’ll be able to make it very deep in the game and possibly even make it to Final Tribal Council if he’s able to create some good alliances and get to the end with them.
SHANTEL “SHAN” SMITH
Martin: Shantel has a goofy, jokester personality that really draws me to her as a Survivor player and character. And it’s also the kind of character trait that could be disarming to her fellow players. Her silliness and self-admitted awkwardness could make people underestimate her evident smarts and strategic game sense. At least, that is the hope.
Of course, there is always a chance her goofiness could grate on her tribemates and cause her to become an easy target. But in what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think Shantel comes across as annoying; she comes off as funny and approachable. If she can use that charm and humor to form relationships early on, it could serve her really well for the rest of the game.
The other big positive here is that Shantel doesn’t seem afraid to embrace the deceptive side of Survivor. She may be a pastor, but unlike past players who have fulfilled that role, she doesn’t have any qualms about telling a few lies. “While I am a pastor and have deep empathy and a real compassion gift, I’m also a hustler at my core,” she told Parade.
Her life experiences—from bouncing from group homes to foster homes to being in a gang to living on the streets—should make for a formidable player that can handle the toughness of Survivor, both in terms of the environment and the people.
Rob: Our first contestant from Wyoming, Brad seems to be a bit of a jack of all trades. A rancher, pilot, and propane tank explosion victim (!), Brad has quite a big personality and he isn’t afraid to show it. He seems like he’ll be a hard-working, valuable member of his tribe. However, in a season full of what look to be super-fan strategists, this approach might not work out to his advantage.
The thing about Brad is I can either see him being voted out first for coming on too strong too early or voted out right before the end because everybody likes him and is afraid that everyone will vote for him at FTC.
He’s one of the oldest players this season, but you wouldn’t know that just by looking at him. I don’t think he’ll fall into the “let’s vote him out because he’s old” curse that plagues most over 40 contestants because I think he’ll be a huge asset not only around camp but in the challenges as well. Hopefully Brad can make a good showing for his newly Survivor-represented state of Wyoming and make his family proud.
TEAM ALI & GUS
Ali: Alright, I have a confession to make. Gus and I were three days away from our wedding when we picked this draft (we got married! Yay!), so our picks ended up having to be largely gut feeling for the first time ever. However, I think that actually ended up being a good thing because we didn’t have a chance to overthink it and turn ourselves into a mush of anxiety. Here we go, going with it.
I love Naseer! His story already makes him a true survivor and, as he points out, very suited to surviving the elements. Honestly, Naseer’s already won at life, and I’m hoping that he has the willpower to win the game. My concern about Naseer is twofold: first, that his story makes him a threat in the end, and second, that he will get annoyed with laziness (and almost anyone would look lazy next to this guy) and that’ll make him ruffle (or rustle) feathers.
Lastly, I’m a little concerned that he might not be aware of his archetype since he couldn’t name another player he was like. But if Naseer can keep his story on the down low, bite his tongue around inevitable laziness, and pick up on his place in the game quickly, I think he’ll have a cakewalk at Final Tribal.
JAIRUS “JD” ROBINSON
Jairus was our second pick because I looked for one quality that I’d want to keep around the island, a sense of humor. I think that, more than anything else, would be a golden ticket in this game. Challenge wins and survival skills don’t ultimately win the game. Just like the fifth-grade class president race, personality will win out in the end.
Not to mention that Jairus is no dummy and no slouch when it comes to athletic ability. The difference is that he’s not THE smartest (on paper) or THE best athlete when it comes to who looks physically intimidating. That’s a great thing! Survivor is notoriously all about tall poppy syndrome, in which the tall poppies get cut and the shorter poppies get to thrive. This is a guy who can hopefully crack a smile and stay under the radar but can still come in clutch and have an impressive enough resume to get a win at the end.
Furthermore, the guy knows this game at least well enough to mention winners like Spradlin and… Fabio? The more I think about him, the more excited I get to have him on my team.
My one concern about Jairus is he’s just so stinkin’ young! We’ve seen youthful winners before, but it’s an uphill battle when sitting next to, say, a guy who supports not only his mother but his sister’s family as well. Jairus will have to pick who he’s sitting next to at the end carefully to pull out a win, but I can see him sitting there in the finals.
Our lovely third pick: brawn and brains wrapped up in one. The guy looks like he could yeet me into the sun, while casually tossing around the word “sycophantic.” He’s got the life experience that could make him a clear winner at the end. I mean, who doesn’t want to give the money to a veteran with a kid?
I have two trifles that diminish Eric’s chance for success in my estimation. First, I’m hesitant whenever anyone declares they’re going to play like Boston Rob. Modern casts are a lot more… let’s say “game savvy” than Boston Rob’s winning season and wouldn’t be as willing to let a player walk all over them. Rob’s playstyle is going to be tough to replicate in modern conditions, and I worry that Eric trying those tactics might blow up in his face. The other thing that worries me is that Eric may not be able to hide how intelligent he is, which might be a one-way ticket to him reading a book at Ponderosa.
At the end of the day, Eric seems like a very thoughtful person to me, someone who loves to watch the world and notice the small details. I hope his powers of observation can come in handy during this lightning-fast game.
We have our poker player! Thankfully, it’s just a hobby, so we’ll hope the Survivor gods don’t pass on the questionable legacy of poker players in this game.
What I find so fun about the evolution of this show is that we’re no longer watching young women coming on content to be taken to the end. They’re doing the taking nowadays. Sara’s young, and as I said for Jairus, this could work against her. However, there’s a pretty large developmental leap that occurs between twenty and twenty-four. Now, age can also be just a number (I can’t speak too much on Jairus’s life experience), but we’ve seen that Sara has dealt with some pretty gutwrenching loss in her life. I think the maturity she might have gotten from those tragedies will endear her to some of the older folks in the game without making her a target.
I like that she’s confident in her fighting spirit, because women in this game don’t have an easy battleground. Normally, I’d be concerned that she could be early boot fodder since she’s a young woman (and they don’t always fare well in the early game). Indeed, I think this will be the time when she’s in the most peril, but she can put that fighting spirit to good use. I think her professed social abilities and obvious intelligence will help her slip under the radar in the merge. Also, as someone who’s done silks before, this lady is strong as heck!
As a final note, I just wanted to say that I’m so deeply sorry to hear about Sara’s grandmother’s passing from COVID. My heart goes out to her and her family and all of the families who have been impacted this year.
TEAM AUSTIN & STEPHANIE
Austin: There’s no doubt about it: Ricard is confident in every sense of the word. He knows himself and owns every part of it, especially the positives. But whereas that kind of unrelenting confidence can sometimes come across as vain or self-indulgent, Ricard’s brand of surety is infectious and charming. For that reason alone, it was hard to look past him as our first pick.
Ricard has an earnestness when he speaks that echoes his life of constant discovery and curiosity that has led him to be the man he is as he hits the beach. I expect that degree of warm joviality will allow him to quickly ingratiate himself with his tribemates, which will be critical in this condensed season. He was quick to identify that the season’s cast’s diversity will have a hugely positive effect on his ability to authentically connect to others, allowing him to be more than just the token Hispanic player or the token gay guy or the notable disabled player, being deaf in one ear. His awareness of himself, both in how he sees himself and how he interprets how others might view him, will be a huge boon for him.
Gameplay-wise, this season is stacked with huge fans—and Ricard is among them. It only takes a passing glance at his Twitter to discover he is a huge reality TV junkie. But his passion for Survivor goes way back to the days of watching Borneo (and in his Parade interview, he particularly notes watching Richard, and seeing his mother cheer for a gay man to succeed, helped him find confidence in his own queer identity).
He aspires to play a game emulating Aubry’s strategic use of social reads, while also trying be the surprise threat, accelerating all aspects of his game, including physical prowess, in the post-merge. That’s a big game to talk up, but when Ricard says he’s a triple threat (at least), who am I to quibble?
Steph: I was first drawn to Erika because she just looks fun with purple hair. The 32-year-old from Toronto, Canada is a long-time fan of Survivor who is well-versed in past seasons of the game, sneaking in “not afraid to show her teeth” when describing Brenda Lowe from Nicaragua and Caramoan.
Her experience as a Communications Manager makes me believe that she knows the importance of messaging, which is definitely beneficial in a game that is so heavily social. From Erika’s pre-season press, I think she’ll approach the rest of the players with flexibility and adapt her game to their calls.
And on top of everything said above, I always find my Singaporean self supporting contestants with Southeast Asian backgrounds. I’ll definitely be rooting for Erika this season!
Steph: We’ve all seen Xander’s archetype on the show before—young, athletic background, surfer bro with the long hair. I’m expecting him to be a physical player and hoping that it will carry him for at least the early parts of the game.
From his pre-season interviews, Xander is clearly brainier than his usual archetype, and he believes that his intelligence will be underestimated. He’s an app developer, speaks fluent Mandarin, and we read about him nerding out over a wide breadth of topics. I’m curious to see if these book smarts will translate into street smarts, especially when he’s unable to have such niche conversations with his fellow tribemates.
Nonetheless, I’m happy picking Xander because of his positive outlook and the adventurous approach he hopes to bring to the game.
Austin: Tiffany got engaged while watching Survivor—what more can you want? But in all seriousness, long-term fan Tiffany is coming into this game shot out of a cannon. As revealed in a surprisingly candid fourth-wall-breaking moment in the CBS sneak peek, she was an alternate who only got the call to play a day before the cast was due to fly out. And even with the quarantine period, that adrenaline is going to be pumping through Tiffany’s veins, heightening her already big personality.
Could it mean she comes in too hot and flames out early? Sure. But I can see a much longer journey ahead for her. Even outside of her flight to Fiji, Tiffany’s travelled a gruelling journey through life, recounting the loss of her mother to cancer and the discovery that she also carried the genetic marker for breast cancer, allowing her to undergo pre-emptive, life-saving treatment. Tiffany is tough, strong, and sure of who she is, and that could set her up well to be a force in the game.
Especially with the diversity of the cast, including age, Tiffany may be able to dodge the “older woman” target that will inevitably come for her demographic. And she is cognizant of the fact that she may need to temper some of her louder tendencies and leadership instincts in the early game. I also really liked her articulation of forming “situationships” versus “relationships” in her Parade interview. That is, forming authentic social connections while also being practical and flexible, as opposed to overly investing in deep, unbreakable relationships that, while meaningful, could box her in when it comes to the game.
That mentality of flexibility is going to be crucial in the faster-paced 26-day game, and Tiffany’s experience as a teacher, managing a huge web of constantly changing one-on-one connections, will certainly be a huge help. Tiffany intrigues me as an ambitious player and an enthusiastic character, and I really hope we get to see her flourish this season.
All photos courtesy of CBS.