Introduction by Martin Holmes
On Survivor: Heroes vs Villains, in the last episode before the merge, Survivor: Tocantins winner JT handed over his Hidden Immunity Idol to Russell Hantz after an Immunity challenge. JT and the Heroes tribe were under the assumption that the Villains tribe was being controlled by Parvati and an all-girls alliance. Believing that Russell was next on the chopping block, JT and his fellow tribemates thought that if they could find some way to save Russell then he would flip to them at the merge, giving the Heroes alliance a numerical advantage to take out the remaining Villains. None of the other 19 players on Heroes vs Villains had ever seen Russell Hantz play Survivor.
Throughout Survivor: Samoa, Russell Hantz proved himself to be one of the most conniving, controversial, cut-throat players Survivor had ever seen. He also had a record of finding and using Hidden Immunity Idols to take out his enemies. Why would you hand a player like Russell an idol? Well, if you had never seen him play the game, then why not? On the one hand you had Parvati, a player that people had seen play two previous seasons; one of which where she ran an effective all-girls alliance and mastered the art of the blindside. On the other hand you have Russell, an unknown entity that people had no way of knowing his style of play. Sure, he was placed on the Villains tribe, so you could probably assume he was a little shady, but the Villains tribe included an array of personalities – Courtney, Coach, Danielle, and Sandra weren’t exactly known as cut-throat, manipulative players.
In an interview with People Magazine after his boot episode had aired, JT states the following when asked about Russell…
No one knew Russell’s game. Would things have been different had you known?
Who knows? No one can say but there’s definitely one thing for sure — he wouldn’t have gotten a free idol from me!
If Survivor: Samoa had aired before Heroes vs Villains was filmed, JT would have never given his idol to Russell. I don’t like to get into “what would have happened had this not happened” talk too much with Survivor, but if JT never gives his idol to Russell then the entire complexion of that season and the history of Survivor could have changed dramatically. Sandra might have successfully flipped to the Heroes, and Russell or Parvati may have been idoled out at the merge. The main thing is JT probably wouldn’t be as maligned as he is now because of that move, and he would still rightfully be considered one of the best players and winners of all time.
The upcoming Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance is different though. For the first time ever we have an all returnee season where every single player has had the opportunity to see each other play.
Inside Survivor contributor Jacob Derwin takes a deeper look at this difference and what it means for Survivor Second Chance.
Survivor Second Chance: Where Everybody Knows Your Name
by Jacob Derwin
What happens when every contestant on a Survivor season knows their competition weeks before the game even starts?
At the start of Survivor: All-Stars the viewer is told that each of the three tribes are being sent off to their respective camps secretly, unaware of their competition or the three-tribe format. If each of the returnee contestants had kept up with the show consistently then most of the castaways probably knew each other; with the exception of Rupert Boneham from Survivor: Pearl Islands, which had aired just before and during All-Stars’ production. This means the All-Stars cast was relatively unaware of the mark Rupert had left on the game. Rupert placed fourth on All-Stars, the best he has ever placed in his four seasons.
In Survivor: Micronesia, the tribe of favorites included Survivor: China’s Amanda Kimmel and James Clement, who had two months between the end of China’s production and the beginning of filming for Fans vs. Favorites. This means that, at most, the Micronesia cast may have seen Amanda and James once or twice on their television before heading out to the island. Though James was medically evacuated, his evacuation led to his repeated seventh place finish, insinuating a potential to have gone further in the season. Amanda was the runner-up of the season; the best she has ever placed in her three seasons (she was the second runner-up in China).
(Parvati twitter response regarding how much of Survivor: China she had seen)
— Parvati Shallow (@parvatishallow) June 11, 2015
Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains included the first return of Russell Hantz. Survivor: Samoa finished filming approximately three weeks before Heroes vs. Villains began; meaning Hantz was the first complete unknown wild-card to the rest of the returnee cast. Though he was immediately labelled as one of the Villains, and acted pretty similarly in both seasons, his nature was surprising to his Heroes vs. Villains cast-mates simply because they had never seen him in action before. This led Russell to back-to-back arrivals at the Final Tribal Council, and back-to-back losses. He didn’t get as many jury votes as he did in Samoa, but he got close to matching his performance. His next return in Survivor: Redemption Island would not be so successful as he would come in seventeenth place out of the 18 castaways.
The point is, even one or two unknown (or somewhat unknown) players can heavily influence the way a season of Survivor plays out; often in favor of the unknown. The highly awaited Survivor: Cambodia – Second Chance has taken that variable out of play and smashed it like a tile with a key inside.
This is stating the obvious, but with the public voting twist to the casting of Second Chance, every single potential contestant knew whom he or she could be up against. Even returnees from the most recent season, Survivor: Worlds Apart’s Joe Anglim and Shirin Oskooi, had been back in the U.S. waiting with the rest of the candidates while the other 30 watched their season play out with them. The only “unknowns” are the castaways who other castaways didn’t do research on. Everyone has had ample time to learn, and potentially communicate with his or her competition. This is not just another twist like an extra vote or an Immunity Idol hidden in a tree stump; this is a true and total game changer I expect to heavily alter the flow of the season.
In a post-Worlds Apart finale Rob Has a Podcast interview, Second Chance candidate Shane Powers confirmed the existence of pre-game alliances, something many fans had speculated and continue to speculate about, including one he was a part of containing contestants who made it onto the season. Whether that alliance, or any other pre-game alliance, will be able to exist in the actual game is yet to be known, but that meta-game is a key factor that must be considered with the new circumstances this season exists in.
Survivor has entered a realm of text message strategy and e-mail alliances. Even if it only happens this one time, and I doubt that will be the case, this is a season where the primary threats will not be muscular alpha males, but instead those who are the most involved in the Survivor community. This is a season where flirtatiousness or flattery will most likely be ignored and probably looked at as a weak attempt at gameplay. This is a season where everyone is coming in with way more than just a first impression of the other contestants based off of watching episodes or seeing them around the hotels during pre-production. These contestants potentially have full-fledged plans set in place.
But who will benefit the most from this?
I don’t want to start theorizing and setting up charts and webs attempting to predict which contestants will possibly have created pre-game alliances, or whose friendships will play a role in the season (though I will try to predict the winner in a moment). I do want to emphasize that this is the first time in a season of Survivor where I fully believe outside-game discussions will directly impact the game. By no means is that to suggest the game hasn’t been influenced by outside relationships in the past (I’m sure quite a few friendships have deteriorated throughout these competitions – Rob and Lex I’m looking at you), but never has it been so blatantly apparent and expected.
In the past, under-the-radar or furtive characters, most often women, have done the best in “all-star” seasons. Amber Brkich, despite doing rather well and coming in sixth place, was a relatively understated personality in Survivor: The Australian Outback. She would go on to win All-Stars against her future husband. Though she played Micronesia more aggressively than Survivor: Cook Islands, Parvati Shallow’s generally stealthy and cunning demeanor certainly played a big part in her victory in the first Fans vs. Favorites. Even Sandra Diaz-Twine who went into Heroes vs. Villains having won her first season, still managed to deflect votes from her just by creating the illusion of loyalty to anyone looking for it. In fact, both times she played, someone else brought Sandra to the Final Tribal Council. She was so effective in playing a strategic, yet under-the-radar game that she didn’t need to put herself into the finals. A slightly different example, in Survivor: Caramoan, John Cochran combined smart, decisive game-play with a slew of individual Immunity wins when he needed them, helping him to win a “perfect game”; never having received a single vote against him, and receiving every vote from the jury. Cochran’s social game was a hundred times stronger on his second outing; another common thread between these winners. The only returnee season winner with a more brash approach to his game was Survivor: Blood vs. Water’s Tyson Apostol.
Now with all of this information laid out, who has the best chance of attaining victory in Cambodia?
In my opinion, contestants with obvious connections and relationships are going to be targeted before those with less athleticism or teamwork skills. In fact, players without many immediate connections to other players through shared seasons might just gang up on those who do, or at least try to eliminate any obvious pairs by taking out the seemingly more strategic of each group. It might actually be beneficial to have limited your pre-game strategizing if everyone else was running rampant with it.
Contestants who are returning from Worlds Apart and Survivor: San Juan Del Sur also have a massive target on their backs simply due to how fresh they are in everyone’s memory. They are “easy targets” if you will. In a season where Joe or Shirin had come back as a “favorite” or “all-star” directly after their season without the intermission of a public vote, they would have a far better shot.
This might sound insane, but I believe that the only contestants who may have actually created stable pre-game alliances are those involved in social media. Kelly Wiglesworth from Survivor: Borneo has been living on a beach in Mexico, generally disconnected from Survivor at the very least. There are several contestants on this season with limited media presence, many who only created social media accounts to promote the Second Chance ballot, who I just cannot imagine texting each other alliance offerings. Even those who did set up in-game arrangements might have it blow up in their faces the moment production selects the tribes.
Lastly, contestants remembered for being “unpredictable” in any fashion are almost bound to be early boots. Examples of this could be: Abi-Maria from Survivor: Philippines, Ciera from Blood vs. Water, Kass from Survivor: Cagayan and Keith Nale from San Juan Del Sur.
If I were to make a prediction so many months away, I would predict the win to go to either Jeff Varner, originally from The Australian Outback, or Monica Padilla, originally from Samoa.
Both have the capability to play quietly assertive games, a strategic approach that has been proven to be consistently successful in returnee seasons, while still being socially pleasant. I predict neither is immediately in the minds of other contestants when discussing potential threats to win either individual challenges or the game as a whole; unlike say Spencer Bledsoe or Tasha Fox from Cagayan are. On top of that, I would not be surprised if both Jeff and Monica were reached out to be a part of bigger alliances. They seem like the types of players who other players would label as cooperative types. Even though they certainly have potential to pave their own paths as Monica showed in her final days in Samoa, and as Jeff showed by being, what’s considered by many to have been, a modern-day player in an earlier state of the game in his time on Australian Outback.
One last note – this all has the absolute potential to be complete and utter nonsense. Every single attempt at a pre-game formed alliance could have been halted when the contestants got on that bus after the Season 30 finale. That said, the removal of the usual “unknown-to-the-rest-of-the-cast” castaway from the previous season, along with the inevitable pre-game chatter, has a pretty great chance to directly influence Survivor: Cambodia’s gameplay – with the potential of making it the most multi-layered season to date.