The long night is over. Tonight, Survivor returns for arguably the most anticipated season in history. We have had All-Stars, Heroes vs. Villains, and other seasons with returning, legendary players. But for the first time ever, we have an all-winners season. The concept has been teased for years but never got done. Now for the show's twentieth anniversary, they are bringing back twenty of the show's greatest winners - ten men, ten women. Winners ranging from Season 3 to Season 37. All vying for the biggest prize in reality TV history - TWO million dollars. It should be an epic showdown that starts tonight with a two-hour premiere.
If you're someone who stopped watching Survivor long ago, which seems to be the case for most people, there's no better opportunity to jump back in. You likely won't remember all the winners, especially if you stopped watching recent seasons, but you should definitely remember a lot of the legends that are returning: Boston Rob, Amber, Sandra, Ethan, Parvati, Tony, Tyson, and more. Last week, there was an hour long retrospective on the show - reminiscing on the show's best players and moments. If you have the time, I highly recommend watching it to take a trip down memory lane and hype yourself up for Season 40.
I am very excited for this season. The last few seasons of Survivor have been disappointing. Advantages are becoming way too abundant, and there haven't been a ton of memorable characters. I miss when the game was more player-centric instead of advantage-centric. This season will unfortunately feature the Edge of Extinction, the new "fire tokens" and probably more. I wish they would have just stuck to the basics so that sucks. But the good news is we have enough entertaining and memorable players where I'd hope they can still overshadow all these twists.
For this season preview, I'll look at some storylines, then do a cast assessment, and then do a power ranking for the season. First, here's the teaser trailer from the Season 39 finale.
Storylines To Watch
The Twists: As I mentioned above, we know the season will feature at least the Edge of Extinction and fire tokens. We saw the Edge of Extinction featured in Season 38. Voted out players have the choice of leaving the game for good, or heading to the Edge of Extinction with limited resources and waiting for a chance to return to the game. In Season 38, there was a challenge to return at the merge and then another one to return at Final 5. We can probably assume the rules will be similar this season. While I don't like this twist, the positive to having it this season is that if the favorites and better players get voted out early, we still get to watch them and they have the opportunity to get back in the game. I'd also hope that, unlike in Season 38, these veteran players would not vote for someone to win who spent 75% of the season out of the game.
Fire tokens are a completely new twist. The description from CBS says "Fire tokens will serve as currency on the island and add more complexity to the already intense battle. The new twist allows players to use the tokens to buy advantages to help players stay in the game or get themselves back in the game." I really have no idea what to take away from that. It seems unnecessary and complicated, but hopefully it can add some drama to the game.
Boston Rob and Amber vs. Sandra: First of all, it'll interesting to see how Boston Rob and Amber work together as a married couple. They ran shit in All-Stars, but can they do it again? Probably not. You have to imagine they'll be big targets off the bat. They're a Blood vs. Water pair in a non Blood vs. Water season. Another interesting layer is Sandra's apparent beef with Boston Rob that we saw teased last week. According to Sandra, Boston Rob never let her know that he'd be on Season 40 despite spending over a month together on the Island Of The Idols. She seemed pissed. Her and Amber will be on the same tribe together to start the season. Will she try to enact revenge on Rob by going for his wife? We'll see. Pretty weird move by Rob to keep it a secret, if we're being honest.
Will First Time Returnees Be Starstruck? This season will feature an interesting mix of some absolute legends (Boston Rob, Sandra, Parvati etc.) mixed with people returning for the first time since winning a recent season (Adam, Nick, Wendell, Ben, Michele). Returnee seasons are typically where people cement their place in Survivor history. The biggest legends of all time have played three or even four times. So we have a chance for some of these newer players to put on a performance that will get their names mentioned in the legends category. But there's also a chance that they are completely starstruck and intimidated. It almost feels like Fans vs. Favorites in that regard. As we saw last week, Adam was freaking out looking around him. It's important for them to realize that they're now all equals on the same playing field.
Big Names Out Early? This was the biggest problem with Season 34: Game Changers. What should have been an awesome season kind of sucked. All the entertaining/fan favorite players got booted early. Tony, Malcolm, JT, Sandra, and Ozzy were all out relatively early. We were left with the lackluster Final 3 of Troyzan, Brad Culpepper, and Sarah (who won and will be back for this season). Let's hope something similar doesn't happen this time around. It may behoove the stronger players to all team up. The good news is I think this is a better cast top to bottom than Game Changers was. And we also have the Edge of Extinction to keep them alive. But if a lot of the big names are out pre-merge, the season will lose a lot of luster.
Clashing Egos/Past Relationships: In his pregame interview with Dalton Ross of Entertainment Weekly, Boston Rob brought up a great point about how in Survivor: All-Stars, some people were targeted because others felt they were a threat to their airtime. That's partly how Boston Rob and Amber, lesser known names at the time, were able to make such deep runs. Will we see that happen again this time? Will people let ego dictate their gameplay? He mentioned in that interview, for example, how Sandra hates Parvati. So will they not work together even if it's best for their games? How much will pregame alliances and relationships from past seasons matter? Everyone talks down pregame alliances in returnee seasons, but we know they exist in some capacity.
The tribes have already been revealed. Reports are that the men and women were separated for pregame media, so they didn't know what winners would be representing the opposite gender. They also thought this might mean tribes would be split up men vs. women, but that is not the case. Below are the tribes, background on each player, and my evaluation of their chances in this season. Instead of doing my usual assessment where I judge people based off their generic answers on the CBS website, I'll just get right into it. We already know these people and don't need to see all their cliche answers. Pictures from CBS.
When the cast leaked back in May, I did a quick blog with thoughts. You can read that here. But this will be a much more full analysis.
Dakal (Red Tribe)
Previous seasons: Survivor: Tocantins (Season 18), Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20), Winner of Survivor: Blood vs. Water (Season 27)
Tyson is always a welcome addition to any season. He is arguably the funniest player in the show's history. His sarcasm and biting, dry humor always provide laughs. While he wasn't the best strategic player early on, especially when he got bamboozled by Russell in HvV, he put together a complete, dominating game to win Blood vs. Water. I like his chances this season too. He should be kept around early since he's good in challenges and a good presence around camp. And his strong gameplay may go under-the-radar. If he does get voted out, you have to like his chances to win a challenge to get back in his game. He should be considered a serious threat to win.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: South Pacific (Season 23)
Sophie is one of the more forgettable winners in show history, so it's a bit surprising to see her back. She is an interesting case and hard to predict. Will she be targeted early since she isn't much help in challenges and probably doesn't have a ton of pre-game connections? Or will she able to fly under the radar for awhile? It's very possible that's the type of player who wins this season. We've seen that before in all-returnee seasons where a quieter player sneaks their way into winning (Amber in All-Stars, Sandra in HvV). I think that might happen, but I'm not sure that Sophie will be the one to do it. My prediction would be a pre-merge boot.
Previous seasons: Winner of Survivor: Pearl Islands (Season 7), Winner of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20), Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34)
The queen is back looking for her third crown. While she is the only two-time winner, I think the target on her back will be less than what it was in Game Changers, since everyone is a winner in this season. However, it really makes no sense to keep her around. She won't help in challenges, and we know what a threat she becomes once the merge hits. She's a great social player, but it will just be very hard for her to convince people that they should keep her. What does she bring to the table? If she can convince people to keep her until the merge, she instantly becomes a threat to win. Not sure I see that happening though.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Ghost Island (Season 36)
I really like Wendell's chances this season. He put together a quiet, but strong win in Ghost Island. From pregame media, it seems like he will play more aggressive this time around, and that's what he'll have to do to with this crowd. He doesn't have many pregame connections, which could be an issue. But there's nothing that should make him an early target. He's a likable, disarming guy. He's good in challenges. He won't be viewed as an overbearing threat even at the merge. He could be a real wolf in sheep's clothing that flies under-the-radar and quietly pulls off big moves. He's one of my favorites to win.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13)
Yul is one of the players I'm most excited to see return. It's been 13 years. He played a great game in Cook Islands, just edging out Ozzy to win the million. I have no idea what to expect from him this time around. I could see him winning. I could see him being an early boot. Not exactly groundbreaking analysis, I know. I guess I'm more optimistic than pessimistic, but I'm really not sure what to expect. Just excited to have him back.
Previous seasons: Survivor: The Australian Outback (Season 2), Winner of Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)
This is a total gut feeling, but Amber is one of my favorite winner picks. I think it's just the cheesy CBS promos talking about how Survivor changed her life. It seems like she's getting a lot of focus in pre-game media. I don't know. The best thing that could happen to her is Boston Rob getting voted out early. Otherwise, her tribe may look to pick her off early on as a way of weakening him. So if she can survive the first few votes, I think she makes a real deep run and we see her at FTC. Maybe wins similar to how she won All-Stars. There's no in-between for her. I'm not seeing a 9th place finish. She's either out within a few tribals or there on Day 39. My gut says it's the latter.
Previous seasons: Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28), Winner of Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34)
We already saw Sarah win an all-returnee season in Game Changers. Can she do it again? Probably not. I think we saw her best possible game in Season 34, but the competition is a lot stiffer this time around. She's not the best social player and relied heavily on advantages last time around. She's certainly capable of a deep run. Everyone is this season since they've literally all won before. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: One World (Season 24)
Kim played arguably the most dominating game in Survivor history. It was incredible to watch. My question is how big the target on her back will be. It should be ginormous based on the One World performance, but what she has going for her is that she's only played one season. The biggest targets are probably the people we've seen play multiple times. Great player with a smaller target is a dangerous combination. I expect a deep run from Kim and think she can definitely win the whole damn thing.
Previous seasons: Winner of Survivor: Cagayan (Season 28), Survivor: Game Changers (Season 34)
My favorite player in show history along along with Russell Hantz, I'm pumped to have him back. He is such an exciting and entertaining player to watch. His win in Cagayan was maybe the most entertaining game ever played by a winner. It was reckless yet genius at the same time. Unfortunately, this painted a huge target on his back in Game Changers. And he didn't do anything to help his cause by playing way too crazy and fast out of the gate. It'll be interesting to see how he works again with Sandra and Sarah. He doesn't have a great past with either. His target might be a little smaller this time around, but he'll still be viewed as one of the bigger threats. And I'm not sure that such a loud, reckless game can succeed in a season like this. He's mentioned that he knows he needs to play a more under-the-radar game this time, but can a tiger really change his stripes? I'll be rooting for my guy hard, but he's got a real tough road ahead of him.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: David vs. Goliath (Season 37)
I'm a little surprised to see both Nick and Adam back. Both recent winners that fit a similar profile as players. I like Nick chances this season more. He played a brilliant game in Season 37, never receiving a single vote against him. But I don't think he'll be seen for as big of a threat as he actually is. He's a nice, young guy with a pleasant disposition. He's only played once and isn't seen as as a "Survivor legend" yet. Anyone that's a strong player without a huge target on them are my favorite picks to go deep. He fits the bill.
Sele (Blue Tribe)
Previous seasons: Survivor: Cook Islands (Season 13), Winner of Survivor: Fans vs. Favorites (Season 16), Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains (Season 20)
Parvati's reputation precedes her. Much like in HvV, she will be viewed as a huge threat and targeted all game. Somehow, she lasted all 39 days that season and came in second, although I think she probably should have won. I think she will once again be viewed as one of the biggest targets in the game and be frequently targeted. I'm not as confident that she'll be able to swindle her way to the end this time around. She's an all-time great player, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her out pre-merge.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Season 29)
She had a strong social game last time around and didn't receive a single vote against her. To me, she definitely has vibes of someone who could win this season. She should be able to survive early on by being likable and not a liability in challenges, and then she has a chance to play a behind-the-scenes game once merge hits. She should look at Sandra's game in HvV as a blueprint to follow. It could also be just a gut call and bias since she's a fellow Fordham Ram, but I really love her chances.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Guatemala (Season 11)
It feels like forever since Danni won Season 11. She's one of the more forgettable winners that we've had. That could be a good thing in such a loud, flashy season though. I think we will see her stick around for awhile sort of lurking in the background and maybe being a swing vote in some key tribals. However, I don't think she has that killer instinct to win a season of this magnitude. Potential "goat" at FTC.
Previous seasons: Survivor: San Juan del Sur (Season 29); Winner of Survivor: Second Chance (Season 31)
If you could build the perfect Survivor player in a lab, it might be Jeremy. He was a serious threat in Season 29 and put it all together to win Second Chances. He's someone that has already shown the capability to shine in and win a returnee season. For that reason, I like his chances again. He will have a pretty hefty target on his back, but I think he's a good enough player to overcome it. He's good in challenges which makes him worthy of sticking around pre-merge. And he's a got a great mix of social/strategic/physical gameplay to be a threat at the merge. I also like his chances to last on the Edge of Extinction and win a challenge to get back in the game, should it come to that. I'm going to have to be bold and maker a winner pick eventually for this season. So here it is. Jeremy wins.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers (Season 35)
Look, Ben seems like a nice enough guy and all. But he's my least favorite winner to be returning this season. To me, his win represented everything that's wrong with new-school Survivor and all its twists and advantages. I think he will be in way over his head this season. He's not a bad player by any stretch. I do think he's severely overmatched though by a lot of these other all-time greats. He also doesn't figure to have many pre-game connections. I don't think he'll go very far in this game.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Kaôh Rōng (Season 32)
Michele was my initial winner pick when the cast first leaked back in May and I wrote that blog. I've already changed that to Jeremy, but I still do like her chances. She's probably one of the weaker winners to be returning, but that could be a good thing to keep the target off her back. And I do think she's a very capable player. She did a very enlightening interview with Dalton Ross of EW where she said that she feels like she has something to prove. She was annoyed at everyone saying she didn't deserve to win her season, and it actually impacted her confidence despite being a million dollars richer. I like that she has a chip on her shoulder. I think she can come out and play a more cutthroat game and maybe even win it all.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Millennials vs. Gen X (Season 33)
Like Michele, Adam is another underwhelming winner that people don't think was totally deserving. I actually disagree and thought his game was very underrated. That being said, I really don't like his chances this season. We already saw him getting starstruck in the sneak peek last week, and I think that might be a theme all season. Hopefully he gets the confidence to realize he belongs with them, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him get swallowed up. He has to be careful to not come off like a fan in a "Fan vs. Favorites" season.
Previous seasons: Survivor: Marquesas (Season 4), Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8), Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains (Season 20), Winner of Survivor: Redemption Island (Season 22)
Probably the most well-known player in Survivor history. He's back for a record fifth time. Actually the sixth season he's been part of counting last season. He's one of the first names that pop up when you think of Survivor, so it's only fitting to have him back for this season. He will probably have the biggest target on his back of anyone, for all those reasons I listed above. He also has wife out there with him. The last time he played, we saw one of the most dominating performances in show history where he was basically The Godfather for 39 days. He won't be able to do that again this season, but he is a smart enough player to adapt. You can never really count Boston Rob out, but he's certainly got his work cut out from him.
Previous season: Winner of Survivor: Philippines (Season 25)
I'm excited to have Denise back. I really liked her game when she first played. I think she's a threat this season too. Won't have a huge target on her back, and she's a really shrewd player. I can see her being an outsider early on and getting an early boot though given her lack of pregame connections. But if she lasts through those first few votes, I expect a deep run. She's pretty tough to predict so I'll just plop her right in the middle of the rankings.
Previous seasons: Winner of Survivor: Africa (Season 3), Survivor: All-Stars (Season 8)
The fact that Ethan is even playing again is an awesome story. He had a long, tough battle with cancer but beat it and is now back to playing again. He's definitely the most old-school Survivor of everyone returning. The game is hardly recognizable from when he last played. There weren't even hidden immunity idols, let alone "fire tokens." It'll be interesting to see how he adapts to the changes. I think he's a great story and can stick around for awhile, but I'm not sure he's capable of winning a season like this.
This is a running ranking I'll keep all season long of who I think is most likely to win the game. The person ranked last isn't necessarily my prediction to go home next, but I just think they have the least chance of winning the game. These rankings are very difficult given the nature of the season. Usually, it's easier to look at a person's profile, judge a book by their cover, and get a good idea of what type of player they will be. With this season, we know they're all players capable of winning since they literally have done it before. For that reason, I won't do any tiers to start. Just straight up rankings of who I think can win this legendary season.
12. Boston Rob
And away we go. This should be an awesome season, and I'm counting down the seconds until 8 PM. I'm excited to cover this season for you guys. Episode recaps should be out every Thursday, or Friday at the latest. I haven't decided if I'll be live-tweeting the episodes. People sometimes get annoyed with spoilers, so we'll see.
39 days. 20 winners. ONE Survivor.