Survivor: Philippines - Preview Part I
Meet the Castaways
By Ben Willoughby
September 11, 2012

A bunch of people we will despise three months from now.

This season, Survivor moves from a location we have seen four times already to a place they haven’t been to before – Caramoan, in the Phillipines. And they will be mixing things up even more, with three tribes, which hasn’t been tried since the first All-Stars season, and wasn’t exactly riveting at the time. There are also returning castaways, which has been done many times, but never with players that were medically evacuated. If Survivor really wanted to mix things up, they should bring back some female players, which only ever gets done in seasons where nine or more players return.

I'm also mixing things up is this column, as this is my first time writing about Survivor. I’ve been watching the show since Season 1, though I have missed an occasional season and I would never want to compete on the show because I know I would be horrible. To give you an idea of my personal prejudices about Survivor and the types of players I like and dislike, here are some of my opinions on key aspects of the game:

Winning individual immunity is the most over-rated part of Survivor. Winning immunity is not a strategy. It is a back-up plan for when things go pear-shaped. The best Survivor players never have to win an immunity challenge, because they are already protected through their social game.

My favourite part of each season is the inevitable collapse of the alliance of pretty and entitled young people who aren’t good at simple math. “What do you mean their five votes beats our four? Those guys are wimps!”

At least once a season, Probst informs Tribal Council that “Survivor is about big moves”. Survivor is really about making the right moves. That can involve big moves that make you look like a mastermind, but it mostly comes from a lot of little moves, like making the right alliances and convincing people to go against their interests. Probst is goading the more gullible castaways into making a big move, because it makes good television. So please continue with your incorrect statements, Probst!

Lying and breaking promises is a part of the game. Even if you “swear on your children's lives” or “give your word as a Christian man," there are always fingers crossed, because it’s Survivor. If someone says to you “Will you swear to me on your mother’s grave?”, the only acceptable response is to say immediately “I swear on my mother’s grave,” because if you hesitate that person will vote you out. One corollary to this is that castaways should not take it personally when people lie to them or break their promises. It is acceptable to get them back at them for lying by, say, telling the other castaways that person is a liar, or voting for the other guy at the Final Tribal Council. But whining to the camera or in your Final Tribal Council speech that the person is a liar and a cheat and has no morals makes you a whiner.

“Flying under the radar” and “riding coat-tails” are valid strategies to win. If you can put up with over-bearing chucklenuts for 39 days, have the patience to let them think they are playing you and leave the jury with no option but to vote for you, you deserve that million dollars. It doesn’t make riveting television, but it’s part of Survivor.

According to Probst and players, each castaway has a one in 18 shot at winning the title of Sole Survivor - as though this is assigned by random number generator. As we all know that castaways are not created equal, I've watched all the CBS and EW “meet the castaways” promos, and have put together a collection of sweeping statements and snap judgments based on two-minute videos.

Let’s meet the collection of idiots, dupes, rubes and sociopaths they’ve cast this season.

Kalabaw Tribe


Dawson is going by her surname, because her best friend has the same name (Sarah) as she does. She is not making a desperate plea to be one of the elite Survivor group that Probst refers to by surname, like Cochrane from the South Pacific season. She is not even a fan of Cochrane, mocking him for his poor understanding of the game and his sweater-vests. But she does say she is a huge fan of Survivor, to the point where she might have to see a professional. I suggest that she does not see Cochrane.

Dawson is obviously going to be a character to watch, but not a player. Consider the evidence:

She intends to preach the Gospel of Fun
Her inspiration in life is Neil Patrick Harris
She once made someone cry while giving them constructive criticism on how to play Cranium
She “loves to trouble”, and plans on playing a few pranks
In her Survivor interview with Probst, the second-least appropriate thing she did was pet his hair
Her own assessment is that she will come across to others as kind of an idiot

Pranks! Outstanding! I am looking forward to seeing Dawson in action.

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 72


Katie is a former Miss Delaware, who is also a senior in criminal justice with plans to become a state trooper. She claims to be the total package for Survivor – hot, smart and athletic. I don’t recall anything on the Survivor flag saying “out-hot”, but whatever. According to Katie, being a pageant girl has several advantages. She has to be physically in shape, and has to know how to present and interview well. Fair enough, but we know how well that worked for Amanda Kimmel.

Katie describes herself as a go-getter, but her plan is to lay low and not talk because if she talks she’ll get voted out quick. You know what I love every season on Survivor? People who say “if I talk or boss people around, like I want, I’ll get voted out,” and then proceed to talk and boss people around because they can’t help themselves.

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 12


Jeff is a former baseballer who hopes the other players won’t recognise him. Since I have no interest in or understanding of baseball, I’m more likely to recognize him as Alan Ruck. But Jeff is Jeff Kent, who was a pretty big deal in baseball despite me never having heard of him. He was a five-time All-Star, he won the NL MVP in 2000 and he was the all-time leader in home runs as a second-baseman. So good for Jeff.

It’s hard to get a read how Jeff will go on Survivor, because he talks a lot about his baseball career as being the best time of his life. He says that his biggest challenge will be to compete socially - fitting in with the younger people, putting up with the lazy or stupid people and dealing with people he doesn’t like. He says this in a way that implies he won’t be very good at it, but wasn’t he on the same team as Barry Bonds? Jeff seems pretty laid back and easy going, even joking when asked a question about steroids. So he seems well suited for long, tedious games interrupted by brief moments of excitement, like Survivor. And baseball.

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 12


Dana is a 32-year old cosmetologist with a shoulder tattoo who claims to have been watching the show for 11 years. Dana seems to have had a rougher life than the other contestants – growing up in small-town Arkansas, going through rehab – and she comes across as abrupt and determined. She describes herself as observant and generally likeable, which is probably how Lisbeth Salander would describe herself. My first take is that she is going to have trouble relating to the other castaways. Dana’s plan is to keep her opinions to herself as much as possible, and she also notes that she is an alpha female, so I hope she has a Plan B.

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 36


Carter is a 21-year-old Owen Wilson-type from Kansas City, who talks about how he is going to play hard and bring positive energy. He did two audition videos for Survivor, and for the first one the producers said he was Spicoli and Bill & Ted, but for the second, they said he was Tarzan, so it’s a wonder he wasn’t cast last season. He’s working as a track coach, which doesn’t require him to be intelligent, or even talk to anyone who is. He also promises not to call himself Coach – despite being Coach Carter!

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 72


Kalabaw’s returning castaway is Jonathan Penner, who was on the white tribe of the uncomfortable Cook Islands season, and came back for Fans vs Favorites, only to be evacuated out due to a knee infection.

Jonathan coming back raises mixed feelings with me, because he’s already had a second chance and doesn’t need to be brought back until he wins, like Boston Rob was. But on the other hand, he has several positive attributes, such as being engaging to watch and his general disdain for Probst. On balance, his cameo appearance in Arrested Development’s first season trumps his being Alan Alda’s voice-twin, so I’m happy to have him back.

According to Jonathan, he wasn’t that focused on winning his first time out, and he came back for a second go to redeem himself so that everyone would stop thinking of him as a bastard. Apparently, he was a possibility to come back for Heroes vs Villains, but he lost his slot due to Russell Hantz. People thought he was a villain? Anyway, this time out, Jonathan is determined to be the winner, and not the biggest character. Then don’t wear that goofy fedora, Jonathan.

Odds of being the Sole Survivor: 1 in 9

Check back tomorrow when I will examine the other two tribes.